Material Matters

The vessels in the CU Art Museum's collection serve as examples of how archaeologists can tell where and when pots were made. Clay from different sources comes in different colors and degrees of purity and it fires to differing degrees of hardness. These differences in clay types affect the shapes that a potter can create. What is more, different towns developed different ways of decorating pots at different times.

Two vessels in the collection are made of Corinthian clay: an early 6th century B.C.E. aryballos decorated with a frieze of real and mythological animals and an early 6th century B.C.E. alabastron that bears decoration in the form of a single sphinx. The two are identified as Corinthian partly by their pale clay, which is characteristic of vessels produced by Corinthian potters and painters. Corinthian clay is ideal for small, rounded pots. The rosettes and animals decorating these pots are typical motifs on Corinthian pots of the 6th century B.C.E. Two Athenian vessels, including a 5th century B.C.E. black-figure lekythos with two figures reclining beneath a grape arbor and a late 5th or early 4th century B.C.E. red-figure lekythos showing a woman holding a shallow dish over a wool basket, have a reddish-orange clay that fires harder than Corinthian clay, making it more ideal for sharp and crisp edges. The clays of Cyprus, on the other hand, have a grayish tinge, as demonstrated by an Early Iron Age juglet

Sometimes it is possible to identify instances of an artisan creating a ceramic vessel in imitation of a vessel made in a more expensive or exotic material, including precious metals like gold, silver, and bronze, as well as stone. An early 6th century B.C.E. alabastron, for example, is intended to mimic in clay the general shape and function of stone alabastra, such as a 6th century B.C.E. stone alabastron from Anatolia in the CU Art Museum's collection. Greek vases, then, can help us understand how artistic styles translated across media, as well as across geographical distance.

Foreign influences influenced artisitc development in Greece. Greek trade with the cultures of the Near East, for example, introduced new shapes and decorative motifs into the Greek worldview and entire periods of Greek art, such as the so-called Orientalizing period, show a fluorescence of foreign influences in Greek art.

Looking at the Pots

The vessels included in this exhibit represent 2,000 years of Greek history. They serve as excellent examples of the ways archaeologists can examine pots to learn about ancient society. By looking at these vessels, it is possible to see how such vessels evolved over time as well as witness the continuing importance of the ceramic industry in Greek society.

Shapes represented in this collection include a variety of cups, different kinds of jars and jugs, a large transport amphora, and condiment or jewelry containers, as well as a number of figurines.