Collection and scholarship

The first challenge to the scholarship of ancient Greek pottery was to recognise that so much of the figure-decorated pottery found in Italy was of Greek, not Italian manufacture. The most helpful clue to revealing the place of manufacture was the addition of letters in the Greek script, either incised or painted. These had been noticed from the beginning of the eighteenth century but it was some time before their significance was fully understood.

Athenian black-figure cup
  • Athenian black-figure cup made and signed by Tleson, son of Nearchos
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Fragment of Athenian black-figure vase
  • Fragment of Athenian black-figure vase painted and signed by Nearchos
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Inscriptions took different forms, but the ones of special relevance to us are proper names followed by the verbs epoisen - made or egraphsen - painted. For example, on the cup above, Tleson, who calls himself son of Nearchos, signs as maker. On the right, on a fragment of another drinking vessel, his father, Nearchos, signs as painter. (To observe the signatures more closely select either image above).

Even in Athens, where such signatures are found in some number between about 580 and 380 BC, their total is estimated today to constitute less than 1% of the vases preserved. Later scholar searching for the individual painter would need to use other means.

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