Shapes - introduction

Between c.800 - c.300 B.C., the range of painted pottery shapes is relatively limited. Most look broadly similar throughout the period, but their variations and refinements can serve as a useful guide for relative dating. The Athenian examples cover all of the most important forms, although it is helpful to keep in mind local undecorated (coarse) and plain (black-gloss) wares, pottery from other regions, such as Corinth and East Greece, and other materials. Vessels made of metal, glass and wood tend not to preserve as well as pottery, and our record of shapes is consequently skewed in favour of the ceramic evidence. There are however a number of features in the pottery repertoire that seem more suitable to other materials, e.g., rivet-like attachments.

Only occasionally do we know the ancient names by which the different shapes were known, either from literary sources (mostly later) or merchants' marks, and so many names used today may not have been applied in the same way in 600-300 B.C. In some cases, a name reflects function, but it is images of the vessels in use, often on painted pots themselves, that provide the most reliable clues. Certain shapes have a particular connection with religious rituals, but a wide range of vessels can be deposited in graves or dedicated in sanctuaries.

Sir John Beazley's attributions relied not only on careful analysis of the painted decoration, but also the potting, and he and subsequent scholars have identified potters (or at least 'classes'), as well as painters. This endeavour is aided by epoiesen inscriptions, which may mean that 'so-and-so made it'.