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Dipylon Amphora

Dipylon Amphora, c. 755-750 B.C.E., ceramic, 160 cm (National Archaeological Museum, Athens) Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(soft music) Voiceover: We're in the National Archeological Museum in Athens looking at the Dipylan Vase. Voiceover: The so-called Dipylan Vase because it was found near what would later become the Dipylan Gate in Athens and a cemetery right near there. Voiceover: So this is a gigantic, ceramic pot. It's an anaphora. But it would have been used as a grave marker in antiquity and it's big. It's five feet one inch tall. Voiceover: Yeah, it's almost as tall as I am. It's unusual in that we see figures. We see a narrative scene and this is something that we see emerging more and more in the late geometric period. And geometric is such an obvious name for the style of this vase. Voiceover: Well look at the vase, it's covered from its foot all the way to the lip of its mouth with sharp edge geometric patterns. I see meanders, I see diamonds, I see triangles. This is a pot coming out of that ancient tradition which really avoided empty space. Voiceover: We do see black bands around the base where the neck meets the body and at the very lip of the vase. So we do have some black bands designating the separate parts of the vase. Voiceover: But the most interesting part is the fact that we have emerging here representations of animals and even of people. As you said we only see that at the end of the geometric period. Voiceover: On the neck of the vase we see deer grazing. Voiceover: Below that we see what are either goats or gazelles perhaps or some people have said deer as well. Voiceover: Lying down or seated. Voiceover: But notice in both cases with the deer and with the goats, it's really a repeated motif so that it is a continuation of that pattern that is so much a part even of the non-figurative areas of the pot. Voiceover: It's true in the bodies of the animals are reduced to geometric shapes, each one is exactly identical to the one before and the one after and they're almost easy to miss as animal figures. Voiceover: Because they are so much a part of the pattern of the pot. Voiceover: Exactly. Voiceover: But in the main phrase at the shoulder of the pot, almost at its widest point. Voiceover: Right where the handles meet the body. Voiceover: We see a number of mourning figures on either side of the body of a dead woman. Voiceover: Now we know it's a woman because she is wearing a skirt and different genders were identified in that way and she's lying on a funeral [bure] with a shroud held above her. Voiceover: You see figures pulling at their hair, this is a symbol of mourning. Some people have even interpreted the little M-shaped patterns falling between the figures as tears. Voiceover: Look at how the artist has avoided leaving any space blank. Even between those M-shapes, he's painted little star shapes to fill in the blank spaces. Voiceover: Below the dead woman we can see perhaps the family. We see larger figures on their knees and then we see smaller figures, perhaps the children. Voiceover: The bodies are upside down triangles. The legs are lozenges. Everything is very reduced and the figures are all rendered as black silhouettes. Now the Greeks had a very specific way of firing pots to get the red ground and the black figures above it. Voiceover: So this is not glaze in the modern sense, instead this is slip wear. So slip is fine particles of clay that are suspended in water and then painted on the surface of the pot. Now this was very difficult because when you painted on that slip it was the same color as the dry clay before it was fired. But then it was the next step that was important. Voiceover: It was fired in a kiln at about 900 degrees. Voiceover: That's Celsius. Voiceover: It was fired in a wake where oxygen was withdrawn from the kiln. This causes the entire pot to turn black. Voiceover: The kiln was then allowed to cool somewhat and then oxygen was allowed back into the kiln and then what happens is, the parts of the vase that are not painted return to their warm, red color and only the parts that were painted remain black. And so you can imagine how difficult this was to control in the ancient world before thermometers. Voiceover: It really is an amazing testament to the skill of Greek potters. Voiceover: Well the person who actually fashioned this pot produced it on a wheel but had to produce it in sections and then fit these sections together seamlessly. Voiceover: This is a great example of late geometric Greek pottery. (soft music)