Narrative in Greek Pottery

As some of the only enduring artifacts from the Archaic period of Greek civilization, the narrative quality of Greek pottery gives us a glimpse into the times before Plato and Aristotle when moral and philosophical lessons came wrapped in myth.

As part of our Furniture and Decorative Arts sale on October 13, Oakridge will offer a 6th-century kylix bearing depictions of Theseus slaying the minotaur, a myth that began circulating around the time of its creation. This kylix has an unusual form, lacking handles traditionally fitted to the sides–the density of the narrative depictions left no place for them to be added.

Following the geometric style that marked art during the Dark Ages, black-figure and red-figure techniques rose to popularity in the 7th century, remaining ubiquitous through the Archaic period. (Art in Context 2022) This kylix is a perfect example of the black-figure technique, where the subjects are silhouetted on a light background and incised to reveal the lower, lighter layers for precise detail that Greek pottery would become known for. (Art in Context 2022)

Following the shift to figural designs, Greek pottery soon became a canvas for myths of the time, often showcasing acts of heroism such as Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Unlike the pattern-based ceramic designs of many other cultures at the time, Greek pottery showed paneled scenes that encompassed popular narratives of heroism and tragedy. (Penn 2002)

As with all cultures, the physical shape, size, and materials used to produce these wares change over time, which allows researchers to create a timeline on which to place the depicted scenes. These artifacts give insight into ancient Greek views of deities as well as everyday styles and objects and their changes over the centuries. (Penn 2002)


The Editors of Art in Context. "Greek Pottery – An Overview of the Development of Ancient Greek Pottery." Accessed October 4, 2022.

The Staff of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. “Greek Pottery and its Archaeological Importance.” Accessed October 4, 2022.

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