Last summer, whilst attending the Oxford UNIQ summer school, I had the opportunity to do an Ancient Greek vase handling session in the Beazley Archives. It was, I think, during this session, that I realised just how much I love Greek vases.
The main thing that stood out to me during the session was how incredible it was that in my hands I held something which had been created by an ordinary person, a manual labourer, over 2000 years ago. I could see intricate details on the physical vase, which I hadn’t been able to see before, such as each brush stroke, or the way the clay had been turned. I recognised techniques which we still use in art today: I realised that we really aren’t so different from the ancients.
Another thing I love about vases is that, today, we analyse them in the same way we would analyse modern art. Except, to the ancients, this wasn’t art, this was just decoration of ordinary household objects; the creators certainly weren’t considered artists. Despite the ancient conception of potters, for me, looking at pottery sometimes leaves me feeling a little awestruck. During one of my interviews at Oxford, I remember seeing the tiniest shard of pottery, literally just a section of someone’s knee, and yet despite how small it was, I remember understanding why the tutor told me he wanted the rest of the vase so badly. On other vases in general, I always enjoy looking at the different compositions and styles, the love of pattern turning to a love of myth in the 5th C, black figure becoming red figure.
I like how vases can tell us a story: not just in the sense that they depict, in different ways, scenes from myth or everyday life, but how they can tell us about the culture of ordinary ancient Greeks. I really love pots.