Throughout the history of Ancient Greece thousands of great works of art were produced. Works were created in many different media, ranging from life-size statues to larger than life architectural structures. One type of art that can sometimes be overlooked, though, is pottery. There are many examples of great Greek pottery, but the two that will be used as a sample are Artemis Slaying Actaeon and Woman and Maid. By considering the backgrounds of these works, and comparing them directly we are able get a taste not only of the artistic styles of the time, but also a taste of ancient Greek culture.
Artemis Slaying Actaeon and Woman and Maid share many common characteristics, due to the fact that they came from Greece, around the same time in history. Both works were produced between 480B.C.E.-320B.C.E. , the classical period of Greek art. The first, Artemis Slaying Actaeon was made circa 470B.C.E. in the early classical period, during the transition from the more stylized art of the Archaic period. The other came from around 450 B.C.E., during the high classical period when Greek art was most prominent and produced some of its most refined works.
Despite the artistic beauty of the two vases, both were made for more than just decoration. The vase depicting Artemis is what was called a Bell Krater and was used for mixing the popular Greek drink of water and wine. The other, called a Lekythos was used to pour liquids during elaborate burial ceremonies to honor the wealthy. Another main function of pottery in many cases is to tell a story, which is exactly what Artemis Slaying Actaeon intends. The vase depicts the goddess of the hunt, Artemis, slaying a hunter Actaeon, whom accidentally intruded on her bathing while on a hunt. On the other hand, Woman and Maid is intended as a remembrance of a wealthy woman, and depicts an offering of a chest of valuables from a slave girl to the deceased.
Just at first glance of these two vases, one can tell that they were crafted in very different styles, giving a distinct look to each. The contrast of light and dark on the two vessels are what stand out to make each piece unique. Anyone can notice that while Artemis Slaying Actaeon is mostly black, the Woman and Maid is very a luminous white. This contrast has to do with different sculpting techniques during the classical period. At the end of the early classical period, when the vase depicting Artemis was made, red-figure vessels were very popular. This meant that the pottery was covered in black glaze and then figures were carved away revealing the natural red color of the clay.
Used later in the high classical period was a technique called white-ground. Used on the Woman and Maid, this meant using highly refined glaze on a vase that made it turn white, and then painting colors onto it in egg-based tempra paint. Another feature that easily sets the two works apart is their shape and size. The Bell Krater, which shows the slaying of Actaeon, is a wide, short vessel with a handle protruding from each side. It could hold much more liquid than could the Lekythos depicting the Woman and Maid, which is taller, but much thinner than the former.
Composition of the works is one thing that very similar between these two pieces of art. Both are symmetrical, as are most vases, but the subject matter which they engulf is very asymmetrical. The focal point of both works seems to center near the symmetry line of the vase, and both focus on a gift. While the Woman and Maid, shows a gift of a chest of valuables; Artemis Slaying Actaeon depicts an unwanted gift of an arrow about to be shot through Actaeon. The focus is directed toward the bow and arrow by the circular arch of Artemis’s body, and the action is suggested by the positioning of her arms and the line the arrow makes with Actaeon’s head. In Woman and Maid, the chest of valuables stands out because it is the only colored object on the figure of the servant, whose clothing is completely white. Both works share the same surrounding composition, with a completely flat, one colored background.
Each vase has well-proportioned human figures, but depicts the figures in some strange angles. One depicts Artemis with her knee turned back at an impossible angle, while the other shows the woman in front view, except the arm that reaches for the offering. Overall, these works share many common traits of composition, which were characteristic of the classical period.
One thing I always consider about a work of art is the lasting impression it leaves on the viewer, and the overall mood of the piece. Looking at Artemis Slaying Actaeon, you would think there would be a feeling of anger and pain because of the subject matter, but it doesn’t seem that way to me. The anger and pain is still somewhat sensed, but the feeling I get is one of indifference. This may come from the lack of emotion put into works of the classical period, but it almost seems that Actaeon is ready and willing to die by the hand of Artemis. His hand reaching to the sky suggests this, almost as if he is waiting for the gods to come and take him away. From the Lekythos Woman and Maid, I felt a bit of the same indifference as in the other, but the knowing that it was used as a burial rite also gives it a sense of melancholy. Also I see a sense of arrogance and power by the unimpressed look on the woman’s face that looks almost annoyed by the offering from the slave.
Artemis Slaying Actaeon and Woman and Maid, serve as only a sample of the pottery produced in Ancient Greece. By directly comparing the styles of these two very opposite works, we have a better idea of art and culture in the classical period. However, the classical period is only one small part of history and pottery can only help shed light on one aspect of the artwork and this vast culture. Ancient Greece was most likely a culture that will never be equaled, with great works of art that may never be out done.