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2021 Trendall Lecture
THE VASE-PAINTER’S PALETTE: the significance of colour and texture in ancient Greek vase-painting

Dr Anne Mackay
Honorary Research Fellow in Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland, New Zealand

If you have ever studied a masterpiece of Greek painted pottery from photographs alone, it is a revelation when you encounter it “in the flesh.” There is the immediacy of its three-dimensional corporeality: the orange clay-colour glows; the black gloss gleams and coruscates with the change of light as you move around it. You see subtle variations in the decorative surface: matt additional colours contrast with the glossy black; your eye is caught by the filigree-like intricacy of incised details, and perhaps by relief elements glinting as they catch the light. The figures in the scenes, static in fixed-view photographs, are enlivened by the shifting dynamics of the pictorial composition. Even in the sterile context of a museum, you can capture something of how ancient vases were perceived by their contemporary users. But did ancient viewers respond as we do to the colours and textures applied by the vase-painters? That question, in particular reference to the Athenian black-figure tradition, will be a major focus of this illustrated lecture: while we tend to interpret overlaid added-red and added-white in terms of our own culturally constructed spectrum, there is evidence that vase-painters used them beyond mere chromatic variation to add extra layers of meaning to their depictions.

Three warriors: detail from the exterior of a black-figure cup (the famous “Dionysos
Cup signed by Exekias), Munich Antikensammlungen 8729. (Photo: Mackay 2007)

The ninth annual Trendall Lecture.

Dec 9, 2021 06:00 PM in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

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