I usually visit one of Berlin's fabulous culture venues on Sundays. This past Sunday I went to the Altes, one of the (Currently) 5 Museums on Museum Island. The Altes is the oldest of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, The State Museums on Museum Island. Designed by Karl Frederich Schinkel, it opened in 1830 and currently houses the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Collections. I went to “pig out” on Black and Red Figure Grecian Jars and Plates, and to compare the drawing on those jars to the poses of the Sculptures in the Collection. One reason was my renewed thoughts about the Trojan War because of a recent exhibition at a bookstore, Motto Books, by my Studio Neighbor, Adam Frearon, focusing on the image of Achilles binding the wounds of Petroculus (which is in the Altes), with a singer chanting the text of the Illiad. It's a story that never grows old for me and unfortunately has been repeated in every generation for thousands of years, although with different Reasons and Characters.
A large part of the Archaelogical record of ancient Greece is found in these jars. So many of them have remained, they even have their own registry: the “Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum” with over 100,000 entries. They made urns for over a thousand years but by the late 5th Century and early 4th Century we begin to see those red and black Jars with the exquisite drawings we are familiar with, This was possible because of the development of firing techniques that turned the Slip black and the Clay red.. They were made by small enterprises with a division of labor so each worker had his own skilled role in the process. They were used as Home Décor but also as Grave Markings. Possibly because they were money making enterprises with several people contributing to the final product the makers of these pots were not considered Artists. Only those who carved Statues, Busts and the like were were given the “Artist” designation.
The images come from Mythology, History, or everyday life. If an image became popular these enterprising Potters were only too happy to fill the demand with copies or their own version of the scene. The images often carried a message, such as the famous image of Ajax and Achilles playing a game, possibly dice, at a lull in the battle during the Trojan War. Both knew they would not leave Troy alive, so it is unknown what the prize was but in the image, Achilles says four and Ajax three. The Greeks differentiated between games of luck vs. games of skill, but these two wee playing a game of chance because they had already resigned themselves to “Tyche” or the hand of Fate and they knew they were not getting out alive.
More about the Etruscan and Roman Collections in a future blog, but here are some images from ancient Greece
Ajax and Achilles playing a Game during the Trojan War
Achilles Binds the wounds of Petroclus
Thetis, the Godess Mother of Achilles', receiving Weapons for him from Hephaestus (Vulcan to the Romans) God of Fire and Blacksmithing, She got him these invincible Weapons and earlier, when he was a Baby, dipped him into the River Styx to make him immortal, but held him by the heel. We all know how that turned out.
Theseus and the Minator (half man, half Raging Bull. A metaphor for Reasoning Man overcoming his Animal (Beastly) Instincts
Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar
Quadriga-a 4 Horse Chariot (see the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin)
Hätera and her Chamberpot. (Those Greeks were earthy people)
Dionysis and a Satyr
Hera (or Athena) and Zeus
Tending the Kiln
Cross Section of a Loaded Kiln