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Geometric art is a phase of Greek art, characterized largely by geometric motifs in vase painting, that flourished towards the end of the Greek Dark Ages, circa 900 BC – 700 BC. Its centre was in Athens, and from there the style spread amongst the trading cities of the Aegean.[1]

The Greek Dark Ages is also called the Geometric period in reference to this characteristic pottery style, although the historical period is much longer than the art-historical period, being circa 1100 – 800 BC.[2]


Pottery in the Geometric periodsEdit

Protogeometric periodEdit

During the Protogeometric period (1050–900 BC), the shapes of the vessels have eliminated the fluid nature of the Mycenaean, the form has become strict and simple and they are divided into horizontal decorative bands with a few written geometric shapes within, usually concentric circles or semicircles engraved with a caliper.

Early Geometric periodEdit

In the Early Geometric period (900–850 BC), the height of the vessels had been increased, while the decoration is limited around the neck down to the middle of the body of the vessel. The remaining surface is covered by a thin layer of clay, which during the firing takes a dark, shiny, metallic color.[3] That was the period when the decorative theme of the meander was added to the pottery design, the most characteristic element of Geometric art.

Middle Geometric periodEdit

By the Middle Geometric period (850–760 BC), the decorative zones appear multiplied due to the creation of a laced mesh, while the meander dominates and is placed in the most important area, in the metope, which is arranged between the handles.

Late Geometric periodEdit

Detail of a chariot from a late Geometric krater attributed to the Trachones workshop on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Dipylon Amphora, mid-8th century BC, with human figures for scale. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

While the technique from the Middle Geometric period was still continued at the beginning of the 8th century BC, some potters enriched again the decorative organization of the vases, stabilized the forms of the animals in the areas of the neck and the base of the vase, and introduced between the handles, the human form. This was the first phase of the Late Geometric period (760–700 BC), in which the great vessels of Dipylon ware placed on the graves as funeral monuments,[4] and represent with their height (often at a height of 1.50 m) and the perfection of their execution, the highest expression of the Greek Geometric art.

The focal point of the funerary vases (kraters) was now the body lying in state (prothesis) and the wail of the dead (Amphora in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens), carrying out to the grave with an honorary chariot race (Krater in the Athens National Archaeological Museum), and various other subjects thought to be related to similar descriptions of the Homeric epics.

People and animals are depicted geometrically in a dark glossy color, while the remaining vessel is covered by strict zones of meanders, crooked lines, circles, swastikas, in the same graphical concept. Later, the main tragic theme of the wail declined, the compositions eased, the geometric shapes have become more freely, and areas with animals, birds, scenes of shipwrecks, hunting scenes, themes from mythology or the Homeric epics led Geometric pottery into more naturalistic expressions.[5]

One of the characteristic examples of the Late Geometric style is an oldest surviving signed work of a Greek potter Aristonothos (or Aristonophos) (7th century BC). The vase was found at Cerveteri in Italy and illustrates the blinding of Polyphemus by Odysseus and his companions. From the mid-8th century BC, the closer contact between Greece and the East enriched the ceramic art with new subjects – such as lions, panthers, imaginary beings, rosettes, palmettes, lotus flowers etc. – that led to the Orientalizing Period style, in which the pottery style of Corinth distinguished.

Geometric motifsEdit

The Hirschfeld Krater, mid-8th century BC, from the late Geometric period, depicting ekphora, the act of carrying a body to its grave. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Vases in the Geometric style are characterized by several horizontal bands about the circumference covering the entire vase. Between these lines the geometric artist used a number of other decorative motifs such as the zigzag, the triangle, the meander and the swastika. Besides abstract elements, painters of this era introduced stylized depictions of humans and animals which marks a significant departure from the earlier Protogeometric Art. Many of the surviving objects of this period are funerary objects, a particularly important class of which are the amphorae that acted as grave markers for aristocratic graves, principally the Dipylon Amphora by the Dipylon Master[6] who has been credited with a number of kraters and amphorae from the late geometric period.[7]

Linear designs were the principal motif used in this period. The meander pattern was often placed in bands and used to frame the now larger panels of decoration. The areas most used for decoration by potters on shapes such as the amphorae and lekythoi were the neck and belly, which not only offered the greatest liberty for decoration but also emphasized the taller dimensions of the vessels.[8]

Human depictionsEdit

The first human figures appeared around 770 BC on the handles of vases. The human forms are easily distinguished because they do not overlap with one another, making the painted black forms discernible from one another against the color of the clay body.[7] The male was depicted with a triangular torso, an ovoid head with a blob for a nose and long cylindrical thighs and calves. Female figures were also abstract. Their long hair was depicted as a series of lines, as were their breasts, which appeared as strokes under the armpit.[9]

See alsoEdit


External video
  Geometric Greek Krater, Smarthistory.
  1. ^ Snodgrass, Anthony M. (Dec 1973). "Greek Geometric Art by Bernhard Schweitzer". The Classical Review. 23 (2): 249–252. doi:10.1017/s0009840x00240729. JSTOR 707869. 
  2. ^ "The History of Greece". Retrieved 2016-01-04. 
  3. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 35th and 36th Books
  4. ^ Woodford, Susan. (1982) The Art of Greece and Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 40. ISBN 0521298733
  5. ^ Geometric periods of pottery at
  6. ^ Coldstream, John N. (2003) [1979]. Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-29899-7. 
  7. ^ a b Rasmussen, Tom; Spivey, Nigel (1991). Looking at Greek Vases. New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 37–57. ISBN 0521376793. 
  8. ^ Snodgrass, Anthony M. (2001). The Dark Age of Greece: An Archeological Survey of the Eleventh to the Eighth Centuries BC. New York, US: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-93636-5. 
  9. ^ Morris, Ian (Sep 1999). Archaeology As Cultural History: Words and Things in Iron Age Greece. London, UK: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-19602-1. 

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit