geometric/Corinthian

replica geometric pottery online at itsallgreek.co.uk and near the British Museum

Geometric art flourished in the 9th and 8th centuries BC. The style is characterised by abstract motifs like the 'meander' (or 'Greek key'), triangles and linear decoration in various permutations and combinations. Different from the fluid, circular decoration and iconography of the preceding Minoan and Mycenean periods.

The repetitive, formulaic nature of the decoration reminds us of Homer's epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, where we have the literary equivalent of these motifs in the epithets and formulaic lines which form the bedrock of the poems.

On some geometric vases we see bands of birds, horses or ibex depicted, but again as repeated formulae. In the middle of the 8th century, there begin to appear human figures, such as on the famous Dipylon vase. They are shown in silhouette, without perspective, rather like 'stick' men and often as part of a funerary scene, which reflects the purpose for which many of these vases were used, namely as grave markers. 

Corinth, situated on the isthmus which connects mainland Greece to the Peloponnese, was a hub of trading activity, due to its location in a sort of 'maritime crossroads'. The 8th and 7th centuries BC were a time of cultural and commercial ferment in the Mediterranean and there was a huge influence from the artefacts of Egypt, Syria and Phoenicia.

In the Corinthian art of this period, characterised by the 'orientalizing' style, representations of the human figure were rare: rather, the predominant motifs were real and mythological creatures such as the lion, the sphinx, the griffin, the ibex and the panther, usually depicted grazing in 'bands' or 'friezes' around the shape of the pot.  The style is further characterised by rich polychromy and formulaic motifs such as the palmette.

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