Terracotta miniature hydria "Kalpis"


Ancient Greece, Magna Graecia, Southern Italy, near present-day Ignazia, c. 350 BC to 300 BC, private collection from Finland.

The Hellenistic period is a term which refers to that period of ancient Greek history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire. This period is also referred to as the age of Classical Greece, while the period afterwards is known as Roman Greece. This is the time of great Golden Age of Greece and, in popular imagination, resonates as "ancient Greece".

Magna Graecia  (Ancient Greek: Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς, Latin meaning "Greater Greece" was the name given by the Romans to the coastal areas of Southern Italy in the present-day regions of Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata and Campania; these regions were extensively populated by Greek settlers. These settlers, who began arriving in the 8th century BC, brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which left a lasting imprint in those territories, as it did in the culture of ancient Rome. They also influenced the native peoples, such as the Sicels, or the Oenotrians, who became Hellenised after they adopted the Greek culture as their own.

Greek art evolved to reflect the changing world of the Hellenistic period, exploring drama, realism, emotion, and decorative arts. The most important changes in the pottery of Greece during the Hellenistic period involved a desire to emulate the luxury of the new ruling class, a trend toward baroque detail, and contrasting tendency toward simpler decoration. The clay (keramos) to produce pottery (kerameikos) was readily available throughout Greece, although the finest was Attic clay, with its high iron content giving an orange-red colour with a light sheen when fired and the pale buff of Corinth. Clay was generally prepared and refined in settling tanks so that different consistencies of material could be achieved depending on the vessel types to be made with. Greek pottery was invariably made on the potter's wheel and usually made in separate horizonal sections: the foot, the lower and upper body, the neck, and finally the handles, if necessary. The sections were then joined together with a clay "slip" after drying. Next, the pot was decorated. This process depended on the decorative style in vogue at the time, but popular methods included painting the whole or parts of the vase with a thin black adhesive paint which was added with a brush. This black paint was a mix of alkali potash or soda, clay with silicon content, and black ferrous oxide of iron. Black-glazed pottery was produced especially in the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Within about a hundred years, during the 5th century BC, black-glazed wares replaced the previously popular red-figure pottery from the Mediterranean markets. The finished pot was the ready to be put in the kiln and fired.

The most common forms of pottery were large heavy vessels with strong handles (styles include the amphorae, pithos, pelike, hydria, and pyxis) for transport and storing, large mixing vessels in the shape of bowls with no handles or feet (krater and dinos), jugs and cups (oinochoe, kantharos, phiale, kylix, skyphos, and loutrophoros) sometimes had long handles (especially practical if lifting a cup from floor when reclining on a lounger at dinner). Vases for holding oils, cosmetics and perfumes usually had long necks and no handles (styles include the large lekythos, aryballos, and alabastron). The hydria (Greek: ὑδρία) is a vase with a long history, used from the 8th century BC. It had three handles; two for holding and one at the back of the neck for pouring. It is most typically associated with storing water but evidence has been found to suggest other liquids or items were stored in the vase type, such as ashes at a cemetery.

Gnathia ware is named for the site where it was first discovered - the Apulian site of Egnathia. The black glaze ware is traditionally decorated with floral motifs in red, white, or yellow hues. Scholars believe that its production was most likely centered around Taras, with primary workshops in Egnathia and Canosa. The quantity and quality of Greek colonial Apulian potters increased significantly following the Peloponnesian War when Attic exports dramatically decreased. Apulian artistry demonstrates influences of Ionian (Athenian, Attic) conventions, as well as Doric (western colonial Greek) styles, with a palpable native Italic aesthetic.

Absolutely stunning small sized blackware hydria, decorated in the Gnathian technique with faded white and yellow-orange pigment atop lustrous black glaze which has also faded away to reveal the orange pottery body beneath. Such a vase could have been used to pour libations or left as a grave offering. The neck is decorated with a laurel wreath. Featuring D-shaped applied loop handles and low pedestal foot. Excellent condition. Age-related wear, abrasion and minor hairline crack on the foot. Mineral encrustation, soil and dust. Size approx. 18,5cm x 11,0cm x 12,6cm. Weight c. 326g.

NB! For a stylistically-similar example of a miniature size and with a tiered foot, please check out: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 41.162.224: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/254395

References and citations:

Hellenistic Pottery, Summer Trentin and Debby Sneed, Department of Classics, University of Colorado Boulder, June 14, 2018.

World History Encyclopedia

Uncover the History of Ancient Greek Pottery and How It Evolved Over Centuries, Emma Taggart, My Modern Met, July 17, 2021.