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A vase by the Berlin Painter, from ancient Athens

Where did the Berlin Painter live?

One of the most famous Greek red-figure vase painters is known today as the Berlin Painter. Like Exekias, he worked in Athens. The reason we call him the Berlin Painter is that we don’t know his name, because he didn’t sign his vases.

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What is red-figure vase painting?
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Who was the Berlin Painter?

People call this artist the Berlin Painter because one of his most famous vases is now in Berlin, in Germany. We don’t know anything else about him, either – not even whether he was a slave or not.

Slavery in ancient Greece

A boy rolls a hoop on a vase by the Berlin Painter

What’s so great about him?

Based on the style of the vases he painted, the Berlin Painter lived about 500-480 BC. His vases generally show one person, or a couple of people, alone in the middle of the scene, with a lot of black around them. This simple layout is like the Greek paintings of the same time, like the Tomb of the Diver at Paestum.

Classical Greek painting
Classical Greek history
Empires timeline: 500-400s BC

Europa and the bull, on an Athenian vase painted by the Berlin Painter

Europa and the bull, on an Athenian vase painted by the Berlin Painter

How do we know which ones he painted?

None of the Berlin Painter’s vases are signed. Experts can tell the Berlin Painter’s vases apart from vases painted by other artists from the style of the painting: not just that the figures are alone, but also the way he draws eyes and hands and clothing. Right now people do this work, but we are teaching AI computers to be able to do it too.

Why did Greek people make such fancy pots?

The Greeks sold things to people in other countries to get things they wanted. They needed good things to sell.

The Greek economy
Etruscans in Italy
Carthage and North Africa
The Scythians

Greek traders sold a lot of these vases to the Etruscans, in Italy, to use in their houses or to put in their tombs after they died. Other Greek vases went to Carthage, in North Africa, or to Egypt, or the Persian Empire, or the Scythians. They sold them all over. In return, the Greeks bought horses, carpets, silk scarves, linen dresses, glass beads, wheat and barley, and wood for their ships.

The Silk Road and Trade

Learn by doing: a vase painting project
More about red figure pottery

Bibliography and further reading about Greek red-figure vase painting:

Ancient Greek Art, by Susie Hodge (1998)- easy reading.
Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques(Getty Museum Publications 2002) by Andrew J. Clark, Maya Elston, Mary Louise Hart

More about Black-Figure vases
More about Red-Figure vases
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