Saturday, May 19, 2007

Geometric Vases

In his short handbook on Greek art, John Boardman discusses an inspiration for the geometric designs on vases that I had never encountered before: basket weaving. He says: All the patterns are more characteristic of the appearance of basketry or weaving than of brushwork, and this is surely their source of inspiration. Indeed, some basketry shapes are copied. This had never occurred to me before when looking at vases with geometric style designs, but now it strikes me as something that should have been obvious at first sight.

For Boardman, this "raises intriguing questions". He notes that weaving and basketry were primarily women's work, and that in many early societies pottery was as well. Greek pottery, however, in the classical period, seems to have been an industry dominated by men. Boardman also suggests that some of the large vases of the Late Geometric period were perhaps too large to have been crafted by women. I would make two objections: first, that painting the vases would not require the same strength as building them; and secondly, having worked on a crew of stonemasons made up entirely of women, and knowing several women farmers, I doubt that even the largest vases would be beyond the capability of a woman. Despite this, Boardman wonders if the geometric style was the first, and possibly last, "influential contribution" of women to Greek art.