Our Inspiration



Many people when they first see Geoff Graham’s “South Italian” ware are confused. People identify it on sight as anything from “Egyptian” to “Chinese,” because it is noticeably foreign to them, and clearly ancient and exotic.


When they hear South Italian, they want also to know if it is one of the kinds of Majolica. Majolica is actually a northern Italian art form invented in the middle ages, whereas South Italian is an ancient terracotta slip painted style of art, no longer produced exept by the rare artist who revives it.


Most people’s first impression is that this work is “Greek.” These people are mostly right. South Italian ware was made by Greeks and South Italian native peoples who were heavily influenced by Greek culture. The ancient South Italians were of mixed stock. Some were Italiotes, Greek settlers in southern Italy. Some were Italics: Messapians, Samnites, Oscans, or Latins, peoples who spoke ancient Italian languages, and who traded regularly with the Greek settlers. Others were Etruscans who invaded southern Italy from the north, and held colonies such as Capua around the bay of Naples. Their dominant cultural influences were also from Greek domains. At any rate the Italian influences on Greek style pottery in the south of Italy were significant too. The classical Attic style which had first been brought to southern Italy was elaborated: new colors were added, lots of floral and busy decoration was introduced. It became rather florid and even Italianate! …So, yes, it is kind of Greek, but from South Italy and not the Greek homeland.



South Italian is a designation for ancient Greek pottery fabricated in Magna Graecia largely during the Fourth Century B.C. The fact that Greek Southern Italy produced its own red figure pottery as early as the end of the fifth century B.C. was first established by Adolf Furtwaengler in 1893 (A.D. Trendall). Prior to that this pottery had been first designated as “Etruscan” and then as “Attic.” Archaeological proof that this pottery was actually being produced in South Italy first came in 1973 when a workshop and kilns with misfirings and broken wares was first excavated at Metaponto, proving that the Amykos Painter was located there rather than in Athens (A.D. Trendall, p. 17).


The interchange of iconography, techniques, and ideas between the major pottery centers of the Hellenistic Period was formidable. One can see the influences of Corinth, Athens, Etruria, and cross pollination throughout the fabrics of Magna Graecia. There are five regions which produced South Italian ware: Apulia, Lucania, Paestum, Campania, and Sicily. These regions, in turn, had various workshops within them.

Apulian ware was almost all made in various workshops in Taras (Taranto). Lucanian ware was made in Heraklea and Metaponto. Paestan ware was all made in Poseidonia (Paestum). Campanian ware was made in Capua and Kyme (Cumae). Sicilian ware was made in Syracuse and Lipari. Later centers also developed in Teano (Campania), Canosa (Apulia), and Gnathia (Apulia), but these potteries are moving away from Classical red figure towards the less figurative work of the later Hellenistic and Graeco-Roman Periods.

All South Italian fabrics were originally scions from the Attic workshops of Athens, when artists began to leave that city following the Pelloponesian Wars. The earliest workshops seem to have been founded in Lucania, and Apulia. Others were founded in Sicily, and then scions from the Sicilian workshops established those in Paestum and Campania.

South Italian ware illustrates many ancient Greek dramas and myths which are unknown in Mainland Greek pottery fabrics like those of Athens ( Attic ware), Sparta ( Laconian ware), and Corinth ( Corinthian ware).

Almost all of the pottery forms developed in Greece were also produced in South Italy. However, South Italian potters developed some of these traditional forms in new directions. For instance, Apulian potters take the volute krater and loutrophoros to new heights of fancy, making them far more elabrate than their Athenian forerunners. Apulian potters, having a taste for the frilly and elaborate, take traditional forms such as the Panathenaic amphora, the oinochoe, the lekythos, attenuate their forms, exaggerate their flares, add volute handles, molded gorgonions, affectionately dubbed “macaroons”, and end up with extremely elegant new varieties of pottery which still fit within the Hellenistic aesthetic, and end up becoming standard in the subsequent Graeco-Roman world.

New Italiote forms come about through experimentation and borrowing from local Italic cultures. In Campania, the bail amphora was invented. This is an amphora shape which has a single handle across the mouth rather than the usual double handles on the neck or shoulder. Local Italic forms made by native peoples were also borrowed into the South Italian repertoire. The Messapian trozzella is borrowed and becomes the nestoris, an eleborate form having a large belly, a pair of lug handles, a pair of neck to shoulder handles, and molded rosettes.

Some elements of decoration were also innovative. Apulian artists use polychromatic, coiling tendrils and flower forms including roses, poppies, and whirling swirls to fill necks and other traditionally black areas of vases. Frequent use is made of portrait or cameo faces of nymphs and satyrs. Rosettes, vine leaves, and other fillers get more and more elaborate. Italiote artists also created a technique called “sovradipinto,” in which multiple layers of colored slips were used to add chiaroscuro (highlight and lowlight) for figures and decorations. The Campanian artists seem to have favored the use of a broader palette of colors than the other fabrics, often making female figures with white skin, while leaving male figures in red, and then adding lots of purple red, yellow, and white details all over the vases. Italiote artists were also extremely adept at using the false red figure technique, also known as Six’s technique. This is the application of red and white slips on top of the black gloss rather than leaving figures and designs in reserve, as was the usual Athenian custom. This technique was also very popular in Etruria and may hail from that region.


South Italian Vase Painting by A.D. Trendall
Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily by A.D. Trendall