The pictures on Athenian vases of the late Archaic period often play upon the tension between an image and its material support, and between the sense of depth and the sense of surface. Richard Neer's study tracks design and imagery on Athenian vases in four domains: the symposium, with its elaborate riddles and poems; the development of 'naturalistic' techniques, such as foreshortening and shading; the birth of self-portraiture at the end of the sixth century; and the treatment of overtly political subject-matter in the early democracy. In each case, formal ambiguity provided vase painters and their audiences with a means of creating new conceptions of civic identity. Focusing on 'how pictures show what they show' leads the author to a re-examination of basic ideas about Greek art and its history, with particular regard to naturalism, realism, allegory, and the relation of ceramics to social life.
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