Ancient Greek Ceramics from Apulia

By: Dara Vandor

Three excellent examples of Apulian ceramics, lots 404-406 in our Cabinet of Curiosities auction.

Our June Cabinet of Curiosities auction includes three excellent examples of Apulian ceramics, lots 404-406. Apulian pottery originated in the region of Apulia – present-day Puglia – located in southeastern Italy. This region was part of Magna Graecia, or “Great Greece,” the sprawling empire colonised by the Greek empire. Southern Italian ceramics can be divided into five regions: Lucanian, Campanian, Paestan, Sicilian and Apulian. Though these regions were in dialogue, each developed their own aesthetic features, shapes and artistic decorations, which help present-day scholars identify their origins. Apulian pottery represents a significant and distinctive tradition within ancient Greek ceramics, known for its elaborate decoration, rich themes, and the cultural interplay between Greek and Italic influences.


Greek cities located in Sicily and along the southern Italian coast imported many of their wares from Corinth and Athens until the third quarter of the fifth century BC, when they began manufacturing pottery locally. It is thought that the first local craftsmen had been trained in Athens, and thus early Apulian wares share many aesthetic qualities with Attic examples – Attic referring to pottery produced in the region of Attica, particularly in Athens.

The Peloponnesian War in 404 BC meant that Athens was unable to produce vast quantities of ceramics for export. This led to a great flourishing of regional schools of production from about 440 BC to 300 BC. Amphorae can be divided into Early examples (circa 430-370 BC), characterised by simpler, more restrained designs, and Later (circa 370-320 BC), which are more elaborate and ornate. Apulian wares often used a greater variety of colours than their Attic counterparts, including white, yellow, and red.

After decades of modelling pottery after Attic examples, various unique local forms began to emerge. One is the knob-handled patera, which the Metropolitan Museum describes as “a low-footed, shallow dish with two handles rising from the rim. The handles and rim are elaborated with mushroom-shaped knobs.” Another signature shape is the volute krater, typified by lot 405 and the amphora, represented by lot 404. Beautifully painted, wares from this genre were primarily funerary in function, and often include scenes of mourners and/or mythology. These scenes were largely unique to Apulia, differing from examples found on the Greek mainland.

More than half of the surviving wares from Southern Italy are Apulian. The largest Greek colony in the region was Tarentum – modern-day Taranto – where the majority of these ceramics were produced. Demand was so strong from both Greeks and the local indigenous Italic populations that manufacturing facilities were established in communities including Ruvo, Ceglie del Campo, and Canosa by the mid-fourth century. Unlike wares from the Greek mainland, Southern Italian ware were not manufactured for export, but were intended for local use.

The greatest production of Apulian wares occurred between 350 and 320 BC, in spite of chaotic conditions in the region. Unlike with Attic pottery, artists in Magna Graecia rarely signed their work, which has led scholars to identify them by more idiosyncratic modern names. Two of the most influential workshops – producing many of the surviving examples – were made by Darius and Underworld Painters, and the Patera, Ganymede, and Baltimore Painters. After 310 BC, the Apulian pottery industry began to decline.


Themes depicted included architecture, mythology, scenes from daily life, and theatre – particularly the tragedies of Euripedes and the local comedic burlesques known as phlyax, which were popular during the 4th and 3rd centuries. Indeed, much of what we know about phlyax plays comes from the depictions on South Italian vases, which have provided insight into the costumes, masks, and staging. Stylistically, Apulian pottery are categorised as “Ornate” – richly coloured with elaborate, often floral decorations – or “Plain,” exhibiting simple scenes with one to five figures. Interestingly, Apulian painters often incorporated depictions of local Italic figures in their native dress, representing the rich exchange between cultures.


Available for bidding until June 13, 2024, this instalment of our Cabinet of Curiosities auction features an eclectic array of cultural artefacts from around the globe, including impressive examples of Apulian Red Figure pottery, Roman glass and a Roman Marble Figure of a Youth (1st Century AD). Other highlights include a letter written and signed by Helen Keller c.1890, a 1st edition of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and a variety of military antiques, including an Etrusco-Corinthian Bronze Helmet (5-4th Century BC).

On view at our Toronto location, 275 King Street East, Second Floor:

Sunday, June 09 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Monday, June 10 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Tuesday, June 11 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Please contact us for more information.

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