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This Visual Arts integrated lesson combines narrative writing, mythology  Greek culture and history

Ode on a Grecian Urn

In Ancient Greece, Athens was a major center for the production of vases that were decorated with mythological narratives, beasts and scenes from daily life. Black vases with red figures first appeared around 530 B.C.  The Greeks created their pots from local terra-cotta clay. To make their pots black, they used water and a clay mixture, called slip, to paint over their pot. The only areas left unpainted were those that the artists wanted to decorate with red figures. The vase was then fired in a kiln. After three firings, oxidation turned the exposed areas bright reddish orange.


The vases told stories, narratives that the people knew well. The mythological heroes acted out their feats. The vases usually had beautiful geometric patterns at the top and at the base. Amphoras stored honey, olive oil, water or wine. Some were made as trophies for athletes or offerings to the dead.  Though they were beautiful works of art, they were functional and fairly inexpensive to manufacture and buy. 



Discussion Questions

As you view these two videos determine the purpose for the vases.

Quickly sketch out some of the geometric designs

What kind of mood does the vases create?

How are the vases shaped?

How did the artists use the principles of design: balance, contrast, pattern and emphasis?

Lesson Overview (Written by Getty Staff)

Students will examine a scene depicting Herakles (known as Hercules to the Romans) and the Hydra on the face of a black-figure hydria. They will then read Greek myths and choose one to depict in the style of the vase painter, known as the Eagle Painter.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• examine a black-figure hydria and interpret the scene on it.
• read ancient Greek myths and choose one to illustrate on a vase form.
• understand black-figure technique of decorating ancient Greek and Etruscan vases.

All handouts and PDF's can be found on the above link to the Getty


• Image of the Water Jar, attributed to the Eagle Painter
• Handout: Excerpt from the story of Herakles
• Fact Sheet: About Greek Vases
• Scratchboards
• Paperclips
• Wooden stylus
• Crayons—red or terracotta colors
• Black tempera paint
• Heavy construction paper


New file download
Panathenaic Amphora

Amphora An amphora, such as the one at left, is a two-handled storage jar that held oil, wine, milk, or grain. Amphora was also the term for a unit of measure. Amphoras were sometimes used as grave markers or as containers for funeral offerings or human remains.

The Getty Villa houses the J. Paul Getty Museum's collection of approximately 44,000 Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities. Over 1,200 works are on view in 23 galleries devoted to the permanent collection, with five additional galleries for changing exhibitions.

With objects dating from 6,500 B.C. to A.D. 400, the collection contains monumental sculptures as well as artifacts of everyday life.


Visit the Getty Villa

Head of Athena
Getty Villa Garden & Reflection Pool

Ode on a Grecian Urn


Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?


Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!


Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.


Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.


O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
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