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Historic Vase Shapes


Many vases, even today, are still influenced by the shape of Greek vases. Look at examples of ancient Greek vases in order to talk about their shapes.

  1. Locate Greece on the map.
  2. To get a mental image of the time span between the time of ancient Greece and today, visit the timeline at HyperHistory Online
  3. There are a number of traditional Greek vase shapes, but the class can focus on these four main types: (Teacher can write these on the board for reference while the class looks at samples on the web.)
    • Amphora
    • Hydria
    • Kylix
    • Krater
  4. Websites -- Look at other examples of Greek vases and talk about their shapes and purposes. Can the students find the four main types from the list in section "3", above?
  • Scholars today classify ancient Greek vases by shape, of which there are about 100 different types, many with several sub-types. Here are some examples of the major types arranged by predominant (but not exclusive) function.
  • The container quiz: Challenge the students to match the four shapes on this website.
  • More examples of historical vases are pictured on this web site. Notice the variety of images on the sides of the vases. Roll over the index to see thumbnails of the different Greek vases, or click on individual ones to see enlargements
    • The images on these vases offer a good extension opportunity for exploring the subject of mythology.
  • A site for mythology:
  • Use: Since these are really old vases, and they were just found around old cities, then how in the world do we know what they were supposed to be for?
    • Burial (how do we know - because of where they were found)
    • Everyday (how do we know - because of how many we found)
    • Art - trophies (how do we know - because vase shape still used for many trophies today)

Relate the information back to the appearances of the Franz Mayer items - discuss which shapes look like they are influenced by Greek vases

  • After identifying Greek vase-inspired Ceramics, look for one other piece that resembles a Greek vase (the silver spice container.)


  1. Locate China on the map
  2. Types: Emphasize the length of time that China has been making ceramics
  3. Websites - Look at other examples of Chinese vases:
  • The Palace Museum, historically and artistically one of the most comprehensive in China, was established on the foundation of a palace of two dynasties, the Ming and the Qing, and their collection of treasures.
    This site has a pictoral chronology of Chinese ceramics through various dynasties.
  • Another smaller chronology of ceramics through the dynasties
    • Some for decoration instead of common use
    • Became very admired in Chinese society, favored by the wealthy
  • Look for similar shapes among the Chinese examples to those in Franz Mayer. Do they seem more common during certain Dynasties?
  • Relate the information back to the appearances of the Franz Mayer items- The items that were produced in China have fewer changes than the items that look like Chinese ceramics but were produced in Mexico (like the blue and white platter.) Discuss why that might happen.


  1. Locate Spain on Map
  2. Locate Italy on the Map, note geographical relationship to Spain
  3. Look at examples of platters from Italy.
    (Note to teacher: There is a nice Italian website that shows antique silver platter shapes, but not a website for antique Spanish platters.) Discuss why we can look at Italian platters even if we're really interested in the Spanish influence (Because of trade, proximity, sharing of ideas, they would very likely share elements of their appearances.)
  • Look at the examples of antique Italian silver platters on the website:
    • Discuss which shapes remind us of the platter from Franz Mayer
    • Discuss why might the Franz Mayer platter have been made from ceramic instead of silver, if they're copying Western European silver platters for the shape