A short video produced in Larnaca links a tiny corner of Athens with a massive organisation in Boston. And with luck will see similar projects linked to the new Cyprus Museum

 

How does an ancient vase link a massive organisation in Boston, a tiny corner of ancient Athens, and little old Larnaca? The answer lies in a stunning animated video: an inspired production that highlights one of the rarest pieces of pottery known to man. Entitled Figures in Red, the short film depicts the massive shift in artistic styles which, millennia ago, shook the known world…

2,500 years in the past, the Keramikos district of Athens was home to master potters, whose work was celebrated far and wide. You’ll have seen the vases yourself, with their stylised depictions of ancient myths and mighty gods. Originally painted in what was known as ’black-figure style’ (in which the slip – a special mixture made from chemicals and clay – was applied only to the characters being depicted, leaving the background red) these vases were considered a homeware prize; the Arco lamp or Eames chair of their time.

But then, around 530BC, some bright spark had a gem of an idea: by painting the background rather than the characters, the figures could really spring to life. And suddenly, the whole world wanted one of these ‘red-figure style’ vases!

Somewhere in the midst of the change, a handful of vases depicting both black- and red-figure styles together – on the same vase – were created. Today, it’s one of these very vases that rests in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Half black-figure and half red-figure, it’s a testament to an artistic shift that’s recognised as an iconic moment in history. And the accompanying film, from Larnaca’s own Zedem Media, has brought this transformative moment to life…

“Figures in Red was created to accompany the permanent Ancient Greek Vase exhibition of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” explains Zedem Media owner and founder Michael Kalopaidis. “The museum really liked our proposed narrative approach and art direction. And I think they saw how passionate we were about a project produced on an island that shares a strong cultural heritage with Greece. We saw from the start that there was a great story to be told. And we truly believed that a combination of animation and creative storytelling was the best way to both convey the educational aspect of the story and inspire audiences of all ages to develop an interest in the art history of ancient Greece.”

Set in an ancient Athenian workshop, the animated short accompanies a rare black- and red-figure vase from 520BC that depicts Herakles driving a bull to sacrifice. In the video, we spend a day with master potter Andokides and his apprentice Simon – learning the sophisticated process of black-figure vase painting and privy to one of history’s eureka moments…

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“Hold it there, Simon!” cries Andokides, suddenly noticing his apprentice’s shadow, reddened by the setting sun, as it falls across the vase. “Bring me the thinnest brush you can find! I’m going to try something new on this side of the vase…” And as the master potter begins to apply the slip to the background, leaving the figures untouched, a new technique is born!

“Obviously we don’t know exactly what inspired this momentous shift,” says Michael. “But the epiphany changed the course of art history, and we wanted to capture it in a narrative-based, character-driven film that would fascinate and inform.

“The entire project took 13 months,” he continues. “Working closely with the Museum’s curator for Greek and Roman Art, and the Manager of Exhibition and Gallery Media, our team locked down the script and art direction, created a sketched storyboard that turned voice-over into visual narrative, and built a rough animation that indicated the timings and key poses of each character. Then we created the in-between frames, cleaned up and coloured each frame while adding textures and visual effects, and finally produced the sound design of the film –and brought in a voice-over artist.”

One of the highlights of the project, says Michael, was learning about the fascinating process of ancient Greek pottery-making. “Did you know, that to this day, historians have still not deciphered the exact painting and firing techniques used to achieve these vases? Regardless of countless chemical analyses and endless research, there’s still a certain mystery to a process that not only produces these exquisite results, but can also survive for millennia! And we also discovered that, at the time, the vases were so prized that they generated a knock-off market – dodgy merchants sold imitation vases, which they claimed were the work of famous Greek pottery masters!”

14 two handled jar (amphora) with herakles driving a bull to sacrifice

A two-handled amphora with Herakles driving a bull to sacrifice
the Andokides Painter
about 525–520 B.C.
Ceramic, Black Figure and Red Figure (Bilingual)
* Henry Lillie Pierce Fund
* Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Today, there are many examples of both black- and red-figure styles from the era. But those that depict both styles at the same time are vanishingly few in number – and well-deserving of the modern technology that now complements such exhibits.

“While I don’t think this medium will ever replace the feeling you get from a real-life visit to a gallery or a museum,” says Michael, “the technology of filmmaking and creative storytelling provides a gateway of learning for those who can’t make the trip in person. And it also delivers a unique and engaging in-person experience that makes the educational content memorable.

“There are so many educational organisations, galleries and museums around the world who already benefit from audiovisual accompaniment,” says Michael, who hopes the upcoming new Cyprus Museum will include this format in their exhibits. “These short films can work as standalone, online works as well as being part of a physical exhibition. And organisations such as TED and Microsoft are great examples of how educational films can be used to create a positive impact on the community, and facilitate conversations about everything from art to technology.

“And with Figures in Red for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Zedem Media has brought that conversation full circle,” he concludes. “Using modern technology to focus on one of ancient history’s most significant artistic moments!”

For more information, visit https://www.mfa.org/. To view the video in full, visit https://vimeo.com/665011370