Latin Classes Recreate “Bilingual” Ancient Works of Art

Students in Dr. Emily Kratzer’s Latin 1 classes spent the last few weeks of the year researching ancient vase painting and mythology; as a final project, students participated in a hands-on workshop during which they used ancient painting techniques to reconstruct the images they had studied.

Students painted unfired ceramic tiles using the two Ancient Greek techniques they had researched: the Archaic Black-figure style, and the Classical Red-figure style. Art historians call the combination of both techniques on a single piece “bilingualism,” reflecting a brief period in the manufacture of Greek pottery when the Archaic and Classical styles overlapped, and painters “spoke” in the two different linguae, or “languages.” The tiles will be fired—thanks to Ms. Sasha Custer, who made the entire project possible—and returned to students as a memento.

Students reported that the experience was challenging, engaging, fun, and educational. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“I had a wonderful time painting this vase. I used the ancient method of tracing my figurines from my image onto the clay. I then used the ink to do black-figure, so I painted in the figurines and carved in details. Red vase painting is a wee bit different; you paint in the details and then cover it in black paint. When I finished, both of my figure paintings looked like a snake-dog- horse-cheese statue that was left in the sun for too long! However, it was fun to do, and I enjoyed this strange form of cultural exchange.” ~Anele ’22
“My project was a black-figure vase of “Gorgons Pursuing Perseus” by the Gorgon Painter and was estimated to be from around 580–590 BC. I can truly say that I enjoyed 100% of this project from the beginning stages of selecting our vase to research and painting it on the tiles at the end. Being able to really dive into something historical and walk away knowing you now have knowledge of it, and have truly spent time to understand it, is the most rewarding feeling ever. Then, on top of that, being able to then have a physical piece of what you researched to call your own is the cherry on top of an amazing project; I'm truly grateful that we did this, and I got to learn as much as I did.” ~Carter ’22
“My vase depicted Odysseus saving his men from being turned into pigs by Circe. This vase was painted in 550–525 B.C. in black-figure style. When compiling the data, I noticed that all the paintings done from 500–600 B.C. were in black-figure style. The vase of Odysseus that I studied fits into that trend. I realized after painting the tile in class how hard it was to paint in both red-figure and black-figure style. I thought that black-figure style was a bit easier because you have to etch out the details instead of painting them in. This project gave me renewed respect for the storytelling capacities of art, and the skill of the ancient painters.” ~Naomi ’22