What Are Vase Shapes?

Updated February 17, 2017

Vase shapes refer to classic Greek vases categorised by their shapes. The vases were made mostly of clay, which was plentiful in ancient Greece. Many of the vase shapes were identified and named by scholars and archeologists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern scholars are now discovering some of the names actually used for different vase shapes in ancient Greece, though the names given in the 18th and 19th centuries are still used for the purposes of classification.

Transporting Vases

The amphora vase measured between 30 and 60 inches in height and was to used to transport and store wine and food. The Greek word "amphora" means "with two handles," and the amphora vase was a two-handled one for easy carrying. The hydria vase, the name was derived from the Greek word for water, was used to transport and store this very liquid. A three-handled vase with a rounded body, the hydria is often seen being used by women drawing water in classical Greek art.

Drinking and Pouring Vases

The kylix was a drinking-cup vase shaped like a shallow bowl set on a stem, like that of a modern wine glass. The kantharos is similar but had two handles that rounded upward. This was the drinking cup often seen in the hands of Dionysus in classical Greek art. The oinochoe was a small pitcher used to pour wine into drinking vases. The word "oinochoe" means "wine pourer" in Greek.

Cosmetic Vases

The lekythos and pyxis vase shapes were commonly used for cosmetics. These were both small-sized vases. The pyxis was a round box with a cover, similar to the small tubs we can buy cosmetics in today. Because it was lidded, this vase was good for storage. The lekythos vase was taller and had a slender body and tapering neck and base creating a sort of flask shape. It was used to store oils and perfume. The lekythos was also used for funerary rites and could be left on the grave as an offering to the dead.

Mixing Vases

A krater vase was used for mixing wine and water. The word "krater" means "mixing bowl" in Greek. Because the Greeks did not drink undiluted wine, this was a commonly used tool. The krater had two handles and flared outward toward the top into a wide mouth. The bell-krater, a variation on the krater, had a bell-shaped body while the volute-krater had handles that ended in spirals curling toward the mouth of the vase.

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About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Miranda Sinclair has been writing professionally since 2009. She holds a B.A. in English and theater from the University of Oregon, as well as an M.A. in English and certificate in teaching college composition from San Francisco State University. Sinclair works as a tutor and teacher of writing.