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models of excellence for the beauty of the eyebrows, the blush upon the
cheeks, and the gracefulness of the draperies. He was a great epic
painter, as Phidias was a sculptor, and Homer a poet, since he expressed
not passion and emotion only, but ideal character. He imitated the
personages and the subjects of the old mythology, and treated them in an
epic spirit. He strove, like Phidias, to express character in repose.
His subjects were almost invariably taken from Homer and the Epic cycle.
His pictures had nothing of that elaborate grouping, aided by the powers
of perspective, so much admired in modern art. His figures were grouped
in regular lines, as in the bas-reliefs upon a frieze. He painted on
panels which were afterward let into the walls. He used the pencil,
instead of painting in encaustic with the cestrum.

Among the works of Polygnotus, as mentioned by Pliny, [Footnote: H. N.
xxx. 9, s. 35.] are his paintings in the Temple at Delphi, in the
Portico called Poecile at Athens, in the Propylaea of the Acropolis, in
the Temple of Theseus, and in the Temple of the Dioscuri at Athens. He
took his subjects from the whole range of Epic poetry, but we know
nothing of them except from the praises of his contemporaries.
[Footnote: Pausanias, x. 25-31.] His great merit is said to have
consisted in accurate drawing, and in giving grace and charm to his
female figures. He painted in a truly religious spirit, and upon
symmetrical principles, with great grandeur and freedom, resembling
Michael Angelo more than any other modern artist. Like the Greeks, he
painted with wax, resins, and in water colors, to which the proper
consistency was given with gum and glue. The use of oil was unknown. The
artists painted upon wood, clay, plaster, stone, parchment, but not upon
canvas, which was not used till the time of Nero. They painted upon
tablets or panels, and not upon the walls. These panels were framed and
encased in the walls. The style or cestrum used in drawing, and for
spreading the wax colors, was pointed on one end and flat on the other,
and generally made of metal. Wax was prepared by purifying and
bleaching, and then mixed with colors. When painting was practiced in
water colors, glue was used with the white of an egg or with gums, but
wax and resins were also worked with water, with certain preparations.
This latter was called encaustic, and was, according to Plutarch, the
most durable of all methods. It was not generally adopted till the time
of Alexander the Great. Wax was a most essential ingredient, since it
prevented the colors from cracking. Encaustic painting was practiced
both with the cestrum and the pencil, and the colors were also burnt in.
Fresco was used for coloring walls, which were divided into compartments
or panels. The Fresco composition of the stucco, and the method of
painting, preparing the walls for painting, is described by the ancient
writers: "They first covered the walls with a layer of ordinary plaster,
over which, when dry, were successively added three other layers of a
finer quality, mixed with sand. Above these were placed three layers of
a composition of chalk and marble-dust, the upper one being laid on
before the under one was dry, by which process the different layers were
so bound together that the whole mass formed one beautiful and solid
slab, resembling marble, and was capable of being detached from the wall
and transported in a wooden frame to any distance. The colors were
applied when the composition was still wet. The fresco wall, when
painted, was covered with an encaustic varnish, both to heighten the
color and preserve it from the effects of the sun or the weather. But
this process required so much care, and was attended with so much
expense, that it was used only in the better houses and palaces." The
later discoveries at Pompeii show the same correctness of design in
painting as in sculpture, and also considerable perfection in coloring.
The great artists of Greece were both sculptors and painters, like
Michael Angelo. Phidias and Euphranor, Zeuxis and Protogenes, Polygnotus
and Lysippus, were both. And the ancient writers praise the paintings of
these great artists as much as their sculpture. The Aldobrandini
Marriage, found on the Esquiline Mount, during the pontificate of
Clement VIII., and placed in the Vatican by Pius VII., is admired both
for drawing and color. Polygnotus was praised by Aristotle for his
designs and by Lucian for his color. [Footnote: _Poetica of
Aristotle_, c. 286. _Imagines of Lucian_, c. 7.]

[Sidenote: Contemporaries of Polygnotus.]

Dionysius and Micon were the great contemporaries of Polygnotus, the
former of whom was celebrated for his portraits. His pictures were
deficient in the ideal, but were remarkable for expression and elegant
drawing. [Footnote: Plutarch, _Timol._ 36.] Micon was particularly
skilled in painting horses, and was the first who used for a color the
light Attic ochre, and the black made from burnt vine twigs. He painted
three of the walls of the Temple of Theseus, and also the walls of the
Temple of the Dioscuri.

[Sidenote: The school of Apollodorus.]

With Apollodorus, of Athens, a new development was made in the art of
painting. Through his labors, about 408 B.C., dramatic effect was added
to the style of Polygnotus, without departing from his pictures as
models. "The acuteness of his taste," says Fuseli, "led him to discover
that, as all men were connected by one general form, so they were
separated each by some predominant power, which fixed character and
bound them to a class. Thence he drew his line of imitation and
personified the central form of the class to which his object belonged,
and to which the rest of its qualities administered, without being
absorbed; agility was not suffered to destroy firmness, solidity, or
weight; nor strength and weight agility; elegance did not degenerate to
effeminacy, nor grandeur swell to hugeness." [Footnote: Fuseli, Lect.
I.] His aim was to deceive the eye of the spectator by the semblance of
reality. He painted men and things as they really appeared. He also made
a great advance in coloring. He invented chiaro-oscuro. Other painters
had given attention to the proper gradation of light and shade; he
heightened this effect by the gradation of tints, and thus obtained what
the moderns call _tone_. He was the first who conferred due honor
on the pencil - "primusque gloriam penicillo jure contulit." [Footnote:
Pliny, H. N. xxxv. 11.]

[Sidenote: Peculiarities of Zeuxis as a painter.]

This great painter prepared the way for Zeuxis, [Footnote: Born 455
B.C.] who belonged to his school, but who surpassed him in the power to
give ideal form to rich effects. He began his great career four hundred
and twenty-four years before Christ, and was most remarkable for his
female figures. His "Helen," painted from five of the most beautiful
women of Croton, was one of the most renowned productions of antiquity,
to see which the painter demanded money. He gave away his pictures,
because, with an artist's pride, he maintained that their price could
not be estimated. There is a tradition that Zeuxis laughed himself to
death over an old woman painted by him. He arrived at illusion of the
senses, regarded as a high attainment in art, as in the instance
recorded of his grapes. He belonged to the Asiatic school, whose head-
quarters were at Ephesus, the peculiarities of which were accuracy of
imitation, the exhibition of sensual charms, and the gratification of
sensual tastes. He went to Athens about the time that the sculpture of
Phidias was completed, which modified his style. His marvelous powers
were displayed in the contrast of light and shade which he learned from
Apollodorus. He gave ideal beauty to his figures, but it was in form
rather than in expression. He taught the true method of grouping, by
making each figure the perfect representation of the class to which it
belonged. His works were deficient in those qualities which elevate the
feelings and the character. He was the Euripides rather than the Homer
of his art. He exactly imitated natural objects, which are incapable of
ideal representation. His works were not so numerous as they were
perfect in their way, in some of which, as in the Infant Hercules
strangling the Serpent, he displayed great dramatic power. [Footnote:
Lucian _on Zeuxis_.] Lucian highly praises his Female Centaur as
one of the most remarkable paintings of the world, in which he showed
great ingenuity in his contrasts. His Jupiter Enthroned is also extolled
by Pliny, as one of his finest works. He acquired a great fortune, and
lived ostentatiously.

[Sidenote: Parrhasius of Ephesus.]

Contemporaneous with him, and equal in fame, was Parrhasius, a native of
Ephesus, whose skill lay in accuracy of drawing, and power of
expression. He gave to painting true proportion, and attended to minute
details of the countenance and the hair. In his gods and heroes, he did
for painting what Phidias did in sculpture. His outlines were so perfect
as to indicate those parts of the figure which they did not express. He
established a rule of proportion which was followed by all succeeding
artists. While many of his pieces were of a lofty character, some were
demoralizing. Zeuxis yielded the palm to him, since he painted a curtain
which deceived his rival, whereas Zeuxis painted grapes which deceived
only birds. He was exceedingly arrogant and luxurious, and boasted of
having reached the utmost limits of his art. He combined the magic tone
of Apollodorus with the exquisite design of Zeuxis, and the classic
expression of Polygnotus.

[Sidenote: Contemporaries of Zeuxis.]

Many were the eminent painters that adorned the fifth century before
Christ, not only in Athens, but the Ionian cities of Asia. Timanthes of
Sicyon was distinguished for invention, and Eupompus of the same city
founded a school. His advice to Lysippus is memorable - "Let Nature, not
an artist, be your model." Protogenes was celebrated for his high
finish. His Talissus took him seven years to complete. Pamphilus was
celebrated for composition, Antiphilus for facility, Theon of Samos for
prolific fancy, Apelles for grace, Pausias for his chiaro-oscuro,
Nicomachus for his bold and rapid pencil, Aristides for depth of

[Sidenote: Art culminates in Apelles.]

[Sidenote: The Venus of Apelles.]

The art probably culminated in Apelles, the Titian of his age, who
united the rich coloring and sensual charms of the Ionian with the
scientific severity of the Sicyonian school. He was contemporaneous with
Alexander, and was alone allowed to paint the picture of the great
conqueror. He was a native of Ephesus, studied under Pamphilus of
Amphipolis, and when he had gained reputation he went to Sicyon and took
lessons from Melanthius. He spent the best part of his life at the court
of Philip and Alexander, and painted many portraits of these great men
and of their generals. He excelled in portraits, and labored so
assiduously to perfect himself in drawing that he never spent a day
without practicing. [Footnote: Pliny, xxxv. 12.] He made great
improvement in the mechanical part of his art, and also was the first
who covered his picture with a thin varnish, both to preserve it and
bring out the colors. He invented ivory black. His distinguishing
excellence was grace, "that artless balance of motion and repose,
springing from character, founded on propriety, which neither falls
short of the demands nor overleaps the modesty of Nature." [Footnote:
Fuseli, Lect. I.] His great contemporaries may have equaled him in
perspective, accuracy, and finish; but he added a grace of conception
and refinement of taste which placed him, by the general consent of
ancient authors, at the head of all the painters of the world. His
greatest work was his Venus Anadyomene, or Venus rising out of the sea,
in which female grace was personified. The falling drops of water from
her hair form a transparent silver veil over her form. It cost one
hundred talents, [Footnote: 243 pounds x 100 = 24300 pounds x 5 =
$121,500.] and was painted for the Temple of Aesculapius at Cos,
and afterwards placed by Augustus in the temple which he dedicated
to Julius Caesar. The lower part of it becoming injured, no one could
be found to repair it. Nor was there an artist who could complete
an unfinished picture which he left. He was a man who courted
criticism, and who was unenvious of the fame of rivals. He was
a great admirer and friend of Protogenes of Rhodes, who was his
equal in finish, but who never knew, as Apelles did, when to
cease correcting. [Footnote: Cicero, _Brut._ 18; _De Orat._
iii. 7. Martial, xxx. 9. Ovid, _Art. Anc._ iii. 403. Pliny, xxxv.

[Sidenote: Introduction of pictures into Rome.]

After Apelles, the art of painting declined, although great painters
occasionally appeared, especially from the school of Sicyon, which was
renowned for nearly two hundred years. The destruction of Corinth by
Mummius, B.C. 146, gave a severe blow to Grecian art. He carried to Rome
more works, or destroyed them, than all his predecessors combined.
Sylla, when he spoiled Athens, inflicted a still greater injury, and,
from that time, artists resorted to Rome and Alexandria and other
flourishing cities for patronage and remuneration. The masterpieces of
famous artists brought enormous prices, and Greece and Asia were
ransacked for old pictures. The paintings which Aemilius Paulus brought
from Greece required two hundred and fifty wagons to carry them in the
triumphal procession. With the spoliation of Greece, the migration of
artists commenced, and this spoliation of Greece and Asia and Sicily
continued for two centuries; and such was the wealth of Rhodes in works
of art that three thousand statues were found for the conquerors. Nor
could there have been less at Athens, Olympia, or Delphi. Scaurus had
all the public pictures of Sicyon transported to Rome. Verres plundered
every temple and public building in Sicily.

[Sidenote: High value placed by them on painting.]

Thus Rome was possessed of the finest paintings of the world, without
the slightest claim to the advancement of the art. And if the opinion of
Sir Joshua Reynolds is correct, art could soar no higher in the realm of
painting, as well as of statuary. Yet the Romans learned to place as
high value on the works of Grecian genius as the English do on the
paintings of the old masters of Italy and Flanders. And if they did not
add to the art, they gave such encouragement that, under the emperors,
it may be said to have been flourishing. Varro had a gallery of seven
hundred portraits of eminent men. [Footnote: Pliny, H. N. xxx. 2.] The
portraits as well as the statues of the great were placed in the
temples, libraries, and public buildings. The baths especially were
filled with paintings.

[Sidenote: Subjects among the Greeks.]

The great masterpieces of the Greeks were either historical or
mythological. Paintings of gods and heroes, groups of men and women, in
which character and passion could be delineated, were the most highly
prized. It was in the expression given to the human figure - in beauty of
form and countenance, in which all the emotions of the soul as well as
the graces of the body were portrayed - that the Greek artists sought to
reach the ideal, and to gain immortality. And they painted for people
who naturally had taste and sensibility.

[Sidenote: Landscape Painting.]

Among the Romans, portrait, decorative, and scene painting engrossed the
art, much to the regret of such critics as Pliny and Vitruvius. Nothing
could be in more execrable taste than a colossal painting of Nero, one
hundred and twenty feet high. From the time of Augustus, landscape
decorations were common, and were carried out with every species of
license. Among the Greeks we do not read of landscape painting. This has
been reserved for our age, and is much admired, as it was at Rome in its
latter days. Mosaic gradually superseded painting in Rome. It was first
used for floors, but finally walls and ceilings were ornamented with it,
like St. Peter's at Rome. Many ancient mosaics have been preserved which
attest beauty of design of the highest character, like the Battle of
Issus, lately discovered at Pompeii.

In fact, neither statuary nor painting was advanced by the Romans. They
had no sensibility, or conception of ideal beauty. The divine spark of
genius animated the Greeks alone. Still the wonders of Grecian art were
possessed by the Romans, and were made to adorn those grand
architectural monuments for which they had a taste. Greek productions
were not merely matters of property, they were copied and reproduced in
all the cities of the Mediterranean; and though no artist of original
genius arose from Augustus to Constantine, galleries of art existed
everywhere in which the masterpieces of Polygnotus, Pausias, Aristides,
Timanthes, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, Pamphilus, Euphranor, Protogenes,
Apelles, Timomachus, and of other illustrious men, were objects of as
much praise as the galleries of Dresden and Florence.

[Sidenote: Probable perfection of the ancients in painting.]

"The glorious art of these masters, as far as regards tone, light, and
local color," says Muller, "is lost to us, and we know nothing of it
except from obscure notices and later imitations; on the contrary, the
pictures on vases give us the most exalted idea of the progress and
achievements of the arts of design." [Footnote: Muller, Ancient Art,
143.] It is surprising that, with four colors, the Greeks should have
achieved such miracles of beauty and finish as are represented by the
greatest cities of antiquity. The great wonders of the schools of
Ephesus, Athens, and Sicyon have perished, and we cannot judge of their
merits as we can of the statues which have fortunately been preserved.
Whether Polygnotus was equal to Michael Angelo, Zeuxis to Raphael, and
Apelles to Titian, we have no means of settling. But it is scarcely to
be questioned that critics like the Greeks, whose opinions respecting
architecture and sculpture coincide with our own, could have erred in
their verdicts respecting those great paintings which extorted the
admiration of the world, and were held, even in the decline of art, in
such high value, not merely in the cities where they were painted, but
in those to which they were transferred. What _has_ descended to
our times, like the mural decorations of Pompeii and the designs on
vases, go to prove the perfection which was attained in painting, as
well as sculpture and architecture.

[Sidenote: Perfection of art among the ancients.]

And thus, in all those arts of which modern civilization is proudest,
and in which the genius of man has soared to the loftiest heights, the
ancients were not merely our equals: they were our superiors. It is
greater to originate than to copy. In architecture, in sculpture, and in
painting the Greeks attained absolute perfection. Any architect of our
time, who should build an edifice in different proportions than those
which were recognized in the great cities of antiquity, would make a
mistake. Who can improve upon the Doric columns of the Parthenon, or the
Corinthian capitals of the Temple of Jupiter? Indeed, it is in
proportion as we accurately copy the faultless models of the age of
Pericles that excellence with us is attained. When we differ from them
we furnish grounds of just criticism. So, in sculpture, the Greek Slave
is a reproduction of an ancient Venus, and the Moses of Michael Angelo
is a Jupiter in repose. It is only when the artist seeks to bring out
the purest and loftiest sentiments of the soul, and such as only
Christianity can inspire, that he may hope to surpass the sculpture of
antiquity in one department of the art alone - in expression, rather than
beauty of form, on which no improvement can be made. And if we possessed
the Venus of Apelles, as we can boast of having the sculptured Venus of
Cleomenes, we should probably discover greater richness of coloring, as
well as grace of figure, than in that famous Titian which is one of the
proudest ornaments of the galleries of Florence, and one of the greatest
marvels of Italian art.

* * * * *

REFERENCES. - Winckelmann's History of Ancient Art; Muller's Remains of
Ancient Art; A. J. Guattani, Antiq. de la Grande Grece; Mazois, Antiq.
de Pomp.; Sir W. Gill, Pompeiana; Donaldson's Antiquities of Athens;
Vitruvius, Stuart, Chandler, Clarke, Dodwell, Cleghorn, De Quincey.
These are some of the innumerable authorities on Architecture among the

In Sculpture, Pliny and Cicero are the most noted critics. There is a
fine article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on this subject. In Smith's
Dictionary are the lives and works of the most noted masters. Muller's
Ancient Art alludes to the leading masterpieces. Montfaucon's Antiquite
expliquee en Figures; Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, by the Society of
Diettanti, London, 1809; Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, by
Taylor Combe; Millin, Introduction a l'etude des Monumens Antiques;
Monumens Inedits d'Antiquite figuree, recuellis et publies par Raoul-
Rochette; Gerhard's Archaol. Zeit.; David's Essai sur le Classement
Chronol. des Sculpteurs Grecs les plus celebres.

In Painting, see Caylus, Memoires de l'ac des Inscr. Levesque, sur les
Progres successifs de la Peinture chez les Grecs; I. I. Grund, Mahlerei
der Griechen; Meyer's Kunstgischichte; Muller, Hist, of Ancient Art;
Article on Painting, Ency. Brit., Article "Pictura," Smith's Dict.;
Fuseli's Lectures; Sir Joshua Reynolds' Lectures. Lanzi's History of
Painting refers to the revival of the art. Vitruvius speaks at some
length on ancient wall paintings. The finest specimens of ancient
painting are found in catacombs, the baths, and the ruins of Pompeii. On
this subject, Winckelmann is the great authority.



[Sidenote: The Roman creators of civilization.]

[Sidenote: The Romans sought to govern.]

[Sidenote: The Romans sought to govern through laws.]

[Sidenote: Roman sense of justice.]

It is not from a survey of the material grandeur, or the arts, or the
military prowess of Rome that we get the highest idea of her
civilization. These indicate strength and even genius; but the checks
and balances which were gradually introduced into the government of the
city and empire, by which society was kept together, and a great
prosperity secured for centuries, also show great foresight and
practical wisdom. A State which favored individual development while it
promoted law and order; which secured liberty, while it made the
government stable and respectable; which guaranteed rights to the poorer
citizens, while it placed power in the hands of those who were most
capable of wielding it for the general good, is well worth our
contemplation. The idea of aggrandizement was, it must be confessed, the
most powerful which entered into the Roman mind; but the principles of
national unity, the welfare of citizens, the reign of law, the security
of property, the network of trades and professions, also received
attention there. The aspirations for liberty and national prosperity
never left the Roman mind. The Romans were great creators of
civilization, though in a different sense from the Greeks. What the
principles of art were to the Greeks, those of government were to the
Romans. If the Greeks made statues, the Romans made laws. If the former
speculated on the beautiful, or the good, or the true, the latter
realized the boast of Diogenes - the power to govern men. The passion for
government was the most powerful which a Roman citizen felt, next to the
passion for war. For five hundred years after the expulsion of the
kings, there was the most perfect system of checks and balances in the
government of the state known in the ancient world, and which is
scarcely rivaled in the modern. Power was so wisely distributed that not
even a successful general was able to gain a dangerous preeminence.
Every citizen was a politician, and every Senator a statesman. For five
hundred years there was neither anarchy nor military despotism. If every
citizen knew how to fight, every citizen also knew how to govern, to
submit. No consul dared to exceed his trust; no general, till Caesar,
ventured to cross the Rubicon. The Roman Senate never lost its dignity -
a supreme body which controlled all public interests. The Romans were
sufficiently wise to bend to circumstances. Though proud, the patricians
made concessions to plebeians whenever it was necessary. The right of

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 15 of 50)