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A grammar of Greek art online

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Presented to The New York Public Library
in his memory by his family. 1936







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All rights reserved




Copyright, 1905,

Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1905.

NorbJooti ifrcsg

J. S. Gushing & Co. — Berwick & Smith Co.

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.


The purpose and character of this little book may perhai)S
be best explained by a brief history of its genesis.

It is an urgent problem how best an elementary study of
Greek art may be made a part of general classical culture and
put on terms with the study of Greek and Roman literature
and history. In order to help toward a solution of this
problem, I published two years ago a pamphlet on Classical
Archaeology in Schools,^ whicli has been read and considered
by many teachers in England and America. It has, however,
been pointed out to me that this essay, while it sets forth the
practical possibilities of using archaeological aids in classical
teaching, does not explain sufficiently what are the main
principles of Greek art and what are its relations to literature.
This defect I have tried to remedy in the present work, which
is meant principally for men of classical training, and particu-
larly for classical teachers in schools. It is scarcely adapted
to the capacities of ordinary schoolboys. I had originally
intended to incorporate with it the essay of which I have
spoken ; but it was decided to keep that ai)art, in such a form
that the list of apparatus could be at any time brought up
to date.

Unquestionably the growing use of the lantern in colleges
and schools and the enormous production of photographic

1 Published by the University Press, Oxford, with an appendix containing
lists of archaeological books and apparatus. Price, a shilling.



slides to illustrate every part of ancient geography, topo-
graphy, and archaeology have entirely altered in recent years
the whole conditions of the study of archaeology, especially
in its elementary form. It is now possible, at a trifling cost,
to bring vividly before the eyes and the minds of students
everything that remains of ancient Greece and Eome. But
a great difficulty still remains to be met. This difficulty lies
in understanding what these things mean, what they teach us,
and how they may help us in preserving through the present
to future generations something of the treasures of beaut}^,
healthiness, and wisdom which have been bequeathed to us
by the great nations of antiquity.

In order that we may understand what we see, certain
principles of history, of art, of psychology, have to become
familiar to us. What the more important of these principles
are I have tried to set forth in these pages. The attempt is
a somewhat novel one, though some archaeologists, in par-
ticular Professors Lange, Lowy, and Robert, have formed
paths which may be followed. Doubtless others before long
will proceed further on these paths.

I should be sorry if it were for a moment supposed that
any attempt was made in a little book like this to enable
teachers who have not themselves had any practice or train-
ing in the study of Greek art to give such training to pupils.
Archaeology, like every other branch of knowledge, must be
laboriously and methodically studied before it can be taught
to any purpose. And it can no more be learned from the
mere perusal of books than can geology or natural history.
Eye and mind alike have to submit to discipline. If my
chapters tend to produce in classical teachers the semblance
of archaeological knowledge without its substance, they will


do no good. But this difficulty attaches to all works of the
kind. I am in hopes that it may be possible at all events
to persuade some of those responsible for classical teaching
in our schools to make such arrangements that boys may
have a chance of hearing something about ancient art from
competent instructors. And I am in hopes that a general
interest in the subject may be more widely spread among
those who have no intention of becoming specialists or in-
structors. Whether these hoi)es are doomed to disappoint-
ment, time must show. But it is certain that there has arisen
in some quarters a disposition to welcome experiments in this
direction. Such an experiment is before the reader.

The illustrations in the text are of a varied character.
Each of them was chosen, not for its own sake, but to illus-
trate some grammatical point in archaeology. I have had to
borrow from many sources. In most cases I have asked a
permission, which has been readily granted; if in some in-
stances I have omitted making application for permission, I
hope that this may be pardoned, in view of the full references
to sources given in every case.

My brother. Professor Ernest Gardner, has been good enough

to read my proofs.



January, 1905.




Introductory: General Character of Greek Art ... 1

Meaning of tlie term " a grammar." Art like literature has
a language which may be set forth, 1. The study of develop-
ment contrasted with the search for origins, 3. Mistakes some-
times made, 6. Simplicity and intellectual character of Greek
art, 7. Ideality of Greek art, 9. Idealism and naturalism, 11.
Greek art generically ideal, 15.


Ancient Critics on Art . . . . . . . .17

Views of Socrates on art, 17. Views of Plato, 18. The
Poetics of Aristotle, 19. Symmetry and rhythm, 22. Ethos
and pathos, 24. Later critics, 27.


Architecture 28

Influence of country and race, 28 ; of religion, 29. Plan of
the temple, 31. Simplicity, 33 ; careful proportions, 33. Deco-
ration confined to useless parts, 34. Doric and Ionic styles,
36. Colouring, 37. Rational character, 38. Adaptation to
perspective, 39.


Dress and Drapery ......... 41

Sculptural dress not precisely that worn, 41 . Ionian dress, 42.
Dorian dress, 45. The overdress, 48. Mixture of dress in later
art, 50. Dress passing into drapery, 52.





Character of Earliest Greek Art 55

Lange's doctrine of frontality, 56. Planes at right angles, 59.
Psychological explanation of laws of frontality, 61. Shifting of
weight to one leg, 64. Polycleitus and Praxiteles, 66. Treat-
ment of the head, 68 ; of the eye, 70 ; of the hair, 72.


Sculpture : Material, Si\\ce, and Colouring .... 74

Materials : wood with inlays, 75 ; bronze, 76 ; marble, 77.
Decorative and substantive art, 78. The temple, its decoration,
81. The pediment, 81 ; the metope, 86; the frieze, 87. Con-
ventions: isocephalism, 91. Colouring of decorative sculpture,
92 ; of substantive sculpture, 94.


Formation of Sculptural Types 96

Independence of Greek sculpture, 96. Relation to athletics,
97. Selection and accumulation of beauty, 98. Figures of
men and women, 100. Religious sculpture : anthropomorphism,
103. Rejection of symbolism, 105. Development of divine
types, 106. Art related only to civic and poetic religion, 108.


Sculpture and History 112

How far sculpture related to political history, 112. The sar-
cophagus of Sidon, 113. The sculptural decoration of the Par-
thenon and history, 114. Athenian and Spartan dedications at
Delphi, 122. Vase representing feud of Asia and Europe, 123.

Greek Painting 126

Sources, 126. Pliny on painting, 127. Examples of early
painting, 130. Polygnotus, 131. His methods, 132. Have we



copies of works of Micon ? 137. Early colouring, 143. Exam-
ples of later painting, 144, Tainting less developed than
sculpture, 150.


Classes of Vases 152

Periods and schools of vase-painting, 152 Mycenaean, 153.
Geometric, 15-3. Black-figured, 154. Ked-figured, 150. "White
ground, 158. Forms of vases, 160.


Vases: Space, Balance, Perspective 103

Greek vases as wholes, 103. Conditions of space, 105. Char-
acteristics of early vases, 168. Balance and symmetry, 109.
Relations of painting to vases, 171. Relations to space occu-
pied, 172. Groups, 174. Relations of one painting to another,
176. Perspective on vases, 178.


Vases : Artistic Tradition ........ 182

The use of fixed schemes, 182. Addition of figures to scheme,
187. Relation of painting to myth, 188. Chorus scheme, 192.
Messenger scheme, 192. Development of a group : the sending
out of Triptolemus, 194. Contamination, 198. Indications of
locality, 202. Method of continuous narration, 204.


Literature and Painting : the Epic 207

Ancient and modern illustration, 208. Influence of the epic
on vases, 210. Influence on subject of paintings, 212. Influ-
ence on form of tale, 213. Examples: the abduction of Briseis,
215; the duel of Aeneas and Diomedes, 220; the horses of
Rhesus, 221 ; the blinding of the Cyclops, 224 ; the Sirens, 226 ;
Dionysus and the Pirates, 228.




Literature and Painting continued : Lyric and Dramatic

Poetry 230

Influence on painting of lyric poetry, 230. Influence of
tragedy, 232. Instances, 235. Orestes at Delphi, 237. Iphi-
geneia in Tauris, 239. Late vases and mural paintings, 24L


The Life-history of a Myth : the Judgment of Paris . . 244

Literary treatment of the subject, 245. Treatment on early
vases, 246. Treatment on later vases, 249. Mistakes which
have been made, 252.


Coins in Relation to History 254

Information conveyed by coins, 254. Arrangement of coins in
historic order, 257. Coins of fixed date ; the Damareteion, 258 ;
coin of Dion, 260 ; coins of an Asiatic league, 260. Misread-
ing of testimony of coins, 262. Copies of statues on coins, 263.






Just as the poetry and prose of the Greeks is expressed in a
particular language, the words and the grammar of which must
be studied by those who would understand the literature, so
works of Greek painting and sculpture also are comx:)Osed in
what may be called a particular artistic language.^ The w^ords
of that language are the strokes of the brush and the chisel ;
but these are put together in order to embody Greek ideas in
ways which are distinctive and not like those adopted by any
otlier people ; certainly unlike those of modern art. The object
of the present work is to set forth, as simply and directly as
possible, w^hat these ways are ; to define, in fact, the grammar
of Greek art, and so render more intelligible the works of
painting and sculpture which have come down to us from
Hellenic antiquity.

Although the problem before lis is one w^hich can only be
solved by a close and long-continued examination of the
monuments of Greek art, yet it is at bottom psychological.
We have to determine the laws according to which the mind,
the taste, the hand of the artist, worked. We are speaking of
a generalized or ideal process. It will not, of course, be sup-
posed that a sculi)tor or painter, before he set about his work,
consciously or deliberately thought out the lines on which he
1 Welcker calls it a Zeichensprache, Alte Denkmciler, III., p. xii.

B 1


should proceed. He went by the traditions of the craft, the
customs of a schooL But his unconscious process can be
brought out in reguhir and methodical form ; and this is what
I propose to do. In precisely the same way those who have
never learned grammar may speak their own language gram-
matically enough. Unconsciously they follow laws of usage
which have been laid down by the practice of generations.
The grammarian can discover and set forth those laws, the
statement of which, though less necessary to those who speak
their mother tongue, is quite indispensable to those who have
to learn the language as one foreign to them.

To the accidence of a language we may compare the simple
laws of relation to material, of relation to space, of balance
and proportion, which are unconsciously observed by the Greek
artists. To the syntax of a language we may compare the
relation of scene to scene, of picture to myth and to literature,
of sculpture and coin to history. And art as a whole we may
place beside the poetry and philosophy of Greece as a parallel
manifestation of the genius of the race, in some directions an
even clearer and more illuminating manifestation.

AVe start from the purpose of the Greek artist to produce a
statue, or to paint a scene of Greek mythology. AVhence this
purpose came, we cannot always see. It may have come, at the
lowest, from a commercial denmnd, or from desire to exercise
talent, or from a wish to honour the gods. This purpose works
from within outward, and meets with controlling conditions,
according to which its outward working is directed, conditions
partly belonging to the materials employed, partly to the
artistic customs and traditions of the age, partly to the person-
ality of the artist himself, and partly to the city or the race to
which he belongs.

In its higher branches grammar touches psychology, and I
shall not altogether avoid the psychology and the philosophy of


art. Certainly I do not wish to limit myself to such formal
and superficial rules as make up the bulk of our grammars.
In fact, some })arts of the present work may be said to lie be-
tween a psychology and a grammar. The reason of this is not
far to seek ; and I must briefly set it forth.

If the creations of the Greek painter and sculptor had come
down to us in full abundance and in their original beauty, the
philosophy and the grammar of the subject would have lain
apart, the first being primarily illustrated from those great
works of art which fully embody the Greek character, the second
from simple and commonplace efforts of the artists. But what
we possess is but a remnant of the ancient splendour. In the
case of architecture and sculpture, enough remains to show us
what the Greeks could do : in the case of painting we have
only w^ork of a comparatively poor or hasty character. It is
therefore natural in dealing with sculpture to proceed in a
more philosophical way, and in dealing with painting, to pro-
ceed on the humbler lines of grammar. Perhaps by following
this course I have somewhat injured the unity of this work;
but it does not appear that much would have been gained if I
had divided it in two. The reader must always remember that
in criticising sculpture we are at a higher level than in criticis-
ing vase-painting, and he must not expect the impossible.

The study of an evolution among surrounding and limiting
conditions is the complement, and in many ways the opposite,
to that search for origins which in our Darwinian age attracts
so much intelligence. Numberless investigators are now occu-
pied in tracing all the ways of civilization to their origins, or
at least to the earliest form of them which can be discovered.
This search is, of course, of the greatest value, quite essential
to all scientific history, and throwing rays of light over some


of the darkest fields. Without reaching the origin of a cus-
tom in art, in religion, in institutions, we can never he sure
that we have rightly apprehended it. But at the same time it
is necessary to guard oneself against a prevalent delusion,
the fancy that when the origin of any phase of human life
is discovered, that phase is explained and understood. It is
a great thing to reach the railway station from which one sets
out on a journey, but starting from that station one may go
many ways and travel with various purposes. What is really
most important and interesting in the civilization of a race is
not the foundations, which are probably very much like those
whence other races make their start, but what the race adds of
its own, the way in which the national ideas are embodied.
What is most interesting in the English character is that in
which we differ from other peoples. That which is really
important in Jewish or in Greek religion is not the mere myth
which belongs to all peoples at a certain stage of civilization,
nor the primitive beliefs in ghosts and agricultural super-
stitions, but what the Jews and the Greeks respectively add to
the common stock of religion, as they emerge into a higher

The case is similar in regard to Greek art. Of late years
there has been carried on an unwearied search into primitive
art — that of the Mycenaean and Minoan ages — and no one
should undervalue a quest which has revealed to us so much in
regard to the habits, the religion, the architecture, and the paint-
ing of the early peoples of the Mediterranean area. But such
investigations do not greatly increase our knowledge of Greek
art. They suggest that the Greeks may have borrowed certain
rudiments from races which preceded them in the lands which
were later to be theirs ; but they do not throw much light on the
process by which, out of simple and rude beginnings, the Greek
spirit built up a magnificent fabric of art which can never cease


to raise and instruct mankind. For tlie architecture, the sculp-
ture, and the painting which have been found in the palace of
Cnossus and in the graves of Mycenae, though astonishingly
developed, and sometimes even modern in appearance, are en-
tirely wanting in the characteristics of Greek work. Whether
the ]\Iycenaeans were of the same race as the later Achaeans or
not, they certainly completely differed from them in all that
belongs to art. The Greeks are in many things our spiritual
ancestors, the Mycenaeans scarcely lie in the direct line of
our spiritual ancestry. Compare the parallel case of litera-
ture. The investigation of the forms of letters in the earliest
alphabets has its value, and the primitive inscriptions cut
in terra-cotta and on stone by the early peoples of Asia
Minor and the Aegean are not without importance ; but the
interest of such things pales beside that of the great literature
which has inspired so much of modern history and poetry and
philosophy. Greek art has not, in northern Europe, had the
same vogue as Greek literature; yet at some periods, and in
some lines of civilization, it has been of untold value, throwing
into the shade mere questions of origin.

It is unnecessary that I should try to emphasize the value
of Greek literature. The value of Greek art is less generally
recognized. Of course to us in England ancient literature
must always be of far greater interest and value than ancient
art, for the simple reason that we are a literary nation, but not
an artistic nation. Yet w^e have our artists, and are not
unaffected by the growing importance of art in the modern
world. It is because of our neglect and misunderstanding of
ancient art, among other causes, that our artists are, as a rule,
so poorly trained, and have to go to Paris and Rome to
learn their business. General education has also suffered
from the same cause. We have been one-sided. Every one
who has studied both the literature and the art of Greece


must have discovered that the principles of both are exactly
alike, that the Greek drama and the Greek temple, for ex-
ample, are constructed on parallel lines, and equally embody
the aesthetic ideas of the race. These general remarks will,
it is hoped, receive constant enforcement and illustration in
the course of the following pages.

It is of course possible to schematize too much, to lay down in
too dogmatic a fashion in what way the Greek spirit acts under
certain conditions. Those conditions vary from period to period
and from school to school. It is only a full and careful con-
secutive study of the history of ancient art which can give
one the right to generalize. But generalization, though diffi-
cult, is possible; and the student who is bewildered with the
number of the schools and artists in Greece ; who, after toil-
ing for months and years at certain classes of statues or vases,
loses sight of the relation of those classes to the main stem of
Greek life, may find it useful and profitable to turn from the
material side of ancient monuments to their formal side, to
look on them not merely as productions of a certain time and
place, made in a certain material, but as a visible embodiment
of mental processes, as the result of the outward working of
the Greek spirit on the world around.

It is easy to illustrate by means of examples the mistakes
into which a misunderstanding of the underlying laws or con-
ditions of Greek art may mislead a modern observer. Some
critics have complained of Homer because his heroes are made
to pause in the midst of the battle turmoil to discuss their
respective ancestry and achievements. Others discuss the
action of such dramas as the Agamemnon or the Akestis, with-
out taking into account the strict conditions of the Greek stage,
with its masks and buskins and trailing robes, contrived
specially to remove the scenes portrayed from likeness to the
scenes of daily life. Others suppose the speeches by means of


which Thucydides explains the relations of the Greek states to
one another to have been actually uttered by the statesmen
into whose mouths he puts them. In the same way some
writers have gravely maintained that what is represented in
the frieze of the Parthenon is not the Panathenaic procession,
certain important elements of which appear to be wanting,
but a dress rehearsal for that procession. In each case the
root of the mistake is the same, the direct comparison of a
work of art with nature, and its condemnation because it con-
forms to a subjective rather than an objective law; in fact,
ignorance of the grammar of the language of ancient art. To
understand a work of art we must consider not merely what
in fact it represents, but also the conventions of the artist, as
determined by his period, his school, his range of ideas. We
must look at it not only in relation to nature, but also in rela-
tion to the human spirit, and the laws according to which in
various countries that spirit works in the world of art.

Taine begins his little work on the philosophy of Greek art
by sketching the nature of the Greek lands and people, detail-
ing the external conditions among which their art grew up.
Strictly speaking he is quite right. Climate and geographic
facts and the physical construction of the race are important
factors in the rise of art. I shall not, however, follow Taine's
example, partly because travel has made these facts familiar
to most educated men, partly because an account of x^hysical
Greece may be found in many works, for instance, in Cur-
tius' History of Greece} I shall therefore pass on to say
a word as to the aesthetic and intellectual qualities of the

1 Also, on a smaller scale, iu the first chapter of Gardner and Jevons,
Manual of Greek Antiquities.


Greek art, like Greek poetry and philosophy and geometry,
seems constructed with extreme simplicity, when compared
with the more complicated productions of modern Europe:
herein lies its main attractiveness, and its educational value.
It exhibits the working of a race the civilization of which was
very simple and harmonious, of a race gifted by nature with
the finest aesthetic and intellectual qualities, so that to the
end of time the Greeks will stand out against the background
of ancient history as a natural aristocracy, and always furnish
us with models which in their own way, and within the limits
which they acknowledged, will be unsurpassed. Modern life
is more ambitious and more complicated : we have learned the
ways of progress as the Greeks never learned them, so that to
us in many respects they seem to be like children. But each
man as he grows up passes through the various stages of cul-
ture which lie behind us; and to a certain stage in growth
and education the teaching of Greece is of unequalled value.

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerA grammar of Greek art → online text (page 1 of 18)