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Alexander the Great, the tomb can scarcely have been later
than about 300 b.c. The painting represents a lady with dark
brown hair and eyes. From the back of the head falls a red
veil. In the ear is an earring, on the neck a pearl necklace,
in the hand and on the head garlands of flowers. But this
work, though interesting, is of course the production of a third-
rate artist. At a somewhat higher level of art, and more easily
accessible to an English student, are the paintings of the cele-

1 Figured in the Russian Comptes Rendus for 1865 in the exact colours.
The original has now faded. The colours are white, red, yellow, brown,
green, and blue.




brated Amazon sarcophagus of Corneto,^ which are indeed
much injured, but in parts fairly clear, and which appear to be
by a Greek artist of the second rank. In these paintings eight
or nine colours are used. The expression of some of the heads
is very striking ; and the contrast between the sunburned
bodies of the Greeks and the wdiite forms of the women is
remarkable. I shall content myself with giving in the text a
single example of later fifth-century painting ; but, in fact, it
is not an example of painting, but only of drawing as a prepa-
ration for painting. In graves in the Crimea wooden sarcoph-
agi have been found, to which were affixed plates of ivory, and
other such plates were used to decorate lyres 3 they were orig-
inally painted wath bright col-
ours, and still retain incised
outlines of the designs. One
fragment is here figured^ (Fig.
36), perhaps belonging to a lyre,
and certainly preserving to us
very charming drawings of a
male and a female figure.

Some marble tablets, found at
Pompeii and exhibited in the
Museum of Naples, bear designs
sketched in red which bear the
marks of an origin in the fifth
and fourth centuries, and in the
Museo delle Terme are many
pictures from villas in the neigh-
bourhood of Eome,^ the charac-
ter and composition of which

Fig. 36. — Ivory tablet,
St. Petersburg.

1 Figured in colours in the plates (.36-38) of the Journal of Hellenic Studies,
1883. The original is at Florence.

2 From Antiquites du Bosphore Cimmerien, PI. 79, 1.
8 Mon. dell. Inst., XII., 21, 22, etc.


certainly go back to good Greek times. But such works as
these can only inform us how decorative painters composed
and drew small groups for the adornment of furniture and
houses. They do not greatly add to the knowledge which we
have already gained from such works as the grave-reliefs of
Athens or the sarcophagi of Constantinople. What would
especially interest us, if we could ascertain it, would be how
Zeuxis and Apelles used colour, how they composed great paint-
ings, and what amount of expression they put into their works.

As to colouring, we can scarcely expect ever to acquire
much knowledge, for colour, when it does not disappear, so
greatly changes with time that it gives a false impression.
Probably the sarcophagus of Corneto and the Alexander sar-
cophagus of Constantinople will give us as good information
as we are ever likely to acquire in this subject. It would
seem that colour was not used in antiquity, as in modern art,
in a thousand fine observations and delicate suggestions, but
was always secoridary to form, just as music was subordinate
to poetr}^ in songs. This is what we should have expected ; for
form is related to intellect, and colour to feeling and emotion.
And Greek work, as known to us, is restrained on the emotional
side ; nor has it any touch of mysticism.

As regards composition, our information is very defective.
We have no descriptions of great works by Parrhasiiis or
Apelles in Pausanias, and the descriptions of paintings left
us by such authors as Philostratus and writers of the Anthol-
ogy have very little value. The greatest pictures of later
Greece, such as the Helen of Zeuxis, the Theseus of Euphra-
nor, the Demos of Parrhasiiis, the Alexander of Apelles, were
single figures. It has been suggested that the well-known
Pompeian painting which represents the sacrifice of Iphigeneia^

1 Museo Borhonico, IV., 3. This engi-aving, which is stylistically quite
worthless, is repeated by Baumeister and Roscher s.v. Iphigeneia.



is derived from a painting of much earlier time. Dr. Helbig
observes in regard to it : ^ " The composition is regulated
according to the rules of early and strict symmetry: around the
central group " (which consists of Iphigeneia herself borne by
two Greeks) " we find corresponding to one another, below, the
figures of Calchas and Agamemnon; above, Artemis and a
nymph. Any crossing of the lines of the figures is as far
as possible avoided, so that but little modification would be
needed before translating the group into relief. The figures
who hold Iphigeneia are represented on a smaller scale than
Calchas and Agamemnon, according to the ideal principle of
early art, which expresses the importance of various figures by
their dimensions. In the garments of the king, Calchas, and
the supposed Diomedes, we see clearly the old style of treat-
ment of folds." It has been suggested that this picture may
go back to a work of Timanthes, who is said to have painted
the subject, and to have represented Agamemnon (as here)
with face veiled to hide his grief. But if Helbig's criticism is
correct, as I hold it to be, it would point to an earlier stage of
art than the time of Timanthes, who was a fourth-century

One of the most striking of all ancient pictures is the Pom-
peian mosaic representing the charge of Alexander the Great
at the battle of Issus. This admirable work would seem to be
a cop3^ of a painting made not long after the time of Alexander ;
and since it is in stone, it has preserved to our day all its colour-
ing and its freshness. Its evidence is of the greatest value,
in several respects. I engrave (Fig. 37), from a photograph,
the central part, which represents the panic and flight of
Darius and his charioteer ; to the left are the charging Greeks,
and in the foreground a young Persian trying to curb a
terrified horse. Lange ^ seems to me to have rightly ex-
1 Wandgemalde Campaniens, p. 283. 2 Qp. cit., p. 112.


plained the motive. The attention of both Darius and the
young knight in the foreground is concentrated on a young
Persian on horseback who has just fallen before the lance
of Alexander, who charges from the left. The fallen man
is probably a son of Darius. The father cannot help, in
spite of his flight, holding out a hand towards him. The
knight in the foreground has dismounted to give him his own
horse ; but it is too late.

Lange considers the original of this mosaic to have been one
of the very greatest pictures ever produced. I must not dwell
on it longer. But it certainly serves to prove to us that the
Greek painters of the fourth century were not afraid of attempt-
ing very complicated grouping, and were skilled in foreshorten-
ing. The reader may compare the figure of a Nereid, seen
from behind. (Fig. 58, below.) And it indicates that they
were very successful in that expression of emotion in the face
of which Socrates discoursed to Parrhasius. It may indeed be
suggested that the later copyist may have in these respects
modified his original. But a comparison of the Alexander
sarcophagus, a work which has a decided likeness to this
mosaic, will prevent us from regarding the latter as in any
essential respect a work of the Roman age.

It is more than probable that the influence of the great
painters of Greece went on working during the Roman age,
and that it affected not only the mural painters of the Italian
cities, but even the artists of a still later class of monuments,
the sarcophagi made under the Roman Empire for wealthy
citizens. The subjects of many of these sarcophagi are taken
from Greek myth, and the manner of composition of the reliefs
is often rather that of painting than that of sculpture.^ Of

1 The sarcophagi with mythical suhjects are collected by Professor Robert
in the second and third volumes of the great German publication, Die antiken





these, as of the paintings of Pompeii, I cannot here treat;
they offer far too complicated a subject, and one outside the
limits which I have accepted.

On the whole, Greek painting .through all its history must,
so far as we can judge, have shown the same qualities as Greek
sculpture. The technical difficulties of painting, which to the
end the artists only partially surmounted, and the immense
vogue of the art of sculpture, tended to make painting approxi-
mate to sculpture far more closely than it does in modern
times. And this tendency fitted in naturally w^ith the general
character of Greek art, its idealism, its definiteness, and its
intellectuality. The superior expressiveness and suggestive-
ness of painting were not fully appreciated in Greece : land-
scape-painting in particular was always crude and w^anting in
imagination. It was in the drawing of single figures, the
arrangement of groups, in the expression of character and of
pathos in human forms, attitudes, and faces that the Greek
painter excelled. And in these respects even the paintings of
Pompeii, wliich must not for a moment be regarded as
examples of what Greece could do in the way of painting,
have won very high praise from able modern critics.-^

It would seem that the lead in the changing tendencies
which mark the evolution of Greek art usually belonged to
the painter, whose art was naturally freer, and less closely lim-
ited by the influence of the school. Cimon of Cleonae may be
regarded as having put the last hand to archaic art, which has,
even in modern days, great fascination ; Polygnotus certainly
acted as a forerunner of the great school of Pheidias ; Parrhasius
and Zeuxis introduced the pathetic tendency which passed on to

1 See especially the remarks of J. Lange in the second volume of
his Menschliche Gestalt.



Praxiteles. The painting of the Hellenistic age, to judge from
Pompeii, must have in variety and expressiveness greatly
surpassed the sculpture of that age. It is however remark-
able that in portraiture the sculpture of later Greece excels
beyond all comparison the superficial and vulgar works, mostly
from Eg}^ptian sarcophagi, which are almost all we possess in
the way of painted Greek portraits. On the other hand, some
of the little sketches of Pompeii show a lightness of hand and
boldness which are impossible to workers in the heavy materials
of clay and marble.



Although the painting of vases is necessarily among the
lower forms of art, a form seldom practised by men of high
talent or originality, yet vases are an inestimable record of one
side of Greek art. They cannot reproduce the colouring of
Greek frescoes, nor the impression of their dignity and charm,
but they show us the character of grouping and of drawing in
Greek painting. They are first-hand documents, belonging to
the best period of art; treating the same subjects as were
treated by the great masters, and perhaps in a not dissimilar
way. They are mostly from the workshops of Athens, and
show some of the finer qualities of Attic work — simplicity,
grace, and a wonderful appreciation of the beauty of the
human form. And they are especially interesting as treating
many of the themes of Greek mythology in an independent
and yet not very dissimilar way from the poets.

Periods and ScJiools of Vases. — It is not intended here to give,

even in outline, a history of Greek vase-painting. Than such

a history nothing is more urgently needed for the teaching of

archaeology. The student must be referred to Eayet et Col-

lignon's Cemmique grecque and the articles in Baumeister's

Deiikmdler and Smith's Dictionary of Antiquities, which are the

best summaries at present attainable. All that will be here



given is a statement of the principal classes of vases, with
their countries and periods.

(1) Mycenaean and 2^^ a- Mycenaean. — The prehistoric record
of Greece and Asia Minor has of late years been revealed, age
beyond age, as far back as the Neolithic period. This record
consists in great part of pottery, which can be assigned to the
respective strata of civilization which preceded the historic
age of Greece. Some of it is decoratively very beautiful, espe-
cially the so-called Kamareis ware. Such pottery, however,
does not come within the scope of this work ; first, because it
is pre-Hellenic, or at all events separated by a deep chasm
from the productions of historic Hellas; second, because it
does not, if we except a very few vases of the later Mycenaean
age, present to us any representations taken from human life.
It is fair to say that the pretty Kamareis ware presents closer
analogies to the art of Japan than to that of historic Greece :
it can therefore give us no light on the subject we are investi-
gating, the laws and the conventions of Greek art.

(2) Geometric (900-700 b.c). — This is the ware which suc-
ceeds the Mycenaean in Greece. It is so called because geo-
metric patterns are the kernel of its decoration, and even the
figures of men and animals become on it little more than
geometric figures. An example will show its general char-
acter (Fig. 38). This ware undoubtedly belongs to Greeks, to
the semi-civilized races who had conquered the wealthy and
luxurious Mycenaeans and succeeded to their dominions. It
shows close analogies to the pottery and bronze work found in
the north of Europe, and at such sites as Hallstadt, whether
the style originally spread south from the Baltic, or north
from the Mediterranean. Geometric vases, especially those
from the early cemeteries of Athens, furnish us with some in-
teresting transcripts from the daily life of the primitive Greeks,
their warlike expeditions; and their burial customs ; yet as to


real Greek style they give us very little light. They help us
rather to trace the origins of Hellenic civilization than to fore-
cast to what it would grow after ages of splendid development.

Fig. 38. — Geometric vase in Ashmolean Museum.

(3) Early blaCk-fgured (700-550 b.c). — In the seventh cen-
tury the rapid rise of Greek civilization began, and to keep
pace with the civilization, the pottery of Greece emerged from
its rude beginnings, and began to become distinctive. Recep-
tive, as is often the case when a strong national movement takes
place, the potters were quite ready to use and adopt whatever
shapes of vases and decorative principles seemed worth adopt-
ing from the peoples round. Hence many Oriental motives —
the palmette, the lotus, the lion, the griffin, the winged human
figure — appear on Greek vases. These figures mostly appear
ranged in horizontal bands, which run round the vases one above
another, in a manner usual in the pottery and metal ware of
the East. It is interesting to trace the process whereby the
human form and tales of Greek mythology gradually make
their way amid the animal and plant forms. A good example
is a pyxis or box of Corinthian ware in the British Museum ^

1 Published by Mr. Cecil Smith in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, V., p. 176.



(Fig. 39) on the cover of which is depicted a procession of
animals, and round it a procession of lions which is somewhat
incongruously interrupted by a representation of Herakles dis-
charging an arrow at the triple Geryon, whose oxen stand by
in a group. When once the human element has made its ap-
pearance on these orientalizing vases, it soon expels the mere
rows of animals fighting or walking in line, either to the neck

*fJ^TTf?TT???TT?fTff??JPLfTTf?f ▼▼?▼▼??????▼▼▼????????▼▼

Fig. 39. — Archaic pyxis.

of the vase or to the place just above its foot. Thus almost
from the first the Greeks subordinate the borrowed elements
to the expression of their own ideas in accordance with their
own artistic principles, and we see the style of which I speak
under the next head gradually consolidating. Mythological
groups and types become established, and artistic tradition
arises. In this period there were active potteries in several
of the Ionian cities of Asia, such as Miletus, Samos, and Ca-
meirus in Rhodes ; while, in Greece proper, Corinth, Chalcis
in Euboea, and Athens seem to have surpassed other cities in
the potter's art.

(4) Later {Attic) blaclc-Jigured (550-480 B.C.). — By the middle
of the sixth century, Athens seems to have gained the first
place in the manufacture of vases, and to have developed
a formed and consistent style. The principle of it was to
varnish with black the handles, the feet, and the less im-
portant parts of a vase ; but to reserve certain fields of square,
oblong, or circular form, whereon to paint a scene from my-
thology, heroic story, or daily life. In this style the figures.


were represented Id silhouette — that is, with a wash of black
paint, on which, for certain details, white or red were added.
The flesh of women was commonly given in white, the hair
and beards of men and parts of garments in red. The inner
markings were made by a tool in the clay, the silhouette being
cut through, and the red body of the vase showing. That we
are now in the full current of Greek artistic activity is shown
by the fact that many Attic black-figured vases bear the signa-
tures of those who painted them, of such artists as Amasis,
Exekias, and Nearchus. In fact, the vases of this class furnish
us with a large number of interesting representations. And
these well illustrate some of the fundamental artistic princi-
ples of Greece. But the primitiveness and monotony of the
method of drawing, combined with the enormous demand set
up by the Etruscan custom of burying Attic ware with their
dead, caused the production of it to be usually hasty and
conventional. Its abundance in our museums is perhaps a
misfortune. At any rate, it was like the letting out of water
when, towards the end of the sixth century, the red-figured
method of vase-painting was introduced, though the black-
figured method did not, for perhaps half a century, go out
of use.

(5) Red-figured {Attic) ; severe (525-460 B.C.). — In this style
the black silhouette was given up for outline figures drawn in
black on the red surface of the vase, while the background was
painted out in black varnish. The great advantage of the
new process was that inner markings could henceforth, instead
of being cut with a tool, be drawn with the pen or brush.
Thus the formality of the design was greatly reduced, and a
path toward freedom opened. What especially distinguishes
red-figured vases from the first is the facility and beauty of the
lines in which they are drawn. To speak of them as painted is
barely correct ; the designs are essentially linear drawings, and


as siicli they must be judged. It is iu this fashion that the
best known of the Attic vase-painters, Euphronius,^ Brygus,
Duris, and the rest worked : their favourite form was the kylix.

The interest attaching to Greek vases certainly centres in
the early red-figured drawings. The reasons may be briefly
stated : —

(a) They are works of Attic artists, of the stirring period of
the Persian wars. The sculptural remains of Athens at this
time, or at least at the time just after Salamis, are few, but
it was as full of interest in the history of art as in political
history. Attic taste, soon to give birth to works memorable
forever, was rapidly forming under the influence of all that
Avas most noteworthy in the art work of Greece and Asia,
which found a focus at Athens. The stately conventions of the
archaic period were giving way before the burst of fresh life
and energy which was pouring into art under the enthusiasm of
triumphant nationality. Decade by decade, almost year by
year, Hellenic art was throwing off the limitations of its child-
hood, and becoming mature.

(/?) The school is essentially a school of vase-painting, not
merely of painting adapted to vases. The designs were com-
posed with a view to vases, and thus have the intellectual
charm which attaches to the study of artistic strivings devoted
to rational ends. As a natural result, there is a remarkable
freshness about these works. They are strictly architectonic
in character, and yet they are perfectly full of the life of the
day, representing not only myth, but the drinking-bout, athlet-
ics, fashionable life. They combine, so to speak, primness of
manner with underlying naturalness, humour, delight in life.

(y) These vases are very largely signed, and thus enable us
to compare one with another the artists of the period. This

1 On Euphronius Dr. W. Klein has written a valuable monograph. Lists of
works of other painters are given in his Vasen init Meistersignaturen.


gives a human, almost a personal, interest to them ; we trace the
influence of one vase-painter on another, and the variations of
style in the works of one man. The vases also bear the names
of the most celebrated beauties of the day, painted on them for
fashion's sake — such names as Miltiades, Cleinias, Alcibiades,
which are so familiar to lovers of Greece. Thus they help the
imagination, and add a touch of reality to the narratives of
Herodotus and Thucydides.

(6) Red-Jigured {Attic); free (460-400 b.c). — Towards the
middle of the fifth century the influence of the great Greek
painters, Polygnotus, Micon, Panaenus the brother of Pheidias,
and others, began to make itself felt in vase-painting.^ This
influence worked both for good and evil. The treatment of
perspective improved, the human body was rendered with
greater correctness and beauty, and more freedom from con-
vention was introduced. But on the other hand, vase-painting,
as such, drifted from its old moorings and took the first move
in the direction of decline. The designs, though in some ways
showing a greater mastery, are no longer so thoroughly adapted
to the field for which they are designed, or the vase which
they adorn. AVe no longer regard them as nearly perfect
within narrowly fixed limits, but are disposed to look beyond
them to the contemporary fresco works of which they are
sometimes a reminiscence. But actual competition with these
greater paintings was impossible; hence the vase-painter be-
came less well satisfied with his work, which he no longer
signs. He is no longer ambitious, but has sunk from an artist
to a craftsman.

(7) JVJiite-ground vases (fifth century). — In this style, in
place of drawing directly upon the red clay of the vase, the
potter first covered its surface with a layer of fine white ma-
terial. The importance of this difference in technique lies

1 See Winter, DiejungerenAUischen Vasen; also chapter IX. above.



in the fact that the process of vase-painting thus resembled
far more closely that of fresco-painting ; and fresco-paint-
ing, or painting on prepared wet plaster, was the usual
procedure in the great art of Greece. As a natural conse-
quence, the designs on white-ground vases are freer and less
conventional than those on contemporary red-figured vases,
and are not merely drawings but real paintings, the outlines
being filled in with washes of colour — red,
yellow, blue, and brown. In the early part
of the century this technique was employed
by some of the great Attic vase-painters,
such as Euphronius and Duris, and was used
for the kylix as well as the lekythos. Later
it was almost confined to the lekythi spe-
cially made to be buried with the dead,^
which have been preserved to us in great
quantities in the cemeteries of Athens,
Eretria, and Sicily (Fig. 40).

These beautiful lekythi may well be com-
pared with the reliefs of Attic tombs, which
they closely resemble alike in sentiment
and in their subjects, vvhich are usually
taken from the cultus of the dead at

(8) Rpjl-figured vases; late (400-300 b.c). — A few of these
appear to have been made at Athens ; but the supremacy of
the Athenian vases passed away after the failure of the expedi-
tion against Syracuse. Most of the late vases were made in
lower Italy, especially at Tarentum. The degeneration in vase-
designing which set in late in the fifth century proceeds rapidly

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerA grammar of Greek art → online text (page 11 of 18)