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been but slightly differentiated from relief. Among the few
remains of painting of an earlier time than about 460 b.c.
which have Gome down to us, there is none which could not
at once and without difficulty be executed as a relief. And
reliefs, as is well known, largely depended for their effect on
the colours with which they were covered. It was, as I have
already shown, probably Polygnotus and the painters con-
temporary with him who began with tentative steps to move
in the direction of a distinctive and innovating art of painting.
The Polygnotan perspective passed from mural paintings to
vases, such as that of Orvieto (Fig. 34), and that which repre-
sents the exploit of Theseus (Fig. 35), together with some
other ways of art, such as telling a story by allusion. (See
above, p. 133.)

Few" vase-paintings are more masterly than those of the
class just mentioned. Yet the old bottles could not contain
the new wine, but in time were shattered by it. Even Poly-
gnotan perspective was scarcely to be reconciled with the
strict architectonic rules under which Greek vase-painting had



XI VASES: SPACE, BALANCE, PERSPECTIVE 181

been formed. The relations of the scene depicted to the form^
of the vase, and even to the shape of the space to be occupied,
were fatally interfered with. And on the other hand, the very
conditions of vase-painting did not allow it to follow the rapid
technical progress which took place in fresco-painting. The
gap between the greater and the lesser form of art constantly
increased, the calling of the vase-painter became more and
more one of routine and mere manufacture, and his designs
lost all the force and manliness which had marked them in an
earlier age.

In drawing, indeed, and in the expression of the faces, he
shows more skill, but he no longer tells his story with clear-
ness and force. The vases of Lower Italy show an exaggera-
tion of the Polygnotan scheme, wherein the figures of gods
and men are grouped in two or three lines about a central point
or group, without serious order or method. The truth of these
assertions will be enforced later on, when we come to deal with
the rendering of myths.



CHAPTER XII



VASES : ARTISTIC TRADITION



Thus far we have dealt with the spatial aspects of vase-
paiutings ; we have next to speak of their schemes and their
relations to myth or tale, reserving to the next chapter their
relations to Greek literature. In their attempts, then, to
embody a myth in a drawing, the vase-painters were subject
to certain tendencies which belonged in a special manner to
their craft, and which may fairly be regarded as principles of
the grammar of vase-painting.

The Greek vase-painter in all periods works in schemes.
He does not freely invent a new embodiment for a tale or a
myth. He is dependent on the manner in which that tale had
been represented in earlier art. He must satisfy the eye as
well as the mind. But, on the other hand, though he accepts
and repeats a scheme embodying artistic tradition, he does not,
unless he be a mere workman and no artist, accept the scheme
in a slavish way. He alters poses and details, omits figures, or
introduces fresh ones ; sometimes he merely improves the
lines of the composition. Here, as in every field of Greek
activity, we find infinite variety of detail within limits cheer-
fully accepted by the poet or artist. An exceptional poet or
artist pushes back the limits; a conventional spirit keeps far
within the bounds.

The Use of Fixed Schemes. — In tracing back any representa-
tions of myths of the gods or of heroic legends, we often find the

182



CHAP. XII



VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION



183



kernel of them in some simple scheme, which is usually of
great antiquity, and sometimes indeed is borrowed from the
art of other nations. Commonly it is a sort of symbol, which
expresses in the briefest and least involved way the essence of
the tale. As examples we may take the labours of Herakles,
each of which is represented in one or more schemes which
persist through the history of Greek art. In his contest with
the lion Heracles grapples with and strangles the beast, which.




Fig. 59. — Vase in the British Museum.



attempts to tear him with its claws; thus we get a scheme
like that of wrestling (Fig. 59).^ This scheme I have already
cited as an excellent example of balance and space-filling.

In seizing Triton he stands across the back and knots his
hands round the neck ; here again we have a scheme derived
from wrestling or the pancratium- (Fig. 60). Nereus stands
by as a spectator or umpire.

1 Brit. Mus. Cat. Vases, Vol. XL, p. 13.

2 Ibid., IL, p. 21.



184



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



These are simple groups : the victory of Herakles needed not
to be enforced; he was ever invincible; and so what most
needed portrayal was the contrasted and interlaced form of
man and beast, a conjunction which made the centaur so
favourite a subject with Hellenic artists. In the case of
another labour, the bringing back of the boar of Erymanthus,
so simple a scheme would not suffice : the reception by




Fig. (jO. — Vase in the British Museum.



Eurystheus and the comic terror which made him take refuge
in a great earthen cask into which Herakles throws the boar
needed special portrayal ; the scheme here therefore contains
at least three figures^ (Fig. 61). In our vase there are five,
Athena on one side balancing lolaus on the other.

The exploits of Theseus also are represented in a series of

1 Brit. Mus. Cat. Vases, Vol. II., p. 15. There is here, as often is the case
when Herakles is introduced, a touch of humour. *



XII



VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION



185



schemes ; but these are not identical with the Heraklean series^
for Theseus was a skilful wrestler and warrior, and won his
victories not by brute force but by athletic address and use of
the sword. So he does not crush the Minotaur with bare
hands, but pulls him down and then uses the sword (Fig. 62).
Otto Jahn has well observed that there is a parallelism
between the use of fixed schemes in painting and the use of
fixed epithets in the epic. To Homer all the Achaeans have




Fig. 61. — Vase iu the British Museum.



flowing locks, the Trojans are tamers of horses; the wine is
aUvays dark, all the women beautiful, and all the chiefs fair-
haired. Homer does not tire of introducing speeches with
the formula, " To him replying, the other spake," or, so-and-so
uttered winged words, or of finishing a feast with the formula,
" When they had put from them the desire of meat and drink."
And in the Homeric similes we find the lion constantly appear-
ing in slightly varied connections and actions, just as the



186



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



riders of the Parthenon frieze or the fighting groups of the
Mausoleum are slightly varied one from another.

In the more ordinary sorts of Greek vases, and even to some
degree in all sorts/the scheme plays a great part. There are
several regular fighting schemes. In the simplest, one warrior
has fallen wounded on his knee, while the victor advances on
him to deal the final blow (Fig. 74) ; or two warriors meet in




Fig. 62. —Vase in the Ashmolean Museum.



even strife over the body of a fallen comrade. Friends and
supporters can be added on either side, as space may require.
It is common to pair a Greek hoplite, armed with spear and
shield, with a bowman who wears the dress of the Scythian
archers of Athens, figures quite familiar to the potters. Some
of the troops may be in chariots, some upon horseback ; but in
the common arrangement it is the hoplites who actually meet
in. strife. In such groups it matters little what names are



XII VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION 187

appended to the fighting heroes. Often the vase-painter writes
beside them the names of Homeric worthies — Diomedes, or
Ajax, or Aeneas, or Hector. But unless there is added some
feature which betokens the intention to record a particular
combat, these names are otiose, and might be indefinitely
A^aried. Then, there is the scheme of the parting cup, a war-
rior in armour receiving a draught of wine from the hands of
a lady, and such a group may stand for the parting between
any hero of myth and his wife or mother. Another scheme is
that of the leading away of a captive woman (Fig. 72) ; in
which case one warrior precedes the captive, leading her by
the hand, another follows, sometimes looking back to guard
against pursuit. This scheme may be introduced where the
seduction of Helen by Paris, the leading away of Briseis, the
recovery at Troy of Aethra by her grandsons, Demophon and
Acamas, or any other such scene is portrayed.

To these simple groups the addition of two or three figures,
distinguished either by inscribed names or by some other mark,
gives definite meaning. For example, Pausanias in his descrip-
tion of the devices carved on the chest of Kypselus (seventh
century b.c.) writes of one group, " Achilles and Memnon are
fighting; and by them stand their mothers." The mothers,
indeed, of these two heroes were both more than mortal, Thetis
and Eos, the Dawn. When, therefore, we find two female
figures flanking a pair of combatants, we commonly suppose
that the latter are Achilles and Memnon. And when we find
in the same flanking position, on either side of a pair of com-
batants, Apollo and Athena, we are justified in supposing that
the warrior supported by Athena is Achilles, and his opponent
Hector, beloved by Apollo. It will be remembered how Homer,
when he narrates the final and fateful combat of these two
champions, places in the background the rival partialities of
. their divine patrons.



188 A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART chap.

The ordinary vase-painter was contented to produce simple
schemes ; and the names by the introduction of which he gives
a meaning to his work are often introduced somewhat inappro-
priately. And yet, when one comes to reflect, one sees that
the very introduction of names is a testimony to the incurable
optimism and idealism of the Greek artist. He is like the
unspoiled child to whom a four-roomed doll-house is a palace.
He is like Homer, all of whose women are beautiful, and
almost all of whose men are brave. He sees in the most ordi-
nary schemes of figures something not qiute common, some
hint at the ideal tales of the old epic.



It will be observed how closely all this agrees with the
account of early Greek art already given in chapter V. The
typical vase-paintiug is a mental construction. The artist re-
produces from memory a scheme familiar to him, with any
variations which may suggest themselves to him at the moment.
He gives the scene a more exact meaning, either by adding
inscriptions, or by inserting some more definite details or some
extra persons. Place and time he usually disregards. The
beauty of the design (for beauty is seldom wholly absent) comes
from what is Greek in it — the simplicity and directness, the
admirable proportion and balance, the keen sense of the charm
of the human form in every pose and every connection. The
ordinary vases which fill our museums were mostly made for
export to Italy or Sicily. If made by any workmen except
Greek, they would be unworthy of careful attention ; but art
belongs so preeminently to Greece that the meanest works
produced in that country have importance. But artists of a
better class also worked on vases, and when we reach their
works we mount at once to a higher level, and it becomes
worth while to examine them with care, that we may trace in



XII VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION 189

them the further working of the Greek artistic spirit. "We
pass in them froDi the mere scheme to a composition showing
purpose and thought.

How the vase-painter proceeded in embodying in art a story
or myth has been well set forth by Professor Carl Robert in
his very useful work Bild und Lied. I cannot in all points
agree with him ; but he has done excellent work in cutting a
path through a forest which had before his time only been
traversed by narrow tracks.

There are some myths which can be represented in painting
by a very few figures ; others which require a far larger num-
ber. It is natural that the choice of the artist between the
two kinds should have been largely determined by the nature
of his field : in a square field only a few figures could be intro-
duced, in a long narrow space more would be necessary. But
besides the external compulsion thus exercised, an artist of
greater powers and more inventiveness would naturally take a
more complicated subject.

It is characteristic of the vase-painter of the sixth century
and earlier that, just as he objects to leaving any part of
his vase without decoration, so he will tell in his design as
much of the story as he can. In doing this he disregards the
unities of time and place in the most reckless manner. He
"sows not with the hand, but with the basket." Herein,
indeed, he only follows the course which is most natural
and usual in the early ages of art, and which is as conspic-
uous in the work of the sculptors of Gothic cathedrals and
the illuminations of early manuscripts as it is in primitive
Hellas.

We will give one or two simple examples, which may be
taken indiscriminately from early vases or early bronze reliefs,
since the principles of arrangement are much the same in
both kinds of ware. On a black-figured plate at Athens there



190



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



is represented the arming of Achilles (Fig. 63).^ Before him
stands his mother Thetis, while the group is flanked on one
side by his father Peleus, on the other by his young son
Neoptolemus. The painter, by carefully adding the names, has
tried to prevent all possible misinterpretation. The group he
has put together is not a possible one, since Achilles' fighting




Fig. 63. — Plate at Athens.

life was spent entirely in Asia, while Peleus never left Phthia,
and Neoptolemus did not go to Ilium until after his father's
death. But it expresses relations ; it is a family group if not a
historic one. Similarly, when Theseus slays the Minotaur on
early vases,- some of the Athenian boys and girls sent to be the
prey of the monster are sometimes present to give the occa-

1 Heydemann, Griech. Vasenhtlder, PI. VI., 4.

2 gaumeister, i)enA:/na7er, p. 1790.



XII VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION 191

sion, and Ariadne and Minos to give the conditions. Thus
again in early representations of the transformations of Thetis,
as she seeks to escape from the grasp of her wooer Peleus, we
see the lion, the sea-monster, or the serpent^ whose forms she
successively assumed, present beside the goddess in her ordi-
nary human shape (Fig. 58).

It is quite natural that, with the rise of true Greek art
towards the end of the sixth century, and with the intro-
duction of additional figures into the composition, we find a
clearer conception of unity in space and time, as well as a
growing sense of poetic appropriateness ; the meaning becomes
more important than mere naive story-telling, or than the
contrivance of agreeable schemes and perfect balance. Many
vase-paintings of this more purposeful kind offer delightful
puzzles in their interpretation ; but interpretation must never
overlook the fact that the picture had to be composed accord-
ing to a somewhat rigid scheme, and is regulated by the ideas
of ancient and not of modern art.

At the same time that the composition gains in meaning,
and the actors become more numerous, the set schemes of which
I have spoken are modified and refined. At all times in
the history of Greek art, sculptor and painter succeed in
nothing better than in the slight variations on a given theme,
by which they manage, without once breaking with tradition,
in casting it in ever fresh forms of beauty. Abundant illustra-
tions of the statements of the last two paragraphs will be found
in subsequent chapters.



It may perhaps be in part due to the influence of the drama
that certain schemes of arrangement, though known to early
art, become more usual and prominent in the middle of the
fifth century.



192



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



One of these may be called the chorus scheme. It consists
in introducing on either side of the essential figures of a scene
a number of subordinate figures of one class, who sympathize
with the action going on, and express their sympathy by
attitude and motion, but do not in fact take part in the action.
They thus perform something like the function of the chorus
in a drama, as the chorus was understood before the time of
Euripides. For example, in the paintings which depict the
seizing of Thetis by Peleus, her sister nymphs are often pres-
ent in numbers, and fly in panic terror to right and left. I
give an example from a beautiful vase of the middle of the
fifth century, bearing the name of the potter Hiero (Fig. 64).^
On the other side of the same vase, in which the subject is




Fig. 64 a. — Vase of Hiero.



continued, w^e see an example of what may be termed the
messenger scheme. All who are acquainted with the Attic
drama will remember that very often the main action of the
piece does not take place on the stage, but is reported by a
messenger who has witnessed it. On vases the telling by the

1 Wiener Vorlegebl, A. 1.



XII



VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION



193



messenger does not occur in a detached way, for the obvious
reason that in that case it would be impossible to determine
what tale he was telling. But when some action is depicted
on the front or obverse of a vase, we often find on the reverse




Fig. 64 b. — Vase of Hiero.



an adaptation of the messenger idea. On the reverse of the
vase before us, one of the sisters of Thetis is rushing to her
father Nereus and is kissing him as a preparation for the not
very disastrous tale she has to tell.

As I have said, these schemes are not peculiar to the fifth
century. Xereids appear as a sort of a chorus, even on black-
figured vases; and on the celebrated Florence vase (Francois
Vase) of Clitias and Ergotimus there is an instance of the
messenger scheme, for while Achilles is pursuing Troilus,
Antenor brings news of the ambush to Priam, who is seated at
the gate of Troy. But they are comparatively rare on sixth-
century vases : towards the middle of the fifth century they
become common. The messenger scheme is specially appropri-
ate on the reverse of a vase the obverse of which gives us
the event or action of which news has to be brought.



194 A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART chap.

At about the middle of the fifth century the possibilities of
vase-representation are greatly enlarged by the introduction of
the modified perspective of which I have spoken as Polygnotan.
Henceforward, though small and ordinary vases retain to the
end the single-plane scheme which is usual in relief, larger and
more elaborate designs sometimes offer to us two or more than
two series of figures, the further figures appearing higher up
on the vase. It is at once evident that the new arrangement
would allow a much more complicated treatment ; the simple
archaic schemes, flanked by a certain number of interested
spectators, could open and widen out indefinitely, subject to the
laws of space-filling and of balance enumerated above. As a
result we have at once, as has been already shown, some of the
finest and most interesting of vase-paintings. But toward
400 B.C. Athens ceases to be the great manufactory of vases, and
the art is transferred to the potteries of Tarentum and Rubi
and other cities of Lower Ital3^ The result is that the vase-
paintings, though elaborate, lose their freshness and point.
The field is filled up with figures of the circles of Aphrodite
and Dionysus. The variations, so to speak, entirely overwhelm
the original scheme, and tlie vase produces an impression of
degeneration and corruption.



I will make the progress of a scene through the history of
vase-painting clearer by taking, as an example, the sending
forth from Eleusis of Triptolemus by the goddess Deraeter
and her daughter Kora, in a car drawn by winged serpents, on
his mission to introduce among men the cultivation of corn,
with all its civilizing results. My illustrations are taken from
the great Kunstmytliologie of Overbeck, Pis. XV.-XVI.

The central figure in this series of representations is Trip-
tolemus himself in his car, carrying wheat ears. It is curious



XII



VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION



195



that in the earliest representations the car is not represented as
winged, nor as drawn by serpents ; and the presence of Demeter
and Persephone is by no means invariable. We give the design
of a black-figured amphora, wherein the three figures of Trip-
tolemus and his patronesses, who are scarcely differentiated
from one another, are given in the simplest way (Fig. 65)}




Fig. 65. — Black-figured vase.

Next we place a very beautiful drawing from a vase of the
potter Hiero in the British Museum. Here details are far more
elaborate : snakes do not indeed draw the car, but they are
attached to it, and a wing is fixed on the axle ; Demeter stands
behind her favourite in a beautiful dress, holding a torch;
Persephone also carries a torch and pours for her protege a
parting draught of wine. Only one fresh figure is added to

^Oyerheck, Kwistmythologie,'K.Y.f 6.



196



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



the group, the nymph Eleusis, who personifies the locality of
the scene (Fig. 66)} The vase of Hiero dates from the time




of the Persian wars, and offers us, as his vases commonly do,
rather elaborate perfection of detail than any novelty in the con-
ception. The reverse of the vase shows us a group of deities, —
Poseidon, Amphitrite, Zeus, and Dionysus, and Eumolpus, the
fabled founder of the Eleusinian mysteries. The next vase is




Fig. 67.— Hydria.

perhaps twenty years later, of the form called a hydria (Fig.
67).^ Here the figures of the group are more numerous, but

1 Overbeck, Kunstmythologie, XV., 22 a. 2 ii)ia,^ XV., 31.



XII VASES: ARTISTIC TRADITION 197

their connection with, the scene is less clear. We have in the
midst as before Triptolemus between the two goddesses. The
figure with the torclies behind Demeter is given in the in-
scription as Hecate, and we may suppose the balancing figure
on the other side, who also carries two torches, to be Artemis,
though indeed she may perhaps be a mortal woman. The
two flanking figures on either side are less easy to identify.
He on the left, who liolds the cornucopiae, has been called
Hades 5 and Hades has some right to be present at the scene ;
but he would scarcely appear as an old white-headed man, see-
ing how forceful was his wooing of Persephone. Stephani has
therefore suggested for him the name Agathos Daimon, a deity
propitious to agriculture. The female figure at the other end
of the group who carries a basket seems to be a mere attendant.
The vase-picture next figured belongs to the fourth century,
comes from Italy, and was probably painted by a Tarentine.^
Freer, and more original in composition than earlier vases,
liberated from the stiff processional scheme, it shows poverty in
thought and meaning as well as convention in execution (Fig.
68).^ By an ingenious arrangement the serpents are made
actually to draw the car, in which sits Triptolemus, receiving
the parting cup from his mistress Demeter. Persephone,
strangely enough, is entirely absent. Other figures are
grouped round — Aphrodite and her son Eros, Peitho, a satyr
with a Pan's pipe, two Horae, each bearing sympathetically an
ear of corn. There is an attempt to represent the landscape —
a river bordered with plants flows in the foreground ; among
the plants is a cat carrying off a bird. In the background are
trees. The cat naturally suggests that the whole scene has
been removed from Eleusis to Egypt, and the inscription
NEIA02 appended to the river makes this more clear. The

1 The aspirate \- in the name of the Horae seems to point to Tarentum.

2 Ibid., XVI., 13.



198



A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART



CHAP.



vase, while it cannot be considered a satisfactory embodiment
of the myth, shows an odd assortment of learning. The
painter knew the story according to which the mysteries of
Eleasis came originally from the land of the Xile ; but he sees




Fig. (;8. — Vase of Tareutum.



no incongruity in placing the Greek Peitho and the Attic
Horae, Thallo and Carpo, in Egypt. In other late vase-repre-
sentations of the same subject there are even more curious
confusions and transpositions.




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