Percy Gardner.

A grammar of Greek art online

. (page 14 of 18)
Online LibraryPercy GardnerA grammar of Greek art → online text (page 14 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I will next speak of certain methods or habits of the Greek
vase-painter which may be abundantly observed in the vases
of all periods — certain dialectic peculiarities, if I may so term
them, on the analog}^ of language.

One of the commonest phenomena of vase-painting is what
is called contamination, the influence exerted by one recognized
scheme upon another, the transference of persons or circum-
stances from surroundings in which they have a meaning to a


connection in which they are out of place. That this should
commonly take place is the surest of proofs that the painters
of vases thought in schemes and figures as well as in event or
myth. Contamination, as is natural, is far more prominent in
vases which are mere handiwork than in such as have real
meaning, and were executed with thought. Also in schemes
made up of closely similar elements, for example, Hermes lead-
ing three nymphs and Hermes leading the goddesses to the
judgment of Paris, it is very natural that these two should
be, as often happens, somewhat mixed up.^ But contamination
occurs under a variety of other circumstances. Though it may
be most readily traced in vase-paintings, it is also prevalent in
other parts of the Greek fancy world. ]\ryths also are con-
stantly contaminated, one borrowing event and circumstance
from another. Keligious usages are also very liable to con-
tamination. It will be well to give a few examples of vase

I have already observed that when two heroes are represented
as contending in arms, and the two mothers standing on either
side behind them, we usually regard the scene as the battle
between Achilles and Memnon, in the presence of their mothers,
Thetis and Eos. On a fine vase, probably painted by Euphro-
nius (Fig. 69),- we find a beautiful scene, where the body of a
dead hero is carried to its burial by two winged figures, a black-
haired daemon, who is doubtless Death, and a red-haired com-
panion, who is Sleep. One thinks at once of the Homeric lines
in which it is stated that Sleep and Death bore off the dead
body of Sarpedon to his native Lycia ; and it is probable that
the vase-painter was thinking of Sarpedon when he worked.
But the space was not filled, though the group was complete ;

1 The judgment of Paris is reserved for more detailed treatment in chapter

2 Klein, Euphronios, p. 272.




and he adds on each side a female figure, thinking probably of
some painting in which Thetis and Eos stood by their two
sons. One of these women is turned by the herald's staff
which she carries into Iris, the messenger of the gods, who can
scarcely be out of place. But the other figure is obscure.
Sarpedon had not a noted mother.

Another good example of contamination is cited by Pro-
fessor Robert, from a black-figured vase^ where is depicted a
warrior hurling from him a boy whom he has seized by the leg.


It should be Neoptolemus flinging Astyanax from the towers
of Ilium ; but the presence of a temple, a tripod, and a chariot
make it likely that the event in the vase-painter's jnind was
the slaying of Troilus by Achilles at the altar of Apollo. It is
hard to be sure which death is really intended ; but in either
case circumstances usual in the rendering of the one event are
transferred to the other.

Another example may be found in a kylix on which is repre-
sented Oedipus seated before a sphinx, who is perched on the
top of a pillar. That it was the tale of Oediims which was in

1 Mon. d. List., I., 34 ; Bild und Lied, p. 112.




the mind of the vase-painter is f>roved by the inscriptions (Fig.
70).^ But, apart from them, we might almost have seen in the

Fig. 70. — Kylix.

picture an ordinary gravestone surmounted by the figure of a
sphinx, with a relative of the dead seated near. The sphinx,
an adornment of the tomb, must have been familiar to the vase-

1 Hartwig, Meisterschalen, PI. 73. On the vase is the curious form OiStTrdSTj? :
the letters K]AITRI[rON allude to the riddle which the sphinx asked
of Oedipus, " What creature goes on four legs in the morning, on two during
the day, and on three at evening?" The answer was, man, the third leg of
evening being the staff of old age.

202 A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART chap, xii

painter. This illustrates the fact that the contamination in
vase-painting is not usually between two myths, but between
two figure schemes which mingled in the mind of the artist.
He was not hesitating which of two tales to portray, but,
thinking in concrete figures, thought indistinctly.

Locality. — I have already, in speaking of the works of Poly-
gnotus, shown how fond the great art of Greece is of telling
a story or defining a personality by means of allusion. In cer-
tain classes of vase-paintings the custom is common, as has
indeed already been shown.

It would not be easy to find better instances of this way of
expression than are furnished by indications of locality in
vase-paintings. These are of two kinds. Sometimes one
marked feature of a place is depicted in order to signify the
whole, sometimes the place is represented by a personification.

(1)^4 marked feature. — T\\\x?, a pillar often stands for a
temple or a palace, a tripod or altar represents a sacred place, a
crab or a shell-fish the sea-shore. A single tree, as on the Or-
vieto vase (Fig. 34), stands sometimes for a forest. Here we
have a Polygnotan parallel : in the painting at Delphi which
represented Hades, a single willow seems to have stood for the
grove of poplars and willows which Homer ascribes to Perse-
phone. A closet in the background sometimes shows that the
scene is the apartments of the women; tablets or drawing
materials hung up against the wall show a school, and so forth.
For examples, see Figs. 72, 73.

(2) A personification. — This is the most thoroughly Hellenic
way of representing a place. It was entirely in accord with the
genius of the nation to embody not merely the great powers of
nature and the aspects of life in mythologic personalities, but
also thus to signify the features of a landscape. A vase has




been above (Fig. 66) represented, wherein Eleusis the place is
represented by Eleusis the nymph. In similar fashion the rivers
Alpheius and Cladeus appear in one of the pediments of the
temple of Zeus at Olympia as reclining men (Fig. 23). And in
Roman and Pompeian paintings, at a later time, stream and
rock, mountain and meadow, are all represented by groups of
male and female daemons and nymphs.

In a similar way, in some of the compositions of Pheidias,
the rising sun and the setting moon, embodied in the chariots of
Helios and Selene or Xyx, give the time, the moment when
dawn breaks on the earth and darkness flies. One finds this
scheme copied on a few vases. ^ Sunrise could not be more
delightfully represented by human figures than it is in the
Blacas vase of the British Museum, on which Helios appears
rising out of the sea, and the stars, represented as nude boys,
are plunging into the clouds beneath them, while Eos, the
Dawn, as a winged goddess, pursues the hunter Cephalus, and
the moon goddess on her horse sinks behind the hills (Fig. 71).^
The figure running on the hills behind Eos is probably a
mountain god, and signifies place, as the other figures signify

There is a method of representing a tale which belongs to all
early and primitive art, and which is occasionally found in
Greek vase-paintings, though, in fact, it is anything but
characteristic of them — the method of continuous narration.^

1 E.g. the vase from Ruvo, Mon. d. Inst., IX., 6.

2 Figured in Reseller's Lexlkon, I., p. 2010, Baumeister, I., p. 640, and else-
where. Brit. Mus. Catalogue, 111., p. 284. None of the representations is
trustworthy, as the vase was retouched. It has now been cleaned.

3 Professor Wickhoff, in a work which has been translated into English, on
Roman Art, represents this method as characteristic of Roman art, adopted
from it by early Christian art, and so perpetuated through the Middle Ages.
It does, no doubt, belong in a marked degree to early Christian art, but


In the representations in which this method, or want of
method, prevails, we find successive scenes placed side by side
without division, and the hero depicted again and again once in
each. Thus in the undivided scroll which runs round the
pillar of Trajan, that Emperor is represented more than ninety
times in various connections and surroundings.

It is a mark of the strong sense of style which pervades
Greek art from the first that this method is soon superseded.
A few vases may be found which exemplify it; but to lay
stress upon them would be to call attention to the exception
at the expense of the rule. A good example of the nearest
approach to the style of continuous narration which is to be
found in Greek art is the British Museum vase which repre-
sents the adventures of Theseus,^ on which Theseus is depicted
again and again, occupied in his varied exploits. Another vase
which perhaps goes a little farther in this direction is a beau-
tiful toilet-vase from Eretria, in the design of which a bride is
twice depicted, on the left as seated in company with Eros, and
on the right as led by her husband to her new abode.^ We have
also on a vase (Fig. 76), cited below, which represents the
slaying of the Thracians at Troy by Odysseus and Diomedes,
two figures of the latter hero, one slaying and one escaping.
And Odysseus appears twice over on the vase Eig. 77.

The mention of the toilet-vase reminds us that we have
treated almost exclusively of vases the subject of which is

it is there a revival of a primitive manner, wliicli the empire of Greek art
had almost civilized off the face of the earth. Few better examples of the
method could be found than the sixth-century Phoenician cup from Palestrina
(Mon. d. Inst., X., 31), the subject of which has been cleverly shown, by
M. Clermont Ganneau, to be the successive events of a day's hunting.

1 Journ. Hell. Stud., Atlas, PI. X.

2 Jahrbuch des arch. Inst., 1900, PI. 2.

206 A GRAMMAR OF GREEK ART chap, xii

myfhologic. There is, however, a large class of vases, espe-
cially of the red-figured styles, of which the subjects are not
taken from the national repertory of tales, but from the events
of daily life. Athletes practising their exercises, bathers,
men engaged in sacrifice or in feasting, women in their homes,
children at play, marriages, funerals, offerings to the dead, are
all ordinary subjects of vase-painting. Very often, indeed, it
is impossible to say whether a vase-painting was meant to
represent the battles, the sacrifices, or the feasts of heroes of
mythology or of persons of everyday life. This last observation
may perhaps reassure us, since it shows that the grammar of
vase-painting is the same whether mythical scenes or scenes of
every day be depicted. Of course in the latter case there is
more freedom, not unfrequently even humour ; but the Greek
love of scheme and type prevails even in the representation
of genre scenes.



The relations of poetry to art offer a subject of great in-
terest to the student of the classics. The subject was brought
fully before the learned world by Lessing in his Laocoon.
The Laocoon has become a classic both in Germany and in
England ; and it still keeps the interest which always attaches
to the first thorough study of an important subject by a great
man. But Lessing's knowledge of Greek art was closely lim-
ited. The history of ancient sculpture had in his time barely
been sketched, and Greek painting was practically unknown.
One cannot, therefore, be surprised to find that many of his
dicta no longer hold. His theories have the same relation to
modern archaeology which the theories of Adam Smith have
to modern economics.

Our present subject is especially the relations v/hich may be
observed between vase-painting and literature. This is a mat-
ter concerning all whose education is on classical lines.^

1 The most important general work on this suhject is still Robert's Bild
unci Lied ; some of the papers of Jahn and Brunn are full of suggestion. Mr.
Huddilston's Attitude of the Greek Tragedians towards Art may also he con-
sulted. In late years it has occurred to several publishers to issue editions of
the Greek and Roman writers with illustrations, largely taken from ancient
vase-paintings. I am sorry to say that this has seldom been done by adequate
authorities or in a satisfactory fashion. Hill's Illustrations of School Classics
is a good exception. Engelmann's Bilderatlas zur Ilias and zur Odijssee
(English edition by Anderson) is also a work of a competent authority. Most
of the vases which bear on literature are figured in Baumeister's Denkmdler.



"We must begin by endeavouring to put out of our minds the
modern relations between poem or tale and the representations
of the events there narrated in painting and sculpture. We
moderns are a reading race, and form our minds on books ;
whence it has come about that the written tale or legend has
complete domination over the pictured tale or legend. We are
also thoroughly used to illustrated editions, in which the artist
does all he can to make real and vivid the tale of the novelist
or poet. This artist reads the text with care ; he tries to
imbibe its atmosphere ; he studies the dress and surroundings
of the period of the tale. He puts his art at the disposal of
the writer ; and if there be any discrepancy between the pic-
tured and the wTitten version, it is always the artist who is
blamed. If the poet alter for his own purposes the tale as
handed down by tradition, the artist must follow the poet
in all his innovations. When the reader can say that the situa-
tion in the poem is perfectly rendered in the picture, the artist
is so far justified. And having acquired this habit of mind
from the use of illustrated books, we carry it even into our
criticisms of more independent works of painting, when exhib-
ited in our galleries. In that case, of course, the artist is much
freer in his rendering; he is not bound to follow any one
account, unless, of course, the whole tale be the invention of a
poet. But it would always be regarded as a bold and doubt-
ful proceeding, if an artist depicted a scene from some history
or tale in a manner for which there was no written authority ;
he would be regarded as trying to combine the incompatible
duties of the historian and the artist. I am speaking, it will
be observed, of what may be called narrative paintings ; of
course when a painting merely depicts a situation and explains
itself, the case is different.

In these matters the Greeks thought and felt very differently.
It would be absurd to speak of the Greek artist as freer than


the modern, since his limits were narrower, and he was bound
by a thousand conventions, which have now lost their power.
But at least his public was not in the habit of reading, or of
bringing his sculpture or painting into close relations with the
works of poet or mythographer.

Before we search out how the vase-painter did treat the
myths and tales wherewith he adorned his vases, it may be
well briefly to consider the psychological aspect of the matter,
to set forth the conditions which would naturally govern his
hand and brain in his work. Vases were made to sell, and
therefore the demand of the customers would naturally guide
the hand of the designer. But on the other hand, the demand
was not the result of an incalculable caprice, nor of a constantly
changing fashion : the Greek mind moved slowly on the lines
of order and law, in an evolution of which the course can be
traced with certainty. Artist and customer were swe^^t along
in the same steady stream of influence.

This accounts for an observation made by Dr. Klein ^ and
others that the paintings on Greek vases, especially the fashion-
able kylix, more readily take their subjects, than the mode in
which those subjects are treated, from prevalent currents in
mythology. The mode of treatment was largely fixed by tradi-
tion ; but the subject was open to freer choice, and in this latter
respect demand might have effect. For example, the exploits
of Theseus seem to have been a favourite subject at Athens
soon after the Persian wars, at the time when Cimon was
bringing to Athens the bones of the national hero from the
island of Scyros ; but those exploits are much schematized in
the manner which we have already studied.

Looking at Greek religion and myth from one point of view,

1 Euphronios, p. 163.



it seems to resolve itself into " Cults of the Greek States." In
every city there were temples of the gods, in which each of the
deities who received worship received it in some special form
or aspect — Apollo as sun-god, or healer, or prophet, Artemis as
deity of childbirth, or as moon-goddess, or as huntress, and so
on. And with these functions of the deities went myths appro-
priate to those functions, myths as fleeting and varied as the
shapes of the clouds. But nevertheless in the higher poetry of
Greece, and in the art everywhere, there was prevalent a sort
of national Hellenic mythology, which gives unity to the
works of writers and artists of different cities and varied
schools, and which produced national Hellenic types in sculp-
ture and in poetry, so that after all it is possible to speak of
Greek religion and Greek art, and not only of the religion or
art of Argos, or Athens, or Rhodes. To the learned scholar the
local divergencies will always be prominent, but by the ordinary
cultivated man that wherein Greece differed from Italy and
from Asia will always be seen to be more important and more
profound than that wherein one Greek city differed from
another. Probably a cultivated Greek might have taken the
same view. And whatever may have been the case with other
cities, Athens certainly closely adhered to the Pan-Hellenic
way of thought and poetry and art.

" Every Greek who was born above the ranks of the sordidly
poor went to school during boyhood; and at every Greek
school the Homeric and Hesiodic poems were made the text-
books of education. With them were associated the poems
of the later lyrical poets, such as Pindar and Simonides, and of
the gnomic writers ; but Homer and Hesiod always remained
the chief source whence came the Greek ideas as to the hie-
rarchy and the functions of the gods. And the training thus
imparted in youth was confirmed and consolidated, day by day,
by the power of the second education which every Greek went


through, education of the mind through the eyes, by observa-
tion of the innumerable works of art whicli filled all Hellenic
cities. In art the poetic view of the gods, started by Homer
and Hesiod, and carried on by Pindar and Simonides and the
other great poets of early Greece, was in the main adopted and
carried out. What wonder, then, if the Greeks held fast those
notions as to the gods which were instilled into their minds in
childhood, and which were enforced every day by the testimony
of poetry and art ? " ^

While, however. Homer and the Epic, together with the
classic art mainly founded on them, fixed for all time the chief
features of the poetic mythology of Greece, changes necessarily
took place, changes which certainly became more rapid and
more marked as the Greek world turned the goal and moved in
the direction of dissolution. The rationalizing spirit, which
we find not only in the writings of philosophers like Plato, but
also in the poems of Stesichorus, and in a marked degree in
the dramas of Euripides, tended to make certain versions of
current myths more suitable for popular acceptance than other
versions. We may expect to find, in the fourth and even
sometimes in the fifth century, traces in art of the influence of
changing scientific theories, changing religious views, changing
canons of literary taste ; but these traces are not prominent until
the third century, with which in this work we have little to do.

I have spoken of mythology and of the types of the gods ;
but no rigid line can be drawn between the gods and the heroes
of legendary Greece, who were another principal subject de-
picted in Greek art. There was no impassable gulf between
deity and hero. Callisto, the bear-goddess of Arcadia, became
later one of the nymphs attendant on Artemis ; Asklepios, on
the other hand, after being regarded as a hero, became in later
Greece one of the chief deities of Hellas ; Achilles was in some
1 Gardner and Jevons, Manual of Greek Antiquities, p. 102.


places worshipped as a hero, in some as a deity, and so forth.
Thus it is not surprising that what I have said in regard to the
mythology of the gods applies also to the legends of the heroes.
These also varied from place to place, and existed in rival
forms. But these, also, were fixed within limits for all edu-
cated men by the great epics of the heroic cycle.

These observations prepare us for the discussion of the ques-
tion how far we can tra,ce in vase-paintings the influence of the
various kinds of poetry, of the epic, the lyric, and the dramatic
masterpieces of early Greece. This influence might be exerted
in any of three ways. First, the choice of subject might be
made under the influence of poetry. Second, the particular
form of the tale accepted might be due to such influence.
Third, there might be a general epic, lyric, or dramatic tone in
the vase-painting, showing itself in the details or the manner
of representation.

I propose to consider how far any of these kinds of connec-
tion or influence can be traced between vase-paintings and the
poems of the epic, lyric, or dramatic class. In the present
chapter I will confine myself to the epic, and reserve the
other kinds of poetry for a separate chapter. First, then, of
Ejyic Poetry.

(1) Subjects. — We can scarcely doubt that influence of the
first kind mentioned would be exerted by the Epic. The popu-
larity of any myth, whether produced by current poetical treat-
ment of it or by any other cause, would naturally put it into
the heads of vase-painters. As regards subject, the literature
which has the closest bearing on vase-paintings is the Epic.^

1 Lists of vases bearing subjects from the Epic will be found in Luckenbacli,
Das Verhdltniss der griechischen Vasenbilder zu den Gedichten des epischen


The subjects portrayed in tliem are very frequently taken
from the epic cycle. The Iliad and Odyssey, however, com-
paratively seldom furnish their subjects, which are more
commonly taken from the works of the lesser poems of the
cycle, the lUupersis of Arctinus, the Cypria, the Aethiopis, and
the .rest. At first sight this may seem a strange fact, since
the works of Lesches Stasinus and Arctinus were not in schools
made so much of as the Iliad and the Odyssey. The reason is
that certain stock subjects from the outer epic, such subjects
as the choice of Paris and the wooing of Thetis, seem to have
made their way into art very early, and are repeated almost
ad nauseam by the potters.

(2) Variation of Story. — It has been observed that when
we find a vase which has really cost its painter some thought,
and does not run in the lines of ordinary tradition, then its
subject is often from the great Homeric poems. So it would
seem that when a vase-painter consciously invented, the Iliad ,
and Odyssey would often occur to him. These vases, it is true, |
often sit very loose to the Homeric text ; it is only in a small
minority of cases that the correspondence is close. Some
modern archaeologists have exercised great pains and shown
great erudition in the discussion whether the divergencies
from Homer are due to a variant text or to a later epic author-
ity. Questions of this kind will come before us presently
(chapter XIV.). But I may say at once that in the great
majority of cases, or in nearly all, we can account for the
variation from the usual literary tradition in a simpler fashion,
and one doing more justice to Hellenic ways. We must ever
be on our guard against supposing that the Greeks were a

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18

Online LibraryPercy GardnerA grammar of Greek art → online text (page 14 of 18)