Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ancient Greek painting

Back to the paintings of the ancient world! The ancient Greeks prized paintings. However only four examples survive, of these, all are fragments except this. You are looking at the only complete example of an ancient Greek painting. There is another panel from the group of four that is a large fragment also showing nymphs like these in a closer view. There is no way to know how good or even typical examples of the periods painting these are. They were preserved because they had been placed in a cave.
The four extant examples were found in the 1930's near a village in Greece called Pitsa, hence the paintings are called the Pitsa panels. These were painted about 530 B.C. That makes them about 800 years older than the Fayum portraits! We know the names of a number of the ancient Greek painters, some from as far back as 700 B.C., but their work is now lost.

The painting shows a ceremonial procession with nymphs leading a sacrificial lamb to an altar. All of the figures are seen from the same side view. They are outlined in black and then filled in with color. They are painted on wooden panels coated with plaster. The artist did have a rather wide range of colors though, white, black, brown, blue, green, yellow, red, and purple.

However one sort of painting has survived from the ancient Greeks in enormous quantities, vase painting. There are over one hundred thousand extant ancient Greek vases. Tomorrow I will begin showing some of those. I love Greek pottery, I think when you see the art on it, you will too.


MCG said...

Parrhasius laughs while Zeuxis weeps. Sour grapes?

Enjoying the posts as always.

Darren said...

Good one MC G!

Many believe that Greek painting began because of the need for backdrops to be used in their plays.

Apollodorus is said to have invented skiagraphia, what we might call chiaroscuro.

barbara b. land of boz said...

Thank you Stapleton for sharing this painting. That is a larger range of colors then I would have imagined them to have used or have access to.

Caroline Peña Bray said...

MCG - much laughter this end!

There is also the Tomb of the Diver, a painted tomb dating approx 470 BC and lying in what is now Southern Italy but what used to be Greco-Roman city of Paestum under the Romans or Poseidonia under the Ancient Greeks. While not a panel painting, the tomb contains numerous figurative frescoes which are the only complete examples of their kind to survive to this day. They're certainly worth a look at...

It would have been intersting to see if Greek panel painting followed the remarkable path towards naturalism that Greek sculpture did with the development of the Kouros and its peak during the Classical period. One of my favourite 'stylistic stories' in the history of art. There's already a softening of line and form in the Tomb of the Diver compared to the Pitsa panels which, while yes it might be an anomaly and is unverifiable due to a lack of comparative works, I would think does suggest a move towards naturalism. And with Apollodorus's skiagraphia coming in later towards the end of the 5th century BC I think this supports a move towards naturalism. Skiagraphia is, like most Greek words, wonderful in its logic and simplicity as it comes from σκιά (skia) which means shadow and γραφή (graphy) which means writing. So skiagraphia is literally shadow writing...gotta love that language! said...

All those beautiful white marble sculptures...... They were all painted on and over. It must have been a very exciting and colorful Pantheon.

Darren said...

The Pantheon is in Roma. :)

Stapleton Kearns said...


Stapleton Kearns said...

I will, I suppose, now have to tell that story in the blog.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I was surprised by that also.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee, I may have to write about that too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It was a shock when that was first figured out.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Yes Pantheon Rome.
Parthenon, Athens or Nashville.
.................Stape said...

Oh yeah... The Acropolis.....thats what happens when I write at night.

GFM Painting said...

nice guide! thank you!/I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thank.
oil painting on canvas