Greek PaintingA History Of Painting - Greek Painting - 2, a brief series of articles on the art of painting and drawing
A second and ever-present motive in Greek painting was decoration. This appears in the tomb pottery of the earli
est ages, and was carried on down to the latest times. Vase painting, wall painting, tablet and sculpture painting were all done with adecorative motive in view. Even the easel or panel pictures had some decorative effect about them, though they were primarily intended to convey ideas other than those of form and color.
SUBJECTS AND METHODS : The gods and heroes, their lives and adventures, formed the early subjects of Greek painting.
Certain themes taken from the "Iliad" and the "Odyssey" were as frequently shown as, afterward, the Annunciations in Italian painting. The traditional subjects, the Centaurs and Lapiths, the Amazon war, Theseus and Ariadne, Perseus and Andromeda, were frequently depicted. Humanity and actual Greek life came in for its share. Single figures, still-life, genre, caricature, all were shown, and as painting neared the Alexandrian age a semi-realistic portraiture came into vogue.
The materials employed by the Greeks and their methods of work are somewhat difficult to ascertain, because there are few Greek pictures, except those on the vases, left to us. From the confusing accounts of the ancient writers, the vases, some Greek slabs in Italy, and the Roman paintings imitative of the Greek, we may gain a general idea. The early Greek work was largely devoted to pottery and tomb decoration, in which much in manner and method was borrowed from Asia, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Later on, painting appeared in flat outline on stone or terra-cotta slabs sometimes representing processional scenes, as in Egypt, and doubtless done in a hybrid fresco-work similar to the Egyptian method. Wall paintings were done in fresco and distemper, probably upon the walls themselves, and also upon panels afterward let into the wall. Encaustic painting (color mixed with wax upon the panel and fused with a hot spatula) came in with the Sikyonian school. It is possible that the oil medium and canvas were known, but not probable that either was ever used extensively.
There is no doubt about the Greeks being expert draughtsmen, though this does not appear until late in history. They knew the outlines well, and drew them with force and grace. That they modelled in strong relief is more questionable. Light-and-shade was certainly employed in the figure, but not in any modern way. Perspective in both figures and landscape was used ; but the landscape was at first symbolic and rarely got beyond a decorative background for the figure. Greek composition we know little about, but may infer that it was largely a series of balances, a symmetrical adjustment of objects to fill a given space with not very much freedom allowed to the artist. In atmosphere, sunlight, color, and those peculiarly sensuous charms that belong to painting, there is no reason to believe that the Greeks approached the moderns. Their interest was chiefly centred in the human figure. Landscape, with its many beauties, was reserved for modern hands to disclose. Color was used in abundance, without doubt, but it was probably limited to the leading hues, with little of that refinement or delicacy known in painting to-day.
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