Greek painting

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(see also pottery, greek). When the Mycenaean palaces fell, c.1200 bc (see mycenaean civilization), the art of painting was lost. It is next practised in the early Archaic period. Sources for Archaic to Hellenistic are: literary references; artefacts echoing painting (primarily vases); surviving examples, mostly recent discoveries.

Writers of the Roman period tell us most. Pliny the Elder gives a history of painting, detailing many works and careers, dividing artists into regional schools, notably (as in sculpture) a 4th‐cent. Sicyonian school; see sicyon. Pausanias 3's autopsy and interest in art per se distinguish him from other writers. Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle made moral and aesthetic judgements on art (see art, ancient attitudes to); the ekphrasis employed by rhetoricians involved describing art for effect, not accuracy. Classical painters enjoyed high social standing (hence perhaps their prominence in the sources): esp. Polygnotus' association with Cimon, and Apelles' with Alexander 2 the Great. Painting was introduced into the school curriculum by Pamphilus (below).

Pliny places early painting's beginnings at Corinth or Sicyon. The temples at Corinth and neighbouring Isthmia, c.690–650, have painted walls: the former has blocks of colour, the latter figures c.30 cm. (12 in.) high and border patterns on stucco, using several colours. Contemporary is the rare use of a brown wash for flesh on vases from several regions. Tomb paintings preserved in Etruria appear to have been undertaken for Greek patrons (see etruscans); at Paestum in southern Italy, the Tomb of the Diver, c.480, closely resembles in pose and (in the symposium) subject‐matter contemporary Athenian vases.

Cimon of Cleonae (between Argos and Corinth) is credited with inventing three‐quarter views and a new disposition of figures. Substantial advances occur c.475–450, the age of Polygnotus and Micon. Their work, often on historical and heroic themes in prominent public buildings, was characterized by variable groundlines, grouping, and disposition of figures, reflected in some contemporary vases. Panaenus is said to have painted portraits (among the earliest) in the Marathon painting of the Stoa Poecile. The use of perspective was greatly developed by Agatharchus, and Sophocles is said to have introduced skēnē‐painting (see theatre‐staging, greek).

Apollodorus of Athens (fl. 407–404) opened ‘the door of the art of painting’ developing skiagraphia, balancing light and shade. Through the ‘door’, says Pliny, walked Zeuxis. He is often contrasted with Parrhasius, who worked mainly in Athens. Zeuxis was the painter of shade and mass, Parrhasius of contour lines. Euphranor (fl. 364) contrasted himself with Parrhasius, saying that the latter's Theseus was fed on roses, his own on meat. A debate on painting styles is reflected in Xenophon, where Parrhasius talks with Socrates. The most highly regarded of all painters was Apelles (fl. 332), pupil of Pamphilus of Sicyon, and court painter to Alexander.

Classical paintings were mainly painted on whitened wooden panels. Pliny and Cicero give (differing) lists of four‐colour painters, implying that the Classical range was limited to red, yellow, black, and white. Pliny divides colours into sombre and brilliant. The absence of green is incompatible with Vergina (see aegae), although the Alexander mosaic (if it accurately reflects a late Classical painting) argues for the four‐colour scheme.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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