Greek painting from the Geometric to the Hellenistic Period

By Chr. Saatchoglou-Paliadeli,

Fresco from the facade of the Macedonian tomb in the tumulus Bella (Photo: Magazine “Αρχαιολογία”)

Our knowledge about the ancient Greek painting is quite fragmentary, due to the perishable nature ot wood, leather or stuccoed walls on which monumental paintings were created. Apart from some direct information deriving form a few original works (tombs and tombsto­nes) our knowledge of the evolution of ancient Greek painting is mainly based on the ancient sources; on vase painting the representations of which reflect to a certain extent the quests and the accomplishments of their great contemporary painters; on Roman wall-paintings which either copy or get inspiration from works of art of the Classical and the Hellenistic periods. The combined use ol the above has helped us record the stages, repertoire, quests and achievements of an art which was especially praised by the ancient writers.

Vergina, Stele of Kleonymos (Photo: Magazine “Αρχαιολογία”)

Yet, it is only thanks to the superb wall-paintings recently dscovered by Manolis Andronikos at Vergina that we were given the opportunity to evaluate the quality, (eats and pursuits of the great painters of Classical antiquity. During the Geometric and the Archaic periods ancient Greek pai­nting, mostly myth-bound, as re­gards its repertoire, was especially concerned with the understanding and the rendering of the human ot animal form and their combination in a two-dimensional conception. During the fifth century it achieved full mastering of a more complex figurative composition imprinting gradually through line or colour the three-dimensionality of figures and objects in space. By the end of the Iffth and during the fourth centuiy it completed its course, by having achieved the game of light and shade on bodies and objects; by having expressed the ethos and the passion of the represented figures; by having succeeded in composing impressive scenes ot multi-figure action.

Vergina, Arpage of Persephone (Photo: Magazine “Αρχαιολογία”)

All these accomplishements and the full mastering of the painted media do actually prevail in the technique and style of the excellent wall paintings at Vergina. Landscape was not an end in itself either in the Archaic or in the Classical Period, although it was abstractively used in order to com­plement the meaning of the repre­sentation. Despite its impressive rendering on the hunting scene decorating the facade of Philips tomb at Vergina it was only during the Hellenistic period that it gained importance. The thorough study of the naked human body, in light or shade, as it is moving in space, in order to fully exhibit its beauty in a three-dimensional concept was re-approached again only during the Renaissance period.

Αsbstract from Greek magazine “Αρχαιολογία”, issue June 1995, page 53,

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