Dictionary of Art and Artists



 

 


History of

Architecture and Sculpture

 
 

 

 
 

 
 

CONTENTS:

 
 

PART ONE
THE ANCIENT WORLD
PREHISTORIC ART
EGYPTIAN ART

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN ART
AEGEAN ART
GREEK ART
ETRUSCAN ART
ROMAN ART
EARLY CHRISTIAN AND BYZANTINE ART

PART TWO
THE MIDDLE AGES
EARLY MEDIEVAL ART
ROMANESQUE ART
GOTHIC ART

PART THREE
THE RENAISSANCE THROUGH THE ROCOCO
LATE GOTHIC
THE EARLY RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
THE HIGH RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
MANNERISM AND OTHER TRENDS
THE RENAISSANCE IN THE NORTH
THE BAROQUE IN ITALY AND SPAIN
THE BAROQUE IN FLANDERS AND HOLLAND
THE BAROQUE
THE ROCOCO

PART FOUR
THE MODERN WORLD
NEOCLASSICISM AND ROMANTICISM
REALISM AND IMPRESSIONISM
POST-IMPRESSIONISM, SYMBOLISM, AND ART NOUVEAU

PART FIVE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY
TWENTIETH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
TWENTIETH-CENTURY ARCHITECTURE


INDEX
FIGURES
 

 
 


CHAPTER FIVE
 

GREEK ART
 

Geometric and Orientalizing Style
ARCHAIC SCULPTURE
Doric Temples
Ionic Temples

CLASSICAL SCULPTURE
FOURTH-CENTURY SCULPTURE
HELLENISTIC SCULPTURE

 

 


CLASSICAL SCULPTURE


KRITIOS BOY.

Among the statues excavated from the debris the Persians had left behind on the Acropolis, there is one Kouros (fig.
185) that stands apart from the rest. It must have been carved very shortly before the fateful year 480 B.C. This remarkable work, which some have attributed to the Athenian sculptor Kritios and which therefore has come to be known as the Kritios Boy, differs subtly but importantly from the Archaic Kouros figures we discussed above (figs. 150 and 151): it is the first statue we know that stands in the full sense of the word. Of course, the earlier figures also stand, but only in the sense that they are in an upright position and are not reclining, sitting, kneeling, or running. Their stance is really an arrested walk, with the weight of the body resting evenly on both legs. Thus, early Greek statues have an unintentional military air, as if they were soldiers standing at attention.

The Kritios Boy, too, has one leg placed forward, yet we never doubt for an instant that he is standing still. Just as in military drill, this is simply a matter oi allowing the weight of the body to shift from equal distribution on both legs. When we compare the left and right half of his body, we discover that the strict symmetry of the Archaic Kouros has given way to a calculated nonsymmetry. The knee of the forward leg is lower than the other, the right hip is thrust down and inward, and the left hip up and outward. If we trace the axis of the body, we realize that it is not a straight vertical line but a faint, S-like curve (or, to be exact, a reversed S-curve). Taken together, all these small departures from symmetry tell us that the weight of the body rests mainly on the left leg and that the right leg plays the role of an elastic prop or buttress to make sure that the body keeps its balance.
 


185. Standing Youth (Kritios Boy), . 480 B.C. Marble, height 34" (86.3 cm). Acropolis Museum, Athens.

186. Doryphorus (Spear Bearer). Roman copy after an original of . 450-440 B.C. by POLYCUTUS.
Marble, height 6'6"
(2 m). Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples


CONTRAPPOSTO.

The Kritios Boy, then, not only stands, he stands at ease. The artist has masterfully observed the balanced nonsymmetry of this relaxed natural stance. To describe it, we use the Italian word contrapposto (counterpoise). The leg that carries the main weight is commonly called the engaged leg; the other, the free leg. These terms are a useful shorthand, for from now on we shall have frequent occasion to mention contrapposto. It was a very basic discovery. Only by learning how to represent the body at rest could the Greek sculptor gain the freedom to show it in motion. But is there not plenty of motion in Archaic art? There is indeed (see figs.
157, 160, 163, and 164), but it is somewhat mechanical and inflexible in kind. We read it from the poses without really feeling it.

In the Kritios Boy, on the other hand, we sense for the first time not only a new repose but an animation of the body structure that evokes the experience we have of our own body, for contrapposto brings about all kinds of subtle curvatures: the bending of the free knee results in a slight swiveling of the pelvis, a compensating curvature of the spine, and an adjusting tilt of the shoulders. Like the refined details of the Parthenon, these variations have nothing to do with the statue's ability to maintain itself erect but greatly enhance its lifelike impression. In repose, it will still seem capable of movement;. in motion, of maintaining its stability. Life now suffuses the entire figure, so that the Archaic smile, the "sign of life," is no longer needed. It has given way to a serious, pensive expression characteristic of the early phase of Classical sculpture (or, as it is often called, the Severe style). Once the Greek statue was free to move, as it were, it became free to think, not merely to act. The two are inseparable aspects of Greek Classicism. The new articulation of the body that appears in the Kritios Boy was to reach its full development within half a century in the mature Classical style of the Periclean era.

The most famous Kouros statue of that time, the Doryphorus (Spear Bearer) by Polyclitus (fig.
186), is known to us only through Roman copies, which must convey little of the beauty of the original. Still, it makes an instructive comparison with the Kritios Boy. The contrapposto is now much more emphatic. The differentiation between the halves of the body can be seen in every muscle, and the turn of the head, barely hinted at in the Kritios Boy, is pronounced. The "working" left arm is balanced by the "engaged" right leg in the forward position, and the relaxed right arm by the "free" left leg. This studied poise, the precise anatomical details, and above all the harmonious proportions of the figure made the Doryphorus renowned as the standard embodiment of the Classical ideal of beauty. According to one ancient writer, it was known simply as the Canon (rule, measure). The Doryphorus was not simply an exercise in abstract geometry. It embodied not only symmetria (proportion), but also rhythmos (composition, movement), both fundamental aspects of Greek aesthetics derived from philosophy and music, respectively. Moreover, Polyclitus' faith in numbers had a moral dimension: contemplation of harmonious proportions was equated with contemplation of the good. To the Greeks, pose and expression further reflected character and feeling, which revealed the inner person. Rather than being opposed to naturalism, this elevated conception was inseparably linked to a more careful treatment of form. Classical Greek sculpture appeals equally to the mind and the eye, so that human and divine beauty become one. No wonder that figures of victorious athletes have sometimes been mistaken for gods!



187. Riace Warrior A, found in the sea off Riace. . 450 B.C. Bronze, height 80" (203 cm).
Museo Archeologico, Reggio Calabria.

188. Riace Warrior , found in the sea oft Riace. . 450 B.C. Bronze, height 80" (203 cm).
Museo Archeologico, Reggio Calabria.


We can get some idea of what the Doryphorus might have looked like in its bronze original from a pair of impressive figures that created a sensation when they were found in the sea near Riace, Italy, in 1972 (figs. 187 and 188). They owe their importance to their fine workmanship and the extreme rarity of intact monumental bronze statues from ancient Greece. Miraculously, they still have their ivory and glass-paste eyes, bronze eyelashes, and copper lips, which combine with the detailed anatomy to create an astonishingly lifelike presence. They challenge our understanding of Greek sculpture in many ways. What or whom do these statues represent? When and where were they made? What purpose did they serve? To such questions we have as yet no certain answers. From both the stylistic and technical evidence, they would seem to have been made around the same time as the Doryphorus. Although they have sometimes been dated slightly earlier, our sculptor may well have been an older artist who was accustomed to working in the Severe style and had not fully adapted to the new Classicism. (Compare the heads to that of Zeus in fig. 191.)

A tantalizing clue is provided by the statue in figure 188, which conforms to a widespread type right down to the proportions. (Examples of the second figure, however, are otherwise unknown.) He is, it appears, a warrior rather than an athlete, in contrast to the Doryphorus. Still to be explained is the extraordinary realism of the heads, so out of keeping with the idealization characteristic of Greek art as a whole. Were they meant to commemorate two heroes? It is tempting to think so. If that is the case, why were their names not recorded by ancient historians? Moreover, portraits are unknown from this time. Perhaps, then, their features were varied merely to distinguish the two among a larger group of unprecedented size. This might help to explain why they seem to embody such a distinctive ethnic type. Conceptually, they are not altogether satisfying: the contrast between the individuality of the faces and the generalized treatment of the bodies is at once fascinating and disturbing. Were there similar statues about which we are ignorant simply because they have not survived? Our view of Greek sculpture may be as distorted by the incomplete record as was that of the poet Goethe, who could not accommodate the Aegina statues into his understanding.
 




SEVERE STYLE.

The splendid Charioteer from Delphi (fig. 189), one of the earliest surviving large bronze statues in Greek art, shows why the Severe style has been chosen as the term to describe the character of Greek sculpture during the years between about 480 and 450 B.C. It must have been made about a decade later than the Kritios Boy, as a votive offering after a race: the young victor originally stood on a chariot drawn by four horses.

Despite the long, heavy garment, we sense a hint of contrapposto in the body. The feet are carefully differentiated so as to inform us that the left leg is the engaged one, and the shoulders and head turn slightly to the right. The garment is severely simple, yet compared with Archaic drapery the folds seem softer and more pliable. We feel (probably for the first time in the history of sculpture) that they reflect the behavior of real cloth. Not only the body but the drapery, too, has been transformed by a new understanding of functional relationships, so that every fold is shaped by the forces that act upon it: the downward pull of gravity, the shape of the body underneath, and the belts or straps that constrict its flow.

The face has the pensive, somewhat faraway look we saw in the Kritios Boy, but the color inlay of the eyes (fortunately preserved in this instance), as well as the slightly parted lips, give it a more animated expression. The bearing of the entire figure conveys the solemnity of the event it commemorates, for chariot races and similar contests at that time were competitions for divine favor, not sporting events in the modern sense.












189. Charioteer, from the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi,
. 470 B.C. Bronze, height 71" (1.8 m).
Archaeological Museum, Delphi



TEMPLE OF ZEUS, OLYMPIA.

The greatest sculptural ensemble of the Severe style is the pair of pediments of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, carved about
460 B.C. and now reassembled in the local museum. In the west pediment, the more mature of the two, we see the victory of the Lapiths over the Centaurs under the aegis of Apollo, who forms the center of the composition (fig. 190). His commanding figure is part of the drama and yet above it. The outstretched right arm and the strong turn of the head show his active intervention. He wills the victory but, as befits a god, does not physically help to achieve it. Nevertheless, there is a tenseness, a gathering of forces, in this powerful body that makes its outward calm doubly impressive. The forms themselves are massive and simple, with soft contours and undulating, continuous surfaces. In the group of the Centaur who has seized Hippodamia, bride of the king of the Lapiths, we witness another achievement of the Severe style. The passionate struggle is expressed not only through action and gesture but through the emotions mirrored in the face of the Centaur, whose pain and desperate effort contrast vividly with the stoic calm on the face of the woman.



190. Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. 460 B.C.
Marble, slightly over-lifesize. Archaeological Museum, Olympia.

 


Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

460
B.C. Marble, slightly over-lifesize. Archaeological Museum. Olympia








 

 

 

 


MOVEMENT IN STATUES.

No Archaic artist would have known how to combine the two figures into a group so compact, so full of interlocking movements. Strenuous action, of course, had already been investigated in pedimental sculpture of the late Archaic period (see figs. 163 and 164). However, such figures, although technically carved in the round, are not free-standing. They represent, rather, a kind of super-relief, since they are designed to be seen against a background and from one direction only. To infuse the same freedom of movement into genuinely free-standing statues was a far greater challenge. Not only did it run counter to an age-old tradition that denied mobility to these figures, but also the unfreezing had to be done in such a way as to safeguard their all-around balance and self-sufficiency. The problem could not really be tackled until the concept of contrapposto had been established, but once this was done, the solution no longer presented serious difficulties.

Large, free-standing statues in motion are the most important achievement of the Severe style. The finest figure of this kind was recovered from the sea near the coast of Greece (fig. 191): a magnificent nude bronze, almost seven feet tall, probably of Zeus throwing a thunderbolt. Here, stability in the midst of action becomes outright grandeur. The pose is that of an athlete, yet it is not so much the arrested phase of a continuous succession of movements as an awe-inspiring gesture that reveals the power of the god. Hurling a weapon thus becomes a divine attribute here, rather than a specific act aimed at a particular adversary.



191. Zeus, . 460-450 B.C. Bronze, height 6'10" (2.1 m). National Archaeological Museum, Athens

 

Some years after the Zeus, about 450 B.C., Myron created his famous bronze statue of the Discobolus (Discus Thrower), which came to enjoy a reputation comparable to that of the Doryphorus. Like the latter, it is known to us only from Roman copies (fig. 192). Here the problem of how to condense a sequence of movements into a single pose without freezing it is a much more complex one. It involves a violent twist of the torso in order to bring the arms into the same plane as the action of the legs. The pose conveys the essence of the action by presenting the fully coiled figure in perfect balance. (The copy makes the design seem harsher and less poised than it was in the original.)
 


192. Discobolus (Discus Thrower).
Roman marble copy after a bronze original of c. 450 B.C. by MYRON.
Lifesize. Museo delle Terme, Rome




CLASSICAL STYLE.

The Discobolus brings us to the threshold of the second half of the century, the era of the mature Classical style. The conquest of movement in a free-standing statue now exerted a liberating influence on pedimental sculpture as well, endowing it with a new spaciousness, fluidity, and balance. The Dying Niobid (fig. 193), a work of the 440s, was carved for the pediment of a Doric temple but is so richly three-dimensional, so self-contained, that we hardly suspect her original context. Niobe, according to legend, had humiliated the mother of Apollo and Artemis by boasting of her seven sons and seven daughters, whereupon the two gods killed all of Niobe's children. Our Niobid has been shot in the back while running. Her strength broken, she sinks to the ground while trying to extract the fatal arrow. The violent movement of her arms has made her garment slip off. Her nudity is thus a dramatic device, rather than a necessary part of the story. The Niobid is the earliest known large female nude in Greek art. The artist's primary motive in devising it was to display a beautiful female body in the kind of strenuous action hitherto reserved for the male nude. Still, we must not misread the intent. It was not a detached interest in the physical aspect of the event alone but the desire to unite motion and emotion and thus to make the beholder experience the suffering of this victim of a cruel fate. Looking at the face of the Niobid, we feel that here, for the first time, human feeling is expressed as eloquently in the features as in the rest of the figure.



193. Dying Niobid. c. 450-440 B.C. Marble, height 59" (150 cm). Museo delle Terme, Rome

 

A brief glance backward at the wounded warrior from Aegina (fig. 163) will show us how very differently the agony of death had been conceived only half a century before. What separates the Niobid from the world of Archaic art is a quality summed up in the Greek word pathos, which means suffering, but particularly suffering conveyed with nobility and restraint so that it touches rather than horrifies us. Late Archaic art may approach it now and then, as in the Eos and Memnon group (fig. 148). Yet the full force of pathos can be felt only in Classical works such as the Niobid. Perhaps, in order to measure the astonishing development we have witnessed since the beginnings of Greek monumental sculpture less than two centuries before, we ought to compare the Niobid with the earliest pedimental figure we came to know, the Gorgon from Corfu (fig. 157). As we do so, we suddenly realize that these two, worlds apart as they may be, do in fact belong to the same artistic tradition, for the Niobid, too, shows the pin wheel stance, even though its meaning has been radically reinterpreted. Once we recognize the ancient origin of her pose, we understand better than before why the Niobid, despite her suffering, remains so monumentally self-contained.



194. Dionysus, from the east pediment of the Parthenon. . 438-432 B.C. Marble, over-lifesize. British Museum, London
 

PHIDIAS AND THE PARTHENON.

The largest, as well as the greatest, group of Classical sculptures at our disposal consists of the remains of the marble decoration of the Parthenon, most of them, unfortunately, in battered and fragmentary condition. Much of the sculpture was removed between 1801 and 1803 by Lord Elgin; the Elgin Marbles are today housed in the British Museum.) The centers of both pediments are gone completely, and of the figures in the corners only those from the east pediment are sufficiently well preserved to convey something of the quality of the ensemble. They represent various deities, most in sitting or reclining poses, witnessing the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus (figs. 194 and 195). (The west pediment was devoted to the struggle of Athena and Poseidon for Athens.) Here, even more than in the case of the Dying Niobid, we marvel at the spaciousness, the complete ease of movement of these statues even in repose. There is neither violence nor pathos in them, indeed no specific action of any kind, only a deeply felt poetry of being. We find it equally in the relaxed masculine body of Dionysus and in the soft fullness of the three goddesses, enveloped in thin drapery that seems to share the qualities of a liquid substance as it flows and eddies around the forms underneath. Though all are seated or half-reclining, the turning of the bodies under the elaborate folds of their costumes makes them seem anything but static. Indeed, the "wet" drapery unites them in one continuous action, so that they seem in the process of arising.



195. Three Goddesses, from the east pediment of the Parthenon, . 438-432 B.C. Marble, over-lifesize.
British Museum, London

 

The figures are so freely conceived in depth that they create their own aura of space. It is hard to imagine them "shelved" upon the pediment. Evidently the great master who achieved such lifelike figures also found this incongruous, for the composition as a whole (fig. 196) suggests that the triangular field is treated as no more than a purely physical limit. For example, two horses' heads are placed in the sharp angles at the corners at the feet of Dionysus and the reclining goddesses. They are meant to represent the chariots of the rising sun and the waning moon emerging into and dipping below the pedimental space, but visually the heads are merely two fragments arbitrarily cut off by the frame. Clearly, we are approaching the moment when the pediment will be rejected altogether as the focal point of Greek architectural sculpture. In fact, the sculptural decoration of later buildings tends to be placed in areas where it would seem less boxed in, as well as more readily visible.


196. JACQUES CARREY. Drawings of the east pediment of the Parthenon. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
 

The frieze of the Parthenon, a continuous band 525 feet long (fig. 173), shows a procession honoring Athena in the presence of the other Olympic gods. It is of the same high rank as the pedimental sculptures. In a somewhat different way it, too, suffered from its subordination to the architectural setting, for it must have been poorly lit and difficult to see, placed as it was immediately below the ceiling. The depth of the carving and the concept of relief are not radically different from the frieze of the Siphnian Treasury (figs. 160 and 161), but the illusion of space and of rounded form is now achieved with sovereign ease. The most remarkable quality of the Parthenon frieze is the rhythmic grace of the design, particularly striking in the spirited movement of the groups of horsemen (fig. 197).

The metopes, which date from the 440s, are very different in character from the rest of the sculpture on the Parthenon in showing violent action. We have encountered two of the subjects before: the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, and the combat of the gods and giants (see figs. 147 and 161). It is the other two subjects that provide the key to their meaning. They are the Sack of Troy by the Greeks, and Greeks fighting Amazons, who, according to legend, had desecrated the Acropolis. The entire cycle forms an extended allegory of the Athenian victory over the Persians, who likewise destroyed the Acropolis. But rather than presenting the war as historical fact, the Greek mind insisted on cloaking it in the guise of myth and legend in order to explain the outcome, as if preordained.

Although the metopes do not form a fully coherent program and vary in the quality of their execution, the best of them, such as our scene of a Lapith fighting a Centaur (fig. 198), have a compelling dramatic force that is still grounded in the pediment at Olympia almost 20 years earlier (see fig. 190). Our sculptor has been remarkably successful in overcoming the obstacles presented by the metope. Because it was placed high above the ground where it could barely be seen, the figures fill as much of the limited field as possible and are carved so deeply as to appear nearly in the round. If the action seems somewhat forced in both pose and expression, it has been beautifully choreographed for maximum clarity and impact.
 


197. Horsemen, from the west frieze of the Parthenon, . 440 B.C. Marble, height 43" (109.3 cm). British Museum, London.

198. Lapith and Centaur, metope from the south side of the Parthenon, c. 440 B.C. Marble, height 56" (142.2 cm). British Museum, London




PHIDIAN STYLE.

Who was responsible for this magnificent array of sculptures? They have long been associated with the name of Phidias, the chief overseer of all artistic enterprises sponsored by Pericles. According to ancient writers, Phidias was particularly famous for a huge ivory-and-gold statue of Athena he made for the cella of the Parthenon, a colossal Zeus in the same technique for the temple of that god in Olympia, and an equally large bronze statue of Athena that stood on the Acropolis facing the Propylaea. None of these survives, and small-scale representations of them in later times are utterly inadequate to convey the artist's style. It is hard to imagine that enormous statues of this sort, burdened with the requirements of cult images and the demands of a difficult technique, shared the vitality of the Elgin Marbles. The admiration they elicited may have been due to their size, the preciousness of the materials, and the aura of religious awe surrounding them. Phidias' personality thus remains oddly intangible. He may have been simply a very able coordinator and supervisor, but more likely he was a great genius, comparable to Imhotep, capable of giving powerful expression to the ideas that motivated his patron, Pericles. The term "Phidian style" used to describe the Parthenon sculptures is no more than a generic label; undoubtedly, a large number of masters were involved, since the frieze and the two pediments were executed in less than ten years (c. 440-432 B.C.). Albeit of questionable accuracy, it is justified by its convenience. The Phidian ideal was not merely artistic but no doubt extended to life itself: it denotes a distinctive attitude in which the gods are aware of, yet aloof from, human affairs as they fulfill their cosmic roles.

It is hardly surprising that the Phidian style should have dominated Athenian sculpture until the end of the fifth century and beyond, even though large-scale sculptural enterprises gradually came to a halt because of the Peloponnesian War. The last of these was the balustrade erected around the small Temple of Athena Nike about 410-407 B.C. Like the Parthenon frieze, it shows a festive procession, but the participants are winged Nike figures (personifications of victory) rather than citizens of Athens. One Nike (fig. 199) is taking off her sandals in conformity with an age-old tradition, indicating that she is about to step on holy ground. Her wingsone open, the other closedare effectively employed to help her keep her balance, so that she performs this normally awkward act with consummate elegance of movement. Her figure is more strongly detached from the relief ground than are those on the Parthenon frieze, and her garments, with their deeply cut folds, cling to the body. (We have seen an earlier phase of this "wet" drapery in the Three Goddesses of the Parthenon, fig. 195.)

"Phidian," too, and also from the last years of the century, is the beautiful Grave Stele of Hegeso (fig. 200). Memorials of this kind were produced in large numbers by Athenian sculptors, and their export must have helped to spread the Phidian style throughout the Greek world. Few of them, however, can match the harmonious design and the gentle melancholy of our example. The deceased is represented in a simple domestic scene that was a standard subject for sculptured and painted memorials of young women. She has picked a necklace from the box held by the girl servant and seems to be contemplating it as if it were a keepsake. The delicacy of the carving can be seen especially well in the forms farthest removed from the beholder, such as the servant's left arm supporting the lid of the jewel box, or the veil behind Hegeso's right shoulder. Here the relief merges almost imperceptibly with the background, so that the ground no longer appears as a solid surface but assumes something of the transparency of empty space. This novel effect was probably inspired by paintings.



199. Nike, from the balustrade of the Temple of Athena Nike, . 410-407 B.C. Marble, height 42" (106.7 cm). Acropolis Museum, Athens.

200. Grave Stele of Hegeso. . 410-400 B.C. Marble, height 59" (150 cm). National Archaeological Museum. Athens


CLASSICAL PAINTING

According to literary sources, Greek painters of the Classical period achieved a great breakthrough in mastering illusionistic space. Alas, we have very few murals or panels to verify that claim. Vase painting by its very nature could echo the new concept of pictorial space only in rudimentary fashion. Still, there are vessels that form an exception to this rule. We find them mostly in the lekythoi (oil jugs) used as funerary offerings. These had a white coating on which the painter could draw as freely and with the same spatial effect as his modern successor using pen and paper. The white ground in both cases is treated as empty space from which the sketched forms seem to emergeif the draftsman knows how to achieve this.

Not many lekythos painters were capable of bringing off the illusion. Foremost among them is the unknown artist, nicknamed the "Achilles Painter," who drew the woman in figure 201. Although some 25 years older than the Hegeso stele, this vase shows a similar scene, and there is the same mood of "Phidian" reverie, as a woman (perhaps a poetess seeking inspiration) listens to the muse playing her lyre on Mount Helikon accompanied by a nightingale. Our chief interest, however, is in the masterly draftsmanship, With a few lines, sure, fresh, and fluid, the artist not only creates a three-dimensional figure but reveals the body beneath the drapery as well. What persuades us that these shapes exist in depth rather than merely on the surface of the vase? First of all, the command of foreshortening. But the "internal dynamics" of the lines are equally important, their swelling and fading, which make some contours stand out boldly while others merge with one another or disappear into the white ground. The effect is completed by the color, unusually elaborate for a lekythos: vermilion for the himations and the muse's head scarf, ocher for her chiton. The artist has made skillful use of the white ground to enliven the "empty" space by adding an inscription: " Axiopeithes, the son of Alkimachos, is beautiful."

Considering its artistic advantages, we might expect a more general adoption of the white-ground technique. Such, however, was not the case. Instead, from the mid-fifth century on, the impact of monumental painting gradually transformed vase painting as a whole into a satellite art that tried to reproduce large-scale compositions in a kind of shorthand dictated by its own limited technique. The result, more often than not, was spotty and overcrowded.

Even the finest examples suffer from this defect, as we can see in figure 202, which is taken from a vase produced near the end of the Classical period by an Athenian master known as the "Marsyas Painter." It shows Thetis, who is about to bathe in the sea, being abducted by Peleus as two of her maidservants flee in panic. The main figures are placed on a firm ground-line, with a bit of wavy water in order to suggest the spatial setting of the scene. The others, intended to be farther away, seem suspended in midair. Although the turning poses are a further attempt to create the illusion of space, the effect remains flat and silhouettelike, because of the obtrusive black background. In an attempt to enlarge the color range, the body of Thetis has been painted white, as has that of Eros crowning Peleus. (Her dress has been filled in with green as well.) This expedient, too, fails to solve the problem, since the medium does not permit shading or modeling. Our artist must therefore rely on the network of lines to hold the scene together and create a maximum of dramatic excitementand, being a spirited draftsman, almost succeeds. Still, it is a success at second hand, for the composition must have been inspired by a mural or panel picture. The "Marsyas Painter" is, as it were, battling for a lost cause. We have reached the effective end of Greek vase painting, which disappeared altogether by the end of the century.
 


201. THE "ACHILLES PAINTER." Muse and Maiden, on an Attic white-ground lekythos. 440-430 B.C. Height 16" (40.7 cm).
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich

202. THE "MARSYAS PAINTER." Peleus and Thetis, on a Kerch-style pelike. 340 B.C. Height 16W (42.5 cm).
British Museum, London

 
 

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