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date: 14 July 2024

painting, Greeklocked

painting, Greeklocked

  • Dimitris Plantzos

Summary

After a long hiatus following the collapse of the palatial civilizations of the Bronze Age, wall and panel painting was reintroduced to Greece during the Early Iron Age. The first archaeological finds date from the advanced 7th century bce and include mural fragments and clay plaques used to decorate temples. Early examples (down to the early 5th century bce) are polychrome, with strong outlines and flatly painted surfaces without any sense of volume or depth of field. Their themes are often taken from myth, contemporary warfare, and religious rituals; inscriptions are customarily used to name the figures or scenes depicted.

A series of breakthroughs occurred in the 5th century bce. Composition became more sophisticated, an innovation attributed to Polygnotus of Thasos; shading and tonal contouring were introduced toward the end of the century, allegedly invented by Apollodorus of Athens. Painters often acquired high social status, as we may infer from stories about Zeuxis of Heraclea or Parrhasius of Ephesus. According to later authorities, the 4th century bce saw the greatest achievements of Greek painting and some works from this era, mostly from burial monuments, survive. A series of tombs from Macedonian sites (chiefly those at Vergina, Lefkadia, and Thessaloniki) illustrate significant advancements in the balancing of light and shade and the rendering of three-dimensional space, even with respect to elements of landscape. Many of these inventions were attributed to Apelles of Cos, who acquired fame and wealth working for Alexander of Macedon. Painting was practiced widely in the Hellenistic world, and aspects of Greek iconography and style were later introduced to Roman Italy.

Subjects

  • Greek Material Culture

Updated in this version

Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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