Clara Erskine Clement

The French school of painting does not date earlier than the sixteenth century, and the painters of that time were few in number, and little is known of them. Before the time when a French school could be said to exist the kings of France employed foreign artists to decorate their palaces and churches, and they naturally turned to the Italians for all that they needed. Hence it happened that in its earliest days the French school was almost entirely under Italian influence, and I shall first speak of French masters who studied in Italy.

In speaking of art we often contrast the useful or mechanical arts with the Fine Arts; by these terms we denote the difference between the arts which are used in making such things as are necessary and useful in civilized life, and the arts by which ornamental and beautiful things are made.

The fine arts are Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Poetry, and Music, and though we could live if none of these existed, yet life would be far from the pleasant experience that it is often made to be through the enjoyment of these arts.

In early days in England there were miniature-painters, and in the last half of the sixteenth century there were some very important English painters of this kind. Before the days of Charles I. the English kings were much in the habit of inviting foreign artists to England, and commissions were given to them. The painters who were most prominent in England were of the Flemish school, and even under Charles I., as we have seen, Rubens and Vandyck were the principal painters in England.

Egyptian painting is principally found on the walls of temples and tombs, upon columns and cornices, and on small articles found in burial places. There is no doubt that it was used as a decoration; but it was also intended to be useful, and was so employed as to tell the history of the country;—its wars, with their conquests and triumphs, and the lives of the kings, and many other stories, are just as distinctly told by pictures as by the hieroglyphics or Egyptian writings. We can scarcely say that Egyptian painting is beautiful; but it certainly is very interesting.

The remains of Assyrian painting are so few that they scarcely serve any other purpose than to prove that the Assyrians were accustomed to decorate their walls with pictures. Sometimes the walls were prepared with plaster, and the designs were painted on that; in other cases the painting was done upon the brick itself. The paintings on plaster were usually on the inner walls, and many of these which have been discovered during the excavations have disappeared when exposed to the air after their long burial from the sight and knowledge of the world.

In Babylon, in the sixth century b.c., under the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the art of tile-painting reached a high state of perfection. The Babylonians had no such splendid alabaster as had the Assyrians, neither had they lime-stone; so they could not make fine sculptured slabs, such as are found at Nineveh and in other Assyrian ruins. But the Babylonians had a fine clay, and they learned how to use it to the best advantage.

The painting of Greece and that of ancient Italy are so much the same that it is almost impossible to speak of them separately; the art of painting was carried from Greece to Italy by the Etruscans, and the art of ancient Rome was simply that of Greece transplanted. If Greek artists were employed by Romans, certainly their works were Greek; and if Romans painted they aimed to imitate the Greeks exactly, so that Italian painting before the time of the Christian era must be considered together with that of Greece.

The pictures known as mosaics are made by fitting together bits of marble, stone, or glass of different colors and so arranging them as to represent figures and objects of various kinds, so that at a distance they have much the same effect as that of pictures painted with brush and colors. The art of making mosaics is very ancient, and was probably invented in the East, where it was used for borders and other decorations in regular set patterns. It was not until after the time of Alexander the Great that the Greeks used this process for making pictures.

It is well known that much of the decoration of Greek edifices was in colors. Of course these paintings were put upon the marble and stone of which the structures were made. The Greeks also made small pictures and painted them on stone, just as canvas and panels of wood are now used. Such painted slabs have been found in Herculaneum, in Corneto, and in different Etruscan tombs; but the most important and satisfactory one was found at Pompeii in 1872. Since then the colors have almost vanished; but Fig. 14, from it, will show you how it appeared when found.

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