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.

In architecture and sculpture the ancient Greeks accepted what had been done by the Egyptians and Assyrians as a foundation, and went on to perfect the work of the older nations through the aid of poetic and artistic imaginations. But in painting the Greeks followed nothing that had preceded them. They were the first to make pictures which were a life-like reproduction of what they saw about them: they were the first to separate painting from sculpture, and to give it such importance as would permit it to have its own place, quite free from the influence of any other art, and in its own way as grand and as beautiful as its sister arts.

There are writers who trace the origin and progress of Greek painting from the very earliest times; but I shall begin with Apollodorus, who is spoken of as the first Greek painter worthy of fame, because he was the first one who knew how to make his pictures appear to be real, and to follow the rules of perspective so as to have a background from which his figures stood out, and to shade his colors and soften his outlines. He was very famous, and was called skiagraphos, which means shadow painter.

Apollodorus was an Athenian, and lived at about the close of the fifth century b.c. Although he was a remarkable artist then, we must not fancy that his pictures would have satisfied our idea of the beautiful—in fact, Pliny, the historian, who saw his pictures six hundred years later, at Pergamos, says that Apollodorus was but the gatekeeper who threw open the gates of painting to the famous artists who lived after him.

Zeuxis was a pupil of Apollodorus, and a great artist also. He was born at Heraclea, probably in Lower Italy. When young he led a wandering life; he studied at Athens under Apollodorus, and settled in Ephesus. He was in the habit of putting his pictures on exhibition, and charging an admittance fee, just as artists do now: he called himself “the unsurpassable,” and said and did many vain and foolish things. Near the end of his life he considered his pictures as beyond any price, and so gave them away. Upon one of his works he wrote, “Easier to carp at than to copy.” It is said that he actually laughed himself to death from amusement at one of his own pictures, which represented an old woman.

Zeuxis had a rival in the painter Parrhasius, and their names are often associated. On one occasion they made trial of their artistic skill. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so naturally that the birds came to peck at them. Then Parrhasius painted a hanging curtain, and when his picture was exposed to the public Zeuxis asked him to draw aside his curtain, fully believing it to be of cloth and concealing a picture behind it. Thus it was judged that Parrhasius was the best artist, for he had deceived Zeuxis, while the latter had only deceived the birds.

From these stories it appears that these artists tried to imitate objects with great exactness. Parrhasius, too, was a vain man, and went about in a purple robe with a gold wreath about his head and gold clasps on his sandals; he painted his own portrait, and called it the god Hermes, or Mercury; he wrote praises of himself in which he called himself by many high-sounding names, for all of which he was much ridiculed by others.

However, both these artists were surpassed by Timanthes, according to the ancient writers, who relate that he engaged in a trial of skill with Parrhasius, and came off the victor in it. The fame of his picture of the “Sacrifice of Iphigenia” was very great, and its one excellence seems to have been in the varied expression of its faces. The descriptions of this great work lead to the belief that this Pompeian wall-painting, from which we give a cut, closely resembles that of Timanthes, which no longer exists.

The story of Iphigenia says that when her father, King Agamemnon, killed a hart which was sacred to Diana, or Artemis, that goddess becalmed his fleet so that he could not sail to Troy. Then the seer, Calchas, advised the king to sacrifice his daughter in order to appease the wrath of Diana. Agamemnon consented; but it is said that the goddess was so sorry for the maiden that she bore her away to Tauris, and made her a priestess, and left a hart to be sacrificed instead of Iphigenia. In our cut you see Calchas on the right; two men are bearing the maiden to her doom, while her father stands on the left with his head veiled from sight (Fig. 4).

Fig 4 Fig. 4.—Sacrifice of Iphigenia.
From a Pompeian wall-painting.

Zeuxis, Parrhasius, and Timanthes belonged to the Ionian school of painting, which flourished during the Peloponnesian war. This school was excelled by that of Sikyon, which reached its highest prosperity between the end of the Peloponnesian war and the death of Alexander the Great. The chief reason why this Dorian school at Sikyon was so fine was that here, for the first time, the pupils followed a regular course of study, and were trained in drawing and mathematics, and taught to observe nature with the strictest attention. The most famous master of this school was Pausias; some of his works were carried to Rome, where they were much admired. His picture of the garland-weaver, Glykera, gained him a great name, and by it he earned the earliest reputation as a flower-painter that is known in the history of art.

Nikomachos, who lived at Thebes about 360 b.c., was famous for the rapidity with which he painted pictures that were excellent in their completeness and beauty. Aristides, the son or brother of Nikomachos, was so good an artist that Attalus, king of Pergamos, offered more than twenty thousand pounds, or about one hundred thousand dollars, for his picture of Dionysus, or Bacchus. This wonderful picture was carried to Rome, and preserved in the temple of Ceres; but it no longer exists. Euphranor was another great painter, and was distinguished for his power to give great expression to the faces and a manly force to the figures which he painted.

Nikias, the Athenian, is said to have been so devoted to his art that he could think of nothing else: he would ask his servants if he had bathed or eaten, not being able to remember for himself. He was very rich, and when King Ptolemy of Egypt offered him more than sixty thousand dollars for his picture of Ulysses in the under-world, he refused this great sum, and gave the painting to his native city. Nikias seems to have greatly exalted and respected his art, for he contended that painters should not fritter away time and talent on insignificant subjects, but ought rather to choose some grand event, such as a battle or a sea-fight. His figures of women and his pictures of animals, especially those of dogs, were much praised. Some of his paintings were encaustic, that is to say, the colors were burned in; thus they must have been made on plaster or pottery of some sort. Nikias outlived Alexander the Great, and saw the beginning of the school of painters to which the great Apelles belonged—that which is called the Hellenic school, in which Greek art reached its highest point.

Apelles was the greatest of all Greek painters. He was born at Kolophon; but as he made his first studies at Ephesus he has been called an Ephesian: later he studied in the school of Sikyon, but even when a pupil there he was said to be the equal of all his instructors. Philip of Macedon heard of his fame, and persuaded Apelles to remove to his capital city, which was called Pella. While there Apelles became the friend of the young Alexander, and when the latter came to the throne he made Apelles his court-painter, and is said to have issued an edict forbidding all other artists from painting his portrait. Later on Apelles removed to Ephesus.

During the early part of his artistic life Apelles did little else than paint such pictures as exalted the fame of Philip, and afterward that of Alexander. He painted many portraits of both these great men; for one of Alexander he received nearly twenty-five thousand dollars; in it the monarch was represented as grasping the thunderbolt, as Jupiter might have done, and the hand appeared to be stretched out from the picture. This portrait was in the splendid temple of Diana, or Artemis, at Ephesus. Alexander was accustomed to say of it, “There are two Alexanders, one invincible, the living son of Philip—the other immutable, the picture of Apelles.”

Later in his life Apelles painted many pictures of mythological subjects. He visited Alexandria, in Egypt; he did not win the favor of King Ptolemy, and his enemies in the Egyptian court played cruel practical jokes upon him. On one occasion he received an invitation to a feast at which the king had not desired his presence. The monarch was angry; but Apelles told him the truth, and appeased his wrath by sketching on the wall the exact likeness of the servant who had carried the invitation to him. However, Ptolemy remained unfavorable to him, and Apelles painted a great picture, called Calumny, in which he represented those who had been his enemies, and thus held them up to the scorn of the world. Apelles visited Rhodes and Athens, but is thought to have died in the island of Kos, where he had painted two very beautiful pictures of the goddess Venus. One of these is called the Venus Anadyomene, or Venus rising from the sea. The emperor Augustus carried this picture to Rome, and placed so high a value on it that he lessened the tribute-money of the people of Kos a hundred talents on account of it. This sum was about equal to one hundred thousand dollars of our money.

The art of Apelles was full of grace and sweetness, and the finish of his pictures was exquisite. The saying, “leave off in time,” originated in his criticism of Protogenes, of whom he said that he was his superior except that he did not know when to leave off, and by too much finishing lessened the effect of his work. Apelles was modest and generous: he was the first to praise Protogenes, and conferred a great benefit upon the latter by buying up his pictures, and giving out word that he was going to sell them as his own. Apelles was never afraid to correct those who were ignorant, and was equally ready to learn from any one who could teach him anything. It is said that on one occasion, when Alexander was in his studio, and talked of art, Apelles advised him to be silent lest his color-grinder should laugh at him. Again, when he had painted a picture, and exposed it to public view, a cobbler pointed out a defect in the shoe-latchet; Apelles changed it, but when the man next proceeded to criticise the leg of the figure, Apelles replied, “Cobbler, stick to your last.” These sayings have descended to our own day, and have become classical. All these anecdotes from so remote a time are in a sense doubtful; but they are very interesting—young people ought to be familiar with them, but it is also right to say that they are not known to be positively true.

Protogenes of Rhodes, to whom Apelles was so friendly, came to be thought a great painter. It is said that when Demetrius made war against Rhodes the artist did not trouble himself to leave his house, which was in the very midst of the enemy’s camp. When questioned as to his fearlessness he replied, “Demetrius makes war against the Rhodians, and not against the Arts.” It is also said that after hearing of this reply Demetrius refrained from burning the town, in order to preserve the pictures of Protogenes.

The ancient writers mention many other Greek painters, but none as important as those of whom we have spoken. Greek painting never reached a higher point than it had gained at the beginning of the Hellenistic age. Every kind of painting except landscape-painting had been practised by Greek artists; but that received no attention until figure-painting had declined. Vitruvius mentions that the ancients had some very important wall-paintings consisting of simple landscapes, and that others had landscape backgrounds with figures illustrating scenes from the poems of Homer. But we have no reason to believe that Greek landscape-painting was ever more than scenic or decorative work, and thus fell far short of what is now the standard for such painting.

The painting of the early Romans was principally derived from or through the early Etruscans, and the Etruscans are believed to have first learned their art from Greek artists, who introduced plastic art into Italy as early as b.c. 655, when Demaratus was expelled from Corinth—and later, Etruscan art was influenced by the Greek colonies of Magna Græcia. So it is fair to say that Etruscan art and early Roman art were essentially Greek art. The earliest artists who are known to have painted in Rome had Greek names, such as Ekphantos, Damophilos, and Gargasos. Later on in history there are painters mentioned with Latin names, but there is little of interest related concerning them; in truth, Ludius (who is also called by various authors Tadius and Studius) is the only really interesting ancient Roman painter of whom we know. He lived in the time of Augustus, and Pliny said of him: “Ludius, too, who lived in the age of the divine Augustus, must not be cheated of his fame. He was the first to bring in a singularly delightful fashion of wall-painting—villas, colonnades, examples of landscape-gardening, woods and sacred groves, reservoirs, straits, rivers, coasts, all according to the heart’s desire—and amidst them passengers of all kinds on foot, in boats, driving in carriages, or riding on asses to visit their country properties; furthermore fishermen, bird-catchers, hunters, vintagers; or, again, he exhibits stately villas, to which the approach is through a swamp, with men staggering under the weight of the frightened women whom they have bargained to carry on their shoulders; and many another excellent and entertaining device of the same kind. The same artist also set the fashion of painting views—and that wonderfully cheap—of seaside towns in broad daylight.”

We cannot think that Ludius was the first painter, though he may have been the first Roman painter, who made this sort of pictures, and he probably is the only one of whose work any part remains. Brunn and other good authorities believe that the wall-painting of Prima Porta, in Rome, was executed by Ludius. It represents a garden, and covers the four walls of a room. It is of the decorative order of painting, as Pliny well understood, for he speaks of the difference between the work of Ludius and that of the true artists who painted panel pictures and not wall-paintings. After the time of Ludius we can give no trustworthy account of any fine, Roman painter.

Fig 5 Fig. 5.—Etruscan Wall-painting.

The works of the ancient painters which still remain in various countries are wall-paintings, paintings on vases, mosaics, paintings on stone, and certain so-called miniatures; and besides these principal works there are many small articles, such as mirrors, toilet-cases, and other useful objects, which are decorated in colors.

We will first speak of the mural, or wall-paintings, as they are the most important and interesting remains of ancient painting. We shall only consider such as have been found in Italy, as those of other countries are few and unimportant.

The Etruscan tombs which have been opened contain many beautiful objects of various kinds, and were frequently decorated with mural pictures. They often consist of several rooms, and have the appearance of being prepared as a home for the living rather than for the dead. I shall give you no long or wordy description of them; because if what I tell you leads you to wish to know more about them, there are many excellent books describing them which you can read. So I will simply give you two cuts from these Etruscan paintings, and tell you about them.

Fig. 5 is in a tomb known as the Grotta della Querciola. The upper part represents a feast, and the lower portion a boar-hunt in a wood, which is indicated by the few trees and the little twigs which are intended to represent the underbrush of the forest. If we compare these pictures with the works of the best Italian masters, they seem very crude and almost childish in their simplicity; but, if we contrast them with the paintings of the Egyptians and Assyrians, we see that a great advance has been made since the earliest paintings of which we know were done. The pose and action of the figures and their grace of movement, as well as the folding of the draperies, are far better than anything earlier than the Greek painting of which there is any knowledge; for, as we have said, these Etruscan works are essentially Greek.

Fig 6 Fig. 6.—Human Sacrifice Offered by Achilles to the Shade of Patroklos.From an Etruscan wall-painting.

Fig. 6 belongs to a later period than the other, and is taken from a tomb at Vulci which was opened in 1857 by François. This tomb has seven different chambers, several of which are decorated with wall-paintings of mythological subjects. A square chamber at the end of the tomb has the most important pictures. On one side the human sacrifices which were customary at Etruscan funerals are represented: the pictures are very painful, and the terror and agony of the poor victims who are being put to death make them really repulsive to see. On an opposite wall is the painting from which our cut is taken. This represents the sacrifices made before Troy by Achilles, on account of the death of his dear friend Patroklos. The figure with the hammer is Charon, who stands ready to receive the sacrifice which is intended to win his favor. Your mythology will tell you the story, which is too long to be given here. The realism of this picture is shocking in its effect, and yet there is something about the manner of the drawing and the arrangement of the whole design that fixes our attention even while it makes us shudder.

The ancient wall-paintings which have been found in Rome are far more varied than are those of Etruria; for, while some of the Roman pictures are found in tombs, others are taken from baths, palaces, and villas. They generally belong to one period, and that is about the close of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. Modern excavations have revealed many of these ancient paintings; but so many of them crumble and fade away so soon after they are exposed to the air, that few remain in a condition to afford any satisfaction in seeing them. But fortunately drawings have been made of nearly all these pictures before they fell into decay.

Fig 7 Fig. 7.—The Aldobrandini Marriage.
From a wall-painting in the Vatican.

Some of the ancient paintings have been carefully removed from the walls where they were found, and placed in museums and other collections. One of the finest of these is in the Vatican, and is called the Aldobrandini Marriage. It received this name from the fact that Cardinal Aldobrandini was its first possessor after its discovery, near the Arch of Gallienus, in 1606.

As you will see from Fig. 7, from it, there are three distinct groups represented. In the centre the bride veiled, with her head modestly bowed down, is seated on a couch with a woman beside her who seems to be arranging some part of her toilet, while another stands near holding ointment and a bowl. At the head of the couch the bridegroom is seated on a threshold. The upper part of his figure is bare, and he has a garland upon his head. On the right of the picture an ante-room is represented in which are three women with musical instruments, singing sacrificial songs. To the left, in another apartment, three other women are preparing a bath. This is charming on account of the sweet, serious way in which the whole story is placed before us; but as a painting it is an inferior work of art—not in the least above the style which we should call house decoration.

Although ancient writers had spoken of landscape paintings, it was not until 1848-1850, when a series of them was discovered on the Esquiline in Rome, that any very satisfactory specimens could be shown. These pictures number eight: six are complete, of the seventh but half remains, and the eighth is in a very imperfect state. They may be called historical landscapes, because each one has a complete landscape as well as figures which tell a story. They illustrate certain passages from the Odyssey of Homer. The one from which our cut is taken shows the visit of Ulysses to the lower world. When on the wall the pictures were divided by pilasters, and finished at the top by a border or frieze. The pilasters are bright red, and the chief colors in the picture are a yellowish brown and a greenish blue. In this scene the way in which the light streams through the entrance to the lower world is very striking, and shows the many figures there with the best possible effect. Even those in the far distance on the right are distinctly seen. This collection of Esquiline wall-paintings is now in the Vatican Library.

Fig 8 Fig. 8.—Landscape Illustration to the Odyssey. From a wall-painting discovered on the Esquiline at Rome.

Besides the ancient mural paintings which have been placed in the museums of Rome, there are others which still remain where they were painted, in palaces, villas, and tombs. Perhaps those in the house of Livia are the most interesting; they represent mythological stories, and one frieze has different scenes of street life in an ancient town. Though these decorations are done in a mechanical sort of painting, such as is practised by the ordinary fresco painters of our own time, yet there was sufficient artistic feeling in their authors to prevent their repeating any one design.

One circumstance proves that this class of picture was not thought very important when it was made, which is that the name of the artist is rarely found upon his work: in but one instance either in Rome or Pompeii has this occurred, namely, in a chamber which was excavated in the gardens of the Farnesina Palace at Rome, and the name is Seleucus.

We have not space to speak of all the Italian cities in which these remains are discovered, and, as Pompeii is the one most frequently visited and that in which a very large proportion of the ancient pictures have been found, I will give a few illustrations from them, and leave the subject of ancient, mural paintings there. Many of the Pompeian pictures have been removed to the Museum of Naples, though many still remain where they were first painted.

The variety of subjects at Pompeii is large: there are landscapes, hunting scenes, mythological subjects, numerous kinds of single figures, such as dancing girls, the hours, or seasons, graces, satyrs, and many others; devotional pictures, such as representations of the ancient divinities, lares, penates, and genii; pictures of tavern scenes, of mechanics at their work; rope-dancers and representations of various games, gladiatorial contests, genre scenes from the lives of children, youths, and women, festival ceremonies, actors, poets, and stage scenes, and last, but not least, many caricatures, of which I here give you an example (Fig. 9).

Fig 9 Fig. 9.—The Flight of Æneas.
From a wall-painting.

The largest dog is Æneas, who leads the little Ascanius by the hand and carries his father, Anchises, on his shoulder. Frequently in the ancient caricatures monkeys are made to take the part of historical and imaginary heroes.

Fig10 Fig. 10.—Demeter Enthroned.
From a Pompeian wall-painting.


Fig 11 Fig. 11.—Pompeian Wall-painting.

Fig. 11 shows you how these painted walls were sometimes divided; the principal subjects were surrounded by ornamental borders, and the spaces between filled in with all sorts of little compartments. The small spaces in this picture are quite regular in form; but frequently they are of varied shapes, and give a very decorative effect to the whole work. The colors used upon these different panels, as they may be called, were usually red, yellow, black, and white—more rarely blue and green. Sometimes the entire decoration consisted of these small, variously colored spaces, divided by some graceful little border, with a very small figure, plant, or other object in the centre of each space.

Fig 12 Fig. 12.—Nest of Cupids.
From a Pompeian wall-painting.

Fig. 10, of Demeter, or Ceres, enthroned is an example of such devotional paintings as were placed above the altars and shrines for private worship in the houses of Pompeii, or at the street corners, just as we now see pictures and sacred figures in street shrines in Roman Catholic countries. In ancient days, as now, these pictures were often done in a coarse and careless manner, as if religious use, and not art, was the object in the mind of the artist.

Fig. 12, of a Nest of Cupids is a very interesting example of Pompeian painting, and to my mind it more nearly resembles pictures of later times than does any other ancient painting of which I know.