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Clara Erskine Clement

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.

Vase-painting was another art very much practised by the ancients. So much can be said of it that it would require more space than we can give for its history even in outline. So I shall only say that it fills an important place in historic art, because from the thousands of ancient vases that have been found in one country and another, much has been learned concerning the history of these lands and the manners and customs of their people; occasionally inscriptions are found upon decorated vases which are of great value to scholars who study the history of the past.

The Middle Ages extend from the latter part of the fifth century to the time of the Renaissance, or about the fifteenth century. The painting of this period has little to attract attention if regarded only from an artistic stand-point, for we may truly say that, comparing it with the Greek art which had preceded it, or with the Italian art which followed it, that of the Middle Ages had no claim to the beautiful.

The paintings of the catacombs date from the third and fourth centuries after Christ. The catacombs, or burial-places of the early Christians, consist of long, narrow, subterranean passages, cut with regularity, and crossing each other like streets in a city. The graves are in the sides of these passages, and there are some larger rooms or chambers into which the narrow passages run. There are about sixty of the catacombs in and near Rome; they are generally called by the name of some saint who is buried in them.

During the Romanesque Period (950-1250) architecture was pursued according to laws which had grown out of the achievements and experiences of earlier ages, and had reached such a perfection as entitled it to the rank of a noble art. But this was not true of painting, which was then but little more than the painting of the Egyptians had been, that is, a sort of picture-writing, which was principally used to illustrate the doctrines of religion, and by this means to teach them to peoples who had no books, and could not have read them had they existed.

The Gothic order of architecture, which was perfected during this period, had a decided influence upon the painting and sculpture of the time; but this influence was not felt until Gothic architecture had reached a high point in its development. France was now the leading country of the world, and Paris came to be the most important of all cities: it was the centre from which went forth edicts as to the customs of society, the laws of dress and conduct, and even of the art of love. From France came the codes of chivalry, and the crusades, which spread to other lands, originated there.

The reawakening of Art in Italy which followed the darkness of the Middle Ages, dates from about the beginning of the fifteenth century and is called the Renaissance. The Italians have a method of reckoning the centuries which differs from ours.

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