The artistic instinct is one of the earliest developed in man; the love of representation is evolved at the earliest period; we see it in the child, we see it in the savage, we find traces of it among primitive men. The child in his earliest years loves to trace the forms of objects familiar to his eyes. The savage takes a pleasure in depicting and rudely giving shape to objects which constantly meet his view. The artistic instinct is of all ages and of all climes; it springs up naturally in all countries, and takes its origin alike everywhere in the imitative faculty of man. Evidences of this instinct at the earliest period have been discovered among the relics of primitive men; rough sketches on slate and on stone of the mammoth, the deer, and of man, have been found in the caves of France; the American savage traces rude hunting scenes, or the forms of animals on the covering of his tents, and on his buffalo robes; the savage Australian covers the side of caverns, and the faces of rocks with coarse drawings of animals. We thus find an independent evolution of the art of design, and distinct and separate cycles of its development through the stages of rise, progress, maturity, decline and decay, in many countries the most remote and unconnected with one another. The earliest mode of representing men, animals and objects was in outline and in profile. It is evidently the most primitive style, and characteristic of the commencement of the art, as the first attempts made by children and uncivilized people are solely confined to it; the most inexperienced perceive the object intended to be represented, and no effort is required to comprehend it. Outline figures were thus in all countries the earliest style of painting, and we find this mode practiced at a remote period in Egypt and in Greece. In Egypt we meet paintings in this earliest stage of the art of design in the tombs of Beni Hassan, dating from over 2000 B.C. They are illustrative of the manners and customs of that age. Tradition tells us that the origin of the art of design in Greece was in tracing in outline and in profile the shadow of a human head on the wall and afterwards filling it in so as to present the appearance of a kind of silhouette. The Greek painted vases of the earliest epoch exhibit examples of this style. From this humble beginning the art of design in Greece rose in gradually successive stages, until it reached its highest degree of perfection under the hands of Zeuxis and Apelles.
The interest that attaches to Egyptian art is from its great antiquity. We see it in the first attempts to represent what in after times, and in some other countries, gradually arrived, under better auspices, at the greatest perfection; and we even trace in it the germ of much that was improved upon by those who had a higher appreciation of, and feeling for, the beautiful. For, both in ornamental art, as well as in architecture, Egypt exercised in early times considerable influence over other people less advanced than itself, or only just emerging from barbarism; and the various conventional devices, the lotus flowers, the sphinxes, and other fabulous animals, as well as the early Medusa’s head, with a protruding tongue, of the oldest Greek pottery and sculptures, and the ibex, leopard, and above all the (Nile) “goose and sun,” on the vases, show them to be connected with, and frequently directly borrowed from, Egyptian fancy. It was, as it still is, the custom of people to borrow from those who have attained to a greater degree of refinement and civilization than themselves; the nation most advanced in art led the taste, and though some had sufficient invention to alter what they adopted, and to render it their own, the original idea may still be traced whenever it has been derived from a foreign source. Egypt was long the dominant nation, and the intercourse established at a very remote period with other countries, through commerce of war, carried abroad the taste of this the most advanced people of the time; and so general seems to have been the fashion of their ornaments, that even the Nineveh marbles present the winged globe, and other well-known Egyptian emblems, as established elements of Assyrian decorative art.
While Greece was still in its infancy, Egypt had long been the leading nation of the world; she was noted for her magnificence, her wealth, and power, and all acknowledged her pre-eminence in wisdom and civilization. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Greeks should have admitted into their early art some of the forms then most in vogue, and though the wonderful taste of that gifted people speedily raised them to a point of excellence never attained by the Egyptians or any others, the rise and first germs of art and architecture must be sought in the Valley of the Nile. In the oldest monuments of Greece, the sloping or pyramidal line constantly predominates; the columns in the oldest Greek order are almost purely Egyptian, in the proportions of the shaft, and in the form of its shallow flutes without fillets; and it is a remarkable fact that the oldest Egyptian columns are those which bear the closest resemblance to the Greek Doric.
Though great variety was permitted in objects of luxury, as furniture, vases, and other things depending on caprice, the Egyptians were forbidden to introduce any material innovations into the human figure, such as would alter its general character, and all subjects connected with religion retained to the last the same conventional type. A god in the latest temple was of the same form as when represented on monuments of the earliest date; and King Menes would have recognized Amun, or Osiris, in a Ptolemaic or a Roman sanctuary. In sacred subjects the law was inflexible, and religion, which has frequently done so much for the development and direction of taste in sculpture, had the effect of fettering the genius of Egyptian artists. No improvements, resulting from experience and observation, were admitted in the mode of drawing the human figure; to copy nature was not allowed; it was therefore useless to study it, and no attempt was made to give the proper action to the limbs. Certain rules, certain models, had been established by the priesthood, and the faulty conceptions of ignorant times were copied and perpetuated by every successive artist. For, as Plato and Synesius say, the Egyptian sculptors were not suffered to attempt anything contrary to the regulations laid down regarding the figures of the gods; they were forbidden to introduce any change, or to invent new subjects and habits, and thus the art, and the rules which bound it, always remained the same.
Egyptian bas-relief appears to have been, in its origin, a mere copy of painting, its predecessor. The first attempt to represent the figures of gods, sacred emblems, and other subjects, consisted in drawing or painting simple outlines of them on a flat surface, the details being afterwards put in with color; but in process of time these forms were traced on stone with a tool, and the intermediate space between the various figures being afterwards cut away, the once level surface assumed the appearance of a bas-relief. It was, in fact, a pictorial representation on stone, which is evidently the character of all the bas-reliefs on Egyptian monuments, and which readily accounts for the imperfect arrangement of their figures.
Deficient in conception, and above all in a proper knowledge of grouping, they were unable to form those combinations which give true expression; every picture was made up of isolated parts, put together according to some general notions, but without harmony, or preconceived effect. The human face, the whole body, and everything they introduced, were composed in the same manner, of separate members placed together one by one according to their relative situations: the eye, the nose, and other features composed a face, but the expression of feelings and passions was entirely wanting; and the countenance of the King, whether charging an enemy’s phalanx in the heat of battle, or peaceably offering incense in a sombre temple, presented the same outline and the same inanimate look. The peculiarity of the front view of an eye, introduced in a profile, is thus accounted for: it was the ordinary representation of that feature added to a profile, and no allowance was made for any change in the position of the head.
It was the same with drapery: the figure was first drawn, and the drapery then added, not as part of the whole, but as an accessory; they had no general conception, no previous idea of the effect required to distinguish the warrior or the priest, beyond the impressions received from costume, or from the subject of which they formed a part, and the same figure was dressed according to the character it was intended to perform. Every portion of a picture was conceived by itself, and inserted as it was wanted to complete the scene; and when the walls of the building, where a subject was to be drawn, had been accurately ruled with squares, the figures were introduced, and fitted to this mechanical arrangement. The members were appended to the body, and these squares regulated their form and distribution, in whatever posture they might be placed.
As long as this conventional system continued, no great change could take place, beyond a slight variation in the proportions, which at one period became more elongated, particularly in the reign of the second Remeses; but still the general form and character of the figures continued the same, which led to the remark of Plato, “that the pictures and statues made ten thousand years ago, are in no one particular better or worse than what they now make.” And taken in this limited sense—that no nearer approach to the beau ideal of the human figure, or its real character, was made at one period than another—his remark is true, since they were always bound by the same regulations, which prohibited any change in these matters, even to the latest times, as is evident from the sculptures of the monuments erected after Egypt had long been a Roman province. All was still Egyptian, though of bad style; and if they then attempted to finish the details with more precision, it was only substituting ornament for simplicity; and the endeavor to bring the proportions of the human figure nearer to nature, with the retention of its conventional type, only made its deformity greater, and showed how incompatible the Egyptian was with any other style.
In the composition of modern paintings three objects are required: one main action, one point of view, and one instant of time, and the proportions and harmony of the parts are regulated by perspective, but in Egyptian sculpture these essentials were disregarded; every thing was sacrificed to the principal figure; its colossal dimensions pointed it out as a center to which all the rest was a mere accessory, and, if any other was made equally conspicuous, or of equal size, it was still in a subordinate station, and only intended to illustrate the scene connected with the hero of the piece.
In the paintings of the tombs greater license was allowed in the representation of subjects relating to private life, the trades, or the manners and occupations of the people, and some indication of perspective in the position of the figures may occasionally be observed; but the attempt was imperfect, and, probably, to an Egyptian eye, unpleasing, for such is the force of habit, that even where nature is copied, a conventional style is sometimes preferred to a more accurate representation.
In the battle scenes on the temples of Thebes, some of the figures representing the monarch pursuing the flying enemy, despatching a hostile chief with his sword, and drawing his bow, as his horses carry his car over the prostrate bodies of the slain, are drawn with much spirit, and the position of the arms gives a perfect idea of the action which the artist intended to portray; still, the same imperfections of style, and want of truth, are observed; there is action, but no sentiment, expression of the passions, nor life in the features; it is a figure ready formed, and mechanically varied into movement, and whatever position it is made to assume, the point of view is the same: the identical profile of the human body with the anomaly of the shoulders seen in front. It is a description rather than a representation.
But in their mode of portraying a large crowd of persons they often show great cleverness, and, as their habit was to avoid uniformity, the varied positions of the heads give a truth to the subject without fatiguing the eye. Nor have they any symmetrical arrangement of figures, on opposite sides of a picture, such as we find in some of the very early paintings in Europe.
As their skill increased, the mere figurative representation was extended to that of a descriptive kind, and some resemblance of the hero’s person was attempted; his car, the army he commanded, and the flying enemies, were introduced, and what was at first scarcely more than a symbol, aspired to the more exalted form and character of a picture. Of a similar nature were all their historical records, and these pictorial illustrations were a substitute for written documents. Rude drawing and sculpture, indeed, long preceded letters, and we find that even in Greece, to describe, draw, engrave, and write, were expressed by the same word.
Of the quality of the pencils used by the Egyptians for drawing and painting, it is difficult to form any opinion. Those generally employed for writing were a reed or rush, many of which have been found with the tablets or inkstands belonging to the scribes; and with these, too, they probably sketched the figures in red and black upon the stone or stucco of the walls. To put in the color, we may suppose that brushes of some kind were used, but the minute scale on which the painters are represented in the sculptures prevents our deciding the question.
Habits among men of similar occupations are frequently alike, even in the most distant countries, and we find it was not unusual for an Egyptian artist, or scribe, to put his reed pencil behind his ear, when engaged in examining the effect of his painting, or listening to a person on business, like a clerk in the counting-house.
The Etruscans, it is said, cultivated painting before the Greeks, and Pliny attributes to the former a certain degree of perfection before the Greeks had emerged from the infancy of the art. Ancient paintings at Ardea, in Etruria, and at Lanuvium still retained, in the time of Pliny, all their primitive freshness. According to Pliny, paintings of a still earlier date were to be seen at Cære, another Etruscan city. Those paintings mentioned by Pliny were commonly believed to be earlier than the foundation of Rome. At the present day the tombs of Etruria afford examples of Etruscan painting in every stage of its development, from the rudeness and conventionality of early art in the tomb of Veii to the correctness and ease of design, and the more perfect development of the art exhibited in the painted scenes in the tombs of Tarquinii. In one of these tombs the pilasters are profusely adorned with arabesques, and a frieze which runs round the side of the tomb is composed of painted figures draped, winged, armed, fighting, or borne in chariots. The subjects of these paintings are various; in them we find the ideas of the Etruscans on the state of the soul after death, combats of warriors, banquets, funeral scenes. The Etruscans painted also bas-reliefs and statues.
The Greeks carried painting to the highest degree of perfection; their first attempts were long posterior to those of the Egyptians; they do not even date as far back as the epoch of the siege of Troy; and Pliny remarks that Homer does not mention painting. The Greeks always cultivated sculpture in preference. Pausanias enumerates only eighty-eight paintings, and forty-three portraits; he describes, on the other hand, 2,827 statues. These were, in fact, more suitable ornaments to public places, and the gods were always represented in the temple by sculpture. In Greece painting followed the invariable law of development. Its cycle was run through. Painting passed through the successive stages of rise, progress, maturity, decline, and decay. The art of design in Greece is said to have had its origin in Corinth. The legend is: the daughter of Dibutades, a potter of Corinth, struck by the shadow of her lover’s head cast by the lamp on the wall, drew its outline, filling it in with a dark shadow. Hence, the earliest mode of representing the human figure was a silhouette. The simplest form of design or drawing was mere outline, or monogrammon, and was invented by Cleanthes, of Corinth. After this the outlines were filled in, and light and shade introduced of one color, and hence were styled mono-chromes. Telephanes, of Sicyon, further improved the art by indicating the principal details of anatomy; Euphantes, of Corinth, or Craton, of Sicyon, by the introduction of color. Cimon, of Cleonæ, is the first who is mentioned as having advanced the art of painting in Greece, and as having emancipated it from its archaic rigidity, by exchanging the conventional manner of rendering the human form for an approach to truthfulness to nature. He also first made muscular articulations, indicated the veins, and gave natural folds to draperies. He is also supposed to have been the first who used a variety of colors, and to have introduced foreshortening. The first painter of great renown was Polygnotus. Accurate drawing, and a noble and distinct manner of characterizing the most different mythological forms was his great merit; his female figures also possessed charms and grace. His large tabular pictures were conceived with great knowledge of legends, and in an earnest religious spirit. At Athens he painted, according to Pausanias, a series of paintings of mythological subjects in the Pinakotheke in the Propylæa on the Acropolis, and pictorial decorations for the temple of Theseus, and the Pœcile. He executed a series of paintings at Delphi on the long walls of the Lesche. The wall to the right on entering the Lesche bore scenes illustrative of the epic myth of the taking of Troy; the left, the visit of Ulysses to the lower world, as described in the Odyssey. Pliny remarks that in place of the old severity and rigidity of the features he introduced a great variety of expression, and was the first to paint figures with the lips open. Lucian attributes to him great improvements in the rendering of drapery so as to show the forms underneath. Apollodorus, of Athens, was the first great master of light and shade. According to Pliny he was the first to paint men and things as they really appear. A more advanced stage of improved painting began with Zeuxis, in which art aimed at illusion of the senses and the rendering of external charms. He appears to have been equally distinguished in the representation of female charms, and of the sublime majesty of Zeus on his throne. His masterpiece was his picture of Helen, in painting which he had as his models the five most beautiful virgins of Croton.
Neither the place nor date of the birth of Zeuxis can be accurately ascertained, though he was probably born about 455 B.C., since thirty years after that date we find him practicing his art with great success at Athens. He was patronized by Archelaus, King of Macedonia, and spent some time at his court. He must also have visited Magna Græcia, as he painted his celebrated picture of Helen for the City of Croton. He acquired great wealth by his pencil, and was very ostentatious in displaying it. He appeared at Olympia in a magnificent robe, having his name embroidered in letters of gold, and the same vanity is also displayed in the anecdote that, after he had reached the summit of his fame, he no longer sold, but gave away, his pictures, as being above all price. With regard to his style of art, single figures were his favorite subjects. He could depict gods or heroes with sufficient majesty, but he particularly excelled in painting the softer graces of female beauty. In one important respect he appears to have degenerated from the style of Polygnotus, his idealism being rather that of form than of character and expression. Thus his style is analogous to that of Euripides in tragedy. He was a great master of color, and his paintings were sometimes so accurate and life-like as to amount to illusion. This is exemplified in the story told of him and Parrhasius. As a trial of skill, these artists painted two pictures. That of Zeuxis represented a bunch of grapes, and was so naturally executed that the birds came and pecked at it. After this proof, Zeuxis, confident of success, called upon his rival to draw aside the curtain which concealed his picture. But the painting of Parrhasius was the curtain itself, and Zeuxis was now obliged to acknowledge himself vanquished, for, though he had deceived birds, Parrhasius had deceived the author of the deception. But many of the pictures of Zeuxis also displayed great dramatic power. He worked very slowly and carefully, and he is said to have replied to somebody who blamed him for his slowness, “It is true I take a long time to paint, but then I paint works to last a long time.” His master-piece was the picture of Helen, already mentioned.
Parrhasius was a native of Ephesus, but his art was chiefly exercised at Athens, where he was presented with the right of citizenship. His date can not be accurately ascertained, but he was probably rather younger than his contemporary, Zeuxis, and tt is certain that he enjoyed a high reputation before the death of Socrates. The style and degree of excellence attained by Parrhasius appear to have been much the same as those of Zeuxis. He was particularly celebrated for the accuracy of his drawing, and the excellent proportions of his figures. For these he established a canon, as Phidias had done in sculpture for gods, and Polycletus for the human figure, whence Quintilian calls him the legislator of his art. His vanity seems to have been as remarkable as that of Zeuxis. Among the most celebrated of his works was a portrait of the personified Athenian Demos, which is said to have miraculously expressed even the most contradictory qualities of that many-headed personage.
Parrhasius excelled in giving a roundness and a beautiful contour to his figures, and was remarkable for the richness and variety of his creations. His numerous pictures of gods and heroes attained the highest consideration in art. He was overcome, however, in a pictorial contest, in which the subject was the contest of Ulysses and Ajax for the arms of Achilles, by the ingenious Timanthes, in whose sacrifice of Iphigenia the ancients admired the expression of grief carried to that pitch of intensity at which art had only dared to hint. The most striking feature in the picture was the concealment of the face of Agamemnon in his mantle. (The concealment of the face of Agamemnon in this picture has been generally considered as a “trick” or ingenious invention of Timanthes, when it was the result of a fundamental law in Greek art—to represent alone what was beautiful, and never to present to the eye anything repulsive or disagreeable; the features of a father convulsed with grief would not have been a pleasing object to gaze on; hence the painter, fully conscious of the laws of his art, concealed the countenance of Agamemnon.) Timanthes was distinguished for his invention and expression. Before all, however, ranks the great Apelles, who united the advantages of his native Ionia—grace, sensual charms, and rich coloring—with the scientific accuracy of the Sicyonian school. The most prominent characteristic of his style was grace (charis), a quality which he himself avowed as peculiarly his, and which serves to unite all the other gifts and faculties which the painter requires; perhaps in none of his pictures was it exhibited in such perfection as in his famous Anadyomene, in which Aphrodite is represented rising out of the sea, and wringing the wet out of her hair. But heroic subjects were likewise adapted to his genius, especially grandly-conceived portraits, such as the numerous likenesses of Alexander, by whom he was warmly patronized. He not only represented Alexander with the thunderbolt in his hand, but he even attempted, as the master in light and shade, to paint thunderstorms, probably at the same time as natural scenes and mythological personifications. The Anadyomene, originally painted for the temple of Æsculapius, at Cos, was transferred by Augustus to the temple of D. Julius, at Rome, where, however, it was in a decayed state even at the time of Nero. Contemporaneously with him flourished Protogenes and Nicias. Protogenes was both a painter and a statuary, and was celebrated for the high finish of his works. His master-piece was the picture of Ialysus, the tutelary hero of Rhodes, where he lived. He is said to have spent seven years on it. Nicias, of Athens, was celebrated for the delicacy with which he painted females. He was also famous as an encaustic painter, and was employed by Praxiteles to apply his art to his statues. The glorious art of these masters, as far as regards light, tone, and local colors, is lost to us, and we know nothing of it except from obscure notices and later imitations. It is not thus necessary to speak at length of the various schools of painting in Greece, their works being all lost, the knowledge of the characteristics peculiar to each school would be at the present day perfectly useless. Painting had to follow the invariable law of all development; having reached a period of maturity, it followed, as a necessary consequence, that the period of decline should begin. The art of this period of refinement, Mr. Wornum writes, which has been termed the Alexandrian, because the most celebrated artist of this period lived about the time of Alexander the Great, was the last of progression, or acquisition, but it only added variety of effect to the tones it could not improve, and was principally characterized by the diversity of the styles of so many contemporary artists. The decadence of the arts immediately succeeded, the necessary consequence, when, instead of excellence, variety and originality became the end of the artist. The tendencies which are peculiar to this period gave birth sometimes to pictures which ministered to a low sensuality; sometimes to works which attracted by their effects of light, and also to caricatures and travesties of mythological subjects. The artists of this period were under the necessity of attracting attention by novelty and variety; thus rhyparography, and the lower classes of art, attained the ascendency, and became the characteristic styles of the period. In these Pyreieus was pre-eminent; he was termed rhyparographos, on account of the mean quality of his subjects. After the destruction of Corinth by Mummius and the spoliation of Athens by Sylla the art of painting experienced a rapid and total decay.
We shall now make a few extracts from Mr. Wornum’s excellent article on the vehicles, materials, colors, and methods of painting used by the Greeks.
The Greeks painted with wax, resins, and in water-colors, to which they gave a proper consistency, according to the material upon which they painted, with gum, glue, and the white of egg; gum and glue were the most common.
They painted upon wood, clay, plaster, stone, parchment, and canvas. They generally painted upon panels or tables, and very rarely upon walls; and an easel, similar to what is now used, was common among the ancients. These panels, when finished, were fixed into frames of various descriptions and materials, and encased in walls. The ancients used also a palette very similar to that used by the moderns, as is sufficiently attested by a fresco painting from Pompeii, which represents a female painting a copy of Hermes, for a votive tablet, with a palette in her left hand.
The earlier Grecian masters used only four colors: the earth of Melos for white; Attic ochre for yellow; Sinopis, an earth from Pontus, for red; and lamp-black; and it was with these simple elements that Zeuxis, Polygnotus, and others of that age, executed their celebrated works. By degrees new coloring substances were found, such as were used by Apelles and Protogenes.
So great, indeed, is the number of pigments mentioned by ancient authors, and such the beauty of them, that it is very doubtful whether, with all the help of modern science, modern artists possess any advantage in this respect over their predecessors.
We now give the following list of colors, known to be generally used by ancient painters:
Red.—The ancient reds were very numerous, cinnabar, vermilion, bisulphuret of mercury, called also by Pliny and Vitruvius, minium. The cinnabaris indica, mentioned by Pliny and Dioscorides, was what is vulgarly called dragon’s blood, the resin obtained from various species of the calamus palm. Miltos seems to have had various significations; it was used for cinnabaris, minium, red lead, and rubrica, red ochre. There were various kinds of rubricæ; all were, however, red oxides, of which the best were the Lemnian, from the Isle of Lemnos, and the Cappadocian, called by the Romans rubrica sinopica, from Sinope in Paphlagonia. Minium, red oxide of lead, red lead, was called by the Romans cerussa usta, and, according to Vitruvius, sandaracha.
The Roman sandaracha seems to have had various significations. Pliny speaks of the different shades of sandaracha; there was also a compound color of equal parts of sandaracha and rubrica calcined, called sandyx, which Sir H. Davy supposed to approach our crimson in tint; in painting it was frequently glazed with purple, to give it additional lustre.
Yellow.—Yellow-ochre, hydrated peroxide of iron, the sil of the Romans, formed the base of many other yellows, mixed with various colors and carbonate of lime. Ochre was procured from different parts—the Attic was considered the best; sometimes the paler sort of sandaracha was used for yellow.
Green.—Chrysocolla, which appears to have been green carbonate of copper, or malachite (green verditer), was the green most approved of by the ancients; there was also an artificial kind which was made from clay impregnated with sulphate of copper (blue vitriol) rendered green by a yellow dye. The commonest and cheapest colors were the Appianum, which was a clay, and the creta viridis, the common green earth of Verona.
Blue.—The ancient blues were very numerous; the principal of these was cœruleum, azure, a species of verditer, or blue carbonate of copper, of which there were many varieties. The Alexandrian was the most valued, as approaching the nearest to ultramarine. It was also manufactured at Pozzuoli. This imitation was called cœlon. Armenium was a metallic color, and was prepared by being ground to an impalpable powder. It was of a light blue color. It has been conjectured that ultramarine (lapis lazuli) was known to the ancients under the name of Armenium, from Armenia, whence it was procured. It is evident, however, from Pliny’s description, that the “sapphirus” of the ancients was the lapis lazuli of the present day. It came from Media.
Indigo, indicum, was well known to the ancients.
Purple.—The ancients had several kinds of purple, purpurissimum, ostrum, hysginum, and various compound colors. Purpurissimum was made from creta argentaria, a fine chalk or clay, steeped in a purple dye, obtained from the murex. In color it ranged between minium and blue, and included every degree in the scale of purple shades. The best sort came from Pozzuoli. Purpurissimum indicum was brought from India. It was of a deep blue, and probably was the same as indigo. Ostrum was a liquid color, to which the proper consistence was given by adding honey. It was produced from the secretion of a fish called ostrum, and differed in tint according to the country from whence it came; being deeper and more violet when brought from the northern, redder when from the southern coasts of the Mediterranean. The Roman ostrum was a compound of red ochre and blue oxide of copper. Hysginum, according to Vitruvius, is a color between scarlet and purple. The celebrated Tyrian dye was a dark, rich purple, of the color of coagulated blood, but, when held against the light, showed a crimson hue. It was produced by a combination of the secretions of the murex and buccinum. In preparing the dye the buccinum was used last, the dye of the murex being necessary to render the colors fast, while the buccinum enlivened by its tint of red the dark hue of the murex. Sir H. Davy, on examining a rose-colored substance, found in the baths of Titus, which in its interior had a lustre approaching to that of carmine, considered it a specimen of the best Tyrian purple. The purpura, as mentioned in Pliny, was an amethyst or violet color.
Brown.—Ochra usta, burnt ochre.—The browns were ochres calcined, oxides of iron and manganese, and compounds of ochres and blacks.
Black.—Atramentum, or black, was of two sorts, natural and artificial. The natural was made from a black earth, or from the secretion of the cuttle-fish, sepia. The artificial was made of the dregs of wine carbonized, calcined ivory, or lamp-black. The atramentum indicum, mentioned by Pliny, was probably the Chinese Indian ink.
White.—The ordinary Greek white was melinum, an earth from the Isle of Melos; for fresco-painting the best was the African parœtonium. There was also a white earth of Eretria and the annularian white. Carbonate of lead, or white lead, cerussa, was apparently not much used by the ancient painters. It has not been found in any of the remains of painting in Roman ruins.
Methods of Painting.—There were two distinct classes of painting practiced by the ancients—in water colors and in wax, both of which were practiced in various ways. Of the former the principal were fresco, al fresco; and the various kinds of distemper (a tempera), with glue, with the white of egg, or with gums (a guazzo); and with wax or resins when these were rendered by any means vehicles that could be worked with water. Of the latter the principal was through fire, termed encaustic.
Fresco was probably little employed by the ancients for works of imitative art, but it appears to have been the ordinary method of simply coloring walls, especially amongst the Romans. Coloring al fresco, in which the colors were mixed simply in water, as the term implies, was applied when the composition of the stucco on the walls was still wet (udo tectorio), and on that account was limited to certain colors, for no colors except earths can be employed in this way.
The fresco walls, when painted, were covered with an encaustic varnish, both to heighten the colors and to preserve them from the injurious effects of the sun or the weather. Vitruvius describes the process as a Greek practice. When the wall was colored and dry, Punic wax, melted and tempered with a little oil, was rubbed over it with a hard brush (seta); this was made smooth and even by applying a cauterium or an iron pan, filled with live coals, over the surface, as near to it as was just necessary to melt the wax; it was then rubbed with a candle (wax) and a clean cloth. In encaustic painting the wax colors were burnt into the ground by means of a hot iron (called cauterium) or pan of hot coals being held near the surface of the picture. The mere process of burning in constitutes the whole difference between encaustic and the ordinary method of painting with wax colors.
We shall now say a few words with regard to the much canvassed question of painting or coloring statues. Its antiquity and universality admit of no doubt. Indeed, the practice of painting statues is a characteristic of a primitive and workmanship of clay or wood. It was a survival of the old religious practices of daubing the early statues of the gods with vermilion, and was done to meet the superstitious tastes of the uneducated. Statues for religious purposes may have been painted in obedience to a formula prescribed by religion, but statues as objects of art, on which the sculptor exhibited all his genius and taste, were unquestionably executed in the pure and uncolored marble alone. In the chryselephantine, or ivory statues of Jove and Minerva, by Phidias, art was made a handmaid to religion. Phidias himself would have preferred to have executed them in marble.
We may further remark that form, in its purest ideal, being the chief aim of sculpture, any application of color, which would detract from the purity and ideality of this purest of the arts, could never be agreeable to refined taste. Coloring sculpture and giving it a life-like reality is manifestly trenching on the province of painting, and so departing from the true principle of sculpture, which is to give form in its most perfect and idealized development. We must also consider that sculpture in marble, by its whiteness, is calculated for the display of light and shade. For this reason statues and bas-reliefs were placed either in the open light to receive the direct rays of the sun, or in underground places, or thermæ, where they received their light either from an upper window, or, by night, from the strong light of a lamp, the sculptor having for that purpose studied the effects of the shadows. It must also be remembered that the statues in Greek and Roman temples received their light from the upper part of the building, many of the temples being hypæthral, thus having the benefit of a top light, the sculptor’s chief aim. Color in these statues or bas-reliefs would have tended to mar the contrasts of light and shade, and blended them too much; for example, color a photograph of a statue, which exhibits a marked contrast of light and shade, and it will tend to confuse and blend the two. The taste for polychrome sculpture in the period of the decline of art was obviously but a returning to the primitive imperfection of art, when an attempt was made to produce illusion in order to please the uneducated taste of the vulgar.
The Romans derived their knowledge of painting from the Etruscans, their ancestors and neighbors; the first Grecian painters who came to Italy are said to have been brought over by Demaratus, the father of Tarquinius Priscus, King of Rome; at all events Etruria appears to have exercised extensive influence over the arts of Rome during the reign of the Tarquins. Tradition attributes to them the first works which were used to adorn the temples of Rome, and, according to Pliny, not much consideration was bestowed either on the arts or on the artists. Fabius, the first among the Romans, had some painting executed in the temple of Salus, from which he received the name of Pictor. The works of art brought from Corinth by Mummius, from Athens by Sulla, and from Syracuse by Marcellus, introduced a taste for paintings and statues in their public buildings, which eventually became an absorbing passion with many distinguished Romans. Towards the end of the republic Rome was full of painters. Julius Cæsar, Agrippa, Augustus, were among the earliest great patrons of artists. Suetonius informs us that Cæsar expended great sums in the purchase of pictures by the old masters. Under Augustus, Marcus Ludius painted marine subjects, landscape decorations, and historic landscape as ornamentation for the apartments of villas and country houses. He invented that style of decoration which we now call arabesque or grotesque. It spread rapidly, insomuch that the baths of Titus and Livia, the remains discovered at Cumæ, Pozzuoli, Herculaneum, Stabiæ, Pompeii, in short, whatever buildings about that date have been found in good preservation, afford numerous and beautiful examples of it. At this time, also, a passion for portrait painting prevailed; an art which flattered their vanity was more suited to the tastes of the Romans than the art which could produce beautiful and refined works similar to those of Greece. Portraits must have been exceedingly numerous; Varro made a collection of the portraits of 700 eminent men. Portraits, decorative and scene painting, seem to have engrossed the art. The example, or rather the pretensions, of Nero must also have contributed to encourage painting in Rome; but Roman artists were, however, but few in number; the victories of the consuls, and the rapine of the prætors, were sufficient to adorn Rome with all the master-pieces of Greece and Italy. They introduced the fashion of having a taste for the beautiful works of Greek art. At a later period, such was the corrupt state of taste, that painting was almost left to be practiced by slaves, and the painter was estimated by the quantity of work that he could do in a day.
The remains of painting found at Pompeii, Herculaneum, and in the baths of Titus, at Rome, are the only paintings which can give us any idea of the coloring and painting of the ancients, which, though they exhibit many beauties, particularly in composition, are evidently the works of inferior artists in a period of decline. At Pompeii there is scarcely a house the walls of which are not decorated with fresco paintings. The smallest apartments were lined with stucco, painted in the most brilliant and endless variety of colors, in compartments simply tinted with a light ground, surrounded by an ornamental margin, and sometimes embellished with a single figure or subject in the center, or at equal distances. These paintings are very frequently historical or mythological, but embrace every variety of subject, some of the most exquisite beauty. Landscape painting was never a favorite with the ancients, and if ever introduced in a painting, was subordinate. The end and aim of painting among the ancients was to represent and illustrate the myths of the gods, the deeds of heroes, and important historical events, hence giving all prominence to the delineation of the human form. Landscape, on the other hand, illustrated nothing, represented no important event deserving of record, and was thus totally without significance in a Grecian temple or pinacotheca. In an age of decline, as at Pompeii, it was employed for mere decorative purposes. Many architectural subjects are continually found in which it is easy to trace the true principles of perspective, but they are rather indicated than minutely expressed or accurately displayed; whereas in most instances a total want of the knowledge of this art is but too evident. Greek artists seem to have been employed; indeed, native painters were few, while the former everywhere abounded, and their superiority in design must have always insured them the preference.
The subjects of Roman mural paintings are usually Greek myths; in the composition and style we see Greek conception, modified by Roman influence. The style of drawing is rather dexterous than masterly; rapidity of execution seems to be more prized than faithful, conscientious representation of the truth of nature; the drawing is generally careless, and effects are sometimes produced by tricks and expedients, which belong rather to scene-painting than to the higher branches of art. It must not, however, be forgotten that the majority of these pictures were architectural decorations, not meant to be regarded as independent compositions, but as parts of larger compositions, in which they were inserted as in a frame. As examples of ancient coloring they are of the highest interest, and much may be learnt from them in reference to the technical materials and processes employed by ancient artists.