Dear Cleo 18 09 05

Dearest Cleo

I hope you enjoyed your first day at your new school, it seems ages since we saw each other, but don’t worry I will see you after school tomorrow. I have been looking at the art of the Ancient Greeks.

When I started reading about Greek Art I thought whoops, where are the paintings? Well there are four panel paintings known as the Pitsa Panels, two of which are very fragmented and they were not discovered until 1932. The panel are of wood with a thin coat of gesso with mineral applied paints.

There are also maybe a couple of dozen wall paintings. All of these painted works date back to the archaic period of Greek Art, not the sort of stuff to inspire a Raphael or a Michelangelo.

We only know about Classic Greek paintings and the Classical Painters from the writings of Pliny, who extols the trompe l’oeil skills of Zeuxis and Parrhasios.

Figure 1 An example of Trompe l’oeil, “Fugint de la crítica” (1874) by Pere Borrell del Caso,

Trompe l’oeil is a technique where a painting appears life like in three dimensions as the example shown in figure 1, the particular problem with this is that it only really works from one particular viewpoint. Pliny would have us believe that Zeuxis’ painting had the ability to deceive a passing bird in this way, whilst Parrhasios could deceive a massed crowd. In the same writings Pliny has drawing discovered by the Maid of Corinth. Everybody loves a good fable but the absence of talking animals lends much credence to Pliny’s account.

So where was the Renaissance reborn from?

Looking at Greek pottery particularly the Red figure pottery you can see the development of overlapping forms, observed perspective, more natural poses and greater anatomical detail

Figure 2 An example of Red Figure pottery Attic Dinos

But then of course there was the Statuary, the sculptures that the Greeks left behind were magnificent. The Greek sculptors had separated the arms from the torso, separated the legs and given their statues natural poses that seemed as if were almost about to move. There were many statues available in Italy including Roman copies of Greek bronze and marble statues. Probably this was where the drawing from the cast originated, if it was good enough for the Renaissance masters then it was surely good enough for the pupils in their academies and apprenticeships.

I could fill many pages here with illustrations but I will restrict myself to three. The first is the Apollo Belvedere, I own a cast of the bust and I often sit and marvel at the sheer beauty of it. It was once the most famous sculpture in the world but that is a longer tale than I have space to tell here.

Figure 3 The Apollo Belvedere Roman copy of an earlier Greek Sculpture

Sculpture never really works in two dimensions you have to see it in real life or at least a full size cast to really appreciate its full grandeur. The statues that have come down to us are now the colour of the stone, marble or metal from which they are made, research has shown, however, that they were painted in realistic colours in ancient times.

My second choice is a Greek original the Goddess Nike, she currently lives on a staircase in the Louvre and she alone is worth the Eurostar fare to Paris to see her.

Figure 4 The Winged Victory of Samothrace

She is one of the few sculptures that survive as the Greek original rather than as a Roman copy, the Greeks it seems were as careless with their sculptures as they were with their paintings.

My final choice is the Lacoon, again this is a Roman copy of a Greek Original, the Royal Academy currently have a cast of the Lacoon on display amongst others, which I was lucky enough to see.

Figure 5 The Lacoon

I could go on, Greek sculpture is worth studying because it is great sculpture (Spivey 228) but I will finish here.

See you tomorrow after school,

My love as always

Mickos xx


Spivey. N.(1996) Understanding Greek Sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson.

Woodford. S. (2015) An introduction to Greek Art. London: Bloomsbury Press.

Visits to: The British Museum London, The Louvre Paris, Ny Glyptotek Copenhagen, Royal Academy casts London, Victoria and Albert Museum London, Florence, Ashmolean Museum Oxford

Wikipedia, Zeuxis, At: on 28 August 2018)

Kunze.D (2000) The contest of Zeuxis and Parrhasios, At: on 28 August 2018)

Bostock J. (1885) Pliny the Elder, Natural History, At: on 28 August 2018)

Wikipedia, Ancient Greek Art, At: on 28 August 2018)

Skanska. Z.(2016) Six ancient Greek sculptures Everyone should know, At: on 30 August 2018)

Wikipedia, Trompe l’oeil, At: on 30 August 2018)