6. Paintings in the Lesche of the Cnidians at Delphi.
--Some of the same causes which led to the sudden development of art at Athens, in the age following that of the Persian wars, gave a similar impulse to its advancement about the same time in other places, especially at those two centres of the Greek union and religion, Olympia and Delphi.
The great works at the former place have been spoken of under PHEIDIAS ; those at the latter appear to have been executed not only about the same time (or rather, perhaps, a little earlier), but also by Athenian artists chiefly. We know, for example, that the statues in the pediments of the temple at Delphi were made by PRAXIAS of Athens, the disciple of Calamis, and finished, after his death, by ANDROSTHENES, the disciple of Eucadmus (Paus. 10.19.3
These artists must have been contemporary with Pheidias and Polygnotus ; and there are some other indications of the employment of Athenian artists at Delphi about the same period (Müller, Phid.
p. 28, n. y.). Taking, then, these facts in connection with the absence of any mention of Polygnotus's having been engaged on the great works of Pericles and Pheidias (except the Propylaea, at a later period), it may fairly be supposed that, after the death of his patron, Cimon, he was glad to accept the invitation, which the fame of his works at Athens caused him to receive, to unite with other Athenian artists in the decoration of the temple at Delphi.
The people who gave him the commission were the Cnidians.
It was customary for the different Greek cities to show their piety and patriotism, not only by enriching the temple at Delphi with valuable gifts, but by embellishing its precincts with edifices, chiefly treasuries to contain their gifts. Among the rest, the Cnidians had built at Delphi both a treasury, and one of those enclosed courts, or halls, which were called λέσχαι
(places for conversation), which existed in considerable numbers in various Greek cities, and which were especially attached to the temples of Apollo.
The most famous of all of them was this Lesche of the Cnidians at Delphi, which seems to have been a quadrangular or oblong court or peristyle, surrounded by colonnades, very much like our cloisters.
It was the walls of the two principal colonnades of this building (those on the right and left of a person entering) that Polygnotus was employed by the Cnidians to paint : and it is very interesting to observe the parallel between the most renowned works of the early stages of the art in ancient Greece and modern Italy,--the paintings of Polygnotus in the Lesche at Delphi, and those ascribed to Andrea Orcagna, in the Campo Santo at Pisa.
Polygnotus took his subjects from the whole cycle of the epic poetry which described the wars of Troy, and the return of the Greek chieftains.
There were two paintings, or rather series of paintings ; the one upon the wall on the right hand ; the other opposite to this, upon the wall on the left hand.
The former represented, according to Pausanias (10.25.2
), the taking of Troy, and the Grecian fleet loosing from the shores of Ilium to return home; the latter, the descent of Ulysses into the lower world, which subject seems to have been treated with especial reference to the mysteries.
In both pictures the figures seem to have been arranged in successive groups, and the groups, again, in two or more lines above each other, without any attempt at perspective, and with names affixed to the several figures. To the picture on the right hand was affixed the following epigram, which was ascribed to Simonides : --
γράψε Πολύγνωτος, Θάσιος γένος, Ἀγλαοφῶντος
υἱὸς, περθομένην Ἰλίου ἀκρόπολιν.
Pausanias devotes seven chapters to the description of these paintings (10.25-31); from which, however, we gain little more than a catalogue of names.
The numerous and difficult questions which arise, respecting the succession and grouping of the figures, the manner in which each of them was represented, the aesthetical and symbolical significations of the pictures, and so forth, have furnished a wide field of discussion for artists and archaeologists.
The most important works upon the subject are the following :--Diderot, Correspond.
vol. iii. pp. 270, f ed. 1831; Riepenhausen, F. et J., Peintures de Polygnote à Delphes, dessinées et yravées d'après la Descr. de Pausanias,
1826, 1829, comp. Götting. Gol. Anzeig.
1827, p. 1309; Göthe, Werke,
vol. xliv. pp. 97, f., old ed., vol. xxxi. p. 118, ed. 1840 ; Böttiger, pp. 296, f.; Otto Jahn, Die Gemählde des Polygnotos in der Lesche zu Delphi,
Kiel, 1841 ; and, concerning the general subject of the Greek representations of the lower world, on ancient vases, compared with the description of Polygnotus's second picture, see Gerhard's Archäologische Zeitung,
1843, 1844, Nos. xi.--xv. and Plates 11-15.