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PICTU´RA (γραφή, γραφική, ζῳγραφία), painting.

1. Definition of terms.

The word γράφω originally implies the engraving of signs of any kind, and from this it came to be used both for painting and writing: as in Greece the art of painting was known long before the introduction of writing, it is probable that the second meaning was derived from the first, the pictorial origin of writing being an obvious connexion. The same double usage was applied to γραφὴ and γράμμα: while γραφικὴ indicated painting as art in the abstract. As the representation of the living thing is the farthest removed from the mere signs which constitute writing, painting as distinguished from writing came to be called ζῳγραφία (ζῷα γράφειν) or ζωγραφική: with special names for the various branches of the art, as μεγαλογραφία, for large subjects; ῥωπογραφία, for trivial or miniature subjects; εἰκονογραφία, portraiture; and σκηνογραφία, scene-painting. In Latin we have not these distinctive terms, pingere and its derivatives (originally applied to embroidery) doing duty for all requirements.

It is evident that the rooted idea of the word γράφω includes both the elements of drawing and also that of colouring: of the two it seems natural to suppose that drawing is the earlier in point of origin, seeing that it forms the basis of painting: and this abstract idea is probably what we are intended to understand by the ancient legends of the origin of painting in [p. 2.390]Greece. These legends, to which we shall presently refer, seem to suggest that the earliest “paintings” were really only outline drawings,--a fact which is, however, not borne out by the evidence of the monuments. It has been suggested that what Pliny (35.15) alludes to as the earliest form of art,--“Monochrome painting,” monochromaton,--consisted in the filling in of such outline drawings with colour, and thus forming a silhouette, similar in idea to the paintings on the earliest vases. Donner, on the other hand, suggests that the art of writing preceded that of drawing; tablets of wax, pugillares, and the stilus may be traced, he says, back to the time of Homer. Pliny states (21.85) that the wax was coloured black with paper ash, and red with anchusa. From writing on these tablets people took to drawing: this, in Donner's view, is the explanation of the earliest form of art, Pliny's monochromaton. This explanation is obviously untenable: for one thing we have no evidence to show that such red and black drawings existed in early times: the theory that writing preceded drawing is contrary to all our preconceived notions of development; and, besides, another statement of Pliny (33.117; 35.64) proves that in his time monochromata meant something quite different, the pictures being executed in various tones of the same colour. Blümner suggests that the mere outline drawings should rather be called monogrammata, because μονόγραμμος is the term for a very lean man.

Another word which indicates outline rather than complete drawing is περιγραφή: and since outline must to a certain extent be said to underlie all design, it is further called διαγραφή, ὑπογραφή. Pollux gives σκιαγραφία, but in such terms as to leave it in doubt as to whether the word implies the actual shadow, or merely the outline of a shadow: in some instances it means certainly the outline of a shadow; more usually, when referring to the art of a good period, it applies to painting in strong light and shade, or is another expression for σκηνογραφία. A special word for a hasty, inefficient shadow outline or sketch is σκιαριφησμός. What we in painting call the “drawing” as opposed to the “colouring,” the Greeks called γραμμή: hence γραμμὰς ἑλκύειν, ἀποτίνειν, &c. (Blümner, iv. pp. 414-24).

The importance of deciding the exact application of these various terms will be seen when we approach the question of the early history of painting as given in the ancient authorities: where, as we shall see, there is good reason for supposing that the various stages of development as described by Pliny are partly at least based on his interpretations of the terms used in the Greek authorities which formed his sources of information.

In Latin, the art of drawing in the abstract was graphica, and the practice of it adumbrare or delineare: what we call outlining was circumscribere. The outline of a picture, or even the drawing, was linea (hence lineas ducere, lineamenta); outline drawing, linearis pictura.

For the practice of drawing, various materials were used: the most general would be the tablet of wood, which was covered with wax, and the stilus, γραφὶς or γραφεῖον: γραφὶς was also used for a fine brush, the penicillus, which was employed either on wood, such as box or cedar, or on parchment: the silver point seems alluded to in Pliny (33.98); and the usage of red pencil and of charcoal is likewise attested.

By the addition of colour, drawing becomes painting. For colouring matter, the ancients spoke of φάρμακον, medicamentum, pigmentum, as distinguished from χρῶμα, color, the actual colour prepared for use. Pollux speaks further of ἄνθη, χρώματα ἀνθηρά: a further distinction is made in the art writers between colores floridi and colores austeri. The laying on of colour is χρώζειν, χραίνειν (with compounds); also ἄνθεσι φαιδρύνειν. In a bad sense of “daubing,” καταποικίλλειν and ἐναλείφειν, inlinere: the Latin word, however, need not always signify the derogatory sense. Circumlinere is the working--up of the background from which the subject stands out.

For shading, Pollux gives σκίαν ὑποτυπώσασθαι or σκιάζειν. In artistic criticism we find lumen et umbra used in the modern sense: splendor, probably for strong gleaming lights or reflexion: τόνος, the “assistance of light and shade, perhaps the general ground tone of the picture:” ἁρμογή, commissurae et transitus colorum, the toning of one colour into another. These terms will give some idea of the kind of effects which an ancient art-critic would probably have had principally in his mind.

2. Technique.

With a view to a clearer understanding of the usage of terms in the descriptions which follow, it will be well to define first of all those terms mentioned in connexion with the various classes of ancient painting; to describe the technical processes which distinguish these classes; and to enumerate the materials used, as far as they can be identified either from ancient literature or from the actual monuments.

The most convenient division of the subject is that which depends on the ground upon which the painting is laid: the principal headings will be as follows, viz. Wall Painting, Easel Painting, and Encaustic. Of these the first two may be treated together, inasmuch as in both we have the employment of water-colour and the brush. The subject of encaustic, in which wax and a metal tool, the cestrum, are the distinguishing materials, involves numerous difficult and complicated questions, and will be best treated separately in connexion with the monuments which illustrate this branch of art.

For wall and easel painting the materials of the artist in antiquity were very much the same as those of a modern painter: of brushes, γραφεῖον, γραφίς, penicillus (or--um), he would have every variety at his disposal, the coarser ones made of bristles, saeta, the finer of a close-textured sponge; a larger piece of sponge would serve to erase errors or wash out the brush: a palette, or set of palettes, of which the existence is proved by numerous representations of ancient studios, but of which the ancient name is not known; and lastly, an easel precisely similar to those of to-day, called ὀκρίβας or κιλλίβας: the Latin equivalent is machina, but this word is also applied to the scaffold on which the fresco-painter worked.

3. Wall Painting.

The practice of decorating walls with coloured designs in fresco obtained in Greece long before the time at which actual [p. 2.391]authentic records may be said to begin. The excavations at Tiryns and Mycenae, which illustrate a civilisation of origin probably considerably earlier than the poems of Homer, have brought to light specimens of wall-painting which show us that at that period, whenever it was, artists on these sites were working in a technique very similar to that of the Egyptians. The walls were plastered with clay, and covered with a coating of lime; over this a design in spirited freehand has been drawn al fresco. In the Tiryns specimens five colours were used, as against six which are found in Egyptian art; but the omission of the green may here be merely accidental, and in point of fact the use of green seems to be indicated in the specimens found more recently at Mycenae. Of fresco-painting in Greece proper we hear nothing further until the time of Polygnotos: that it was kept up, however, in Italy at least, we know from the wall-paintings of the tombs in some of the early Etruscan sites, such as Veii, which must date from the end of the seventh century B.C.: some of these paintings show a decided connexion with Mycenaean art, both in the style and in the character of their ornamentation. It was not until the fifth century that the great historical compositions of Polygnotos and his contemporaries raised this art to its highest level; so that in this era we hear very little of any other kind of painting. In the fourth century, the work of the greater artists, such as Zeuxis and Parrhasios, lay almost entirely in the execution of easel pictures, and henceforward wall-decoration was reduced to a subordinate position, from which it never again rose.

In the literary accounts of ancient pictures it is often extremely difficult to decide whether the description refers to a wall-or an easel-picture, because the writers have no system of terminology to distinguish the two methods. The words πίναξ and tabula, which originally applied to an easel-painting on wood, came in course of time to be loosely applied to the general meaning of “picture,” without distinction of species; and to increase the difficulty, we know that the ancients both hung pictures on, and also let them into, their walls: so that γράφειν ἐπὶ τοίχου or ἐπὶ τοίχῳ can and certainly does mean any of these methods; on the other hand, it seems probable that τοιχογραφία is strictly only applied to fresco. The real distinction between fresco and other methods is in reality the fact that fresco demands a “fresh” or wet surface; and this is indicated by the expression ἐφ᾽ ὑγροῖς ζωγραφεῖν, udo (tectoriopingere or illinere.

The following account of the preparation of the wall and of the method of fresco-painting is taken from Blümner (iv. p. 432).

The groundwork for fresco-painting is formed by a wet stucco, κονίαμα or tectorium, laid on the wall. This stucco for fresco was specially prepared: both ancient literature and modern research show that the ancients expended greater care on this than we do in modern times. Pliny says that three layers of sand mortar and two of marble stucco were employed; but Vitruvius gives the process in fuller detail. The wall is first treated with a rough-cast of coarse mortar; then follow three layers of sand mortar, so arranged that with the aid of ruler, plummet, and square, the due level is preserved; each fresh layer being put on when the lower one is dry. On these three layers of sand mortar follow three of marble mortar (i. e. mortar mixed with pounded marble in such a way as to detach freely from the trowel), varying in degree from coarse to fine. This is pressed down and smoothed with wood; special care being taken that it should be durable and not liable to crack, and, above all things, that the colours laid on it while wet should bind firmly with the lime. For the adhesion of these colours depends on a chemical process, in which the water of the water-colours, combining with that already existing in the mortar, releases a part of the hydrate of lime (into which the lime in the mortar has changed by slaking); and pressing through all the layers of colour, after an interval returns to the surface; here it attracts to itself carbonic acid from the air, changes again into carbonic acid lime, and is deposited over the colours in the form of a thin crystal skin, which is hard to dissolve, and strengthens and protects them in such a way that washing (without friction) causes no injury.

The thickness of the mortar has yet another advantage. The modern fresco-painter, who works on a much thinner layer of mortar, is obliged every morning to have only just so much fresh mortar laid on as he expects to cover in the day: when he breaks off his work, he cuts away all that he has not painted on, and next morning the mason must bring his new mortar up to this mark. This system involves all sorts of inconveniences: the artist cannot work so freely as on a large space; the seams remain visible, and the new stucco has never the same surface as the old. The ancient method avoided these difficulties, since the thick mortar lasted damp much longer. The researches into the wall-paintings of Pompeii, where fresco is certainly used, show that the walls there are not made with so much care as Vitruvius prescribes; but they are nevertheless generally thicker and more carefully constructed than the modern examples.

On this surface the painting was laid with a brush and water-colours. Certain colours, however, do not suit the fresco method; in such cases, a binding medium was necessary which was otherwise not employed in fresco, such as milk or gum: thus, for purpurissum it is expressly stated that the ground must be painted al fresco with red sandyx or blue, and the purpurissum is laid on this with egg as a binding, a tempera. Another special process for cinnabar, which readily sets up chemical action and changes colour in sunlight, was the καῦσις, which will be described under Encaustic. In Pompeii the cinnabar does not seem to have undergone this treatment, and consequently changes colour rapidly in the sunlight. A peculiar process, which has not been rightly understood, is attributed by Pliny to Panaenus: in the decoration of the temple of Athene at Elis he is said to have mixed the stucco ground with milk and saffron; but whether the saffron had also binding properties does not appear.

4. Easel Pictures.

The generality of easel pictures (excluding of course those painted in the encaustic method) were probably executed on a [p. 2.392]dry ground a tempera in water-colours. The materials for this ground were various: the most usual was a thin slab of wood (πίναξ, πινάκιον, sometimes σανίς,
hide References (31 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (29):
    • Aristophanes, Lysistrata, 679
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1448b
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.164
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.60
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.152
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.80
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.25
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.28
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.22
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.6
    • Homer, Iliad, 10.265
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.5
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.9
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.15
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.51
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.58
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.60
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.64
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.66
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 9
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, 11
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 1, 6
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 13
    • Plutarch, Timoleon, 36
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (2):
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 3
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 32
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