Egyptian painting. The ancient Egyptians began painting about 5.000 years ago. They developed one of the first definite traditions in the history of the art. Egyptian artists painted on the walls of temples and palaces, but much of their finest work appears in tombs. Like other early peoples, the Egyptians believed that art was a magical way of transporting things of this world into a world people entered after death. Egyptian artists decorated tombs with frescoes showing persons and objects related to the life of the dead. Egyptian artists painted according to strict rules that hardly changed for thousands of years. The figures they drew look stiff. The heads of people in the painting always face sideways. The shoulders and body face to the front, and the feet paint to the side. Important persons are larger than the other people.
Artists painted tombs only for the benefit of the gods and the souls of the dead. The tombs were scaled and beautifully colored frescoes were intended never again to be seen.
Cretan painting. About 3000 B. C. - while Egyptian civilization was flourishing - another great civilization was developing on the island of Crete. The Cretans, a seafaring people, often came into contact with the Egyptians. The Cretans adopted some elements of Egyptians art, including the Egyptian way of drawing human figure. But the Cretan style
did not have the stiffness of the Egyptian style Cretan paintings are lively, and the figures in them seem to float and dance. More important. Cretan painters, unlike the Egyptians, were interested in life in this world. They used paintings to decorate buildings instead of concealing the paintings in tombs. Thus, Cretan art became a bridge between Egyptian art, which emphasized death, and ancient Greek and Roman art, which dealt with life.
Greek painting. The ancient Greeks made greater achievements in architecture and sculpture than in painting. Nearly all surviving Greek paintings appear on pottery. The Greeks made beautifully shaped pottery and painted it with scenes from everyday life and from stories about their gods and heroes.
Greek artists of the late 600's and the 500's B. C. Painted black figures on naturally red pottery. This method became known as the black figure style. A painter named Exekias was a master of the style. About 530 B. C. Greek artists developed the red figure style, the reverse of the black figure style. These artists painted the background of their pottery in black and let natural red show through to form the figures. The red figure painters, like the Greek sculptors of the same period, created extremely lifelike figures. This “ideal style” became the chief quality of the so-called classical art of the Greek and Romans.
Greek sculptors made realistic figures and indicated emotion by facial expression or bodily pose. This was the style copied by Roman sculptors and relearned by Renaissance sculptors. It served as the basic style for European sculpture until the late 1800's. The Greeks thought of their gods as being like people, and sculptors portrayed gods as people in such works as the “Greek God Poseidon” or “Zeus”. They showed people as godlike beings. The earliest important classical sculpture appeared on the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. The high point of the classical style is generally considered to be the sculptures on the Parthenon in Athens. Sculptures decorated sarcophagi with reliefs. Portrait sculpture also began during this period.
We know more about Roman painting than Greek painting because a wider selection of Roman paintings has survived. Roman artist
were strongly influenced by the Greeks. They gave the figures in their paintings the same lifelike quality. Roman artists added to the reality of their works by painting convincing illusions of depth, shade, shadow and reflected light. Some of the best examples of Roman painting have been Found in the ruins of the city of Pompeii. The house of two brothers named Vettius contains frescoes portraying stories about lxion, a mythical hero. These frescoes consist of elaborately designed painted panels.
Roman sculptures. The finest work of Roman sculptors was probably their mass-produced portrait sculpture. To meet the large demand for portrait busts, the Romans developed a set of standard symbols for hair, eyes, nose, and mouth. A student learned to carve by reproducing these details accurately, rather than by copying a living model. Art schools used this method of teaching until as recently as the 1940's.
The Romans were deeply religious, and many reliefs from altars show ceremonies or symbolic stories. A famous example of such sculpture is the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) in Rome.