The Fine Arts : Architecture, Sculpture, Painting – Beacon Lights of History, Volume III : Ancient Achievements by John Lord
Governments and Laws : Greek and Roman Jurisprudence
The Fine Arts : Architecture, Sculpture, Painting
Ancient Scientific Knowledge : Astronomy, Geography
Material Life of the Ancients : Mechanical and Useful Arts
The Military Art : Weapons, Engines, Discipline
Cicero : Roman Literature
Cleopatra : The Woman of Paganism
Pagan Society : Glory and Shame
Beacon Lights of History, Volume III : Ancient Achievements
The Temple of Karnak
The Doric order
The Ionic order
The Corinthian order
Statue of Zeus
The decline of art
The Fine Arts : Architecture, Sculpture, Painting
My object in the present lecture is not a criticism of the principles of art so much as an enumeration of its various forms among the ancients, to show that in this department of civilization they reached remarkable perfection, and were not inferior to modern Christian nations.
The first development of art among all the nations of antiquity was in architecture. The earliest buildings erected were houses to protect people from heat, cold, and the fury of the elements of Nature. At that remote period much more attention was given to convenience and practical utility than to beauty or architectural effect. The earliest houses were built of wood, and stone was not employed until temples and palaces arose. Ordinary houses were probably not much better than log-huts and hovels, until wealth was accumulated by private persons.
The earliest monuments of enduring magnificence were the temples of powerful priests and the palaces of kings; and in Egypt and Assyria these appear earliest, as well as most other works showing civilization. Perhaps the first great monument which arose after the deluge of Noah was the Tower of Babel, built probably of brick. It was intended to be very lofty, but of its actual height we know nothing, nor of its style of architecture. Indeed, we do not know that it was ever advanced beyond its foundations; yet there are some grounds for supposing that it was ultimately finished, and became the principal temple of the Chaldaean metropolis.
From the ruins of ancient monuments we conclude that architecture received its earliest development in Egypt, and that its effects were imposing, massive, and grand. It was chiefly directed to the erection of palaces and temples, the ruins of which attest grandeur and vastness. They were built of stone, in blocks so huge and heavy that even modern engineers are at loss to comprehend how they could have been transported and erected. All the monuments of the Pharaohs are wonders, especially such as appear in the ruins of Karnak,–a temple formerly designated as that of Jupiter Ammon. It was in the time of Sesostris, or Rameses the Great, the first of the Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty, that architecture in Egypt reached its greatest development. Then we find the rectangular-cut blocks of stone in parallel courses, the heavy pier, the cylindrical column with its bell-shaped capital, and the bold and massive rectangular architraves extending from pier to pier and column to column, surmounted by a deep covered coping or cornice.
The imposing architecture of Egypt was chiefly owing to the impressive vastness of the public buildings. It was not produced by beauty of proportion or graceful embellishments; it was designed to awe the people, and kindle sentiments of wonder and astonishment. So far as this end was contemplated it was nobly reached; even to this day the traveller stands in admiring amazement before those monuments that were old three thousand years ago. No structures have been so enduring as the Pyramids; no ruins are more extensive and majestic than those of Thebes. The temple of Karnak and the palace of Rameses the Great were probably the most imposing ever built by man. This temple was built of blocks of stone seventy feet in length, on a platform one thousand feet long and three hundred wide, with pillars sixty feet in height. But this and other structures did not possess that unity of design which marked the Grecian temples. Alleys of colossal sphinxes formed the approach. At Karnak the alley was six thousand feet long, and before the main body of the edifice stood two obelisks commemorative of the dedication. The principal structures of Egyptian temples do not follow the straight line, but begin with pyramidal towers which flank the gateways; then follow, usually, a court surrounded with colonnades, subordinate temples, and houses for the priests. A second pylon, or pyramidal tower, leads to the interior and most considerable part of the temple,–a portico inclosed with walls, which receives light only through the entablature or openings in the roof. Adjoining this is the cella of the temple, without columns, enclosed by several walls, often divided into various small chambers with monolithic receptacles for idols or mummies or animals. The columns stand within the walls. The colonnade is not, as among the Greeks, an expansion of the temple; it is merely the wall with apertures. The walls, composed of square blocks, are perpendicular only on the inside, and bevelled externally, so that the thickness at the bottom sometimes amounts to twenty-four feet; thus the whole building assumes a pyramidal form, the fundamental principle of Egyptian architecture. The columns are more slender than the early Doric, are placed close together, and have bases of circular plinths; the shaft diminishes upward, and is ornamented with perpendicular or oblique furrows, but not fluted like Grecian columns. The capitals are of the bell form, ornamented with all kinds of foliage, and have a narrow but high abacus. They abound with sculptured decorations, the designs of which were borrowed from the vegetation of the country. The highest of the columns of the temple of Luxor is five and a quarter times the greatest diameter.
But no monuments have ever excited so much curiosity and wonder as the Pyramids, not in consequence of any particular beauty or ingenuity in their construction, but because of their immense size and unknown age. None but sacerdotal monarchs would ever have erected them; none but a fanatical people would ever have toiled upon them. We do not know for what purpose they were raised, unless as sepulchres for kings. They are supposed to have been built at a remote antiquity, between two thousand and three thousand years before Christ. Lepsius thought that the oldest of these Pyramids were built more than three thousand years before Christ. The Pyramid of Cheops, at Memphis, covers a square whose side is seven hundred and sixty-eight feet, and rises into the air nearly five hundred feet. It is a solid mass of stone, which has suffered less from time than the mountains near it. Possibly it stands over an immense substructure, in which may yet be found the lore of ancient Egypt; it may even prove to be the famous labyrinth of which Herodotus speaks, built by the twelve kings of Egypt. According to this author, one hundred thousand men worked on this monument for forty years.
The palaces of the kings are mere imitations of the temples, their only difference of architecture being that their rooms are larger and in greater numbers. Some think that the famous labyrinth was a collective palace of many rulers.
Of Babylonian architecture we know little beyond what the Hebrew Scriptures and ancient authors tell us. But though nothing survives of ancient magnificence, we know that a city whose walls, according to Herodotus, were eighty-seven feet in thickness, three hundred and thirty-seven in height, and sixty miles in circumference, and in which were one hundred gates of brass, must have had considerable architectural splendor. This account of Babylon, however, is probably exaggerated, especially as to the height of the walls. The tower of Belus, the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Obelisk of Semiramis were probably wonderful structures, certainly in size, which is one of the conditions of architectural effect.
The Tyrians must have carried architecture to considerable perfection, since the Temple of Solomon, one of the most magnificent in the ancient world, was probably built by artists from Tyre. It was not remarkable for size,–it was, indeed, very small,–but it had great splendor of decoration. It was of quadrangular outline, erected upon a solid platform of stone, and bearing a striking resemblance to the oldest Greek temples, like those of Aegina and Paestum. The portico of the Temple as rebuilt by Herod was one hundred and eighty feet high, and the Temple itself was entered by nine gates, thickly coated with silver and gold. The inner sanctuary was covered on all sides with plates of gold, and was dazzling to the eye. The various courts and porticos and palaces with which it was surrounded gave to it a very imposing effect.
Architectural art in India was not so impressive and grand as in Egypt, and was directed chiefly to the erection of temples. Nor is it of very ancient date. There is no stone architecture now remaining in India, according to Sir James Fergusson, older than two and a half centuries before Christ; and this is in the form of Buddhist temples, generally traced to the great Asoka, who reigned from 272 B.C. to 236 B.C., and who established Buddhism as a state religion. There were doubtless magnificent buildings before his time, but they were of wood, and have all perished. We know, however, nothing about them.
The Buddhist temples were generally excavated out of the solid rock, and only the façades were ornamented. These were not larger than ordinary modern parochial churches, and do not give the impression of extraordinary magnificence. Besides these rock-hewn temples in India there remain many examples of a kind of memorial monument called stupas, or topes. The earliest of these are single columns; but the later and more numerous are in the shape of cones or circular mounds, resembling domes, rarely exceeding one hundred feet in diameter. Around the apex of each was a balustrade, or some ornamental work, about six feet in diameter. These topes remind one of the Pantheon at Rome in general form, but were of much smaller size. They were built on a stone basement less than fifty feet in height, above which was the brickwork. In process of time they came to resemble pyramidal towers rather than rounded domes, and were profusely ornamented with carvings. The great peculiarity of all Indian architectural monuments is excessive ornamentation rather than beauty of proportion or grand effect.
In course of time, however, Indian temples became more and more magnificent; and a Chinese traveller in the year 400 A.D. describes one in Gaudhava as four hundred and seventy feet high, decorated with every sort of precious substance. Its dome, as it appears in a bas-relief, must have rivalled that of St. Peter’s at Rome; but no trace of it now remains. The topes of India, which were numerous, indicate that the Hindus were acquainted with the arch, both pointed and circular, which was not known to the Egyptians or the Greeks. The most important of these buildings, in which are preserved valuable relics, are found in the Punjab. They were erected about twenty years before Christ. In size, they are about one hundred and twenty-seven feet in diameter. Connected with the circular topes are found what are called rails, surrounding the topes, built in the form of rectangles, with heavy pillars. One of the most interesting of these was found to be two hundred and seventy-five feet long, having square pillars twenty-two feet in height, profusely carved with scenes from the life of Buddha, topped by capitals in the shape of elephants supporting a succession of horizontal stone beams, all decorated with a richness of carving unknown in any other country. The Amravati rail, one of the finest of the ancient monuments of India, is found to be one hundred and ninety-five by one hundred and sixty-five feet, having octagonal pillars ornamented with the most elaborate carvings.
From an architectural point of view, the rails were surpassed by the chaityas, or temple-caves, in western India. These were cut in the solid rock. Some one thousand different specimens are to be found. The facades of these caves are perfect, generally in the form of an arch, executed in the rock with every variety of detail, and therefore imperishable without violence. The process of excavation extended through ten centuries from the time of Asoka; and the interiors as well as the façades were highly ornamented with sculptures. The temple-caves are seldom more than one hundred and fifty feet deep and fifty feet in width, and the roofs are supported by pillars like the interior of Gothic cathedrals, some of which are of beautiful proportions with elaborated capitals. Though these rock-hewn temples are no larger than ordinary Christian churches, they are very impressive from the richly decorated carvings; they were lighted from a single opening in the façade, sometimes in the shape of a horseshoe.
Besides these chaityas, or temples, there are still more numerous viharas, or monasteries, found in India, of different dates, but none older than the third century before Christ. They show a central hall, surrounded on three sides by cells for the monks. On the fourth side is an open verandah; facing this is generally a shrine with an image of Buddha. These edifices are not imposing unless surrounded by galleries, as some were, supported by highly decorated pillars. The halls are constructed in several stories with heavy masonry, in the shape of pyramids adorned with the figures of men and animals. One of these halls in southern India had fifteen hundred cells. The most celebrated was the Nalanda monastery, founded in the first century by Nagarjuna, which accommodated ten thousand priests, and was enclosed by a wall measuring sixteen hundred feet by four hundred. It was to Central India what Mount Casino was to Italy, and Cluny was to France, in the Middle Ages,–the seat of learning and art.
It was not until the Mohammedan conquest in India that architecture received a new impulse from the Saracenic influence. Then arose the mosques, minarets, and palaces which are a wonder for their magnificence, and in which are seen the influence of Greek art as well as that of India. There is an Oriental splendor in these palaces and mosques which has called out the admiration of critics, although it is different from those types of beauty which we are accustomed to praise. But these later edifices were erected in the Middle Ages, coeval with the cathedrals of Europe, and therefore do not properly come under the head of ancient art, in which the ancient Hindus, whether of Aryan or Turanian descent, did not particularly excel. It was in matters of religion and philosophy that the Hindus felt most interest, even as the ancient Jews thought more of theology than of art and science.
Architecture, however, as the expression of genius and high civilization, was carried to perfection only by the Greeks, who excelled in so many things. It was among the ancient Dorians, who descended from the mountains of northern Greece eighty years after the fall of Troy, that architectural art worthy of the name first appeared. The Pelasgi erected Cyclopean structures fifteen hundred years before Christ, as seen in the massive walls of the Acropolis at Athens, constructed of huge blocks of hewn stone, and in the palaces of the princes of the heroic times. The lintel of the doorway of the Mycenaean treasury is composed of a single stone twenty-seven feet long and sixteen broad. But these edifices, which aimed at splendor and richness merely, were deficient in that simplicity and harmony which have given immortality to the temples of the Dorians. In this style of architecture everything was suitable to its object, and was grand and noble. The great thickness of the columns, the beautiful entablature, the ample proportion of the capital, the great horizontal lines of the architrave and cornice predominating over the vertical lines of the columns, the severity of geometrical forms produced for the most part by straight lines, gave an imposing simplicity to the Doric temple.
How far the Greek architects were indebted to the Egyptian we cannot tell, for though columns are found amid the ruins of the Egyptian temples, they are of different shape from any made by the Greeks. In the structures of Thebes we find both the tumescent and the cylindrical columns, from which amalgamation might have been produced the Doric column. The Greeks seized on beauty wherever they found it, and improved upon it. The Doric column was not probably an entirely new creation, but shaped after models furnished by the most original of all the ancient nations, even the Egyptians. The Doric temples were uniform in plan. The columns were fluted, and were generally about six diameters in height; they diminished gradually upward from the base, with a slightly con vexed swelling; they were surmounted by capitals regularly proportioned according to their height. The entablature which the column supported was also of a certain number of diameters in height. So regular and perfect was the plan of the temple, that “if the dimensions of a single column and the proportion the entablature should bear to it were given to two individuals acquainted with the style, with directions to compose a temple, they would produce designs exactly similar in size, arrangement, and general proportions.” The Doric order possessed a peculiar harmony, but taste and skill were nevertheless necessary in order to determine the number of diameters a column should have, and also the height of the entablature.
The Doric was the favorite order of European Greece for one thousand years, and also of her colonies in Sicily and Magna Graecia. It was used exclusively until after the Macedonian conquest, and was chiefly applied to temples. The massive temples of Paestum, the colossal magnificence of the Sicilian ruins, and the more elegant proportions of the Athenian structures, like the Parthenon and Temple of Theseus, show the perfection of the Doric architecture. Although the general style of all the Doric temples is so uniform, hardly two temples were alike. The earlier Doric was more massive; the later was more elegant, and its edifices were rich in sculptured decorations. Nothing could surpass the beauty of a Doric temple in the time of Pericles. The stylobate, or general base upon which the columnar story stood, from two thirds to a whole diameter of a column in height, was built in three equal courses, which gradually receded upward and formed steps, as it were, of a grand platform. The column, simply set upon the stylobate, without base or pedestal, was from four to six diameters in height, with twenty flutes, having a capital of half a diameter. On this rested the entablature, two column-diameters in height, which was divided into architrave (lower mouldings), frieze (broad middle space), and cornice (upper mouldings). The great beauty of the temple was the portico in front,–a forest of columns supporting the triangular pediment, about a diameter and a half to the apex, making an angle at the base of about fourteen degrees. From the pediment projects the cornice, while in the apex and at the base of the flat three-cornered gable are sculptured ornaments, generally the figures of men or animals. The whole outline of columns supporting the entablature is graceful, while the variety of light and shade arising from the arrangement of mouldings and capitals produces a grand effect.
The Parthenon, the most beautiful specimen of the Doric, has never been equalled, and it still stands august in its ruins, the glory of the old Acropolis and the pride of Athens. It was built of white Pentelic marble, and rested on a basement of limestone. It was two hundred and twenty-seven feet in length, one hundred and one in breadth, and sixty-five in height, surrounded with forty-eight fluted columns, six feet and two inches at the base and thirty-four feet in height, while within the peristyle, at either end, was an interior range of columns standing before the end of the cella. The frieze and the pediment were elaborately ornamented with reliefs and statues, and the cella, within and without, was adorned with the choicest sculptures of Phidias, The remains of the exquisite sculptures of the pediment and the frieze were in the early part of this century brought from Greece by Lord Elgin, purchased by the English government, and placed in the British Museum, where, preserved from further dilapidation, they stand as indisputable evidence of the perfection of Greek art. The grandest adornment of the temple was the colossal statue of Minerva in the eastern apartment of the cella, forty feet in height, composed of gold and ivory; the inner walls of the chamber were decorated with paintings, and the whole temple was a repository of countless treasure. But the Parthenon, so regular to the eye with its vertical, oblique, and horizontal lines, was curved in every line, with the exception of the gable,–with its entablature, architrave, frieze, and cornice, together with the basement, all arched upwards; and even the columns had a slight convexity of vertical line, amounting to 1/550 of the entire height of shaft, though so slightly as not to be perceptible. These curved lines gave to the structure a peculiar grace which cannot be imitated, as well as an effect of solidity.
Nearly coeval with the Doric was the Ionic order, invented by the Asiatic Greeks, still more graceful, though not so imposing. The Acropolis is a perfect example of this order. The column is nine diameters in height, with a base, while the capital is more ornamented than the Doric. The shaft is fluted with twenty-four flutes and alternate fillets (flat longitudinal ridges), and the fillet is about a quarter the width of the flute. The pediment is flatter than that of the Doric order, and more elaborate. The great distinction of the Ionic column is a base, and a capital formed with volutes (spiral scrolls), the shaft also being more slender. Vitruvius, the greatest authority among the ancients in architecture, says that “the Greeks, in inventing these two kinds of columns, imitated in the one the naked simplicity and dignity of man, and in the other the delicacy and ornaments of woman; the base of the Ionic was the imitation of sandals, and the volutes of ringlets.” The discoveries of many of the Ionic ornamentations among the remains of Assyrian architecture indicate the Oriental source of the Ionic ideas, just as the Doric style seems to have originated in Egypt. The artistic Greeks, however, always simplified and refined upon their masters.
The Corinthian order exhibits a still greater refinement and elegance than the other two, and was introduced toward the end of the Peloponnesian War. Its peculiarity consists in columns with foliated capitals modelled after the acanthus leaf, and still greater height, about ten diameters, surmounted with a more ornamented entablature. Of this order the most famous temple in Greece was that of Minerva at Tegea, built by Scopas of Paros, but destroyed by fire four hundred years before Christ.
Nothing more distinguished Greek architecture than the variety, the grace, and the beauty of the mouldings, generally in eccentric curves. The general outline of the moulding is a gracefully flowing cyma, or wave, concave at one end and convex at the other, like an Italic f, the concavity and convexity being exactly in the same curve, according to the line of beauty which Hogarth describes.
The most beautiful application of Greek architecture was in the temples, which were very numerous and of extraordinary grandeur, long before the Persian War. Their entrance was always from the west or the east. They were built either in an oblong or round form, and were mostly adorned with columns. Those of an oblong form had columns either in the front alone, or in the eastern and western fronts, or on all the four sides. They generally had porticos attached to them, and were without windows, receiving their light from the door or from above. The friezes were adorned with various sculptures, as were sometimes the pediments, and no expense was spared upon them. The most important part of the temple was the cell (cella, or temple proper, a square chamber), in which the statue of the deity was kept, generally surrounded with a balustrade. In front of the cella was the vestibule, and in the rear or back a chamber in which the treasures of the temple were kept. Names were applied to the temples as well as to the porticos, according to the number of columns in the portico at either end of the temple,–such as the tetrastyle (four columns in front), or hexastyle (when there were six). There were never more than ten columns across the front. The Parthenon had eight, but six was the usual number. It was the rule to have twice as many columns along the sides as in front. Some of the temples had double rows of columns on all sides, like that of Diana at Ephesus and of Quirinus at Rome. The distance between the columns varied from one diameter and a half to four diameters. About five eighths of a Doric temple were occupied by the cella, and three eighths by the portico.
That which gives to the Greek temples so much simplicity and harmony,–the great elements of beauty in architecture,–is the simple outline in parallelogrammic and pyramidal forms, in which the lines are uninterrupted through their entire length. This simplicity and harmony are more apparent in the Doric than in any of the other orders, but pertain to all the Grecian temples of which we have knowledge. The Ionic and Corinthian, or the voluted and foliated orders, do not possess that severe harmony which pervades the Doric; but the more beautiful compositions are so consummate that they will ever be taken as models of study.
There is now no doubt that the exteriors of the Grecian temples were ornamented in color,–perhaps with historical pictures, etc.,–although as the traces have mostly disappeared it is impossible to know the extent or mode of decoration. It has been thought that the mouldings also may have been gilded or colored, and that the background of the sculptures had some flat color laid on as a relief to the raised figures. We may be sure, however it was done, that the effect was not gaudy or crude, but restrained within the limits of refinement and good taste by the infallible artistic instinct of those masters of the beautiful.
It is not the magnitude of the Greek temples and other works of art which most impresses us. It is not for this that they are important models; it is not for this that they are copied and reproduced in all the modern nations of Europe. They were generally small compared with the temples of Egypt, and with the vast dimensions of Roman amphitheatres; only three or four would compare in size with a Gothic cathedral,–the Parthenon, the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens, and the Temple of Diana at Ephesus; even the Pantheon at Rome is small, compared with the later monuments of the Caesars. The traveller is always disappointed in contemplating the ruins of Greek buildings so far as size is concerned. But it is their matchless proportions, their severe symmetry, the grandeur of effect, the undying beauty, the graceful form which impress us, and make us feel that they are perfect. By the side of the Colosseum they are insignificant in magnitude; they do not cover acres, like the baths of Caracalla. Yet who has copied the Flavian amphitheatre; who erects an edifice after the style of the Thermae? All artists, however, copy the Parthenon. That, and not the colossal monuments of the Caesars, reappears in the capitals of Europe, and stimulates the genius of a Michael Angelo or a Christopher Wren.
The flourishing period of Greek architecture was during the period from Pericles to Alexander,–one hundred and thirteen years. The Macedonian conquest introduced more magnificence and less simplicity. The Roman conquest accelerated the decline in severe taste, when different orders began to be used indiscriminately.
In this state the art passed into the hands of the masters of the world, and they inaugurated a new era in architecture. The art was still essentially Greek, although the Romans derived their first knowledge from the Etruscans. The Cloaca Maxima, or Great Sewer, was built during the reign of the second Tarquin,–the grandest monument of the reign of the kings. It is not probable that temples and other public buildings in Rome were either beautiful or magnificent until the conquest of Greece, after which Grecian architects were employed. The Romans adopted the Corinthian style, which they made even more ornamental; and by the successful combination of the Etruscan arch with the Grecian column they laid the foundation of a new and original style, susceptible of great variety and magnificence. They entered into architecture with the enthusiasm of their teachers, but in their passion for novelty lost sight of the simplicity which is the great fascination of a Doric temple. Says Memes:–
“They [the Romans] deemed that lightness and grace were to be attained not so much by proportion between the vertical and the horizontal as by the comparative slenderness of the former. Hence we see a poverty in Roman architecture in the midst of profuse ornament. The great error was a constant aim to lessen the diameter while they increased the elevation of the columns. Hence the massive simplicity and severe grandeur of the ancient Doric disappear in the Roman, the characteristics of the order being frittered down into a multiplicity of minute details.”
When the Romans used the Doric at all, they used a base for the column, which was never done at Athens. They also altered the Doric capital, which cannot be improved. Again, most of the Grecian Doric temples were peripteral,–surrounded with pillars on all the sides. But the Romans built with porticos on one front only, which had a greater projection than the Grecian. They generally were projected three columns, while the Greek portico had usually but a single row. Many of the Roman temples are circular, like the Pantheon, which has a portico of eight columns projected to the depth of three. Nor did the Romans construct hypaethral or uncovered temples with internal columns, like the Greeks. The Pantheon is an exception, since the dome has an open eye; and one great ornament of this beautiful structure is in the arrangement of internal columns placed in the front of niches, composed of antae, or pier-formed ends of walls, to carry an entablature round under an attic on which the cupola rests. The Romans also adopted coupled columns, broken and recessed entablatures, and pedestals, which are considered blemishes. They again paid more attention to the interior than to the exterior decoration of their palaces and baths,–as we may infer from the ruins of Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli and the excavations of Pompeii.
The pediments (roof-angles) used in Roman architectural works are steeper than those made by the Greeks, varying in inclination from eighteen to twenty-five degrees, instead of fourteen. The mouldings are the same as the Grecian in general form, although they differ from them in contour; they are less delicate and graceful, but were used in great profusion. Roman architecture is overdone with ornament, every moulding carved, and every straight surface sculptured with foliage or historical subjects in relief. The ornaments of the frieze consist of foliage and animals, with a variety of other things. The great exuberance of ornament is considered a defect, although when applied to some structures it is exceedingly beautiful. In the time of the first Caesars Roman architecture had, from the huge size of the buildings, a character of grandeur and magnificence. Columns and arches appeared in all the leading public buildings,–columns generally forming the external and arches the internal construction. Fabric after fabric arose on the ruins of others. The Flavii supplanted the edifices of Nero, which ministered to debauchery, by structures of public utility.
The Romans invented no new principle in architecture, unless it be the arch, which was known, though not practically applied, by the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Greeks. The Romans were a practical and utilitarian people, and needed for their various structures greater economy of material than was compatible with large blocks of stone, especially for such as were carried to great altitudes. The arch supplied this want, and is perhaps the greatest invention ever made in architecture. No instance of its adoption occurs in the construction of Greek edifices before Greece became a part of the Roman empire. Its application dates back to the Cloaca Maxima, and may have been of Etrurian invention. Some maintain that Archimedes of Sicily was the inventor of the arch; but to whomsoever the glory of the invention is due, it is certain that the Romans were the first of European nations to make a practical application of its wonderful qualities. It enabled them to rear vast edifices with the humblest materials, to build bridges, aqueducts, sewers, amphitheatres, and triumphal arches, as well as temples and palaces. The merits of the arch have never been lost sight of by succeeding generations, and it is an essential element in the magnificent Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Its application extends to domes and cupolas, to floors and corridors and roofs, and to various other parts of buildings where economy of material and labor is desired. It was applied extensively to doorways and windows, and is an ornament as well as a utility. The most imposing forms of Roman architecture may be traced to a knowledge of the properties of the arch, and as brick was more extensively used than any other material, the arch was invaluable. The imperial palace on Mount Palatine, the Pantheon (except its portico and internal columns), the temples of Peace, of Venus and Rome, and of Minerva Medica, were of brick. So were the great baths of Titus, Caracalla, and Diocletian, the villa of Hadrian, the city walls, the villa of Mecaenas at Tivoli, and most of the palaces of the nobility,–although, like many of the temples, they were faced with stone. The Colosseum was of travertine, a cheap white limestone, and faced with marble. It was another custom to stucco the surface of brick walls, as favorable to decorations. In consequence of the invention of the arch, the Romans erected a greater variety of fine structures than either the Greeks or Egyptians, whose public edifices were chiefly confined to temples. The arch entered into almost every structure, public or private, and superseded the use of long stone-beams, which were necessary in the Grecian temples, as also of wooden timbers, in the use of which the Romans were not skilled, and which do not really pertain to architecture: an imposing edifice must always be constructed of stone or brick. The arch also enabled the Romans to economize in the use of costly marbles, of which they were very fond, as well as of other stones. Some of the finest columns were made of Egyptian granite, very highly polished.
The extensive application of the arch doubtless led to the deterioration of the Grecian architecture, since it blended columns with arcades, and thus impaired the harmony which so peculiarly marked the temples of Athens and Corinth; and as taste became vitiated with the decline of the empire, monstrous combinations took place, which were a great fall from the simplicity of the Parthenon and the interior of the Pantheon.
But whatever defects marked the age of Diocletian and Constantine, it can never be questioned that the Romans carried architecture to a perfection rarely attained in our times. They may not have equalled the severe simplicity of their teachers the Greeks, but they surpassed them in the richness of their decorations, and in all buildings designed for utility, especially in private houses and baths and theatres.
The Romans do not seem to have used other than semicircular arches. The Gothic, or Pointed, or Christian architecture, as it has been variously called, was the creation of the Middle Ages, and arose almost simultaneously in Europe after the first Crusade, so that it would seem to be of Eastern origin. But it was a graft on the old Roman arch, in the curve of the ellipse rather than the circle.
Aside from this invention of the arch, to which we are indebted for the most beautiful ecclesiastical structures ever erected, we owe everything in architecture to the Greeks and Romans. We have found out no new principles which were not known to Vitruvius. No one man was the inventor or creator of the wonderful structures which ornamented the cities of the ancient world. We have the names of great architects, who reared various and faultless models, but they all worked upon the same principles, and these can never be subverted; so that in architecture the ancients are our schoolmasters, whose genius we revere the more we are acquainted with their works. What more beautiful than one of those grand temples which the cultivated heathen Greeks erected to the worship of their unknown gods!–the graduated and receding stylobate as a base for the fluted columns, rising at regular distances in all their severe proportion and matchless harmony, with their richly carved capitals supporting an entablature of heavy stones, most elaborately moulded and ornamented with the figures of plants and animals; and rising above this, on the ends of the temple, or over a portico several columns deep, the pediment, covered with chiselled cornices, with still richer ornaments rising from the apices and at the feet, all carved in white marble, and then spread over an area larger than any modern churches, making a forest of columns to bear aloft those ponderous beams of stone, without anything tending to break the continuity of horizontal lines, by which the harmony and simplicity of the whole are regulated! So accurately squared and nicely adjusted were the stones and pillars of which these temples were composed, that there was scarcely need even of cement. Without noise or confusion or sound of hammers did those temples rise, since all their parts were cut and carved in the distant quarries, and with mathematical precision. And within the cella, nearly concealed by surrounding columns, were the statues of the gods, and the altars on which incense was offered, or sacrifices made. In every part, interior and exterior, do we see a matchless proportion and beauty, whether in the shaft or the capital or the frieze or the pilaster or the pediment or the cornices, or even the mouldings,–everywhere grace and harmony, which grow upon the mind the more they are contemplated. The greatest evidence of the matchless creative genius displayed in those architectural wonders is that after two thousand years, and with all the inventions of Roman and modern artists, no improvement has been made; and those edifices which are the admiration of our own times are deemed beautiful as they approximate the ancient models, which will forever remain objects of imitation. No science can make two and two other than four; no art can make a Doric temple different from the Parthenon without departing from the settled principles of beauty and proportion which all ages have indorsed. Such were the Greeks and Romans in an art which is one of the greatest indices of material civilization, and which by them was derived from geometrical forms, or the imitation of Nature.
The genius displayed by the ancients in sculpture is even more remarkable than their skill in architecture. Sculpture was carried to perfection only by the Greeks; but they did not originate the art, since we read of sculptured images from the remotest antiquity. The earliest names of sculptors are furnished by the Old Testament. Assyria and Egypt are full of relics to show how early this art was cultivated. It was not carried to perfection as early, probably, as architecture; but rude images of gods, carved in wood, are as old as the history of idolatry. The history of sculpture is in fact identified with that of idols. The Egyptians were probably the first who made any considerable advances in the execution of statues. Those which remain are rude, simple, uniform, without beauty or grace (except a certain serenity of facial expression which seems to pervade all their portraiture), but colossal and grand. Nearly two thousand years before Christ the walls of Thebes were ornamented with sculptured figures, even as the gates of Babylon were made of sculptured bronze. The dimensions of Egyptian colossal figures surpass those of any other nation. The sitting statues of Memnon at Thebes are fifty feet in height, and the Sphinx is twenty-five,–all of granite. The number of colossal statues was almost incredible. The sculptures found among the ruins of Karnak must have been made nearly four thousand years ago. They exhibit great simplicity of design, but have not much variety of expression. They are generally carved from the hardest stones, and finished so nicely that we infer that the Egyptians were acquainted with the art of hardening metals for their tools to a degree not known in our times. But we see no ideal grandeur among any of the remains of Egyptian sculpture; however symmetrical or colossal, there is no diversity of expression, no trace of emotion, no intellectual force,–everything is calm, impassive, imperturbable. It was not until sculpture came into the hands of the Greeks that any remarkable excellence in grace of form or expression of face was reached. But the progress of development was slow. The earliest carvings were rude wooden images of the gods, and more than a thousand years elapsed before the great masters were produced whose works marked the age of Pericles.
It is not my object to give a history of the development of the plastic art, but to show the great excellence it attained in the hands of immortal sculptors.
The Greeks had an intuitive perception of the beautiful, and to this great national trait we ascribe the wonderful progress which sculpture made. Nature was most carefully studied by the Greek artists, and that which was most beautiful in Nature became the object of their imitation. They even attained to an ideal excellence, since they combined in a single statue what could not be found in a single individual,–as Zeuxis is said to have studied the beautiful forms of seven virgins of Crotona in order to paint his famous picture of Venus. Great as was the beauty of Phryne or Aspasia or Lais, yet no one of them could have served for a perfect model; and it required a great sensibility to beauty in order to select and idealize what was most perfect in the human figure. Beauty was adored in Greece, and every means were used to perfect it, especially beauty of form, which is the characteristic excellence of Grecian statuary. The gymnasia were universally frequented; and the great prizes of the games, bestowed for feats of strength and agility, were regarded as the highest honors which men could receive,–the subject of the poet’s ode and the people’s admiration. Statues of the victors perpetuated their fame and improved the sculptor’s art. From the study of these statues were produced those great creations which all subsequent ages have admired; and from the application of the principles seen in these forms we owe the perpetuation of the ideas of grace and beauty such as no other people besides the Greeks had ever discovered, or indeed scarcely appreciated. The sculpture of the human figure became a noble object of ambition in Greece, and was most munificently rewarded. Great artists arose, whose works adorned the temples of Greece so long as she preserved her independence, and when that was lost, her priceless productions were scattered over Asia and Europe. The Romans especially seized what was most prized, whether or not they could tell what was most perfect. Greece lived in her marble statues more than in her government or laws; and when we remember the estimation in which sculpture was held among the Greeks, the great prices paid for masterpieces, the care and attention with which they were guarded and preserved, and the innumerable works which were produced, filling all the public buildings, especially consecrated places, and even open spaces and the houses of the rich and great, calling from all classes admiration and praise,–we cannot think it likely that so great perfection will ever be reached again in those figures which are designed to represent beauty of form. Even the comparatively few statues which have survived the wars and violence of two thousand years, convince us that the moderns can only imitate; they can produce no creations equal to those by Athenian artists. “No mechanical copying of Greek statues, however skilful the copyist, can ever secure for modern sculpture the same noble and effective character it possessed among the Greeks, for the simple reason that the imitation, close as may be the resemblance, is but the result of the eye and hand, while the original is the expression of a true and deeply felt sentiment. Art was not sustained by the patronage of a few who affect to have what is calledtaste; in Greece the artist, having a common feeling for the beautiful with his countrymen, produced his works for the public, which were erected in places of honor and dedicated in temples of the gods.”
It was not until the Persian wars awakened among the Greeks the slumbering consciousness of national power, and Athens became the central point of Grecian civilization, that sculpture, like architecture and painting, reached its culminating point of excellence under Phidias and his contemporaries. Great artists had previously made themselves famous, like Miron, Polycletus, and Ageladas; but the great riches which flowed into Athens at this time gave a peculiar stimulus to art, especially under the encouragement of such a ruler as Pericles, whose age was the golden era of Grecian history.
Pheidias, or Phidias, was to sculpture what Aeschylus was to tragic poetry,–the representative of the sublime and grand. He was born four hundred and eighty-four years before Christ, and was the pupil of Ageladas. He stands at the head of the ancient sculptors, not from what we know of him, for his masterpieces have perished, but from the estimation in which he was held by the greatest critics of antiquity. It was to him that Pericles intrusted the adornment of the Parthenon, and the numerous and beautiful sculptures of the frieze and the pediment were the work of artists whom he directed. His great work in that wonderful edifice was the statue of the goddess Minerva herself, made of gold and ivory, forty feet in height, standing victorious, with a spear in her left hand and an image of victory in her right, with helmet on her head, and her shield resting by her side. The cost of this statue may be estimated when we consider that the gold alone used upon it was valued at forty-four talents, equal to five hundred thousand dollars of our money,–an immense sum in that age. Some critics suppose that this statue was overloaded with ornament, but all antiquity was unanimous in its admiration. The exactness and finish of detail were as remarkable as the grandeur of the proportions. Another of the famous works of Phidias was a colossal bronze statue of Athene Promachos, sixty feet in height, on the Acropolis between the Propylaea and the Parthenon. But both of these yielded to the colossal statue of Zeus in his great temple at Olympia, represented in a sitting posture, forty feet high, on a pedestal of twenty feet. The god was seated on a throne. Ebony, gold, ivory, and precious stones formed, with a multitude of sculptured and painted figures, the wonderful composition of this throne. In this his greatest work the artist sought to embody the idea of majesty and repose,–of a supreme deity no longer engaged in war with Titans and Giants, but enthroned as a conqueror, ruling with a nod the subject world, and giving his blessing to those victories which gave glory to the Greeks. So famous was this statue, which was regarded as the masterpiece of Grecian art, that it was considered a calamity to die without having seen it; and this served for a model for all subsequent representations of majesty and power in repose among the ancients. It was removed to Constantinople by Theodosius I., and was destroyed by fire in the year 475 A.D. Phidias executed various other famous works, which have perished; but even those that were executed under his superintendence which have come down to our times,–like the statues which ornamented the pediment of the Parthenon,–are among the finest specimens of art that exist, and exhibit the most graceful and appropriate forms which could have been selected, uniting grandeur with simplicity, and beauty with accuracy of anatomical structure. His distinguishing excellence was ideal beauty, and that of the sublimest order.
Of all the wonders and mysteries of ancient art the colossal statues of ivory and gold were perhaps the most remarkable, and the difficulty of executing them has been set forth by the ablest of modern critics, like Winckelmann, Heyne, and De Quincey. “The grandeur of their dimensions, the perfection of their workmanship, the richness of their materials, their majesty, beauty, and ideal truth, the splendor of the architecture and pictorial decoration with which they were associated,–all conspired to impress the beholder with wonder and awe, and induce a belief of the actual presence of the god.”
After the Peloponnesian War a new school of art arose in Athens, which appealed more to the passions. Of this school was Praxiteles, who aimed to please without seeking to elevate or instruct. No one has probably ever surpassed him in execution. He wrought in bronze and marble, and was one of the artists who adorned the Mausoleum of Artemisia. Without attempting the sublime impersonation of the deity, in which Phidias excelled, he was unsurpassed in the softer graces and beauties of the human form, especially in female figures. His most famous work was an undraped statue of Venus, for his native town of Cnidus, which was so remarkable that people flocked from all parts of Greece to see it. He did not aim at ideal majesty so much as at ideal gracefulness; his works were formed from the most beautiful living models, and hence expressed only the ideal of sensuous charms. It is probable that the Venus de Medici of Cleomenes was a mere copy of the Aphrodite of Praxiteles, which was so highly extolled by, the ancient authors; it was of Parian marble, and modelled from the celebrated Phryne. His statues of Dionysus also expressed the most consummate physical beauty, representing the god as a beautiful youth crowned with ivy, and expressing tender and dreamy emotions. Praxiteles sculptured several figures of Eros, or the god of love, of which that at Thespiae attracted visitors to the city in the time of Cicero. It was subsequently carried to Rome, and perished by a conflagration in the time of Titus. One of the most celebrated statues of this artist was an Apollo, many copies of which still exist. His works were very numerous, but chiefly from the circle of Dionysus, Aphrodite, and Eros, in which adoration for corporeal attractions is the most marked peculiarity, and for which the artist was fitted by his dissolute life.
Scopas was the contemporary of Praxiteles, and was the author of the celebrated group of Niobe, which is one of the chief ornaments of the gallery of sculpture at Florence. He flourished about three hundred and fifty years before Christ, and wrought chiefly in marble. He was employed in decorating the Mausoleum which Artemisia erected to her husband,–one of the wonders of the world. His masterpiece is said to have been a group representing Achilles conducted to the island of Leuce by the divinities of the sea, which ornamented the shrine of Domitius in the Flaminian Circus. In this, tender grace, heroic grandeur, daring power, and luxurious fulness of life were combined with wonderful harmony. Like the other great artists of this school, Scopas exhibited the grandeur and sublimity for which Phidias was celebrated, but a greater refinement and luxury, as well as skill in the use of drapery.
Sculpture in Greece culminated, as an art, in Lysippus, who worked chiefly in bronze. He is said to have executed fifteen hundred statues, and was much esteemed by Alexander the Great, by whom he was extensively patronized. He represented men not as they were, but as they appeared to be; and if he exaggerated, he displayed great energy of action. He aimed to idealize merely human beauty, and his imitation of Nature was carried out in the minutest details. None of his works are extant; but as he alone was permitted to make the statue of Alexander, we infer that he had no equals. The Emperor Tiberius transferred one of his statues (that of an athlete) from the baths of Agrippa to his own chamber, which so incensed the people that he was obliged to restore it. His favorite subject was Hercules, and a colossal statue of this god was carried to Rome by Fabius Maximus, when he took Tarentum, and afterward was transferred to Constantinople; the Farnese Hercules and the Belvidere Torso are probably copies of this work. He left many eminent scholars, among whom were Chares (who executed the famous Colossus of Rhodes), Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus who sculptured the group of the “Laocoön.” The Rhodian school was the immediate offshoot from the school of Lysippus at Sicyon; and from this small island of Rhodes the Romans, when they conquered it, carried away three thousand statues. The Colossus was one of the wonders of the world (seventy cubits in height); and the Laocoön (the group of the Trojan hero and his two sons encoiled by serpents) is a perfect miracle of art, in which pathos is exhibited in the highest degree ever attained in sculpture. It was discovered in 1506, near the baths of Titus, and is one of the choicest remains of ancient plastic art.
The great artists of antiquity did not confine themselves to the representation of man, but also carved animals with exceeding accuracy and beauty. Nicias was famous for his dogs, Myron for his cows, and Lysippus for his horses. Praxiteles composed his celebrated lion after a living animal. “The horses of the frieze of the Elgin Marbles,” says Flaxman, “appear to live and move; to roll their eyes, to gallop, prance, and curvet; the veins of their faces and legs seem distended with circulation. The beholder is charmed with the deer-like lightness and elegance of their make; and although the relief is not above an inch from the background, and they are so much smaller than nature, we can scarcely suffer reason to persuade us they are not alive.” The Greeks also carved gems, cameos, medals, and vases, with unapproachable excellence. Very few specimens have come down to our times, but those which we possess show great beauty both in design and execution.
Grecian statuary began with ideal representations of the deities, and was carried to the greatest perfection by Phidias in his statues of Jupiter and Minerva. Then succeeded the school of Praxiteles, in which the figures of gods and goddesses were still represented, but in mortal forms. The school of Lysippus was famous for the statues of celebrated men, especially in cities where Macedonian rulers resided. Artists were expected henceforth to glorify kings and powerful nobles and rulers by portrait statues. From this period, however, plastic art degenerated; nor were works of original genius produced, but rather copies or varieties from the three great schools to which allusion has been made. Sculpture may have multiplied, but not new creations; although some imitations of great merit were produced, like the Hermaphrodite, the Torso, the Farnese Hercules, and the Fighting Gladiator. When Corinth was sacked by Mummius, some of the finest statues of Greece were carried to Rome; and after the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, the Greek artists emigrated to Italy. The fall of Syracuse introduced many works of priceless value into Rome; but it was from Athens, Delphi, Corinth, Elis, and other great centres of art that the richest treasures were brought. Greece was despoiled to ornament Italy.
The Romans did not create a school of sculpture. They borrowed wholly from the Greeks, yet made, especially in the time of Hadrian, many beautiful statues. They were fond of this art, and all eminent men had statues erected to their memory. The busts of emperors were found in every great city, and Rome was filled with statues. The monuments of the Romans were even more numerous than those of the Greeks, and among them some admirable portraits are found. These sculptures did not express that consummation of beauty and grace, of refinement and sentiment, which marked the Greeks; but the imitations were good. Art had reached its perfection under Lysippus; there was nothing more to learn. Genius in that department could soar no higher. It will never rise to loftier heights.
It is noteworthy that the purest forms of Grecian art arose in its earlier stages. From a moral point of view, sculpture declined from the time of Phidias. It was prostituted at Rome under the emperors. The specimens which have often been found among the ruins of ancient baths make us blush for human nature. The skill of execution did not decline for several centuries; but the lofty ideal was lost sight of, and gross appeals to human passions were made by those who sought to please corrupt leaders of society in an effeminate age. The turgidity and luxuriance of art gradually passed into tameness and poverty. The reliefs on the Arch of Constantine are rude and clumsy compared with those on the column of Marcus Aurelius.
It is not my purpose to describe the decline of art, or enumerate the names of the celebrated masters who exalted sculpture in the palmy days of Pericles or even Alexander. I simply speak of sculpture as an art which reached a great perfection among the Greeks and Romans, as we have a right to infer from the specimens that have been preserved. How many more must have perished, we may infer from the criticisms of the ancient authors. The finest productions of our own age are in a measure reproductions; they cannot be called creations, like the statue of the Olympian Jove. Even the Moses of Michael Angelo is a Grecian god, and Powers’s Greek Slave is a copy of an ancient Venus. The very tints which have been admired in some of the works of modern sculptors are borrowed from Praxiteles, who succeeded in giving to his statues an appearance of living flesh. The Museum of the Vatican alone contains several thousand specimens of ancient sculpture which have been found among the débris of former magnificence, many of which are the productions of Greek artists transported to Rome. Among them are antique copies of the Cupid and the Faun of Praxiteles, the statue of Demosthenes, the Minerva Medica, the Athlete of Lysippus, the Torso Belvedere sculptured by Apollonius, the Belvidere Antinous, of faultless anatomy and a study for Domenichino, the Laocoön, so panegyrized by Pliny, the Apollo Belvedere, the work of Agasias of Ephesus, the Sleeping Ariadne, with numerous other statues of gods and goddesses, emperors, philosophers, poets, and statesmen of antiquity. The Dying Gladiator, which ornaments the capitol, is alone a magnificent proof of the perfection to which sculpture was carried centuries after the art had culminated at Athens. And these are only a few which stand out among the twenty thousand recovered statues that now embellish Italy, to say nothing of those that are scattered over Europe. We have the names of hundreds of artists who were famous in their day. Not merely the figures of men are chiselled, but of animals and plants. Nature in all her forms was imitated; and not merely Nature, but the dresses of the ancients are perpetuated in marble. No modern sculptor has equalled, in delicacy of finish, the draperies of those ancient statues as they appear to us even after the exposure and accidents of two thousand years. No one, after a careful study of the museums of Europe, can question that of all the nations who have claimed to be civilized, the ancient Greeks and Romans deserve a proud pre-eminence in an art which is still regarded as among the highest triumphs of human genius. All these matchless productions of antiquity are the result of native genius alone, without the aid of Christian ideas. Nor with the aid of Christianity are we sure that any nation will ever soar to loftier heights than did the Greeks in that proud realm which was consecrated to Paganism.
We are not so certain in regard to the excellence of the ancients in the art of painting as we are in regard to sculpture and architecture, since so few specimens of painting have been preserved. We have only the testimony of the ancients themselves; and as they had so severe a taste and so great a susceptibility to beauty in all its forms, we cannot suppose that their notions were crude in this great art which the moderns have carried to such great perfection. In this art the moderns doubtless excel, especially in perspective and drawing, and light and shade. No age, we fancy, can surpass Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the genius of Raphael, Correggio, and Domenichino blazed with such wonderful brilliancy.
Painting in some form, however, is very ancient, though not so ancient as are the temples of the gods and the statues that were erected to their worship. It arose with the susceptibility to beauty of form and color, and with the view of conveying thoughts and emotions of the soul by imitation of their outward expression. The walls of Babylon were painted after Nature with representations of different species of animals and of combats between them and man. Semiramis was represented as on horseback, striking a leopard with a dart, and her husband Ninus as wounding a lion. Ezekiel describes various idols and beasts portrayed upon the walls, and even princes painted in vermilion, with girdles around their loins. In ages almost fabulous there were some rude attempts in this art, which probably arose from the coloring of statues and reliefs. The wooden chests of Egyptian mummies are covered with painted and hieroglyphic presentations of religious subjects; but the colors were laid without regard to light and shade. The Egyptians did not seek to represent the passions and emotions which agitate the soul, but rather to authenticate events and actions; and hence their paintings, like hieroglyphics, are but inscriptions. It was their great festivals and religious rites which they sought to perpetuate, not ideas of beauty or of grace. Thus their paintings abound with dismembered animals, plants, and flowers, with censers, entrails,–whatever was used in their religious worship. In Greece also the original painting consisted in coloring statues and reliefs of wood and clay. At Corinth, painting was early united with the fabrication of vases, on which were rudely painted figures of men and animals. Among the Etruscans, before Rome was founded, it is said there were beautiful paintings, and it is probable that these people were advanced in art before the Greeks. There were paintings in some of the old Etruscan cities which the Roman emperors wished to remove, so much admired were they even in the days of the greatest splendor. The ancient Etruscan vases are famous for designs which have never been exceeded in purity of form, but it is probable that these were copied from the Greeks.
Whether the Greeks or the Etruscans were the first to paint, however, the art was certainly carried to the greatest perfection among the former. The development of it was, like all arts, very gradual. It probably began by drawing the outline of a shadow, without intermediate markings; the next step was the complete outline with the inner markings,–such as are represented on the ancient vases, or like the designs of Flaxman. They were originally practised on a white ground; then light and shade were introduced, and then the application of colors in accordance with Nature. We read of a great painting by Bularchus, of the battle of Magnete, purchased by a king of Lydia seven hundred and eighteen years before Christ. As the subject was a battle, it must have represented the movement of figures, although we know nothing of the coloring or of the real excellence of the work, except that the artist was paid munificently. Cimon of Cleona is the first great name connected with the art in Greece. He is praised by Pliny, to whom we owe the history of ancient painting more than to any other author. Cimon was not satisfied with drawing simply the outlines of his figures, such as we see in the oldest painted vases, but he also represented limbs, and folds of garments. He invented the art of foreshortening, or the various representations of the diminution of the length of figures as they appear when looked at obliquely; and hence was the first painter of perspective. He first made muscular articulations, indicated the veins, and gave natural folds to drapery.
A much greater painter than he was Polygnotus of Thasos, the contemporary of Phidias, who came to Athens about the year 463 B.C.,–one of the greatest geniuses of any age, and one of the most magnanimous, who had the good fortune to live in an age of exceeding intellectual activity. He painted on panels, which were afterward let into the walls, being employed on the public buildings of Athens, and on the great temple of Delphi, the hall of which he painted gratuitously. He also decorated the Propylaea, which was erected under the superintendence of Phidias. The pictures of Polygnotus had nothing of that elaborate grouping, aided by the powers of perspective, so much admired in modern art. His greatness lay in statuesque painting, which he brought nearly to perfection by ideal expression, accurate drawing, and improved coloring. He used but few colors, and softened the rigidity of his predecessors by making the mouth of beauty smile. He gave great expression to the face and figure, and his pictures were models of excellence for the beauty of the eyebrows, the blush upon the cheeks, and the gracefulness of the draperies. He strove, like Phidias, to express character in repose. He imitated the personages and the subjects of the old mythology, and treated them in an epic spirit, his subjects being almost invariably taken from Homer and the Epic cycle.
Among the works of Polygnotus, as mentioned by Pliny, are his paintings in the Temple at Delphi, in the Propylaea of the Acropolis, in the Temple of Theseus, and in the Temple of the Dioscuri at Athens. He painted in a truly religious spirit, and upon symmetrical principles, with great grandeur and freedom, resembling Michael Angelo more than any other modern artist.
The use of oil was unknown to the ancients. The artists painted upon wood, clay, plaster, stone, parchment, but not upon canvas, which was not used till the time of Nero. They painted upon tablets or panels, and not upon the walls,–the panels being afterward framed and encased in the walls. The stylus, or cestrum, used in drawing and for spreading the wax colors was pointed on one end and flat on the other, and generally made of metal. Wax was prepared by purifying and bleaching, and then mixed with colors. When painting was practised in watercolors, glue was used with the white of an egg or with gums; but wax and resins were also worked with water, with certain preparations. This latter mode was called encaustic, and was, according to Plutarch, the most durable of all methods. It was not generally adopted till the time of Alexander the Great. Wax was a most essential ingredient, since it prevented the colors from cracking. Encaustic painting was practised both with the cestrum and the pencil, and the colors were also burned in.
Fresco, or water-color, on fresh plaster, was used for coloring walls, which were divided into compartments or panels. The composition of the stucco, and the method of preparing the walls for painting, is described by the ancient writers: “They first covered the walls with a layer of ordinary plaster, over which, when dry, were successively added three other layers of a finer quality, mixed with sand. Above these were placed three layers of a composition of chalk and marble-dust, the upper one being laid on before the under one was dry; by which process the different layers were so bound together that the whole mass formed one beautiful and solid slab, resembling marble, and was capable of being detached from the wall and transported in a wooden frame to any distance. The colors were applied when the composition was still wet. The fresco wall, when painted, was covered with an encaustic varnish, both to heighten the color and to preserve it from the effects of the sun or the weather; but this process required so much care, and was attended with so much expense, that it was used only in the better houses and palaces.” The later discoveries at Pompeii show the same correctness of design in painting as in sculpture, and also considerable perfection in coloring. The great artists of Greece–Phidias and Euphranor, Zeuxis and Protogenes, Polygnotus and Lysippus–were both sculptors and painters, like Michael Angelo; and the ancient writers praise the paintings of these great artists as much as their sculpture. The Aldobrandini Marriage, found on the Esquiline Mount during the pontificate of Clement VIII., and placed in the Vatican by Pius VII., is admired both for drawing and color. Polygnotus was praised by Aristotle for his designs, and by Lucian for his color.
Dionysius and Mikon were the great contemporaries of Polygnotus, the former being celebrated for his portraits. His pictures were deficient in the ideal, but were remarkable for expression and elegant drawing. Mikon was particularly skilled in painting horses, and was the first who used for a color the light Attic ochre, and the black made from burnt vine-twigs. He painted three of the walls of the Temple of Theseus, and also the walls of the Temple of the Dioscuri.
A greater painter still was Apollodorus of Athens. Through his labors, about 408 B.C., dramatic effect was added to the style of Polygnotus, without departing from his pictures as models. “The acuteness of his taste,” says Fuseli, “led him to discover that as all men were connected by one general form, so they were separated each by some predominant power, which fixed character and bound them to a class. Thence he drew his line of imitation, and personified the central form of the class to which his object belonged, and to which the rest of its qualities administered without being absorbed. Agility was not suffered to destroy firmness, solidity, or weight; nor strength and weight, agility. Elegance did not degenerate into effeminacy, nor grandeur swell to hugeness.” His aim was to deceive the eye of the spectator by the semblance of reality: he painted men and things as they really appeared. He also made a great advance in coloring: he invented chiaro-oscuro. Other painters had given attention to the proper gradation of light and shade; he heightened this effect by the gradation of tints, and thus obtained what the moderns call tone. He was the first who conferred due honor on the pencil,–primusque gloriam penicillo jure contulit.
This great painter was succeeded by Zeuxis, who belonged to his school, but who surpassed him in the power to give ideal form to rich effects. He began his great career four hundred and twenty-four years before Christ, and was most remarkable for his female figures. His Helen, painted from five of the most beautiful women of Croton, was one of the most renowned productions of antiquity, to see which the painter demanded money. He gave away his pictures, because, with an artist’s pride, he maintained that their price could not be estimated. There is a tradition that Zeuxis laughed himself to death over an old woman painted by him. He arrived at illusion of the senses, regarded as a high attainment in art,–as in the instance recorded of his grapes, at which the birds pecked. He belonged to the Asiatic school, whose headquarters were at Ephesus,–the peculiarities of which were accuracy of imitation, the exhibition of sensuous charms, and the gratification of sensual tastes. He went to Athens about the time that the sculpture of Phidias was completed, which modified his style. His marvellous powers were displayed in the contrast of light and shade, which he learned from Apollodorus. He gave ideal beauty to his figures, but it was in form rather than in expression. He taught the true method of grouping, by making each figure the perfect representation of the class to which it belonged. His works were deficient in those qualities which elevate the feelings and the character. He was the Euripides rather than the Homer of his art. He exactly imitated natural objects, which are incapable of ideal representation. His works were not so numerous as they were perfect in their way, in some of which, as in the Infant Hercules strangling the Serpent, he displayed great dramatic power. Lucian highly praises his Female Centaur as one of the most remarkable paintings of the world, in which he showed great ingenuity of contrasts. His Jupiter Enthroned is also extolled by Pliny, as one of his finest works. Zeuxis acquired a great fortune, and lived ostentatiously.
Contemporaneous with Zeuxis, and equal in fame, was Parrhasius, a native of Ephesus, whose skill lay in accuracy of drawing and power of expression. He gave to painting true proportion, and attended to minute details of the countenance and the hair. In his gods and heroes, he did for painting what Phidias did in sculpture. His outlines were so perfect as to indicate those parts of the figure which they did not express. He established a rule of proportion which was followed by all succeeding artists. While many of his pieces were of a lofty character, some were demoralizing. Zeuxis yielded the palm to him, since Parrhasius painted a curtain which deceived his rival, whereas the grapes of Zeuxis had deceived only birds. Parrhasius was exceedingly arrogant and luxurious, and boasted of having reached the utmost limits of his art. He combined the magic tone of Apollodorus with the exquisite design of Zeuxis and the classic expression of Polygnotus.
Many were the eminent painters that adorned the fifth century before Christ, not only in Athens, but in the Ionian cities of Asia. Timanthes of Sicyon was distinguished for invention, and Eupompus of the same city founded a school. His advice to Lysippus is memorable: “Let Nature, not an artist, be your model.” Protogenes was celebrated for his high finish. His Talissus took him seven years to complete. Pamphilus was celebrated for composition, Antiphilus for facility, Theon of Samos for prolific fancy, Apelles for grace, Pausias for his chiaro-oscuro, Nicomachus for his bold and rapid pencil, Aristides for depth of expression.
The art probably culminated in Apelles, who was at once a rich colorist and portrayer of sensuous charm and a scientific artist, while he added a peculiar grace of his own, which distinguished him above both his predecessors and contemporaries. He was contemporaneous with Alexander, and was alone allowed to paint the picture of the great conqueror. Apelles was a native of Ephesus, studied under Pamphilus of Amphipolis, and when he had gained reputation he went to Sicyon and took lessons from Melanthius. He spent the best part of his life at the court of Philip and Alexander, and painted many portraits of these great men and of their generals. He excelled in portraits, and labored so assiduously to perfect himself in drawing that he never spent a day without practising. He made great improvement in the mechanical part of his art, inventing some colors, and being the first to varnish pictures. By the general consent of ancient authors, Apelles stands at the head of all the painters of their world. His greatest work was his Venus Anadyomene, or Venus rising out of the sea, in which female grace was personified; the falling drops of water from her hair gave the appearance of a transparent silver veil over her form. This picture cost one hundred talents, was painted for the Temple of Aesculapius at Cos, and afterward placed by Augustus in the temple which he dedicated to Julius Caesar. The lower part of it becoming injured, no one could be found to repair it; nor was there an artist who could complete an unfinished picture which Apelles left. He feared no criticism, and was unenvious of the fame of rivals.
After Apelles, the art of painting declined, although great painters occasionally appeared, especially from the school of Sicyon, which was renowned for nearly two hundred years. The destruction of Corinth by Mummius, 146 B.C., gave a severe blow to Grecian art. This general destroyed, or carried to Rome, more works than all his predecessors combined. Sulla, when he spoiled Athens, inflicted a still greater injury; and from that time artists resorted to Rome and Alexandria and other flourishing cities for patronage and remuneration. The masterpieces of famous artists brought enormous prices, and Greece and Asia were ransacked for old pictures. The paintings which Aemilius Paulus brought from Greece required two hundred and fifty wagons to carry them in the triumphal procession. With the spoliation of Greece, the migration of artists began; and this spoliation of Greece, Asia, and Sicily continued for two centuries. We have already said that such was the wealth of Rhodes in works of art that three thousand statues were found there by the conquerors; nor could there have been less at Athens, Olympia, and Delphi. Scaurus had all the public pictures of Sicyon transported to Rome. Verres plundered every temple and public building in Sicily.
Thus Rome was possessed of the finest paintings in the world, without the slightest claim to the advancement of the art. And if the opinion of Sir Joshua Reynolds is correct, art could advance no higher in the realm of painting, as well as of statuary, than the Greeks had already borne it. Yet the Romans learned to place as high value on the works of Grecian genius as the English do on the paintings of the old masters of Italy and Flanders. And if they did not add to the art, they gave such encouragement that under the emperors it may be said to have been flourishing. Varro had a gallery of seven hundred portraits of eminent men. The portraits as well as the statues of the great were placed in the temples, libraries, and public buildings. The baths especially were filled with paintings.
The great masterpieces of the Greeks were either historical or mythological. Paintings of gods and heroes, groups of men and women, in which character and passion could be delineated, were the most highly prized. It was in the expression given to the human figure–in beauty of form and countenance, in which all the emotions of the soul, as well as the graces of the body were portrayed–that the Greek artists sought to reach the ideal, and to gain immortality. And they painted for a people who had both a natural and a cultivated taste and sensibility.
Among the Romans portrait, decorative, and scene painting engrossed the art, much to the regret of such critics as Pliny and Vitruvius. Nothing could be in more execrable taste than a colossal painting of Nero, one hundred and twenty feet high. From the time of Augustus landscape decorations were common, and were carried out with every species of license. Among the Greeks we do not read of landscape painting. This has been reserved for our age, and is much admired, as it was at Rome in the latter days of the empire. Mosaic work, of inlaid stones or composition of varying shades and colors, gradually superseded painting in Rome; it was first used for floors, and finally walls and ceilings were ornamented with it. It is true, the ancients could show no such exquisite perfection of colors, tints, and shades as may be seen to-day in the wonderful reproductions of world-renowned paintings on the walls of St. Peter’s at Rome; but many ancient mosaics have been preserved which attest beauty of design of the highest character,–like the Battle of Issus, lately discovered at Pompeii; and this brilliant art had its origin and a splendid development at the hands of the old Romans.
Thus in all those arts of which modern civilization is proudest, and in which the genius of man has soared to the loftiest heights, the ancients were not merely our equals,–they were our superiors. It is greater to originate than to copy. In architecture, in sculpture, and perhaps in painting, the Greeks attained absolute perfection. Any architect of our time, who should build an edifice in different proportions from those that were recognized in the great cities of antiquity, would make a mistake. Who can improve upon the Doric columns of the Parthenon, or upon the Corinthian capitals of the Temple of Jupiter? Indeed, it is in proportion as we accurately copy the faultless models of the age of Pericles that excellence with us is attained and recognized; when we differ from them we furnish grounds of just criticism. So in sculpture,–the finest modern works are inspired by antique models. It is only when the artist seeks to bring out the purest and loftiest sentiments of the soul, such as only Christianity can inspire, that he may hope to surpass the sculpture of antiquity in one department of that art alone,–in expression, rather than in beauty of form, on which no improvement can be made. And if we possessed the painted Venus of Apelles, as we can boast of having the sculptured Venus of Cleomenes, we should probably discover greater richness of coloring as well as grace of figure than appear in that famous picture of Titian which is one of the proudest ornaments of the galleries of Florence, and one of the greatest marvels of Italian art.
Winckelmann’s History of Ancient Art; Müller’s Ancient Art and its Remains; A.J. Guattani, Antiquités de la Grande Grèce; Mazois, Antiquités de Pompeii; Sir W. Gill, Pompeiana; Donaldson’s Antiquities of Athens; Vitruvius, Stuart, Chandler, Clarke, Dodwell, Cleghorn, De Quincey, Fergusson, Schliemann,–these are some of the innumerable authorities on Architecture among the ancients.
In Sculpture, Pliny and Cicero are the most noted critics. There is a fine article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica on this subject. In Smith’s Dictionary are the Lives and works of the most noted masters. Müller’s Ancient Art alludes to the leading masterpieces. Montfauçon’s Antiquité Expliquée en Figures; Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, by the Society of Dilettanti, London, 1809; Ancient Marbles of the British Museum, by Taylor Combe; Millin, Introduction à l’Étude des Monuments Antiques; Monuments Inédits d’Antiquité figurée, recuellis et publiés par Raoul-Rochette; Gerhard’s Archäologische Zeitung; David’s Essai sur le Classement Chronologique des Sculpteurs Grecs les plus célèbres.
In Painting, see Müller’s Ancient Art; Fuseli’s Lectures; Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Lectures; Lanzi’s History of Painting in Italy (translated by Roscoe); and the Article on “Painting,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Article “Pictura,” Smith’s Dictionary, both of which last mentioned refer to numerous German, French, and other authorities, should the reader care to pursue the subject. Vitruvius (on Architecture, translated by Gwilt) writes at some length on ancient wall-paintings. The finest specimens of ancient paintings are found in catacombs, the baths, and the ruins of Pompeii. On this subject Winckelmann is the great authority.