The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.



the only one that had experienced no great change; for works of the highest class in sculpture were still produced there. The course of painting seems to have been much more capricious than that of sculp­ture ; in which masterpieces, exhibiting various beauties, appear to have been produced in nearly every age, from that of Pheidias to that of Hadrian. A decided decay in painting, on the other hand, is repeatedly acknowledged in the later Greek and in the best Roman writers. One of the causes of this decay may be, that the highest excellence in painting requires the combination of a much greater variety of qualities; whereas invention and design, identical in both arts, are the sole elements of sculpture. Painters also are addicted to the pernicious, though lucrative, practice of dashing off or despatching their works, from which sculptors, from the very nature of their materials, :are ex­empt : to paint quickly was all that was required from some of the Roman painters. (Juv. ix. 146.) Works in sculpture also, through the durability of their material, are more easily preserved than paintings, and they serve therefore as models and incentives to the artists of after ages. Artists, therefore, who may have had ability to excel in sculpture, would naturally choose that art in pre­ference to painting. It is only thus that we can account for the production of such works as the Antinous, the Laoeoon, the Torso of Apolloidus, and many others of surpassing excellence, at a period when the art of painting was comparatively extinct, or at least principally practised as mere decorative colouring, such as the majority of the paintings of Rome, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, now extant; though it must be remembered that these were the inferior works of an inferior age,

XV. Roman Painting. The early painting of Italy and Magna Graecia has been already noticed, and we know nothing of a Roman painting inde­pendent of that of Greece, though Pliny (ff. N. xxxv. 7) tells us that it was cultivated at an early period by the Romans. The head of the noble house of the Fabii received the surname of Pictor, which remained in his family, through some paint­ings which he executed in the temple of Salus at Rome, jr. c. 304, which lasted till the time of the emperor Claudius, when they were destroyed by the fire that consumed that temple. Pacuvius also the tragic poet, and nephew of Ennius, distin­guished himself by some paintings in the temple of Hercules in the Forum Boarium, about 180B. c. Afterwards, says Pliny (1. c.\ painting was not practised by polite hands (lionestismanibus) amongst the Romans, except perhaps in the case of Turpi-lius, a Roman knight of his own times, who exe­cuted some beautiful works with his left hand at Verona. Yet Q. Pedius, nephew of Q. Pedius, coheir of Caesar with Augustus, was instructed in painting, and became a great proficient in the art, though he died when young. Antistius Labeo also amused himself with painting small pictures.

Julius Caesar, Agrippa, and Augustus were among the earliest great patrons of artists. Sue­tonius (Jul. Caes. 47) informs us that Caesar ex­pended great sums in the purchase of pictures by the old masters ; and Pliny (H, N. xxxv. 40) mentions that he gave as much as 80 talents for two pictures by his contemporary Timomachus of By­zantium, one an Ajax, and the other a Medea me­ditating the murder of her children. These pictures, which were painted in encaustic, were very cele-


brated works ; they are alluded to by Ovid (Trish ii. 525), and are mentioned by many other ancient writers.

There are two circumstances connected with the earlier history of painting in Rome which deserve mention. One is recorded by Livy (xli. 20), who informs us that the Consul Tib. Sempronius Grac­chus, dedicated in the temple of Mater Matuta, upon his return from Sardinia, b.c. 174, a picture of apparently a singular description; it consisted of a plan of the island of Sardinia, with repre­sentations of various battles he had fought there, painted upon it. The other is mentioned by Pliny (H. N. xxxv. 7), who says that L. Hostilius Man-emus, k. €. 147, exposed to view in the forum a picture of the taking of Carthage, in which he had performed a conspicuous part, and explained its various incidents to the people. Whether these pictures were the productions of Greek or of Roman artists is doubtful j nor have we any guide as to their rank as works of art.

The Romans generally have not the slightest claims to the merit of having promoted the fine arts. We have seen that before the spoliations of Greece and Sicily, the arts were held in no consi­deration in Rome ; and even afterwards, until the time of the emperors, painting and sculpture seem to have been practised very rarely by Romans ; and the works which were then produced were chiefly characterised by their bad taste, being mere military records and gaudy displays of colour, al­though the city was crowded with the finest pro­ductions of ancient Greece.

There are three distinct periods observable in the history of painting in Rome. The first, or great period of Graeco-Roman art, may be dated from the conquest of Greece until the time of Augustus, when the artists were chiefly Greeks. The second, from the time of Augustus to the so-called Thirty Tyrants and Diocletian, or from the beginning of the Christian era until about the latter end of the third century ; during which time the great ma­jority of Roman works of art were produced. The third comprehends the state of the arts during the exarchate; when Rome, in consequence of the foundation of Constantinople, and the changes it involved, suffered similar spoliations to those which it had previously inflicted upon Greece. This was the period of the total decay of the imitative arts amongst the ancients.

The establishment of Christianity, the division of the empire, and the incursions of barbarians, were the first great causes of the important revo­lution experienced by the imitative arts, and the serious check they received ; but it was reserved for the fanatic fury of the iconoclasts effectually to destroy all traces of their former splendour.

Of the first of these three periods sufficient has been already said ; of the second there remain still a few observations to be made. About the be­ginning of the second period is the earliest age in which we have any notice of portrait painters (imaginum pivtores)^ as a distinct class. Pliny mentions particularly Dionysius and Sopolis, as the most celebrated at about the time of Augustus, or perhaps earlier, who filled picture galleries with their works. About the same age also Lala of Cyzicus was very celebrated; she painted, however, chiefly female portraits, but received greater prices than the other two. (Plin. H. N. xxxv. 37, 40.)

Portraits must have been exceedingly numerous

About | First | English Index | Classified Index | Latin Index | Greek Index



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of