Study Of Art – Greek And Roman Painting

That painting was extensively practiced by the Greeks we know from literary sources, descriptions of pictures and the names of distinguished painters having been handed down by Greek and Roman writers. The work has almost entirely perished, however, except in the form of vase painting of all periods, which was subject to its own conventions and was usually limited in theme by the use to which the vase was to be put.

The excavations of Pompeii, which have been carried on systematically since 1860, have brought to light much of interest in the mural decoration of the first century of our era. Many of the pictures, which it was customary to paint directly upon the wall, were copies of Greek subjects, and, now preserved in the Naples Museum, afford us a remote hint of what the originals may have been; or in the House of the Vettii show us how they were used on the wall. Due allowance must, however, be made for the conventions of the period and for the fact that much of the work was probably that of mere artisans. Pompeii was only a provincial town and at the time of its total destruction in August, 79 A.D., was undergoing a hasty rebuilding after an earthquake of sixteen years before. Interesting, therefore, as its remains are, they represent the taste of a single brief period.


Classic Stories suggested by the pictures. Gayley, Classic Myths.

The Pompeian House. Mau, ch. 32.

Greek Vase Painting. Walters, Greek Art., ch. 7.


No. 1. Chariot Race. Vase decoration. National Museum, Naples.

The use of the quadriga in the decoration suggests an Italic origin. The laurel crowned head is also Roman in type. The vase may have been a trophy cup. A comparison of this with the following true Greek vase shows the far finer workmanship of the latter, and the superiority of its decoration. Consider the appropriateness of a chariot race as a subject for vase decoration.

No. 2. Eos and Kephalos. Greek vase.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Central medallion from the inside of a Greek kylix, a wide and shallow vase set on a low standard. Probably early fifth century B.C. Figures red on black ground, folds of drapery indicated by finely drawn lines of black.

Eos, the Dawn, is about to carry Kephalos to Heaven. On the outside of the kylix a circular row of figures turn from the altars, where sacrifice is being offered, to gaze toward the receding figure of their companion with gestures of surprise.

Notice the extreme delicacy of the line drawing, the endeavor to adapt the composition to the circular space. Notice that the attention does not rest on any one point but plays over the design, following the lines of the drapery, though returning each time to the heads. Note also the beauty of the Greek fret, evidently free-hand work. The drawing of the eye, of hands and feet, and the proportions of the limbs are interesting points of study as determining the date of the work.

No. 3. Maidens playing Jackstones.

National Museum, Naples.

Painting on marble found in Herculaneum. One of the very limited number of paintings known to have been executed by a Greek. An inscription gives Alexander of Athens as the artist. Over two of the standing figures are the names Latona and Niobe. Despite the slight nature of the theme and some awkwardness of proportion this little tablet is of chief importance as suggesting the charm of Greek painting. Compare the draperies with those of the figures from the Nike balustrade, A 170, 171.

No. 4. The Sacrifice of Iphigenia. National Museum, Naples.

Wall painting from the House of the Tragic Poet, in Pompeii. A poor copy of a famous Greek ,original. The Greeks, detained at Aulis, on their excursion against Troy, by unfavorable winds, are led by an oracle to sacrifice Agamemnon’s daughter, but at the last moment she is carried away by Diana to be her priestess in Tauris, a stag being substituted by the goddess for the sacrifice.

Diana appears twice in the sky with her emblems.

The tragedy of the scene is given not so much by the gesture of Iphigenia as by the solemnity of the priest, the fear of the slave and the shrouded figure of Agamemnon at the left. The figure of Iphigenia was probably more fully draped in the original.

No. 5. The Discovery of Telephus.

National Museum, Naples.

Wall painting from Herculaneum. Telephus, having been exposed at his birth by his parents, is suckled by a hind sent by the gods. Arcadia in the guise of a local deity presides over the scene at which Hercules discovers his infant son.

The color is rich and well preserved, the figure of the goddess and the youthful satyr with the pipes of Pan being especially fine. Compare the drapery with various periods of Greek sculpture. Note the full, wide-open eye in these pictures. Cf. the ” Dancers,” from Herculaneum, A 76.

No. 6. Medea Meditating the Murder of her Children. National Museum, Naples.

Wall painting from Pompeii. Medea, deserted by Jason, determines to murder their two sons in order to deprive her unfaithful husband of the heirs who alone might perform for him suitable funeral rites.

Through the expression of the face, the tension of the hands and the attitude of the whole body, the artist has represented in a remarkable way the mental struggle approaching madness, which takes place before the mother can bring herself to such an act.

No. 7. A Bacchante.

National Museum, Naples.

Floating figure in filmy drapery represented upon the shining black or dark red surface of the wall paneling, a favorite device of late Pompeian decoration.

No. 8. Cupids as Wine Dealers.

House of the Vettii, Pompeii.

In 1894—1895 was excavated one of the best preserved houses yet found in Pompeii. The decorations have been as far as possible left in position. One of the larger rooms is decorated with a frieze of Cupids engaged in all the occupations of the life of the time, forming an interesting historic document as well as a decoration of much charm and gentle humor.

No. 9. Cocks Fighting.

House of the Vettii, Pompeii.

One of a number of small pictures, but a few inches in size, which decorates the vestibule of this same house. The sketchy character of the work and the taste of the master of the house are points to be noted.

No. 10. Infant Hercules Strangling Serpents. No. 11. Punishment of Dirke.

House of the Vettii, Pompeii.

Two large panels decorating two walls of the dining room of the same house, both probably copies of Greek originals.

When but eight months old Hercules was attacked by two serpents sent by Juno to destroy him. He seized and strangled them both in the presence of Amphitryon and Alcmene, his reputed father and mother. Note the concentration of interest upon the child.

The story of Dirke, who was bound to the horns of a wild bull by two youths in revenge for her cruel treatment of their mother, is also represented in the sculptural group of the Farnese Bull, A 271. Compare the two, considering which form of representation is more appropriate to the theme. See Greek Handbook, pp. 293-298.

No. 12. Wall decoration.


The third or ornate style of Pompeian wall decoration, showing the way in which the classic pictures were introduced. One of the figures suggests the ” Barberini Faun,” A 280, a copy of which, A 281, was found in Herculaneum. Cf. Greek Handbook, p. 310.

No. 13. The Aldobrandini Marriage.

Vatican Library, Rome.

This most important wall painting is probably a Roman copy of the time of Augustus from a Greek original of the time of Apelles (fourth century B.C.). It was discovered in 1606 near the arch of Gallienus, Rome, and named for Cardinal Aldobrandini, into whose possession it came.

The colors are light and harmonious, the execution rather slight, yet full of delicacy and refinement.

Notice the division into three main groups drawn together by carefully studied lines; the beauty of the draperies. Study the interrelation of the groups in thought. Ref. Powers, M. M. A., pp. 18-21.