Painting is a form of expressing yourself and conveying a story. It is the raw form of emotion depicted on a canvas, and it is a way to free yourself and express your desires. Painting is when the artist bares his soul to the world, and forms of painting differ from person to person, from era to era.
Ancient Greece was home to some of the best painters in history. Its paintings stood out for their naturalistic depiction of the human body and for their unique blend of heroism and beauty. Many ancient Greek paintings have been lost over time, but the legacy of the ancient Greek artists remains due to their astounding talents and their discoveries of new painting techniques and methods.
Among the countless artists of ancient Greece, these are the 12 painters who have contributed most to the history of art:
Agatharchus was a self-taught painter who lived in the fifth century BC. He brought perspective and illusion to the world and created the art of scene painting.
The idea of positioning objects against the sun and showing their corresponding shadows was proposed by Agatharchus, and Marcus Vitruvius Pollio commended him for his talents. However, Aristotle argued that Agatharchus merely prepared a stage, an arena, for the painters of the future, and he was not a master of illusion and perspective himself.
Agatharchus was the first known painter to have incorporated a realistic perspective on a large scale within his paintings. The ease and speed with which he finished his works left many of the ancient Greeks in awe. He shot to fame after painting a scene from one of Aeschylus’ tragedies.
Apelles of Kos was renowned throughout ancient Greece and Rome for his talent as a painter. He was skillful at drawing human faces, and loved to incorporate allegory and personification into his paintings. One expert even said of his paintings: “As is painting so is poetry.”
His paintings illustrate tales that took viewers to another place, and he placed great emphasis on drawing lines. He even had a contest with his well-known rival, Protogenes, to see who could make a finer and steadier line. Apelles won.
Apelles had masterful control over the proportion, symmetry, and spacing of figures. The simplicity of his paintings, the exquisiteness of his lines, and the allure of the expressions of the figures have enamored countless art lovers.
His works were hung in the manor house owned by Julius Caesar, but they were later lost along with the house. His last painting was of Aphrodite of Kos. Unfortunately, he died before the painting could be completed, and because no one else was skillful enough to complete the painting, it remained unfinished.
Apollodorus Skiagraphos was one of the most influential painters of Greece in the fifth century BC.
Most of his paintings shared the same theme as the other painters of that era and revolved around the Greek gods and goddesses. He also drew inspiration from the heroic epic poems of that time.
While the subjects of his paintings may have been commonplace, he stood out because of his technique and masterful control of shadow. This new style of painting was called “skiagraphia” which means shadow painting. It is a shading technique that makes it easier to produce a shadow on the canvas and utilizes highlighted areas to give an illusion of both shadow and volume. Skiagraphia had a great impact on subsequent generations, particularly the Italian Renaissance painters who used the technique extensively.
Apollodorus went down in the annals of history due to this technique, which is reflected in his name Apollodorus Skiagraphos, the shadow painter. His work created a new form and style of art, but his paintings did not survive the test of time. He left a message on one of his paintings which was later recorded by a historian. The message said:
“’Tis no hard thing to reprehend me; But let the men that blame me mend me.”
(You can criticize my technique easily, but you cannot imitate it easily.)
4. Cimon of Cleonae
Cimon of Cleonae was one of the earliest painters of ancient Greece, and he was most famous for his way of representing human figures.
Cimon developed a way to represent figures which were looking up, back, and down. He also painted the joints of the body with more clarity, accentuated veins, and worked on the folds and creases in garments.
Cimon’s attention to detail and real-life accuracy distinguished him from other painters. His style of painting was so unique and realistic that he had no need to attach the name of the sitters whose portraits he painted.
Euphranor of Corinth was the only Greek artist who was both a sculptor and a painter, and he enjoyed success in both disciplines. Euphranor was a student under Ariston, along with his contemporary Antorides.
Euphranor’s paintings resembled the sculptures by Lysippus. He paid great attention to the symmetry of the body on canvas. Euphranor had a great love of heroic subjects, and the feigned madness of Odysseus was one of the many famous paintings that drew attention to his talents.
Eupompus founded the Sicyonic school of painting in the fourth century BC which flourished at Sicyon in ancient Greece.
Although Eupompus created a brand-new school of painting, he was eventually outshone by his successors. He may not have been one of the greatest painters of ancient Greece, but he paved the way for many others and was mainly remembered for his advice to Lysippus where he counseled him to follow nature rather than any master. The Sicyonic school was inherited by Pamphilus, Apelles’ mentor.
Parrhasius was one of the greatest painters of ancient Greece, and his conversations with Socrates on art shot him to fame. His painting of Theseus was used as a decoration in the Capitol of Rome.
Parrhasius was skilled at making his figures stand out from the background. His passion for painting was so great that it even overlooked human compassion, and it is rumored that Parrhasius bought a slave and tortured him in order to acquire a model who accurately represented the pain of the enslaved Prometheus for his painting at the Parthenon in Athens.
There was much rivalry between Parrhasius and his contemporary, Zeuxis. Zeuxis painted grapes so realistically that it is said birds attempted to eat them. On one occasion, Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull apart the curtains in his studio to reveal his masterpiece. When Zeuxis tried to do so, he realized that the curtains were actually painted.
Zeuxis admitted defeat and said that while he succeeded in fooling animals, Parrhasius had succeeded in fooling humans.
Many of Parrhasius’ paintings have been preserved and are highly valued by other painters for study purposes.
Pausias belonged to the school of Sicyon. He invented the practice of painting the ceilings of houses and introduced the technique of encaustic, or hot wax, painting which used pigmented beeswax as a painting material.
Pausias once fell in love with a flower girl and took great care in painting her portrait. The detail and skill with which he depicted the flowers she sold earned him the reputation of being a very able flower painter.
Pausias was well known for his speed and was often able to complete a work within 24 hours. His most famous painting is that of a bull called A Sacrifice.
Polygnotus was the son and pupil of Aglaophon. Although he was born in Thasos, he later received citizenship of the city of Athens. Polygnotus was not interested in the money he earned from painting, preferring to paint from the altruism he felt towards Athens and its citizens.
Polygnotus painted the siege of Troy on the walls of the Stoa Poikile or Painted Porch in Athens, and the marriage of the children of the philosopher Leucippus. Some of his paintings are preserved on the walls of the Acropolis. The frescoes painted by him in the Lesche of the Knidians at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi were his most renowned works.
His artwork was primitive, but his superiority lay in the way he painted individual figures. His work oozed simplicity and dignified, gentle emotion, and his style was a contrast with the finer, more complex techniques of later generations of painters.
Protogenes was renowned for the great detail he included in the drawing and coloring of his paintings. He was also a sculptor, but he did not receive much acclaim in this discipline.
None of his works have survived; they are only known through references and descriptions. Protogenes was a great rival of Apelles, and the story of their rivalry involved painting a line on the canvas back and forth until Protogenes admitted that Apelles was the more talented on the third stroke of the brush.
His famous paintings include the Ialysus, the Satyr, Alexander and Pan, and many more.
11. Theon of Samos
Theon of Samos painted during the time of Alexander the Great. He was considered a good, but not great, painter. Only a few unreliable accounts exist of him, therefore his talents are difficult to verify. His style seemed to favor characters which originated out of the frame of the picture and the depiction of common themes such as the lunacy of Orestes and a soldier rushing to battle.
Zeuxis was most famous for the realism, free designs, and innovative themes incorporated within his paintings. He often took his inspiration from the Greek gods and goddesses.
His preference for small-scale subjects led to the discovery of new genres of painting. His artful mastery of light and shadow created a volumetric style which led to his fame. Zeuxis’ complex method of painting also led to the ideal form of the nude in art.
Although Zeuxis was a famous painter, many people today know him for the manner in which he died. It was not heroic or gruesome; it was comical. The cause of his death was excessive laughter. Zeuxis wanted to paint the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite. An old woman approached him and insisted that he used her as a model. Zeuxis agreed to her request. Upon seeing the comical way in which he had drawn the goddess of beauty, Zeuxis burst out laughing, which was said to have been so excessive that it led to his death.
Andrycydes was the Greek painters, whose painting “Battle of Plataea” created a huge controversy among Politicians in late 370s BC. He lived in 4th century BC. Plutarch, a Greek historian remarked – Androcydes was given a commission by City of Thebes to paint the Battle scene on the site.
Battle of Plataea was the only painting of the cavalry battle known to predate that of Euphranor. He painted the fish around the central figure of Scylla in one of his work due to his connoisseur’s passion for seafood
Artemon was a diversified Greek painter, assumed to live around 300 BC. Roman philosopher, Pliny first recorded the work of Artemon. His stunning paintings of Queen Stratonice, Hercules and Deianira not only epitome Greece, but also influence the Ancient Rome.
His paintings of Hercules was carried out to the Rome and placed in the Octavian Portico. Hercules was mostly known for his strength and received acknowledge amongst God.
The person behind the painting of the marriage of Alexander and Romaxana, Echion was the first Greek painter, whose work was exhibited at the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. His paintings impressed Proxenidas, one of the judges in the Olympic Games that gave his daughter in marriage to Echion. He had a unique style of mixing and laying the colors.
Heraclides was the fervent painter of Macedonian. He distinguished himself by painting the marine of sea and ship. He was the pioneer of the marine art. His style got unique presence like encaustic
Pamphilusn was auspicious painters that led to the birth of other famous ancient Greece painters. He was the founder of the Sicyonian school of painting where the greatest artist like Melanthius, Pausias and Apelles were taught.
Ancient Greece contributed greatly to the art of painting. The elegance and beauty of the ancient Greek paintings may have been lost on canvas, but they still remain on tombs, vases, and other architectural ruins.