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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Painting

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We have no means of knowing what progress the art of painting made among the ancient Hebrews, as it is generally supposed that all pictures and images were forbidden by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52). In later times their principal houses were beautifully painted with vermilion (Jeremiah 22:14). Among the ancient Assyrians this art appears to have been cultivated, as mention is made in Ezekiel 23:14-15, of "men portrayed upon the wall, the images of the Chaldaeans portrayed with vermilion, girded with girdles upon their loins, exceeding in dyed attire upon their heads, all of them princes to look to." This description of the interior of the Assyrian palaces completely corresponds with and illustrates tie monuments of Nimruid and Khorsabad, as brought to light by Mr. Layard. "The walls were of sun-dried bricks, and where they rose above the sculptured slabs they were covered with paintings." (See ASSYRIA). Among the Egyptians, from the employment of hieroglyphics, it is supposed that the art of the painter was generally associated with that of the scribe. The painter held his brush in one hand, and his palette or saucer of color in the other. From the representation given of two artists engaged on a painting, it will be observed that though the easel stands upright, they had no contrivance to support or steady the hand; hence the Egyptian painters appear to have been very careful in tracing their outlines with chalk, which they effaced if any imperfection were discovered. It is evident that the manufacture of images and painted toys was carried to a remarkable extent, as well as the decoration. of mummy-cases. Wilkinson gives the following account of the ancient art: "Mention is made of an Egyptian painting by Herodotus, who tells us that Amasis sent a portrait of himself to Cyrene, probably on wood, and in profile; for the full face is rarely represented either in their paintings or bas- reliefs. The faces of the kings in the tombs and temples of Egypt are unquestionably portraits, but they are always in profile; and the only ones in full face are on wood, and of late time. Two of these are preserved in the British Museum, but they are evidently Greek, and date, perhaps, even after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans. It is therefore vain to speculate on the nature of their painting, or their skill in this branch of art; and though some of the portraits taken from the mummies may prove that encaustic painting with wax and naphtha was adopted in Egypt, the time when it was first known there is uncertain, nor can we conclude, from a specimen of Greek time, that the same was practiced in a Pharaonic age.

"Fresco painting was entirely unknown in Egypt; and the figures on, walls were always drawn and painted after the stucco was quite dry. But they sometimes coated the colors with. a transparent varnish, which was also done by the Greeks; and the wax said by the younger Pliny to have been used for this purpose on the painted exterior of a house at Stabia may have been a substitute for the usual varnish, which last would have been far more durable under a hot Italian sun.

"Pliny states, in his chapter on inventions, that Gyges, a Lydian, was the earliest painter in Egypt; and Eluchir, a cousin of Daedalus according to Aristotle, the first in Greece; or, as Theoprastus thinks, Polygnotus the Athenian. But the painting represented in Beni Hassan evidently dates before any of those artists. Pliny, in another place says, The origin of painting is uncertain: the Egyptians pretend that it was invented by them 6000 years before it passed into Greece a vain boast, as every one will allow. It must, however, be admitted that all the arts (however imperfect) were cultivated in Egypt long before Greece existed as a nation; and the remark he afterwards makes, that painting was unknown at the period of the Trojan war, call only be applied to the Greeks, as is shown by the same unquestionable authority at Beni Hassan, dating about 900 years before the time usually assigned to the taking of Troy.

"It is probable that the artists in Egypt who painted on wood were in higher estimation than mere decorators, as was the case in Greece, where no artists, were in, repute but those who executed pictures on wood, for neither Ludius nor any other wall painter was of any renown.' The Greeks preferred movable pictures, which could be taken away in case of fire, or sold if necessary; and, as Pliny says, there was no painting on the walls of Apelles's house (or no painting by Apelles on the walls of a house). The painting and decoration of buildings was another and an inferior branch of art. The pictures were put up in temples, as the works of great masters in later times in churches; but they were not dedications, nor solely connected with sacred subjects and the temple was selected as the place of security, as it often was as a repository of treasure. They had also picture galleries in some secure place, as in the Acropolis of Athens.

"Outline figures on walls were in all countries the earliest style of painting; they were in the oldest temples of Latium; and in Egypt they preceded the more elaborate style, that was afterwards followed by bas-relief and intaglio. In Greece, during the middle period, which was that of the best art, pictures were painted on wood by the first artists, and Raoul-Rochette thinks that if any of them painted on walls, this was accidental; and the finest pictures, being on wood, were in after-times carried off to Rome. This removal was lamented by the Greeks as a spoliation,' which having left the walls bare, accounts for Pausanias saying so little about pictures in Greece. Historical compositions were of course the highest branch of art, though many of the greatest Greek artists, who seem to have excelled in all styles, often treated inferior subjects, and some (as in later times) combined the two highest arts of sculpture and painting.

"In the infancy of art, figures were represented in profile; but afterwards they were rare in Greece; and art could not reach any degree of excellence until figures in a composition had ceased to be in profile; and it was only in order to conceal the loss of an eye that Apelles gave one side of the face in his portrait of Antigollus.

The oldest paintings were also, as Pliny admits, monochrome, or painted of one uniform color, like those of Egypt; and, indeed, statues in Greece were at first of one color, doubtless red like those of the Egyptians, Romans, and Etruscans. For not only bas-reliefs were painted, which, as parts of a colored building, was a necessity, but statues also; and as art advanced they were made to resemble real life. For that statue by Scopas, of a Bacchante, with a disemboweled fawn, whose cadaverous hue contrasted with the rest, at once shows that it was painted, and not of a monochrome color; and the statues of Praxiteles, painted for him by Nicias, would not have been preferred by that sculptor to his other works if they had merely been stained red. The blue eyes of Minerva's statue; the inside of her shield painted by Pannaeus, and the outside by Phidias (originally a painter himself), could only have been parts of the whole colored figure; Pannaeus assisted in painting the statue of Olympian Jupiter: and ivory statues were said to have been prevented turning yellow by the application of color.

"If the artists of Greece did not paint on walls, it was not from any mistaken pride, since even the greatest of them would paint statues not of their own work; and those in modern days who study decorative art will do well to remember that to employ superior taste in ornamental composition is no degradation, and that the finest specimens of decorative work in the Middle Ages were executed by the most celebrated artists." Anc. Egyptians, 2, 277 sq. For a detailed account of Greek and Roman painting, as an art, see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. (See COLOR); (See PICTURE).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Painting'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/p/painting.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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