Classical Greek Painting
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Classical Greek Painting

Tomb of the Diver
Tomb of the Diver (ca. 500 BC)

Artists in Classical Greece continued to favor the stiffer Mycenaean style of painting more than the looser, fancier Minoan style. Classical Greek painters usually didn't include any background, and they focused mainly on people rather than trees or flowers in their pictures. That's the same attitude as in Greek vase-painting or Etruscan wall-painting in northern Italy from the same time. Up to this point, Greek art is not very different from West Asian art either.

Persephone and Hades - Vergina
Hades kidnaps Persephone, from Vergina (ca. 330 BC)

But a little later, in the Hellenistic period, Greek painters became a lot more interested in painting livelier, more naturalistic pictures. Artists worked to show Persephone's clothing blowing in the wind, or Hades driving a chariot.

three horsemen hunting with spears
Horsemen hunting with spears (Vergina, ca. 330 BC)

The half-naked women with their wild clothes are the same nudes as in Greek sculpture or South Italian vase painting at the same time. But this hunting scene, disregarding the forest to emphasize the hunters and horses, shows the same interests as in Mycenaean Greece a thousand years earlier.

hermes leads a chariot with hades kidnapping persephone
Another Macedonian tomb; another
chance to see Hades kidnap Persephone
(mosaic, Amphipolis, ca. 300 BC)

Artists naturally chose Hades kidnapping Persephone to the underworld to decorate tombs, but the theme of men dominating horses and women seems super-Greek. West Asian audiences apparently shared the Greek interest in naturalism, because by the 300s BC more and more Greek artists were working in the Persian Empire, bringing their Hellenistic painting styles with them.

Learn by doing: do your own painting of Hades and Persephone
More about Greek Painting

Bibliography and further reading about Greek painting:

greek artgreek art

Ancient Greek Art, by Susie Hodge (1998)- easy reading.

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) A lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

Ancient Greek Painting and its Echoes in Later Art, by Massimiliano David (2004) - a little more difficult. Interesting analysis of the influence of Greek art on later European painters.

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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