Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Ancient World

Detail of Garden Landscape, c. 30 BC
from the Villa Vivia near Prima Porta

There are landscapes depicted in the Bhimbetka Cave Paintings and in ancient Egyptian, Cretan and Greek art. Painting is so ephemeral, and history subject to fashionable perspectives that it's difficult, if not impossible, to determine exactly what, if anything, landscape art was about before a certain point.

The most accessible and succinct article on ancient landscape painting can be found in Nils Büttner's Landscape Painting: A History. This article is based on that book's first chapter, The Ancient World.

Büttner feels confident that the history of landscape painting can be started in Ancient Rome. In addition to excavated walls from Pompeii, Herculaneum, and elsewhere - the illustration for this post is a small section of the Garden landscape, c. 30 BC, from the Villa Vivia near Prima Porta - Büttner cites four literary sources.

In describing interior decoration around 25 BC, Vitruvius describes good taste, "In corridors, however, because of their length, topia, or landscape scenery should serve as decor, which often meant depictions of specific places. One paints, for example, harbors, foothills, shorelines, rivers, springs, seas, temples, forests, mountains..."

Pliny the Elder not only mentions landscape painting in his Naturalis Historia (AD 77), but claims that landscape painting was invented in Rome. He describes Spurius Ludius (Tadius) who painted "country houses, colonnades, garden structures, groves, forests, hills, ponds, seas, rivers, shores, whatever one wished..."

My favorite quote is from Pliny the Younger who writes about country life around AD 100. "You would think you were looking at an idealized, beautifully painted region, not a real one." What sort of paintings did he have in mind?

Although wall paintings made for architectural decoration are our primary evidence of actual landscapes, Philostratus (born c. 190 AD) describes landscape paintings from a Neopolitan gallery in his work, Eikones (Images).

You can read more on ancient landscape art in a limited preview section of A World History of Art by Hugh Honour & John Fleming.

More on Ancient Art

I found this little bonus in my travels and thought you might enjoy reading an article on New Finds at Pompeii from a January 6, 1882 article in the New York Times.

Read my other posts on the history of Landscape Painting.

See my paintings at Landscape into Art.

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Leena said...

I have seen decorations in Pompeii, graves of Etruscans, in pieces of paintings in many islands of Greece, they are so many all around, they have those fine colours like made straight from a nature as they were.

Your example is so elegant and beautiful.

Happy day to you, Suzanne!

( this my first "free" day without grandchildren after two weeks!)

Cloudia said...

Thought-provoking! Aloha-