Perspective Art of the Ancients

In summary: angles and proportions in order to make it look like a real, three-dimensional object must have been a daunting task.
  • #1
Gear300
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How is it that the early Greeks and Romans had such well-sculpted statues of human figures, but not so well-drawn people on canvas or other 2D surfaces?
 
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  • #2
Great question. I can't wait to see the answers.
 
  • #3
Lol, none so far 😅. Maybe another forum.
 
  • #4
Here's a few guesses
- It was an aesthetic or stylistic choice not to have or want paintings to be as realistic as sculpture
- Surprising as it may seem since the ray model of light was understood, maybe no one had yet applied it to artwork. Heck, it wasn't until Brunelleschi published his book on perspective that the famous Renaissance works were made. The artwork of the Medieval period wasn't realistic either. But that wasn't the intent of it. Only after the cultural focus shifted from the heavens down to the earth with the Humanist movement did realistic paintings become popular. Maybe the cultural shift is what inspired Brunelleschi in the first place.
 
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  • #5
The real answer is we have no idea what their paintings looked like

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_art

The Greeks seem to have valued painting above even sculpture, and by the Hellenistic period the informed appreciation and even the practice of painting were components in a gentlemanly education. The ekphrasis was a literary form consisting of a description of a work of art, and we have a considerable body of literature on Greek painting and painters, with further additions in Latin, though none of the treatises by artists that are mentioned have survived.[101] Unfortunately we have hardly any of the most prestigious sort of paintings, on wood panel or in fresco, that this literature was concerned with.

The contrast with vase-painting is total. There are no mentions of that in literature at all, but over 100,000 surviving examples, giving many individual painters a respectable surviving oeuvre.[102] Our idea of what the best Greek painting was like must be drawn from a careful consideration of parallels in vase-painting, late Greco-Roman copies in mosaic and fresco, some very late examples of actual painting in the Greek tradition, and the ancient literature.

Whatever they put on those pots was not considered to be high art.

With that said, I suspect there's another element. Stonework in general was a well developed craft whose tools and techniques were used for commercial purposes, and also could be used for art. 2d art materials were probably pretty bad compared to what we know. Technical skills like perspective were probably also not well refined, if even understood by a lot of artists back then. Ideas like thinking about your light source for shadowing etc seem obvious now but someone has to think it up, and you also need a drawing tool that's even capable of shading, which you might not have had. As impossible as statue work seems to me, "make this thing physically an exact copy of what you want to depict" is conceptually simpler.
 
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  • #6
Gear300 said:
How is it that the early Greeks and Romans had such well-sculpted statues of human figures, but not so well-drawn people on canvas or other 2D surfaces?
It is harder to do, represent 3D on a 2D surface. The Greeks were pretty deep thinkers and one think they would have found a way.
Short answer, I have no idea.
This book has a chapter that could shed light if you can get your hands on a copy. EDIT: Chapters 3 and 4 feature Greek art. I had a quick look for free pdfs but no luck.

Gombrich.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_Art
 
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  • #7
Gear300 said:
How is it that the early Greeks and Romans had such well-sculpted statues of human figures, but not so well-drawn people on canvas or other 2D surfaces?
Office_Shredder said:
The real answer is we have no idea what their paintings looked like
This is true for the Ancient Greeks, but there are surviving parts of frescoes for example at Pompeii that portray perspective well. Searching "Pompeii perspective art" is a good way to find some.
 
  • #9
Office_Shredder said:
Technical skills like perspective were probably also not well refined, if even understood by a lot of artists back then. ... As impossible as statue work seems to me, "make this thing physically an exact copy of what you want to depict" is conceptually simpler.
Yes, I think this is it. The greeks had a quasi-religious devotion to geometry, and the idea of making an angle different in order to keep it the same must have seem strange and perhaps disturbing to them. For example, the corner of a building would be a 90° angle in real life, but calculating the correct angle on a 2d painting would require the same geometric rigor that one must abandon to appreciate existing 2d art of the time.

Although... There is a greek philosophy that at one point describes a man in a cave looking at shadows on a wall and thinking they are the real world. That basically describes a camera obscura. So they may have had such a thing, but didn't learn 2d projection from it? Maybe they just didn't like the results, or found them disturbing?

The art that Office_Shredder's link goes to does portray light and shadow pretty well. You don't need to understand light to do sculpture, so that is a unique development to 2d artists. The occasional bits of "correct" perspective could be accidents. There are all sorts of things that are obviously wrong to me, like the roofs of buildings being visible from a viewpoint below.
 
  • #10
All of this may get back to the original question. Why are all of those pictures of buildings, not paintings of people? Maybe because wonky looking buildings are still obviously buildings, but wonky looking portraits are just creepy
 
  • #11
Much of the development of technique of perspective was occasioned by the camera obscura . It was an oft-used tool iin the renaissance I believe.
 
  • #13
Gear300 said:
How is it that the early Greeks and Romans had such well-sculpted statues of human figures, but not so well-drawn people on canvas or other 2D surfaces?
I don't know how well-represented this can considered to be, but there are some pretty nice Roman mosaics, at least in my eyes:

1076px-Dionysos_Indians_Massimo.jpg

"Pavement mosaic with the fight between Dionysos and the Indians. Roman artwork, first half of the 4th century CE." Source: Dionysiaca (Wikipedia).

675px-So-called_Antioch_Mosaic.jpg

"So-called Antioch Mosaic, second half of 2nd century; Late Antonine"

Source: Roman mosaic (Wikipedia) (there are more mosaics in the gallery)
 
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  • #14
It is my understanding that Greek architects used "anti-perspective" anamorphosis tricks to make their structures appear more rectilinear. This indicates an individual understanding of perspective that is highly refined. In particular some of the metopes on the Parthenon are elongated to counteract the forshortening caused by the viewing angle from below and long horizontal steps are curved convex to make them "more" rectilinear in appearance.
Some of the Renaissance frescoes on curved vaults and domes are works delightfully showing great mastery of trompe l'oeil in various forms. M.C. Escher had very little on these guys.
 

What is "Perspective Art of the Ancients"?

"Perspective Art of the Ancients" refers to a style of art that was practiced by ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks and Romans, that used techniques to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality on a two-dimensional surface.

When did "Perspective Art of the Ancients" emerge?

The use of perspective in art can be traced back to ancient civilizations, but it became more refined and widespread during the Renaissance period in Europe, particularly in the 15th century.

What techniques were used in "Perspective Art of the Ancients"?

Ancient artists used various techniques to create the illusion of depth in their art, such as foreshortening, overlapping, and diminishing size. They also used mathematical principles, such as the rule of thirds and vanishing points, to create realistic and accurate depictions of space.

Why was perspective important in ancient art?

Perspective was important in ancient art because it allowed artists to create more realistic and lifelike representations of the world around them. It also added depth and dimension to their artwork, making it more visually appealing and engaging for the viewer.

How did "Perspective Art of the Ancients" influence modern art?

The techniques and principles used in "Perspective Art of the Ancients" have had a lasting impact on the development of art throughout history. They continue to be used in various forms in modern art, such as in photography, film, and digital art. Additionally, the study and appreciation of ancient perspective art have influenced and inspired many modern artists.

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