Art from Ancient Greece to the Medieval era

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Art from Ancient Greece to Renaissance

The Greeks called art (techne), whereas the Latins called it (ars). The words however didn’t have the meaning we have given them in the modern times.

The first one to define the word art was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who said that art was an activity obeying rules from somebody who had knowledge of his craft. A person learned the rules of a craft since his childhood and after a long apprenticing, he became himself a sculptor, a painter or a carpenter.

Philosophy in Greece tried to bring order, balance and clarity to the chaos of nature and the world. In order to preserve this order, it had to apply rules and support them. This is what we call “classical”, that is traditional and conservative.

The painters and sculptors were different from other craftsmen only with respect to their mastering of technique and skill. Sculpture and painting were separated from music and poetry which were considered divine and enjoyed respect from everybody.

The word (techni) meant mechanic, implying making things manually. Painters and sculptors belonged to a lower class in society, because people didn’t think much for those who used their hands to make things. So, craft and fine arts in ancient Greece were considered one and the same thing.

In the late ancient period there was a list of seven arts: Astronomy, Arithmetic, Dialectic, Rhetoric, Geometry, grammar and Music. Painting and sculpture were neglected. Despite Pliny’s and Varro’s efforts to include architecture and painting among the other arts, visual arts were ignored, and even Seneca refused them a place among them. Both the Greeks and the Romans considered painting and sculpture as manual arts like other crafts.

The word artista was used in the middle ages and meant a craftsman like in the ancient period, that is a person who had an activity he had trained in. The artists of this period didn’t have a social status any better than their ancient colleges and were generally anonymous. People judged them for their skill and technique.

By the 12th -13th centuries painting and sculpture were listed among other mechanical crafts. Because they ground their colours they belonged to the guild of apothecaries and physicians. Sculptures belonged to the guild of goldsmith.

Works of the 5th century didn’t survive, we have however descriptions of some of them and information about the career of the greatest painters. Polygnotos dealt with the depiction of depth and the psychological condition of his figures. Apollodoros dealt with the perspective and tonal values. Agatharhos also tried to depict objects with a perspective. Zeuxis had a great career and it reported he was the first one to organize a beauty contest in order to find a model for the beautiful Helen of Troy. In the 4th century realism and exact depth were the objective of most painters. Apellis was the great Alexander’s official painter. Some copies of the greatest works were discovered in Pompeii.