In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Painting

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Bibliographic Tools
  • Literary Sources
  • Color and Technical Aspects
  • Vase Painting in Relationship to Monumental Painting
  • Archaic Greek Painting in Persia
  • Archaic Greek Painting in Egypt
  • Archaic Greek Painting in West Greece (Magna Graecia)
  • Classical Painting in Greece
  • Classical Painting in Western Anatolia / Ionia
  • Classical Painting in Cyprus
  • Classical Painting in Egypt
  • Hellenistic Painting in Cyprus
  • Hellenistic Painting in Cyrene, Libya
  • Hellenistic Painting in the Punic Mediterranean
  • Vase Painting in Relationship to Monumental Painting: The South Italian and Sicilian Polychrome Tempera Technique

Classics Greek Painting
Stella G. Miller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0231


The scope of this article under the heading of Greek painting is broad. In effect, this article takes on the almost impossible, and inevitably controversial, task of covering vast territories throughout the Mediterranean in areas where Greeks at different periods cast their influence, directly or indirectly, whether through trade, migration, or intermarriage. It raises issues ranging from identity and ethnicity to acculturation and hybridity that we can recognize as taking many forms. “Mediterraneanisms” is a term sometimes employed rather effectively, but complexities are legion and the study of paintings on a contextual basis is highly recommended. Yet for all the inclusivity of coverage attempted here, two major areas are omitted: the Aegean Bronze Age and the Etruscans (except in passing), because Oxford Bibliographies follows the traditional pattern in treating them as separate units. This article is structured to begin with general overviews and bibliographic tools. Next comes a selection of basic works on literary sources, followed by a section on color and technical aspects. The bulk of the article is then organized according to conventional chronological divisions (Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic) with subdivisions set along relevant geographic lines, moving according to chronological division in loosely clockwise fashion from Archaic Greece as a starting point to Hellenistic Italy at the end. The aim is to provide something of a road map through an unstructured maze that includes not only mural paintings but also selective groupings of vase paintings, an assortment of painted stelae, plaques, altars, klinai, and, in the Hellenistic period, even a few pictorial mosaics and textiles that are arguably dependent on monumental painting. Finally, there is an excursus that introduces as case studies two important Roman monuments that are widely held to be inspired by Greek prototypes.

General Overviews and Bibliographic Tools

Swindler 1929 is the first comprehensive study of ancient painting, from caves to Christians, in a masterful single volume that is still worth consulting for its many insights. The field has, however, developed since then both in terms of the greatly expanded corpus and by virtue of different scholarly approaches. The current tendency is to focus on regions or chronological periods within them according to scholarly expertize. Indicative is Pollitt 2014 with its individually authored chapters that begin with the Aegean Bronze Age, more often treated separately in the early 21st century, and end with Roman Imperial times to include regions both in the East and West, and chronological divisions within them. Important is the way Etruscan painting is integrated into the whole. Pollitt 2014 will be an obvious starting point for current research. Also to be recommended is the more narrowly defined Scheibler 1994 for its overview in relatively compact format of Greek painting, Archaic through Hellenistic. Many will find Lydakis 2004 intriguing for the great swath the author cuts through the medium from the Bronze Age down to Renaissance reception of ancient painting. AIPMA produces the bibliographic publication titled Apelles, which is a useful guide to early-21st-century research.

  • AIPMA: Association Internationale pour la Peinture Murale Antique.

    This association, founded in 1989, regularly publishes a bibliographic bulletin on ancient paintings that is titled Apelles. It is a useful serial of broad scope, though, like its counterpart on mosaics, AIEMA (Association Internationale pour l’Étude de la Mosaïque Antique), it is heavily weighted toward the Roman period in accord with the nature of the discipline. AIPMA also sponsors international conferences on ancient painting, most recently in 2013 at Athens, Greece, which are followed by published proceedings.

  • Lydakis, Stelios. 2004. Ancient Greek painting and its echoes in later art. Translated by John Davis. Athens, Greece: Melissa.

    A handsome book, translated from the Greek (Αρχαία ελληνική ζωγραφική και οι απηχήσεις της στους νεότερους χρόνους) that covers material from the Bronze Age through the Renaissance. The author seeks to reconstruct Greek painting along traditional lines but takes an extreme and rather outmoded position in viewing Roman paintings as essentially little more than copies of Greek originals. It is on Antiquity’s reception in the Renaissance and beyond that the author has most to offer.

  • Pollitt, Jerome J., ed. 2014. The Cambridge history of painting in the classical world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An excellent, up-to-date resource with chapters written by experts in the field, ranging from ancient art criticism to major regional and chronological epochs covering the Aegean Bronze Age to Late Imperial Rome. A must for current research. Includes CD-ROM.

  • Scheibler, Ingeborg. 1994. Griechische Malerei der Antike. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    A useful handbook. Evidence from literary sources is combined with material culture across artistic media to take into account not only Greek monumental painting but also paintings on clay, stone, and wood. All basic issues are addressed with a good assortment of black-and-white illustrations.

  • Swindler, Mary Hamilton. 1929. Ancient painting from the earliest times to the period of Christian art. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive study aimed at student usage, still to be consulted despite being much out of date. A masterful work for its time. Reprinted as recently as 1979 (New York: AMS Press).

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