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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

F. B. Tarbell, A History of Ancient Greek Art

Greek Painting

Zeuxis and Parrhasius

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Page 2

Moreover, we hear first in this period of mural painting as applied to domestic interiors. Alcibiades is said to have imprisoned a reluctant painter, Agatharchus, in his house and to have forced him to decorate the walls. The result of this sort of private demand was what we have seen taking place a hundred years later in the case of sculpture, viz.: that artists became free to employ their talents on any subjects which would gratify the taste of patrons. For example, a painting by Zeuxis of which Lucian has left us a description illustrates what may be called mythological genre. It represented a female Centaur giving suck to two offspring, with the father of the family in the background, amusing himself by swinging a lion's whelp above his head to scare his young. This was, no doubt, admirable in its way, and it would be narrow-minded to disparage it because it did not stand on the ethical level of Polygnotus's work. But painters did not always keep within the limits of what is innocent. No longer restrained by the conditions of monumental and religious art, they began to pander not merely to what is frivolous, but to what is vile in human nature. The great Parrhasius is reported by Pliny to have painted licentious little pictures, "refreshing himself" (says the writer) by this means after more serious labors. Thus at the same time that painting was making great technical advances, its nobility of purpose was on the average declining.

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