Art in the transition to the Classical era

So far all the art I’ve looked at is primitive and flat – there is no sense of portraying three dimensions in two.

Things get more interesting as people start living in cities. (I’m looking here at the Mediterranean and Middle East.) There’s still a lot of flat art, but also a lot of people portrayed in detail in organized scenes. You may get people or animals directly behind or in front of others, but it’s a simple layering that says one is behind the other, not a true sense of depth.

Here’s an example from a box in a burial site in Ur (Iraq, ca. 2600 BCE):

Standard of Ur box

There are a bunch of people and animals standing around and doing things. This is the side portraying peacetime activities (people in civilian clothes, sitting, or carrying things, or leading animals), while the other side portrays wartime activities (people in uniform, some on chariots led by horses).

Similarly for Egypt, we have people sitting or standing around in tableaus, with the same twisted perspective, heads in profile, bodies at an angle so you can see both shoulders, both arms, both legs. Here is an example of a replica of a mural from 1400–1352 BCE, where people are fishing in a marsh.


In early classical Greece and Rome, we also get this flat tableau with twisted poses. They appear on urns and as wall murals. These examples date from the fifth and sixth centuries BCE. The first one is Greek and has musicians playing together, while the second one is Roman and has people socializing.

ancient-greek-art-ABTarquinia_Tomb_of_the_Leopards wikipedia

But then, as these cultures transition into linear logical thinking, things get interesting. We have a mosaic from Pompeii, Italy (late second or early first century BCE) that is based on a panel painting originally dated circa 310 BCE. The mosaic is a mess (it’s a battle scene – the battle of Issus – and parts of the mosaic are missing) but I get the sense that things further away (in this case men fighting) are smaller then things closer up.


And we have actual receding lines (not train tracks, but the lines of buildings) on a mural that dates from about 50-40 BCE! (The villa of Publius Fannius Synistor, Boscoreale, Italy.)


So can we retire now, having successfully made the transition to linear logical art? Nope, because things appeared to have backslid in the West after the fall of Rome.

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