Ancient Greek Wall Paintings

Painting was the favorite form of art in ancient Greece. It used to be more important than sculpture.

Ancient Greek authors and historians, such as Pausanias and Pliny, thought the paintings on the walls of particularly temples and other public buildings were equally – if not even more – brilliant and significant as the buildings and the sculptures.

Wall painting began its development during the archaic period, and at the beginning, it was on the same level as vase painting.

By the end of the Hellenistic period, wall painting had improved drastically. The top Greek painters used shadows, perspective, foreshortening, modeling to reveal contours in forms, interior and landscape backgrounds.

They also used different colors to create a sense of distance in landscapes.

  • Panel and wall painting was among the most common forms of art. However, because of the delicacy of the medium and materials, almost no painting of this kind has been preserved.
  • The images that we can see on Greek vases may give us a feel of how those walls probably looked like. Hoverer, none of the vases from the classical period survived.

    All the vases, plates and cups that we have in museums were producer much earlier, during the archaic era.

  • Subjects of vase paintings include gods, heroes, athletes; various scenes from the Olympic Games; mythical creatures such as snake-haired Medusas and centaurs; and sometimes dancing girls.
  • The written sources say that Greek wall paintings often displayed portraits and figural scenes.
  • The most renowned Greek painter, according to Pliny the Elder, was Apelles of Kos.
  • Some mural compositions from ancient period survived, as well as the Pitsa panels, which don’t quite represent the Greek painting in its full glory.
  • Roman wall paintings, which are still preserved in Pompeii and some tombs throughout Italy, are widely believed to be the copies of famous Greek masterpieces.
  • Much later, the Byzantine icons and illuminated manuscripts continued the distinct Greek style.
  • Greeks mixed pigments with hot wax to paint their warships. They probably used the same technology to make other paintings.
  • The colors were derived from plants, earth, and precious stones. The blue color was made of a fluid that a certain kind of hermaphroditic snail produced when exposed to daily light.

The History of Ancient Greek Wall Paintings

  • The Greeks have been painting the walls of their public buildings ever since the Minoan and Mycenaean period.
  • Knossos, Mycenae, Tiryns, and other sites throughout ancient Greece were lavishly decorated by frescos.
  • Pausanias mentions and thoroughly describes several large paintings that were created during the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
  • In the later periods, the Greeks continued with fresco painting on the plastered inner side of the walls of palaces and villas. Most ancient Greek frescoes represent fantastic images of nature and life.
  • Fresco artists, just like all painters and other artists in ancient Greece, were highly esteemed and often patronized by wealthy Greeks and, later, the Romans.
  • The fresco technique included a preparation of the wall, which was covered with a fine layer of white covering. Then the artist would use a sharp instrument, often an obsidian chip, to sketch the key features and the most important details.

    While the surface was still wet, the artist would apply the colors. Since the colors were soaked in, the image created that way was fairly durable.


What was the most appreciated form of art in ancient Greece?

It was painting.

How do we know about ancient Greek wall paintings when none of them survived?

Greek authors and historians wrote a lot about famous painters and their works.

What are the frescoes and how did they survive?

Fresco painting is a special kind of painting on the inner walls of the buildings. The fact that those are inner, and not outer walls probably helped.

How did ancient Geeks get colors for their paintings?

They found them in nature and got them from plants, animals, precious stones, and earth.

Back to : Ancient Greece