Phoenician, Cypriote, and Asia Minor Painting
October 18, 2015
THE TRADING NATIONS: The coast-lying nations of the Eastern Mediterranean were hardly original or creative nations in a large sense. They were at different times the conquered dependencies of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Greece, and their lands were but bridges over which armies passed from east to west or from west to east. Located on the Mediterranean between the great civilizations of antiquity they naturally adapted themselves to circumstances, and became the middlemen, the brokers, traders, and carriers of the ancient world. Their lands were not favorable to agriculture, but their sea-coasts rendered commerce easy and lucrative. They made a kingdom of the sea, and their means of livelihood were gathered from it. There is no record that the Egyptians ever traversed the Mediterranean, the Assyrians were not sailors, the Greeks had not yet arisen, and so probably Phœnicia and her neighbors had matters their own way. Colonies and trading stations were established at Cyprus, Carthage, Sardinia, the Greek islands, and the Greek mainland, and not only Eastern goods but Eastern ideas were thus carried to the West.
FIG. 9.—PAINTED HEAD FROM EDESSA. (FROM PERROT AND CHIPIEZ.)
Politically, socially, and religiously these small middle nations were inconsequential. They simply adapted their politics or faith to the nation that for the time had them under its heel. What semi-original religion they possessed was an amalgamation of the religions of other nations, and their gods of bronze, terra-cotta, and enamel were irreverently sold in the market like any other produce.
ART MOTIVES AND METHODS: Building, carving, and painting were practised among the coastwise nations, but upon no such extensive scale as in either Egypt or Assyria. The mere fact that they were people of the sea rather than of the land precluded extensive or concentrated development. Politically Phœnicia was divided among five cities, and her artistic strength was distributed in a similar manner. Such art as was produced showed the religious and decorative motives, and in its spiritless materialistic make-up, the commercial motive. It was at the best a hybrid, mongrel art, borrowed from many sources and distributed to many points of the compass. At one time it had a strong Assyrian cast, at another an Egyptian cast, and after Greece arose it accepted a retroactive influence from there.
It is impossible to characterize the Phœnician type, and even the Cypriote type, though more pronounced, varies so with the different influences that it has no very striking individuality. Technically both the Phœnician and Cypriote were fair workmen in bronze and stone, and doubtless taught many technical methods to the early Greeks, besides making known to them those deities afterward adopted under the names of Aphrodite, Adonis, and Heracles, and familiarizing them with the art forms of Egypt and Assyria.
As for painting, there was undoubtedly figured decoration upon walls of stone and plaster, but there is not enough left to us from all the small nations like Phœnicia, Judea, Cyprus, and the kingdoms of Asia Minor, put together, to patch up a disjointed history. The first lands to meet the spoiler, their very ruins have perished. All that there is of painting comes to us in broken potteries and color traces on statuary. The remains of sculpture and architecture are of course better preserved. None of this intermediate art holds much rank by virtue of its inherent worth. It is its influence upon the West—the ideas, subjects, and methods it imparted to the Greeks—that gives it importance in art history.
ART REMAINS: In painting chiefly the vases in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the Louvre, British and Berlin Museums. These give a poor and incomplete idea of the painting in Asia Minor, Phœnicia and her colonies. The terra-cottas, figurines in bronze, and sculptures can be studied to more advantage. The best collection of Cypriote antiquities is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. A new collection of Judaic art has been recently opened in the Louvre.