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According to ancient evidence, Polygnotos ( ancient Greek Πολύγνωτος Polýgnōtos ) from Thasos was one of the most famous Greek painters, who, however, also created bronze pictures . He worked from about 480 BC. Until the middle of the 5th century BC. Chr.


"Polygnot, son and pupil of Aglaophon , came from Thasos, but received the Athenian citizenship as thanks for having painted the Stoa Poikile or, after others, the paintings in Theseion and Anakeion ." With these words, Valerius quotes Harpokration from a speech of Lycurgus of Athens origin and descent of Polygnots and provides the reason why Theophrastus called him an Athenian according to Pliny . At the same time he had the Delphic hospitality, the proxenia . In the other sources he is named as Thasier and son of Aglaophon and thus brother of Aristophon , as son and pupil of his father also by Dion Chrysostom . His lifetime is before the 90th Olympiad , i.e. before 420 BC. BC. For his painting of Iliupersis in the Lesche der Knidier in Delphi, the 468/467 BC created The poet Simonides von Keos died in BC . At this time, Polygnot must have been a respected painter, so his year of birth must have been around 490 BC at the latest. To be set. The end of his work is less easy to grasp. In Periclean times he no longer seems to have played an active artistic role. Rather, the equipment of the so-called Pinakothek is dated to 432 BC. Completed the Propylaea of Athens with pictures of the Polygnot as a posthumous honor. He painted mainly in Athens, Delphi and Thespiai . Polygnot was just as familiar with Kimon as Phidias was a few decades later with Pericles and especially Kimon's sister Elpinike .


His most important works were already the paintings in the Lesche der Knidier in Delphi. One picture shows the fall of Troy , the Iliupersis , the other the Nekyia , the descent of Odysseus into the underworld . Pausanias devotes seven chapters of his travelogue to the description of the pictures, while Pliny mentions them only in passing ( hic Delphis aedem pinxit ).

In the Stoa Poikile in the Athens Agora , four paintings were on display during the time of Pausanias. However, it is not possible to clearly determine which of these came from the hand of Polygnot. The images of the capture of Troy and the advice of the Greeks over the iniquity of Aias against Cassandra , as Plutarch narrates, were certainly from Polygnot . According to Plutarch, he immortalized Elpinike in the first-mentioned picture, with whose portrait he provided Laodike , Priam's daughter . Aelian alone claims that the painting of the Battle of Marathon was made by Polygnot and Mikon , while Mikon, usually with Panainos , is usually named as the author. Perhaps Polygnot also supervised the work in the Poikile, for Suda and Diogenes Laertios assign all the decoration to him. In the Anakeion, the so-called temple of the Dioscuri in Athens , his painting of the robbery of the Leucippids at the wedding of the Dioscuri could be seen. To what extent paintings in the Athenian Theseion came from Polygnot cannot be determined with certainty; Pausanias attributes it to Mikon. The unspecified works of Polygnot are located by Harpokration in a "Thesauros", a statement that one would like to correct to "Theseion".

Among the paintings in the Pinakothek der Propylaea, only the picture of Achilles hiding in disguise among the daughters of Lycomedes on Skyros is mentioned - already in poor condition at the time of Pausanias. In the pronaos of the temple of Athena Areia in Plataiai , which was built after the battle there and whose image of the god was created by Phidias, there was a painting of the suitor's murder by Odysseus, Mnesterophonia , by Polygnots.

In passing, Pausanias mentions the restoration of paintings by Polygnot of unknown content in Thespiai . In the porticus in front of the Curia des Pompeius , a room in the theater of Pompeius in Rome , there was a picture of a shield-bearer. Polygnot also devoted himself to encaustic , in which color pigments bound in wax are applied hot to the painting surface, and excelled as a sculptor without any notable result.


“(Polygnot) was the first to paint women in translucent robes and to cover their heads with brightly colored headgear and to be the first to introduce many other things into painting, such as opening the mouth, showing the teeth, and generally giving the face a more flexible expression to give the old rigidity ”, so the most detailed description of the artistic peculiarities of Polygnot in Pliny. The fact that Polygnot painted women in transparent robes should not be taken literally and could not be combined with his time. Lukian and Aelian, on the other hand, clarify what was special about his robes: The robes were of extraordinary delicacy and as if moved by the wind, so they made the body shape more recognizable than the skin color.

The earnings are not too low, but were one of the prerequisites for further development, in the course of which the painters dealt with the representation of the body and the problems of light and shadow. Approaches to this must have already been made by Polygnot. Because if one of his special achievements lay in the representation of the slightly open mouth, the representation of the teeth, then this is not necessarily just about overcoming the archaic smile , but a realistic representation of the dark oral cavity through color transitions and shadow effects. Without this, his achievements in facial expression would be inconceivable, which can not only be based on the beautifully drawn line of the eyebrow, as Lukian emphasizes for Cassandra in the Lesche der Knidier , but must have gone deeper: According to an epigram, lay in the eyelids a polygnotic Polyxena the whole Trojan War.

Little is known about the coloring of Polygnot. According to Quintilian , his paintings were simplex color , that is, of simple coloring, and Cicero counts him among the four-color painters. Pliny narrates his use of ocher, and a black color based on wine yeast. Lucian praises Cassandra's red cheeks. Pausanias, in his description of the Delphic pictures, also mentions the colors of the individual portrayed. According to this, Eurynomos , the demon of putrefaction, was of a color between black and blue, like that of blowflies. Polygnot used primary colors to mark the character and essence of those depicted.

His way of composing was characterized by staggering heights, group formation and the partial overlap of the depicted by terrain lines. The source of his representation was the Greek epic , which he structured - as exemplified in the picture of Iliupersis - and presented everything chronologically one after the other to the viewer at the same time: In the center the capture and destruction of the last walls of Troy, flanked by the representation and the condition of the camp of the Greeks and that of the Trojans, along the edges the withdrawal of the Greeks and Trojans.

Polygnot's pictures were mostly life-size representations of what was happening, in which, according to Aelian, he surpassed Dionysius von Kolophon . Aristotle already put Polygnot together with Dionysius, added Pauson . About all three he judged that "Polygnot above reality, Pauson below it and Dionysius according to reality" created their figures. His representations were thus shaped by an idea, were ideal implementations that exaggerated the petty and accidental truth and expressed a trait that stood above the purely material reality. For Aristotle, Polygnot thus met the essence of things in his paintings. Therefore Polygnotus was for him as Ethographos as "character painter" while the younger Zeuxis the ethos abginge. "Because in art the impossible, as soon as one gives it the appearance of the true, is to be preferred to the possible, but improbable." Aristotle judges from his treatment of Greek tragedy and in this sense the classification of the character maker is to be understood: like Aeschylus formed the characters of the tragedy, Polygnot created the representation of his characters placed in the picture.


  1. Harpokration sv Πολύγνωτος ; Suda , keyword Πολύγνωτος , Adler number: pi 1948 , Suda-Online ; Photios , Lexicon sv Πολύγνωτος .
  2. ^ Pliny, Naturalis historia 7, 205.
  3. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 59.
  4. Plato , Ion 532; Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 58; Scholion to Plato, Gorgias 448 B; Hesychios sv Θάσιος πάϊς Αγλαοφῶντος.
  5. Dion Chrysostom, Orationes 55, 1, 282.
  6. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 58.
  7. Pausanias 10:27 , 4.
  8. ^ Pausanias 1, 22, 6.
  9. Plutarch , de defectu oraculorum 6; Philostratus , vita Apollonii ; Scholion to Plato, Gorgias 448 B; Lukian , imagines 7; Themistios , orationes 34, 11, 40.
  10. ^ Pausanias 10: 25-31.
  11. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 59.
  12. ^ Pausanias 1:15 .
  13. ^ Plutarch, Kimon 4.
  14. Aelian, de natura animalium 7, 38.
  15. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 57; Pausanias 5, 11, 6; Harpocration sv Μήκων
  16. Diogenes Laertios 7, 1, 5; Suda , keyword Πεισιανάκτειος στοά , Adler number: pi 1469 , Suda-Online
  17. Pausanias 1, 18, 1.
  18. ^ Pausanias 1, 17, 2.
  19. Harpokration sv Πολύγνωτος
  20. ^ Pausanias 1, 22, 6.
  21. Pausanias 9: 4, 2.
  22. ^ Pausanias 35:123.
  23. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 59.
  24. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 122.
  25. Pliny, Naturalis historia 34, 85.
  26. Pliny, Naturalis historia 34, 85.
  27. Aelian, varia historia 4, 3.
  28. Lukian, imagines 7.
  29. Anthologia Graeca 3, 147, 5.
  30. Quintilian, institutio oratoria 12, 10.
  31. Cicero, Brutus 18.
  32. Pliny, Naturalis historia 33, 160.
  33. Pliny, Naturalis historia 35, 42.
  34. Lukian, imagines 7.
  35. ^ Pausanias 10:28 , 7.
  36. Aelian, varia historia 4, 3.
  37. ^ Aristotle, de arte poetica 2.
  38. Aristotle, de arte poetica 6; the same, Politeia 8, 5, 7.