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Origins of painting: from cave to Cleopatra

Weekend-long art history course

Short course

  • 24 November 2018, 10am — 5pm
  • 25 November 2018, 10am — 5pm

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Egyptian encaustic on wood mummy portrait of a girl

Roman Period, Trajanic, circa late 1st/early 2nd Century A.D..

Sotheby's, Ancient Sculpture & Works of Art Department.

This weekend course, led by antiquities expert Judith Nugée, explores the rich and sophisticated origins of painting in the ancient world.

It might be tempting to assume that representational and naturalistic painting developed in western art only in the Renaissance period and later. This course will challenge this common assumption and explore the highly sophisticated painting that was already flourishing over 1,500 years earlier, which sparked a tradition spanning millennia.

Following the success of the course Essential forms: Antiquities and universal motifs, held for the first time at the RA earlier this year, antiquities expert Judith Nugée returns with a stellar cast of experts to explore the fascinating topic of the origins of painting in ancient civilisations.

As early as 30,000 years ago, people were producing elaborate representational cave paintings. The great ancient civilisations of Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia saw the development of painting on wood, papyrus, ivory and linen – as well as three-dimensional supports including architecture, sculpture, ceramics and glass. Many of the great masterpieces of classical painting do not survive and are known to us only through mosaic copies or in literary references – but, nevertheless, the accomplishment in painting in these great civilisations is breath-taking. In these artefacts, we see techniques such as trompe-l’oeil, pseudo-perspective and sfumato which are astonishing in their complexity.

During this two-day course, experts will share their knowledge on such questions as: what motivates humans to create art? Can one truly speak of artists – as opposed to artisans – in the ancient world? They will take participants on a journey from man’s earliest cave paintings to the paintings and drawings of the great civilisations of antiquity which provide the foundation for the art of today.

Drawing and painting from Ancient Egypt over a period of three thousand years will be closely studied, from magnificent tomb frescoes and painting on papyrus to fascinating ostraca – limestone flakes bearing unofficial private ‘cartoons’ or parodies never intended to be seen publicly. In Ancient Mesopotamia, from the minute to the monumental, we will look at rare drawings found on cuneiform tablets as well as highly colourful Assyrian reliefs.

From the Greek world, the earliest frescoes from the Minoan civilisation of Crete and the Mycenaean civilisation of mainland Greece at the end of the second millennium BC to frescoes in Macedonian tombs in the fourth century BC will be discussed alongside painting on architecture, sculpture, mosaic and Greek vases.

Finally, Roman painting, largely preserved in the form of wall paintings, will be carefully explored as well as the remarkable Fayum portraits, the highly characteristic and realistic mummy portraits produced in Egypt during the Roman period, the oldest known portraits in the world and masterpieces of painting in antiquity.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

  • 24 November 2018, 10am — 5pm
  • 25 November 2018, 10am — 5pm

General Assembly Room, Burlington House, Piccadilly

£420. Includes all materials, light refreshments at the beginning of each day and wine reception at the end of day one.

Book now