Zeuxis (lost paintings from Greek artist; 5th century B.C.)

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A drawing of Zeuxis.

Status: Lost

Many Greek artists in the BC era created sculptures and statues as their works of art, but there were some artists that expressed their artistic abilities through painting, one of them being Zeuxis, a painter born in the 5th century, B.C. and is known to have "flourished" from 501 to 400 B.C.[1]

Life[edit | edit source]

Zeuxis was known to have studied art with Sicily (also called Demophilus of Himera) or with Neseus of Thasos. Historical records have stated that his paintings introduced quite a few art genres, such as still life, or the concept of "the ideal form of the nude". His paintings are also known for looking very realistic. The way he achieved this was using shading to make a simple way of using chiaroscuro (a painting technique used for light and shadow in 3D objects) instead of just painting inside the outlines. This technique made Zeuxis' paintings look realistic in comparison to others.[1]

He also had a special way of choosing woman models to paint. When he could not find the perfect qualities for a model in one woman, he used the features of multiple models to create an image of "ideal beauty". Many have stated his strategy for models is a special example of "mimesis", a technique of copying/changing things in nature.[2]

The Contest With Parhassius[edit | edit source]

At an unknown time, Zeuxis was known to have had a painting contest with another well-known Greek artist, Parhassius.[1] Both men, at the time, had reached the highest of their artistic abilities, but no-one could decide who was the best, and the contest was started to settle the argument.

The men were tasked to create large murals. They painted in private behind a wall, with an audience/judges waiting for them to show what they could do. Soon, Zeuxis and Parhassius finished, and Zeuxis revealed his painting first. It was a painting of a bowl of fruit, an early example of still life. It used his technique of realism. It is said that it was so realistic that a bird flew to the painting, and tried to steal a painted grape. It smacked into the wall. The judges thought that Zeuxis should win, until Parhassius revealed his painting.

Zeuxis asked Parhassius to reveal his painting behind the curtain, but he refused as he said it was impossible to do so. Zeuxis thought that Parhassius was refusing because he did not finish his painting and was accepting defeat, but as it turned out, the curtain was Parhassius' painting. It took a while for the audience to get that Parhassius' illusion was better than Zeuxis'. The prize went to Parhassius, and Zeuxis stated "I have decieved the birds, but Parhassius has decieved Zeuxis".[3]

Availability[edit | edit source]

Despite the famous art techniques Zeuxis used and introduced and the realism of the paintings he created, none of his paintings are known to survive today.[1] The reasons for this are unknown, but they are likely common factors, such as fires or the sheer age of the paintings. If these common factors are what contributed to their loss, the paintings may never see the light of day.

References[edit | edit source]