4, November 2013 § 2 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Euphrosyne Doxiades is a painter and an expert on encaustic, the wax based painting method of the Ancient Greeks. She has been asked to contribute her knowledge of the technique to a conference in Athens which is examining the use of paint on marble surfaces, both architectural and sculptural. She asked my help to recreate a figure which is on a marble disk thought to be from the mid fifth century. The piece is in the museum in Paros and was found in the cemetery excavation near the sea. It was the lid of an urn which may have held the ashes of an athlete who had won a competition for discus throwing.
What remains of the paint is vermillion pigment and there were traces of gold on the head and on the discus which are now missing. We painted vermillion mixed with hot bees wax and mastic directly into the surface of the marble and added gold leaf to the hair and the circle of the discus. The paint was “burned in” using a hot tool and then scraped and polished to a soft shine. Euphrosyne had made previous tests which insured that the paint adheres to the surface even out of doors in full sun.
We had a joyful time recreating this beautiful remnant of ancient culture and perhaps it will contribute to the scholarship as well.
15, May 2013 § Leave a comment
Euphrosyne Doxiades revealed secrets about the encaustic method of painting in a recent workshop at the Aegean Center. Encaustic is an ancient technique in which pigments and wax are blended together and applied hot to a surface. An electric hot plate kept the wax at the perfect temperature to dip into and spread with a brush. Small alcohol burners were also used to heat metal spatulas which spread the wax. Working on a dark imprimatura the wax strokes leave a highly textured surface which can be further manipulated with heat. Electric tools can be used as well. The four color palette was employed; white and black, yellow and red. Euprhosyne’s book, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, shows how this ancient technique was used for mummy portraits in first century Egypt. Her book is published by Thames and Hudson.
16, April 2012 § 1 Comment
Euphrosyne Doxiadis, working her persuasive powers and demonstrating her intense passion, gave the students two wonderful lectures this last month. Her first, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, opened their eyes to the high level of artistic wizardry which created the portraits of people living in Hellenistic Egypt in the first century after Christ. These portraits look wonderfully fresh and alive after being pulled from the sand of the desert where they had been affixed to mummies. We wonder at their clarity, color and modern feel. The painting students who are currently learning the four color palette, the same ancient system as was used by the Greek masters, saw the depth and variety this limited palette allows. Euphrosyne went into some detail as to the technical procedure so that the students could realize they are participants in a long line of painting tradition spanning the ages.
The second lecture was equally fascinating. Euphrosyne believes, and has convinced us all, that the Rubens painting in the National Gallery in London, the Samson and Delilah, is a forgery. With precision and evident distaste she pointed out the particular flaws which demonstrate that this could not be an original: the lack of convincing brushwork, the flattened spacial elements, the poor understanding of form, the inky black background that comes against but not behind the figures. All of these things and many more are tell-tale signs that Rubens had no hand in the piece. Her website http://www.afterrubens.org tells the whole story. No one left the lecture with any doubts.
– Jane Pack
6, April 2009 § 3 Comments
On a beautiful Thursday afternoon last week, the Aegean Center enjoyed a lively and interesting presentation by Euphrosyne Doxiadis. A long time friend of the Center, Euphrosyne presented two previous talks this semester regarding the Fayum Portraits and the contested Peter Paul Rubens painting of Samson and Delilah in London.
Euphrosyne presented the art of encaustic painting — painting with beeswax. Byzantine icons and the portraits of the Fayum use this ancient technique which dates back thousands of years. Pigments derived from earth are mixed with the hot wax which can then be applied to a prepared surface, such as wood or canvas. Based on the tetrachromy (or four color palette) of white, black, red and yellow, this simple palette can yield hundreds of colors.
Euphrosyne gave an overview of the preparation –melting the wax on a hot plate, adding mastic resin to act as a binder, adding the pigments themselves and the application of the paint with large stiff brushes. The colored wax, once applied, immediately hardened on the surface and could then be further manipulated by using electric tools to heat, melt, scratch and shape the wax.
Many of the students experimented with the paint and found it exciting but challenging to manipulate the wax paint before it set. We found it would take some time and practice to learn subtle handling of this medium.
16, March 2009 § 3 Comments
I attended The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts last Fall 2008 and wrote a blog post at the end of the semester expressing my strong desire to return to the following session to complete a full year of study. Fortunately, after a short winter break of working, I was able to fulfill that vision and was delighted to arrive back in Paros two weeks ago. I have since resumed classes in painting, drawing, art history and Greek literature.
While I was home in CT between semesters, I traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was amazed at how objects and paintings that I would have at one point rushed past now emerged from their displays with a historical context and meaning. I was able to adequately identify the importance of most of the artifacts and pieces of art, displayed not only in the Ancient Greek and Roman collection, but also in the Renaissance Art collection– what a great way to gauge how much I’d learned. My only regret was that Jeffrey, our art history teacher, didn’t materialize from behind one of the ancient marble statues to guide me through the rest of the museum as he’d done so many times before in Italy.
In between the Greek and Roman art and the Renaissance collection, I took a quick trip to the Egyptian collection and passed a room with earthy colored portraits painted on wood panels. Although some dated back to 2000 years ago, the color palette, emotion and mastery with which the portraits were painted reminded me almost of the Renaissance styles we had seen in Italy. I’d remembered seeing these paintings in the book The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt at the Aegean Center last semester and made a note to myself to take a closer look at it when I returned. Fortuitously, last weekend, the author of the book, Euphrosyne Doxiadis, visited the Aegean Center to give a guest lecture. Upon hearing about her presentation, I was reminded again of how important it is to see art in a comprehensive context and to understand the connection between the ancient world and the Renaissance. When approached in this holistic way, it is easy to view art’s continuity and progression over multiple centuries and the Fayum Portraits are an integral part of understanding the beginning of ‘western art’.
The Fayum portraits are a collection of paintings discovered in the Fayum, a valley near Cairo, dating to the Roman period, from the early 1st century AD and onwards (possibly to the 3rd century AD). Painted on wood panels or directly onto the linen cloth of burial wrappings, these portraits are an unbelievable discovery because they show us some of the only existing examples we have of paintings from the ancient world. While much pottery and sculptures have survived, paintings on wood and linen often don’t last long (let alone 2000 years) and we are fortunate that the low rainfall in the Fayum valley allowed for them to endure.
As Euphrosyne explained, in ancient Roman Egypt at the time of Christ, it was a Greek profession to paint the portraits of people living in Egypt and then have the paintings buried with them for passage into the afterlife. This Egyptian tradition speaks to the cultural emphasis that was put on death and life after it. As a result, the portraits are meant to portray the true essence of their subjects; that is, to capture them as individuals in life and not death. They are the means through which someone’s essence becomes eternal. To emphasize the sense of life that is infused in each of these portraits, Euphrosyne had us view them while she carried around a bundle of lavender stems and played an Egyptian dessert song.
Almost as if these portraits served their indelible purpose, thousands of years later, it is impossible to view them without feeling connected to the subjects portrayed. Each face is slightly different in form and color, but is consistent in its ability to engage the viewer completely. As John Pack commented, it is almost comforting to view the collection of faces again because they have become like old friends. There is a timeless and accessible quality to these paintings making them both current and unforgettable. As Euphrosyne explained, the Fauym paintings are “monuments of mourning” that venerate the people just as they are. She shared the poem, Tomb of Lanis, by the modern Greek poet, Constantine P. Cavafy, to better illustrate this.
Tomb of Lanis
The Lanis you loved, Markos, isn’t here
in this tomb you come to weep by, lingering hours on end.
The Lanis you loved you’ve still got close to you
in your room at home when you look at his portrait-
the portrait that still keeps something of what was valuable in him,
something of what you used to love.
Remember, Markos, that time you brought in
the famous Kyrenian painter from the Proconsul’s palace?
What artistic subtlety he used trying to persuade you both,
the minute he saw your friend,
that he absolutely must do him as Hyacinth-
in that way his portrait would come to be better known.
But your Lanis didn’t hire out his beauty like that;
reacting strongly, he told him to paint
neither Hyacinth nor anyone else,
but Lanis, son of Rametichos, an Alexandrian.
-Constantine P. Cavafy
In addition to its broader relevance to our study of art right now, I also found this lecture particularly interesting for technical reasons given that we are learning about the earth palette and portraits in painting class right now. As if to even further infuse their portraits with life, the artists of the Fayum paintings would use only organic colors from the earth (black, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and white) to depict the skin color of their subjects. Any other colors were used on inorganic parts of the paintings, like clothing or jewelry. Given the fact that we are learning how to paint with the earth palette and I am in the process of painting flesh colors on two of my paintings, I felt that this lecture was both informative and inspirational. We are also learning more about portraits and how to effectively convey a subject’s essence based on their gesture, tilt of their head and expression on their faces. The Fayum portraits are an unbelievable discovery not only for their historical significance, but also for their contemporary contribution to artists and painting students. We were fortunate to have Euphrosyne Doxiadis join us last weekend and share her knowledge and passion on this topic.