This article will be covering the only known woman painters within ancient Greece and Rome. These include the following; Timarete, Aristarete, Helena of Egypt, Eirene, Calypso, and Iaia. Though we do not know much about them here is what we do know all thanks to Pliny.
If you want to look at the original text along with a translation click here.
If you want to check out any of the secondary sources check the bibliography.
Timarete was a Greek painter, who lived in Syracuse in the third century B.C.E. Her work is described by Natalie Kampen by quoting Pliny “Timarete’s masterpiece was Artemis of Ephesos which was ‘tabula… antiquissimae picturae’.”(Kampen, 1975, p.10) Translations of the saying “tabula … antiquissimae picturae” varry, the translation from Kampens book says; Where as the translation from Yandex Translate states; ‘Tabula… antiquissimae pictrae’ roughly translates to “The board… the oldest paintings”
Kampen was uncertain of the context of Pliny’s writing, due to possible discrepancies while translating the quote above. Kampen couldn’t be sure if Pliny meant, Timarete was painting in an archaicizing style or if Timarete was an archaicizing artist. Who wasn’t related to Micon despite all the evidence pointing that way? (Kampen, 1975, p.10)
What is missing is a section of the quote marked as the “…”. If you read the quote as “The board, the oldest paintings” without the missing section of the quote, it sounds like she painted on a board. In the case of the Mikaela Batista thesis it was likely she painted on a panel made of stone or wood. While quoting Giovanni Boccaccio’s writings in her thesis Batista discussed how Boccaccio’s writings embellished women who were in the arts. Batista then goes on to quote Boccaccio’s discussion on Timarete.
“For instance, when Boccaccio discussed Timarete, he stated ‘Thamyris (Timarete) scorned womanly tasks and practiced her father’s craft with remarkable talent…She gained such acclaim for her painting that the Ephesians, who had a particular veneration for Diana (Artemis), long preserved as a celebrated image of this goddess a panel painting done by Thamyris’.” (Batista, 2016, p.22)
Due to Boccaccio’s statement’s on Timarete’s painting, saying the picture of the goddess was a panel painting. It can be concluded that in Pliny’s writings it is likely he meant Timarete painted ancient figures on panels, rather than her not having a connection to Micon.
By doing further research it can be found that the full Pliny passage says, “Timarete Miconis filia Dianam quae in tabula Ephesi est antiquissimae picturae” (Plinius, Year unknown. pg 170) which translates to ‘Timarete the daughter of Mikon, painted an Artemis at Ephesos in a picture of very archaic style.’ [translation by] (Jex-Blake, 1896. pg171) By using this translation we see Timarete is indeed the daughter of Micon. Using this translation it can be noted that when Pliny discusses Timarete’s work, it is more likely that she was doing board paintings, and not that Timarete had no correlation to Micon.
Next, we have Aristarete who as Kampen mentioned we do not have much information on, and she painted a portrait of the healer Asklepois. Asklepois is said to be a physician god. Since little is known about Asklepois until after the fifth-century B.C.E (Kampen 1975 p.10), due with the fact that she was the daughter of Nearchos who was said to be active from 570-555 B.C.E. that puts her being from the sixth-century B.C.E.
HELENA of EGYPT
Helena of Egypt lived in Alexandria in the fourth century B.C.E. Helena had painted the Battle of Issus, which depicted Alexander and Darius. Kampen mentions that it may have been this painting that was the model for the Battle of Issus mosaic that resides in the Pompeian House of the Faun. (Kampen, 1975. p 11) The Battle of Issus happened in 333 B.C.E. and it is when Alexander the Great invaded Asia and defeated the Persian army that was lead by King Darius III. This battle resulted in Alexander the Great conquering the Achaemenian Empire. (Britannica 2000)
EIRENE & CALYPSO
Eirene was the daughter of Kratinos, a painter from whom she learned her painting skills. Pliny said Eirene had painted a female figure at Eleusis. (Kampen 1975 p.11) Kampen also states that Pliny’s word choice is not clear, and therefore creates issues of interpretation. Specifically whether her painting was of an actual girl or was referring to the deity Kore. (Kampen 1975 p.11) This is because the word deity means girl in Ancient Greek.
According to Corbeill, Eirene, “painted the portrait of an old man, Theodorus the conjurer, and a dancer.” (Corbeill, 2017 p 187) These paintings were done by Eirene if we take the idea of Calypso being a painting, and not another painter as mentioned in Fröhner’s interpretation. Corbeill also mentions that Calypso could be the woman Eirene painted; but there is a lack of evidence that can confirm or deny which of these are true. If Calypso was, in fact, a painter then she may have painted the paintings of the old man, Theodorus the conjurer, and the dancer.
Kampen proceeds to discuss how quickly the artwork from then deteriorates so there is no proof that Calypso was a painting by Eirene. But there is no proof that she existed either as almost all of the other women painters in antiquity had a father mentioned who was also a painter within the articles as well. (Corbeill, 2017 p 187) These different interpretations come from the different translations in Pliny’s work based on punctuation indifferences. This is nicely highlighted in Linderski’s paper entitled The Paintress Calypso and Other Painters in Pliny.
“How many women painters are here listed? If we follow Mayhoff’s punctuation, three, it would appear: Timarete, Irene, and Aristarete. But there is a problem: one of Irene’s creations, the nymph Calypso, threatens to become an independent paintress herself. So, at least, if we give ear to the recent and excellent Budé editorand commentator, J-M. Croisille (1985, 99), who places a semicolon after Eleusine, and translates thus: “Calypso a peint un Vieillard, Théodorus l’illusioniste, Alcisthénès le danseur”. In his commentary (256–57) he observes that according to a number of authorities 2 “le nom de Calypso serait un accusatif, et désignerait non une femme-peintre, mais une oeuvre d’Eiréné”, and concludes: “le doubte subsiste, mais l’accusatif Calypso nous paraît peu vraisemblable”.” (Linderski, 2003 p. 342-343)
Linderski goes on to discuss it in a grammatical sense looking at Pliny and how the Latin language works. The name Calypso is being used in an accusative form in between two other accusative words. Puellam (girl) and senem (old). This is where the translations start to have different interpretations. Linderski mentions two different translation sentences which can change the interpretation.
“Plinian Latin, felt discomfort with his own text, and made with respect to Calypso and senem this annotation in his apparatus: “fortasse et delendum. an vero Calypso senex intellegitur opposita puellae?” His alternate text would read as follows: “puellam, quae est Eleusine, Calypso, senem praesti-giatorem Theodorum” or “puellam, quae est Eleusine, Calypso senem et praestigia-torem Theodorum”. Desperate solutions: in particular we do not seem to know anything about the old age of the nymph Calypso.” (Linderski, 2003 pg 343)
The first interpretation “fortasse et delendum. an vero Calypso senex intellegitur opposita puellae?” translates to ‘maybe you and delendum. or the accompaniment of a old grasp opposite ends of the girls?’ (yandex translator latin to english).
The second interpretation “puellam, quae est Eleusine, Calypso, senem praestigiatorem Theodorum” translates to ‘the girl, which is Eleusine, the accompaniment of calypso an aged praestigiatorem Theodorum’ or “the girl, which is Eleusine, the accompaniment of calypso an old and tricks-creator of the fine there Theodorum” (yandex translation Latin to English).
With the first interpretation you get ‘you and another person.’ The original has Calypso in Latin. Since Calypso was in the original line that got translated, it would appear that she was the “another person” in the translation; making her a real person and not the painting Eirene did.
In the second translation we get mentions of four people, and if we go with the original idea that Calypso was one of Eirene’s paintings then the line in question could just be referring to the four paintings.
If discussing whether or not Calypso was her own person then it is highly recommended to read the rest of Linderskis paper, which is linked Here.
Jex-Blake’s translation supports the idea that Calypso was in fact her own painter and not a painting here is his translation: “Irene Cratini pictoris filia et discipula puellam quae est Eleusine, Calypso senem et praestigiatorem Theodorum, Alcisthenen saltatorem, Aristarete Nearchi filia et discipula Aesculapium.” (Plinius pg 170) his translation is “Eirene, the daughter and pupil of the painter Kratinos, Timarete. painted a maiden at Eleusis, Kalypso painted portraits of an old man, of the juggler Theodores, and of the dancer Alkisthenes” (translation by Jex-Blake 1896 pg171)
After seeing all the translations I am more in agreeance that Calypso was her person, as all the evidence is pointing in that direction.
Iaia of Kyzuzikos was a painter circa 100 B.C.E She was very popular with her portraits of women. Iaia was also said to have worked rather quickly in tempera (mixing pigments in water and a binder) and encaustic (painting using heated wax and oils). She was said to have been better than the two male painters Sopolis and Dionysios. (Kampen 1975, p.11)
“She was said to be ‘perpetua virgo’ (latin for perpetual virgin) which may help to explain her eminence; she may have been freer of traditional ‘female’ duties then other women.” (Kampen Natalie, 1975, p.11)
It was Plinius who had said “laia Cyzicena perpetua virgo” (Plinius pg 170)
Iaia was also said to have painted a self portrait by using a mirror, and she had also painted mini portraits which were popular within the first century B.C.E.
Iaia was single her whole life she then worked in Rome amongst the youth of Marcus Varro. She was known to be the most rapid painter, and her paintings even sold for a higher price than the works of her male counterparts Sopolis and Dionysios. Both of which have paintings that are still around today.( Frasca-Rath, 2020, p7 )
“Iaia may have used a special technique of encaustic painting, employing chemical reactions to mix fugitive oils with wax in order to brush the paint onto the surface of her works” (Frasca-Rath, Anna, 2020, p7)
This is an example of oil painting as she was mixing her pigments, with oils and waxes so they would stick to surfaces. But this would also prolong the life of the colours as oil-based paints are more sustainable to the elements then those that are water-based.
Since there is little to no evidence that these painters existed this Greer quote is interesting. Greer claims “Pliny categorises these female painters ‘among all the other freakish circumstances, most of them imaginary’.” (Greer 1979 pg not mentioned but found in Baldwin Barry, 1981 p19) The lack of physical paintings that still exist to this day could potentially lead towards the ideal they are imaginary; but there is no evidence that they are fake people, as other information of their personal life can be found.
Baldwin, B. (1981). Germaine Greer and the Female Artists of Greece and Rome. Echos du monde classique: Classical news and views 25(1), 18-21.
Bailey, J., Washington, F., & Wilcox, R. (n.d.). Asklepios: Ancient hero of medical caring. Retrieved February 28, 2021, from https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/0003-4819-124-2-199601150-00011
Batista, M. (2016). Ancient greek women: Weavers, painters and patrons (Order No. 10157414). Available from ProQuest One Academic. (1823266470). Retrieved from https://ezproxy.acadiau.ca:9443/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/ancient-greek-women-weavers-painters-patrons/docview/1823266470/se-2?accountid=8172
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020, April 3). Battle of Issus. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Issus-Persian-history
Corbeill, A. (2017). A new painting of calypso in pliny the elder. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from https://eugesta-revue.univ-lille.fr/pdf/2017/6.Corbeill-Eugesta-7_2017.pdf
Frasca-Rath, A. (2020). The origin (and decline) of painting: Iaia, butades and the concept of ‘women’s art’ in the 19th century. Journal of Art Historiography, (23), 1-17. Retrieved from https://ezproxy.acadiau.ca:9443/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/origin-decline-painting-iaia-butades-concept/docview/2478618921/se-2?accountid=8172
Kampen, N. (1975). HELLENISTIC ARTISTS: FEMALE. Archeologia Classica, 27(1), 9-17. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/44366491
Linderski, J The Paintress Calypso and Other Painters in Pliny, ZPE 145, 2003; with addenda RQ II 2007 https://www.academia.edu/8870387/J_Linderski_The_Paintress_Calypso_and_Other_Painters_in_Pliny_ZPE_145_2003_with_addenda_RQ_II_2007
Plinius Secundus, C, Natural History, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1968. The Elder Pliny’s Chapters on the History of Art, (Translated by K. Jex-Blake with commentary by E. Sellers) Chicago, 1968 https://ia600208.us.archive.org/2/items/cu31924031053550/cu31924031053550.pdf
Sparrow, W. (1905) Woman Painters of the World. Women Painters in Italy since the Fifteenth Century pp. 11-15 pdf https://file.largepdf.com/file/2019/04/09/8923062509.pdf
Venit, M. (1988). The Caputi Hydria and Working Women in Classical Athens. The Classical World, 81(4), 265-272. doi:10.2307/4350194 https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4350194.pdf