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Apollodorus Skiagraphos

Apollodoros was an ancient Athenian red-figure vase painter who was active in around 500 BCE. His name is found on two cups.

Apollodorus Skiagraphos (Greek: Ἀπολλόδωρος ὁ σκιαγράφος) was an influential Ancient Greek painter of the 5th century BC whose work has since been entirely lost. Apollodorus left a technique behind known as skiagraphia, a way to easily produce shadow, that affected the works not only of his contemporaries but also of later generations. This shading technique uses hatched areas to give the illusion of both shadow and volume.

Little is known about the actual life of Apollodorus, although he was catalogued by the notable historians Plutarch and Pliny the Elder. It was recorded that Apollodorus was active around 480 BCE; his dates of birth and death, however, are not attested in any surviving historical works or fragments of works. He was given different names by those who wrote about him. To Pliny, he was the great painter Apollodorus of Athens; therefore, it can be assumed that he lived and worked in the polis of Athens. But, to Plutarch and Hesychius, he was known as Apollodorus Skiagraphos, “the shadow-painter, named after his greatest legacy.

None of his actual paintings remain, for, due to weathering, all of ancient Greek painting have been destroyed, and the elegance and beauty of Greek art can only be viewed in the sculptures that were later copied by the Romans and architectural ruins that remain. The subjects of some of the paintings were recorded, however, by quite a number of ancient Greek historians. Pliny the Elder recorded two paintings, Praying Priest and Ajax Burned by Lightning, that resided in the ancient Greek city of Pergamon which was situated in modern-day Turkey. Other ancient Greek historians cited the painting Odysseus Wearing a Cap and also Heracleidae, a painting that referenced the descendants of Hercules. Also, one of his paintings was supposedly entitled Alcmena and the Daughters of Hercules Supplicating the Athenians.

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As demonstrated by the titles of the paintings, it is probable that the majority of his works were similar to the other artists of the era in that their subject matter was most often based around the Greek gods and goddesses or other famous Greek citizens from historical epic poems that were passed on for generations in the oral tradition.
The topics of his paintings may have been unimaginative and common during the time period; however, it was his ingenious technique that made him such a renowned painter. One of the major artistic techniques that Apollodorus developed was called skiagraphia, or shading in English, hence his title “the shadow-painter”. The historian Plutarch recorded an inscription above one of Apollodorus’ painting which read, “’Tis no hard thing to reprehend me; But let the men that blame me mend me.” In other words, “You could criticize [skiagraphia] more easily than you could imitate it”

The type of shading applied by Apollodorus is highly sophisticated and even today people struggle to master skiagraphia. Apollodorus used an intricate way of “crosshatching and the thickening of inner contour lines as well as the admixture of light and dark tones” to show a form of perspective. Though it expanded the use of perspective in the ancient Greek world, skiagraphia was most effective in the depiction of stationary objects such as drapery, fruit, or faces; but it was ineffective in the painting of a body in action or a spatial setting for which perspective is usually used.

Another one of Apollodorus’ greatest accomplishments did not have to do with his actual style or technique, but rather with the medium he chose. Apollodorus could very well have been one to the first well-known artists who painted on an easel as opposed to a wall which was the common action of the day.

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