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Macedonian art: Classical Greek, and more
VERGINA, Greece, Jan 30, 1996 (Reuter) - Splendid large-scale paintings found in Macedonian tombs have not only revealed an unknown side of ancient Greek art but could shed light on the political riddles of their time. An archaeologists dream come true, the group of royal tombs unearthed outside this northern Greek farm village in the late 1970s includes one thought to belong to the father of Alexander the Great, King Philip of Macedon.
The discovery of gold jewellery, precious artefacts and a human skeleton thought to be Philip himself briefly eclipsed the stunning but faint pictures on the walls of the luxurious temple-like tombs built around 350 BC.
Archaeologists say the pictures have not only enriched their scant first-hand knowledge of ancient Greek painting but could reveal some of Alexanders political power games. Topping the facade of Philips stately marble tomb, a 5.5-metre (yard) partly-damaged hunting scene looks as if the Parthenon frieze has come to life in vibrant colour.
``We think that the central figure of a youth could be Alexander and the older, bearded figure preparing to slay a lion to the right is his father Philip, said archaeologist Chryssoula Paliadeli, a professor at the University of Salonika, who is writing a paper on the painting.
ALEXANDER MAKES POLITICAL POINT
She said it is possible that Alexander, who commissioned the painting after his fathers death, might have been sending a message to the crowds attending the burial that he was now the central and prime political figure.
``The painter was taking orders from Alexander, who could not have resisted the chance to make a political point on such a public occasion, she said. ``I am looking at all the historical evidence that could illuminate this. The Macedonian warrior king who campaigned as far east as India, succeeded his father Philip after he was stabbed to death at the peak of his glory while attending a procession. While the location of Alexanders grave remains a great archaeological mystery, the discovery of Philips tomb by Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos is among the richest finds of the century.
Evidence is far from conclusive. But scientists say they can reconstruct Philips skull from bone fragments, complete with an eyesocket damaged from a battle wound. The artefacts point to the richest royal Macedonian burial found to date, while the fact the tomb was hastily shut with unfinished interior walls suggests Alexander must have wanted the issue of Philips death closed quickly so he could be on the march.
COLORS REMAIN ON TOMB FACADES
Buried under a dirt tumulus to evade grave looters, the monumental tombs still bear bright colours on their facades. ``These tombs give us a much more realistic picture of ancient Greek architecture, which was very colourful and unlike the all-white Parthenon at the Acropolis, Paliadeli said. Known as the Princes tomb, a smaller building next to Philips could belong to Alexanders slain teenage son, Alexander IV.
The large painting adorning its facade was done on a leather and wood canvas and has since crumbled to dust but an interior frieze of a chariot race survives intact. Of much greater artistic value is a painting covering three out of four interior walls of a small, raided grave next to Philips, said Vergina curator Angeliki Kottaridou, who was a student of the late Andronikos.
It shows the god Pluto, ruler of the underworld, sweeping up to his horse-drawn chariot young Persephone as she unsuspectingly picks field flowers.
MORE RENAISSANCE THAN CLASSICAL GREEK
The nearly life-size composition looks more like the Renaissance paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo than the monochromatic vase paintings of Classical Greece. Andronikos believed this was the work of a famous ancient Greek painter, Nicomachus, whose style as described in historical records matches the abduction scene, Kottaridou said. ``Before these discoveries all we had was the pale imitations of Greek paintings in Pompei. Now we see that artistic achievement reached as late as the Renaissance had already been reached by the ancient Macedonians, she added.
Although by Philips time Macedonians had moved their capital from ancient Aigaimodern day Verginato Pella, where exquisite mosaics have been discovered, they continued to bury their royal dead here.
can see the tombs in the crypt-like museum built under a reconstructed
tumulus, rising just outside the village of Vergina, 35 km (22 miles)
east of Salonika.
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