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Who is Agatharchus?

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By Gwylym Owen

Agatharchus or Agatharch (Ancient Greek: Ἀγάθαρχος) was a self-taught painter from Samos, who lived in the 5th century BC. His father was named Eudemos (Εὔδημος). He is said by Vitruvius to have invented scenic painting, and to have painted a scene (scenam fecit) for a tragedy which Aeschylus exhibited. Hence some writers, such as Karl Woermann, have supposed that he introduced perspective and illusionism into painting.

However, as this appears to contradict Aristotle’s encouragement that scenic painting was introduced by Sophocles, some scholars understand Vitruvius to goal merely that Agatharchus build up a stage. But the context shows clearly that twist painting must be meant, for Vitruvius goes upon to say that Democritus and Anaxagoras, carrying out the principles laid all along in a treatise written by Agatharchus, wrote upon the thesame subject, showing how, in drawing, the lines ought to be made to correspond, according to a natural proportion, to the figure which would be traced out upon an imaginary intervening jet by a pencil of rays proceeding from the eye, as a fixed point of sight, to the several points of the plan viewed.

It was probably not till towards the halt of Aeschylus’s career that scenic painting was introduced, and not till the times of Sophocles that it was generally made use of, which may account for what Aristotle says.

Agatharchus was therefore the first painter known to have used graphical perspective upon a large scale, although rare occurrences of perspective complete appear in vase painting something like the middle of the 6th century BC. He is along with said to have led the mannerism for cutting edge painters, such as Apollodorus.

Agatharchus was a contemporary of Alcibiades and Zeuxis, and was often singled out for the ease and rapidity later than which he the end his works.Plutarch and Andocides at greater length tell an anecdote of Alcibiades having inveigled Agatharchus to his house and kept him there for on zenith of three months in strict durance, compelling him to paint it. The speech of Andocides above referred to seems to have been delivered after the destruction of Melos (416 BC) and in the past the expedition to Sicily (415 BC); so that from the above data the age of Agatharchus may be proficiently fixed.

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