Art has been the primary form of human expression since time immemorial. Art forms have existed and evolved through centuries and civilizations – painting being one of the foremost tactics we turn to when language proves inadequate. Even though we are all aware of cave engravings and paintings, the materials and canvases are more versatile than a 21st century human can guess. We have assembled the 7 oldest paintings belonging to the 7 oldest civilizations that bear testimonies to the timelessness of art.
Hierakonpolis Tomb 100 – The oldest Egyptian painting
Time: 3500 BCE
Themes: Humans, Animals, War, Boats
The painted tomb of Hierakonpolis is perhaps one of the oldest Egyptian paintings, created roughly 5,500 years back. Made using plaster and paint, these paintings depict humans, animals, goddesses, boats and conflict. The painted walls of this tomb are believed to be predynastic, created even before the arrival of famous rulers like Tutenkhamen.
Experts believe these paintings might depict the arrival of Asians in Egypt, and the clash of two cultures till they eventually settled.
The remains of this art work now find home in the Egyptian Museum located in Cairo.
The Dancing Woman from Knossos – the oldest Greek painting
Time: 1600 BCE-1450 BCE
Theme: Dance as an art form
Made on pot, the graceful dancing woman from Knossos is the rare achievement of an unknown artist. However, they are believed to belong to the Minoans, who were famous potters of their time. Paint has been used on pottery to make delicate details like the eyes. The woman is seen wearing a classic Minoan garb, her hands striking a dancing pose and her hair done in the traditional Minoan style.
The fragments are now on display in the Archaeological Museum of Herakleion, Fresco.
Tomb of the Roaring Lions – the oldest Etruscan painting
Time: 690 BCE
Considered some of the oldest paintings to have been found in Europe, the tomb of the Roaring Lions depicts animals. The four feline creatures painted on this tomb in Vali, Italy are considered to be lions in a row. Even though it is supposed to have been built in the 7th century BCE, the tomb of the Roaring Lions is a very recent discovery. An accused tomb robber is said to have led authorities to this artifact, in 2006. These creatures were made using fresco technique.
Man Riding A Dragon – the oldest Chinese painting
Time: 475 BCE-221 BCE
Theme: Hope for a peaceful year
Not only one of the oldest Chinese paintings, the silk painting of a man riding a dragon is also one of the oldest paintings on silk to have been discovered.
The dragon in this illustration finds the shape of a boat. The man, associated commonly with Chinese nobility is seen riding this dragon. A small egret bird and a carp have also been painted on this brown silk cloth that measures 37.5 centimetres in length and 28 centimetres in width.
This painting is one of the cultural artifacts of China that are forbidden to be exhibited abroad, and is currently at the Human Museum.
Wall Paintings in the House of Sallust – the oldest Roman painting
Time: 400 BCE-100 BCE
Even though many Roman paintings were destroyed with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, a few remarkable examples of ancient Roman art still remain. Majorly ornamental in their bearing, these paintings take the grand Roman architecture to new heights.
One such example are the wondrous walls on the ancient house of Sallust, an epitome of the architecture of the era. The paints and stucco used for adornment give out the appearance of marbles and give the illusion of raised walls.
Sittanavasal Cave Paintings – the oldest Indian painting
Time: 100 AD-200 AD
Theme: Humans, Animals, Art
Do not let the name fool you. The Sittanavasal paintings in the caves of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu are not carvings or drawings. These paintings have been made using plaster, and over that are applied coats of paint.
Humans – artists, namely singers and dancers; animals including fish and more can be seen painted in these caves.
An interesting fact about the Sittanavasal cave paintings is that they were created around the 1st century AD, but artists have painted them over.
Painting from the Takamatsuzuka Tomb – the oldest Japanese painting
Time: 600 AD-700 AD
Theme: Humans, Animals
Discovered only in the later half of the 20th century, the paintings from the Takamatsuzuka Tomb in Japan are an epitome of early Japanese paintings.
Perhaps one of the best works in this tomb are the illustrations of men, women, courtiers and animals, called the Asuka Beauties.
These mural paintings are preserved in an outside facility, and the government of Japan is trying its best to preserve these national treasures.
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