The first painting resulted from tracing the outline of a shadow cast by a human figure on a wall  

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The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) by Joseph-Benoît Suvée, in the collection of the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.
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The Invention of the Art of Drawing (1791) by Joseph-Benoît Suvée, in the collection of the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
history of painting

The first painting resulted from tracing the outline of a shadow cast by a human figure on a wall is a dictum by Pliny the Elder.

"The origin of painting is obscure, and hardly falls within the scope of this work. The claim of the Egyptians to have discovered the art six thousand years before it reached Greece is obviously an idle boast, while among the Greeks some say that it was first discovered at Sikyon, others at Corinth. All, however, agree that painting began with the outlining of a man’s shadow; this was the first stage, in the second a single colour was employed, and after the discovery of more elaborate methods this style, which is still in vogue, received the name of monochrome."

And in another passage, Pliny tells a similar story:

Of painting I have said enough and more than enough, but it may be well to add some account of clay modelling. It was by the service of the selfsame earth that Boutades, a potter of Sikyon, discovered, with the help of his daughter, how to model portraits in clay. She was in love with a youth, and when he was leaving the country she traced the outline of the shadow which his face cast on the wall by lamplight. Her father filled in the outline with clay and made a model; this he dried and baked with the rest of his pottery, and we hear that it was preserved in the temple of the Nymphs, until Mummius overthrew Corinth.

Translations are from The Elder Pliny’s Chapters on the History of Art, trans. Katherine Jex-Blake.

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