Did Picasso Steal from Ancient Romans?
Hey everyone, thanks for joining in on another inspiring article!
Today we are going to be digging deep into the art of Pablo Picasso to see if he stole from the Ancient Romans. Did he do it, and if so, what did he steal? Did others steal from them too? Let’s find out now!
The Ancient Romans...really? Picasso the Thief
Being able to identify a certain artists work without seeing their actual signature will take some time, but it can easily be done. It’s similar to how we can learn body language, or the species of a certain dog. Like me, you may have developed an eye for Picasso’s work because he’s one of your virtual mentors (see #425), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be tricked or confused every-now-and-then.
You know that feeling you get when you see a friend at the store and say, “Hey, how’ve you been?” But they give you a weird look and walk away. Oops! Turns out your friend has a doppelgänger. This person looks similar, but it’s not them at all. I had that same feeling when doing a random Google search and running across this next image. Is it a Roman fresco or a painting by Picasso? Hard to tell at first glance, don’t you think?
After a few seconds you may easily determine that it’s a Roman fresco, and here we can see the original image with decorative borders. It was that initial confusion that clues us in on Picasso’s ability to steal like a pro. What is it that reminds us of Picasso? Let’s keep digging!
“Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal.” ~Pablo Picasso
Picasso’s art went through a tremendous creative cycle from academic to cubism, but there’s a distinct gestation period from his earlier years that will help us find our answers. These are the Blue and Rose Periods, and it was when he was still struggling to make a name for himself and surpass giants of the time, like Henri Matisse (see Day 298). To surpass his plateau, he turned to the masters of the past, gained huge inspiration, then stole the essence of their art.
Here we can see some paintings from his Blue Period, which was from 1901-1904. Some might be easily identified as a Picasso, others maybe not. You may even start to see some similarities in the characteristics of their faces when compared to the Roman fresco. There’s much more though!
Here we have some Rose Period paintings created from 1904-1906, and it’s important to keep these dates in mind. Picasso made his breakout painting shortly after in 1907, and we’ll see that in the end of this article. For now, let’s keep identifying the techniques Picasso stole from the Roman frescoes to give us a great idea of how we can study masters we love, how long it may take to absorb their essence, and fill us with hopes of creating our own unique masterpiece full of stolen ideas and inspiration.
So, with the Rose Period examples above, and these next two comparisons below, are you able to identify some of the techniques Picasso copied. It should be smacking you in the face. It’s that distinct pink color! It’s so easy to see once it’s pointed out, and there’s no denying the similarities. He’s also simplifying the famale figure, hair and eyes. The only thing he seemed to leave behind was the decorative border.
Now that you know a little more about Picasso’s famous art periods, let’s keep going. You’ll definitely want to learn the other techniques he stole from the Roman frescoes!
Can you See the Similarities? Ancient Romans vs Picasso
What else did Picasso steal besides the color pink and the simplified nature of the figures? Well, we might’ve all heard of how the Iberian statues inspired him. He even bought a couple of stolen Iberian heads (left) from his friend. Can you see any similarities between these Iberian heads and Picasso’s work? Not really in the left one, but the eyes in the statue on the right kind of resemble some of Picasso’s paintings. Or do they? The eyelids on the top are large and more lit than the bottom lids, while a lot of Picasso’s paintings have the upper and lower eyelids lit. Let me show you in the next example…
Here’s an Ancient Roman sculpture with similar lighting that has the upper and lower eyelids more proportionate and lit. When compared to one of Picasso’s most famous paintings from the Rose Period, the similarities are very evident. Combine the pink color, with the figure and eyes, and we start to see how much Picasso is stealing from the Ancient Romans and making it his own. But wait, there’s more!
Another major element that Picasso is stealing from the Ancient Roman frescoes is the textures. This fresco below (left) can be seen at The Metropolitan Museum and is from 50-40 B.C. It’s super old, which explains the deteriorated, textured look. This aged effect inspired Picasso and he recreated it in countless paintings during this Rose Period.
Sure, Picasso has textures in the Blue Period and beyond, but during the Rose Period he seems to really try and emulate the aesthetic. Looks great!
Here are some more masterpieces by Picasso that have similar eyes, simplified bodies, texture, and pink color. The painting on the left is more abstract, and he’s starting to evolve his artistic style (see Day 122).
Picasso continues to steal by creating similar compositions. Can you see the similarities between the fresco on the left, and the Picasso on the right? The grouping of the characters, the simplified ground and sky…all similarities that might’ve been overlooked if we didn’t dig deep into these Ancient Roman frescoes.
We’ve seen this “playing with the hair” theme recreated in countless master paintings (especially Edgar Degas), but we can see Picasso doing it in several of his paintings from the Rose Period. Here we see that the Ancient Roman frescoes set the trend!
Picasso was greatly inspired by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and we can see how his painting even has some of the same qualities of the Ancient Roman frescoes. The textures and simplified figure are similar, but it’s not to the extent of Picasso…the best thief of them all!
Even Puvis (1824-1898) seems to have some of the same qualities, but he stole something completely different from the Ancient Roman frescoes than Picasso did. What was it?
It was their longer compositions! Here we can see the similarities in the Ancient Roman fresco compared to the long composition by Puvis. The techniques used to organize and pose the subjects is quite noticeable. Even Paul Gauguin (see #664) did a longer composition that shares similarities.
Here’s another comparison to see that Puvis even copied the flowing robes they are wearing. People didn’t wear these “bed sheets” during the 1800’s when Puvis was painting, so he definitely pulled it from the Ancient civilizations.
Now that you’re developing your eye for the Ancient Romans, Picasso, and Puvis, try to scroll through these next images and see if you can identify the correct artist. This will allow you to hone your skills and pick out certain details that can potentially be incorporated into your own art.
Look at the women in the background-left of this next one. Don’t they look like Picasso faces from the blue and rose period? This is actually an Ancient Roman fresco.
Enjoy these next examples from various artists which all have similar qualities, then we’ll get to the conclusion of Picasso’s hard work and thievery; his breakout painting that launched him into another realm!
So, here we have it! Everything has lead us to Picasso’s big breakout painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” This was finished in 1907 after his Rose Period, and we can see how he’s taken all of his inspiration from the past and created something new and exciting. He kept some of the same pink color, simplified the figures even more, has some of the texture, and even has abstract flowing robes. This rather large painting portrays five prostitutes in a brothel, but aside from the “sex sells” part of the painting, do you notice any new inspiration?
Picasso seems to have stolen what he can from the Ancient Romans and has moved onto African masks. We can see the similarities when compared side by side.
Here’s another painting with inspiration from African masks. So you see, he keeps stealing from the past and making it his own! So sneaky!
So, you saw how Picasso was greatly inspired by artists of the past and stole some of their ideas. This is perfectly fine because he incorporated it into his own artistic style and created something original (see Day 133). It wasn’t a generic cover song of his favorite band. It was all completely unique.
Do you have a favorite artist or two? Have you dug deep into their work and extracted anything you can use in your own art? If not, definitely give it a try. Maybe one day someone will analyze your art and allow it to inspire something new in their own.
Thanks so much for joining in, you are appreciated! See you in the next one!