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Ancient Classicism Roots in the Visual Arts


Classicism is a genre in philosophy that expresses itself in from of art, music, literature and architecture. It has Roman and ancient Greek sources and lays an emphasis on society. Ancient classicism had a high regard for classical antiquity. Classicism art typically is formal as well as restrained. It was a force that was reckoned within the post –medieval European and was influenced by European traditions. Ancient classicism forms the foundation of arts in the western tradition because subsequent eras either emulate or reject classical principles and techniques. This paper will endeavor to discuss the roots of ancient classicism in the visual arts- Hellenic, Hellenistic and Roman Cultures. The aesthetic and social values of each culture. Finally, the paper will look at the changes that have been observed with the advent of monotheism.

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Hellenistic culture

This refers to the period between the death of Alexander the Great and Cleopatra (Long, vii). It was during this time that Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire. Hellenism generally means the culture of the Greek-speaking areas in the Roman Empire. The Greek civilization penetrated into other territories and preserved its natural culture. During this time the humanistic elements of Greek art inspired many European artists. This continued into the 19th century when the classical tradition dominated the art in the western world (Yamuchi, 45-78)

The ancient Greek art has survived in form of architecture and sculpture. The other form of art was coin design, gem engraving and pottery. In the Greek society painting was regarded as the highest from of art. The famous painter of this period was Polygnotus of Thasos, but none of his work exists today.

In the Hellenistic period pottery was done in bulk however, it was not done primarily for artistic importance. It was made to be used in the day to day life for example drinking vessels, cups, jugs, waters jars and others.

More importantly the Greek art became diverse due to the influence of other cultures that came into contact with the Greek culture. Some artists say that the quality and its authenticity dropped. This is because the Roman culture had absorbed a major part of the Greek culture. That not withstanding, there were masterpieces that could be seen in sculptors. This was in works such as pergamon altar. The sculptors were naturalistic and children, common people, women, animals became subjects of sculptors. These sculptors were used by wealthy people to adorn their homes as well as gardens. The portraits of men and women made were realistic and the artists were not obliged to represent beauty and psychical perfection only (Cunning and Reich, 67-87)

Roman culture

The Roman culture was influenced by the Greek culture in the middle of the second century BC. This happened during the classical era when the Roman and Greek culture interlocked. This happened in spite of opposition to the influence of the Hellenized culture by conservative moralists. The Greek civilization had influenced the politics, art, philosophy, language, education systems and architecture of the rest of the world. This led to the renaissance in Western Europe as well as the neo-classical revivals during the 18th and 19th centuries (Fiero. 56-78, 91-105)

The Greeks who worked as slaves in Roman household taught the young Romans that doctors, secretaries, chefs and others came from Greek. The Greek sculptors were imitated by Roman sculptors. The Greek influence did not stop in art but went as far as cookery. The Roman cuisine written in book s was essentially Greek. In addition, a Greek style of writing was preferred over Latin.

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Aesthetic and social values of Hellenistic culture

The art of the Hellenistic culture show social values as well as the aesthetic values of the Greeks. In Greek art was held in high esteem. It also showed advancement in thinking especially the Geometric and protogeometric periods. The kind of art during the progeometric period shows their interest in mathematics as artist adorned vases with using symmetrical patterns and circles. The period that followed was geometric and the art became advanced and there were triangles, zig zags, meaders (Cunning and Reich, 40). This interest showed their fascination with nature, and then they become fascinated with the human form and painted it to show the beauty and perfection of the human body. The acropolis and Kritios Boy are some examples of works that show the aesthetic values in this culture.

Aesthetic and social values of the Roman culture

The art of the Roman show their fascination with their rulers as they were regarded highly. They used their art to display the authority of their rulers. For example, works such as The Bust of Cicero was a medium through which the artist conveyed their ideals political appearance of their rulers. They were also concerned about religion and many felt that the art of the Greeks was bad and many works of Greeks were destroyed. Cunning and Reich, 92-120)


Contact with other cultures led to changes in the Hellenistic culture. The hellenistc culture came into contact with cultures that were monoetheistics and this led to development of a different kind of art (Yamuchi, 33-35, 61-84). The Art has continued to change from classicism. There are those who accept it and those who reject classicism. During classicism there was a belief in many gods. The art of that time depicted polytheism. For instance, in the Greek culture paintings were made to show the many gods that were worshiped in that era. With the advent of monotheism changes have been noted in the way art is done and perceived today. The emphasis of art shifted from nature to metaphysics. Therefore, the work of art different from the classicism work as people are not concerned with the things that concerned people during the ancient time.


The work of art throughout history has shaped the different culture found in the world. Studying these works is important as we are able to understand the way of life of people. More studies should be done to deepen the understanding out the evolution of different cultures.

Works cited

Cunning, Lawrence and Reich, J. Culture and Values: a Survey of the Humanities. 6ed. Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2005.

Fiero, K.G. Landmarks in Humanities. 2ed.New York: McGraw-Hill higher Education, 2008.

Long, A.A. Hellenistic philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics. California: University of California Press, 1986.

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Yamuchi, Edwin M. Greece and Babylon: Early Contacts between the Aegean and the Near East. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1967.

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