The art of ancient Greece is typically characterized by several periods through which the historians view its development. Three of the most prominent periods are archaic, classical, and Hellenistic. Each of these periods has particular distinctive features that reflect the transformation of views and values within the Greek society and its perspective of art and its meaning. This paper presents the detailed descriptions of the three periods, as demonstrated in the ancient Greek sculpture with their notable characteristics, examples, and analysis.
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The chronology of the Archaic period in Greek art refers to 700-479 BC; it begins right after the Geometric period and is followed by the Classical one (Wilson 73). Even though the historians and archeologists still argue about the time frame of this era, historically, this period is associated with a multitude of achievements of the Greek culture visible in such fields as politics, international relations, military, philosophy, literature, and, of course, art (Wilson 73).
Some of the most significant figures of this period are the poet Homer, and the philosophers Anaximander and Miletus (Wilson 73). Due to the active colonization and communication with the neighboring cultures, the Greeks of the Archaic period became heavily influenced by the foreign nations; as a result, a part of the Archaic period is also referred to as the Orientalizing period (Wilson 73).
In sculpture, this era is represented by what is known as Deadalic figures – the statues portraying nude male (kouroi) and dressed female (korai) bodies (Wilson 73). All of these figures have very similar positions (stiff and frontal) that do not assume much movement of the bodies. Male statues have one foot in front of the other while the female ones have feet put together; the position of the arms in the statues can vary within a small range of variations.
Analyzing the sculptures of this period, it is important to mention that the simplified human figures with perfect proportions and stylized anatomy reflect the view of art dominant in the Greek society of the time. Kouroi and korai signify that the Greeks promoted the harmonious physical and intellectual development of a human being and used sculpture as a way to realize and communicate their values.
Historically, the Classical period (479-323 BC) of Greek history follows the Archaic one and derives from the habits and styles established earlier (Wilson 166). The classical period in sculpture is associated with the new divide in its development and the transition towards greater authenticity. In other words, what used to be borrowed from the neighboring cultures during the Archaic era is changed.
In particular, the Greek sculpture begins to portray much more realistic figures in contrast to the stylized ones of the previous period (Wilson 166). The stiff poses of kouroi and korai are proof of the influence of the Egyptian art fixed figures, and limited variations are replaced by more natural and vivid sculptures depicting bodies in movement and original poses (Wilson 166). One of the most well-known sculptures of the Classical period is The Discus Thrower by Myron that portrays an athlete in action, about to throw his discus. This development occurred because new sculpting materials became available to the artists.
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That way, while the stiff and simplistically posed figures of the Archaic period were made of marble, the statues of the Classical period are sculpted of bronze. Many of the statues of that era were destroyed by the time (including The Disk Thrower), and the contemporary historians know about them only due to their descriptions is literary works and paintings (Wilson 166). The purpose of sculptures shifted just like their appearances – the Classical statues depicted the admired figures (Gods, political, or military leaders). That way, one may say that art became even more meaningful and obtained practical meaning in addition to the aesthetic one.
The history of Hellenism in the Greek art is associated with the conquest of Alexander the Great, and that is why this style of sculpture became rather widespread and majorly associated with Greek artists (Ridgway 70-71). Compared to the two previously discussed periods, the Hellenistic style stands out for its increased dramatic content. All of the sculptures of the Hellenistic period have complex poses and are made of either bronze or marble; however, the technique of the Greek masters is visibly more advanced than ever before (Ridgway 70).
One of the most outstanding sculptors of the time was Diomedes. The well-balanced and authentic poses of the Classical sculptures are improved by emotional charge and extremely realistic drapery. Moreover, contrasting with the simplistic and nameless kouroi and korai of the Archaic era, and compared to technically weighted and purposefully placed figures of prominent leaders and actors of the Classic era, the sculptures of the Hellenistic period are more artistic. They depict well-known characters from Greek literature and mythology (Ridgway 69-71). The Hellenistic sculptures often depict the characters in dramatic moments – sad, scared, suffering, and angry. As a result, one may notice that the art of sculpture became much more emotional on top of its prior rationality and balance.
To sum up, the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods in the Greek sculpture present three different styles. They also provide a clear illustration of the historical advancement of the Greek culture, as reflected in the development of sculpture. In particular, while Archaic works are homogenous and resemble one another, those of the Classical era demonstrate more originality. The works of the Hellenistic period are the most dramatic and unconventional with a wide range of emotional contents and meanings.
Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. Hellenistic Sculpture. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. Print.
Wilson, N. G. Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. New York, New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.