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Development of the Figure in Ancient Greek Art

Throughout history, Greek and Roman Empires have been considered to be the origin of Western culture. The art from these times lies at the foundation of the modern ideals of beauty, perfection, rationale, and balance. The rise and fall of Greece shaped a unique approach to artistic forms. This essay will discuss the development of art in Ancient Greece from the Archaic to Hellenistic periods.

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The initial Geometric period gave way to the Archaic period in Greek art. Instead of separating figures into simpler geometrical forms, artists began practicing to illustrate more realistic proportions (Stokstad & Cothren, 2018). Mostly, they have explored such figures as athletes and warriors. The portrayal of musculature was especially important in the composition, although their poses and expressions were more static than during later eras, with statues staring back at the viewer. It has been discovered that Greek artists extensively used colors in their works to add realism (Stokstad & Cothren, 2018). With the development of pottery, such art techniques as black-figure and red-figure have appeared. In these art forms, portrayed characters were not static, but instead conveyed a story (Stokstad & Cothren, 2018). Despite the progress in art forms and techniques, this period is called archaic because, if examined in comparison to later periods, it was still underdeveloped.

The Classic period, however, is considered the peak of Greek artists’ performance. During that era, the ideals of western beauty that were preserved until modern times were formed. Stokstad and Cothren (2018) state that “scholars associated Greek Classical art with three general concepts: humanism, rationalism, and idealism” (p. 122). These three concepts are clearly reflected in the works of that time, as every detail was given a meaning. Poses were no longer stiff, and the slightest notions of movement that were added invited the viewer to make a certain conclusion on a particular art piece. The intense study of human figures allowed Greek artists to perfect human anatomy to minute details. The High Classical period is considered a pinnacle of artistic refinement since the sense of harmony and balance was interwoven in every artwork. During that period, an artist followed a set of guidelines for “symmetria” – the relationship between body parts to one another (Stokstad & Cothren, 2018). This approach could be traced even in the city plans of that time, as cities were built with the idea of mathematical accuracy using proper geometry forms. Stepping back from the depictions of athletes or warriors with composed, the High Classical period is marked by the implementation of figures in personal or domestic contexts (Stokstad & Cothren, 2018). During the Late Classical period, this notion continued to evolve, and expressions were given a greater variety of emotions.

However, after the fall of Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire rapidly began to change, and art went along with these changes. Hellenistic artworks are significantly distinct from Classical, as the structural, idealistic approach gave way to artistic freedom. Hedreen (2016) argues that it was “an epochal collective psychological development of individualism” (p. 60). The emerging individualism shifted the main focus of artworks into the diametrically opposite direction. Stokstad and Cothren (2018) state that artists turned away from depicting “the heroic to every day, from gods to mortals, from aloof serenity to individual emotion, and from decorous drama to emotional melodrama” (p.150). In conclusion, the characteristics and ideals of art that were developed in Ancient Greece continue to play a major part in modern art.


Hedreen, G. (2016). The image of the artist in archaic and classical Greek art, poetry, and subjectivity. Cambridge University Press.

Stokstad, M., & Cothren, M.W. (2018). Art history. (Vol. 1, 6th ed.). Pearson.

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