Greek Art and Architecture, paintings, sculpture, buildings, and decorative arts produced in ancient Greece, from about 1050 bc to 31 bc. Greek civilization encompassed not only mainland Greece but also nearby islands in the Aegean Sea, the western coast of Turkey (known as Ionia), southern Italy and Sicily (known as Magna Graecia, or Great Greece), and by the late 300s bc, Egypt, Syria, and other Near Eastern lands. Among its best-known monuments are stone temples, statues of human figures, and painted vases.
The importance of Greek art and architecture for the history of Western civilization can hardly be overstated, for the Greeks established many of the most enduring themes, attitudes, and forms of Western culture. The stories told in Greek art and literature of gods and heroes have been retold ever since and continue to form a common ground for the art, literature, and even popular culture of the Western world.
Greek artists were the first to establish mimesis (imitation of nature) as a guiding principle for art, even as Greek philosophers debated the intellectual value of this approach. The repeated depiction of the nude human figure in Greek art reflects Greek humanism—a belief that 'Man is the measure of all things,' in the words of Greek philosopher Protagoras. Architecture is another Greek legacy that the West has inherited, as Greece established many of the structural elements, decorative motifs, and building types still used in architecture today.
|II||A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW|
Historians have divided Greek history into periods that are in some ways based on individual judgment, and the names and dates of those periods vary from one account to another. Without question, however, the roots of Greek culture lie in Mycenaean culture, which lasted from about 1600 to about 1100 bc. This was a time of warrior-kings, fortified cities, and palaces, a time when highly developed monumental art and architecture first flourished on the Greek mainland and bureaucrats wrote in an early form of Greek called Linear B. This era has become known as the age of heroes, through such stories as those of Achilles and Odysseus that Greek poet Homer later recorded in his epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey (8th century bc). Many of the Greek gods (see Greek Mythology) were first worshiped in the Mycenaean age, and the remains of Mycenaean architecture and other artifacts fueled the imagination of later Greeks.
Mycenaeans built simple houses of a type that the Greeks continued to build long after the Bronze Age ended. And Mycenaean workshops established a tradition of painted pottery that continued without interruption, though not without great changes, into later periods. In short, much of Mycenaean culture carried over into later Greek society.
|A||The Dark Age (1100?-750 bc)|
At the end of the Bronze Age, invaders, civil wars, or wars between kingdoms destroyed most Mycenaean centers of power, and Greece entered a period of relative impoverishment, depopulation, and cultural isolation known as the Dark Age. The art of writing was lost for most of the Dark Age, and few notable artifacts of the period remain. During this time, Greece seems to have been a land of small farming communities that had little to do with one another.
Yet the term Dark Age masks some real achievements. Archaeological finds on the island of Euboea have shown that at least parts of Greece prospered and enjoyed extensive contact with cultures to the east. During the Dark Age, Greeks settled Ionia, a tradition of oral epic poetry (that probably began in the Mycenaean age) continued to develop, and artisans in Athens produced an abstract style of painted pottery called protogeometric (meaning “first geometric”). The precision and harmony of the painting on this pottery foretell the character of later Greek art.
The last 200 years or so of the Dark Age, from about 950 to about 750 bc, are called the Geometric period, a term that refers to a primarily abstract style of pottery decoration of the time. During the Geometric period the Greeks came into closer contact with cultures of the Near East, and traders and artisans from Phoenicia (along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea) settled in parts of Greece itself. The Greeks probably adapted their alphabet from a Phoenician model around 800 bc; the earliest surviving examples of written Greek date to soon after that.
The Geometric period also saw the emergence of independently governed city-states. Marked by rugged mountains, valleys, and a jagged coastline, the geography of Greece did not promote unity. During most of its ancient history, Greece was a disunited land of scattered city-states, and wars between the city-states probably first occurred by the end of the 8th century bc. Although the rise of the city-state emphasizes the Greeks’ political disunity, other developments demonstrate their cultural unity. For example, religious sanctuaries (sites for temples and other buildings devoted to the gods) such as Olympia drew people from every Greek city-state who came to dedicate offerings to the gods and to compete in the Olympic Games, which tradition says began in 776 bc. The epic poet Homer, who perhaps lived in the mid- to late-8th century bc, also expressed Greek unity through stories that involve all Greeks. The 8th century also saw Greek expansion into southern Italy and Sicily, where city-states from the Greek mainland established their first colonies.
|B||The Archaic Period (750-480 bc)|
The period from 750 bc to 480 bc is called the Archaic period. Contact with Near Eastern cultures had influenced Greek art in the Dark Age, but after about 750 bc these influences on the art and culture of Greece became particularly visible. Eastern imports to Greece were plentiful, as were Greek imitations of eastern objects or motifs, and trade with lands to both east and west led to new prosperity for Greece. Also during this era, tyrannies appeared for the first time in Greece. Powerful dictators took over from aristocracies that had governed many of the city-states. New battle tactics, which used masses of heavily armed foot soldiers, may have aided the tyrants’ rise.
New city-states took shape during the 6th century bc, while many existing city-states became more powerful and more competitive with each other. Monumental building programs became part of this competition, as each community attempted to establish itself as culturally superior. City-states competed to erect the most beautiful buildings at religious sanctuaries such as Delphi that were panhellenic—that is, they were sacred to all of Greece, not to any one city-state. The city-state of Athens was ruled by a hereditary aristocracy and had avoided tyranny in the 7th century. In the second half of the 6th century a mild tyranny took over, but by century's end Athenians had established a limited democracy (representative government).
However, a threat to Athenian democracy developed in the East, where Persia expanded into Ionia and to the rim of the Aegean Sea. The Persian Wars, between Persia and Greece, broke out in the early 5th century, and decisive battles in 480 and 479 bc ended in victory for Athens and the Greeks.
|C||The Classical Period (480-323 bc)|
Athens established an empire of its own after the Persian Wars, and rivalry between Athens and the city-state of Sparta dominated the history of 5th-century Greece. The struggle between these two city-states and their allies ultimately led to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 bc), which Sparta won. Despite this conflict, the 5th century, often called the Classical period, is usually considered the culmination of Greek art, architecture, and drama, with its highest achievements being the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Parthenon in Athens, and the plays of Athenian dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
The 4th century, or Late Classical period, was the great era of Greek philosophy, represented by Plato and Aristotle. Greek city-states, above all Sparta, Thebes, and a resurgent Athens, engaged in almost constant warfare until 338 bc, when Philip II of Macedonia and his young son Alexander defeated the Greeks, finally ending the era of powerful independent city-states. From 334 to 323 bc, Alexander the Great extended his father's empire into Asia Minor (now Turkey), Syria, Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan, and as far as India.
|D||The Hellenistic Period (323-31 bc)|
Although Alexander the Great extended Greek civilization far beyond the Greek mainland and the boundaries of the Aegean Sea, his empire did not survive his death in 323. After Alexander died, his generals and successors divided the empire into a number of kingdoms: Ptolemy I and his descendents ruled Egypt, Seleucus I established a dynasty in Asia, and Antigonus I ruled in Macedonia. Philetaeros carved the small but wealthy kingdom of Pergamum out of northwestern Asia Minor in the 3rd century bc. These were called Hellenistic (“Greek-like”) kingdoms, because the ruling classes spoke Greek and the official culture was Greek. The term Hellenistic is derived from the Greek word Hellen meaning “Greek.”
In mainland Greece, federations of city-states, such as the Achaean League, increasingly dominated politics, but in the 2nd century bc Rome began to exert its influence. In 146 bc Rome defeated the Achaean League, destroyed the important Greek city of Corinth, and established itself as the dominant power in Greece. Athens and other Greek cities intermittently resisted the Romans at first, but to no avail. One by one, Rome also defeated the Hellenistic kingdoms. The Hellenistic period ended in 31 bc, when Rome defeated Egypt, the last of the Hellenistic kingdoms, in the Battle of Actium.
Greek architecture begins with the simple houses of the Dark Age and culminates in the monumental temples of the Classical period and the elaborately planned cities and sanctuaries of the Hellenistic period. As in any time or place, the raw materials available and the technologies developed to utilize them largely determined the nature of the architecture. The principal materials of Greek architecture were wood, used for supports and roof beams; unbaked brick, used for walls, especially of private houses; limestone and marble, used for columns, walls, and upper portions of temples and other public buildings; terracotta (baked clay), used for roof tiles and architectural ornaments; and metals, especially bronze, used for some decorative details. Greek architects of the Archaic and Classical periods used these materials to develop a limited range of building types, each of which served a fixed purpose—religious, civic, domestic, funerary, or recreational.
The principal forms of religious architecture were open-air altars, temples, and treasuries. The altar, the earliest religious structure, always served as the focus of prayer and sacrifices. The temple, which developed in the 8th century bc, housed the statue of a god or goddess to whom the sanctuary was dedicated. The treasury, a small temple-like building, held offerings to gods and goddesses made by city-states and their citizens at sanctuaries such as Olympia and Delphi. Other important public structures were not religious in function. They included the council house, where a governing council met; the law court; the fountain-house, a building where women filled their vases with water from a community fountain; and the stoa, a roofed colonnade or portico, open on one side and often with rooms set along the rear wall. These structures typically lined the principal public gathering place of the city, the agora, an open assembly area or marketplace
Private houses took many forms. Most early dwellings had just one room, in the shape of a rectangle, an oval, or a rectangle with a curved back wall (an apse). Few Greek houses were ever impressive from the outside, because their walls were of relatively flimsy mud-brick or small stones. But when houses expanded into multiple rooms, the interiors could be airy and pleasant, as they were generally organized around a small courtyard. In the Hellenistic period kings and queens had grandiose palaces built at places such as Vergina in Macedonia and Alexandria in Egypt.
The principal forms of funerary architecture were circular earthen mounds covering built tombs, rectangular earthen mounds with masonry facades, and mausoleums (large independent tombs typical of the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods).
Entertainment and recreational activities took place in the open-air theater; the roofed concert hall; the gymnasium, an open field surrounded by rows of columns, where youths met for exercise and intellectual discussion; the wrestling ground; the stadium; and baths. These various building types emerged at different times, but once established, remained fundamental. Like Greek art, Greek architecture consists of essential building types that were enriched and refined over time but rarely abandoned or replaced.
The most characteristic Greek building is the colonnaded stone temple, built to house a cult statue of a god or goddess, that is, a statue to whom people prayed and dedicated gifts. Developed in the Archaic and Classical periods, the typical temple had a rectangular inner structure known as a cella, which was normally divided by two interior rows of columns. The cult statue usually stood at the rear of this room. Most temples faced east, and visitors entered on that side through a colonnaded front porch. The side walls of the cella extended forward onto the porch and two columns stood either between the projecting walls (in antis) or in front of them (prostyle). A back porch gave symmetry to the whole, but was usually cut off from the interior of the cella by a solid wall. Completely surrounding this inner core was a continuous line of columns called a peristyle. The best surviving examples of Greek temples are the Temple of Hephaistos (5th century bc) overlooking the Athenian agora and temples in southern Italy and Sicily from the 6th and 5th centuries.
The origin of the peripteral temple (that is, one surrounded by columns on all sides) is still open to debate. In the Dark Age there was no obvious distinction between a house and a temple. In fact, the dwelling of a community's leader or king probably also served as the focus of religious activity, with sacred objects and the statue of a divinity stored within it. One Dark Age building deserves special mention as a possible predecessor to later temple designs: a 10th-century structure at Lefkandi on the island of Euboea. Archaeological remains show that it was about 45 m (148 ft) long and 10 m (33 ft) wide, with walls made of mud brick set on a base of small stones, and a thatched roof. Its most remarkable feature was an exterior colonnade of wooden posts, which seems to predict the peripteral temples of later eras. But this building was not a temple, and it could not have influenced later architects. It was built over the graves of a hero, his wife, and his horses, and was apparently intentionally destroyed soon after its construction. The Lefkandi hero-shrine is the first monumental structure in the history of Greek architecture, and testifies to the surprising capabilities of Dark Age builders.
The earliest Greek temples looked like large one-room houses. Clay models and remains from a number of 8th-century bc sites indicate that most were rectangular or horseshoe-shaped, with wooden posts or pillars set in a porch at the front ends of the cella walls. But the Temple of Hera (8th century bc) on the island of Sámos was different. It was barnlike, long and narrow, with a single row of columns running down the middle of the cella. Sometime after its initial construction (possibly still during the 8th century bc), a continuous colonnade was added around the cella, making this the earliest truly peripteral temple in Greece. Hereafter, the exterior colonnade became the principal distinguishing feature of most Greek temples.
The first monumental temples of stone were built in the 7th century bc, possibly in emulation of the massive buildings in Egypt that the Greeks would have seen or heard about. Also because of Egyptian influence, the Greeks began to carve monumental stone statues at this time. Another factor leading to greater use of stone may have been the invention of heavy terracotta roof tiles, which needed more support than wood and mud brick could offer. The Temple of Poseidon at Isthmia (early 7th century bc) had a tile roof and was one of the first temples to use cut stone for its walls (its columns were still of wood).
By the end of the 7th century bc, two major architectural styles, or orders, emerged that dominated Greek architecture for centuries: Doric and Ionic. The Doric order developed on the Greek mainland and in southern Italy and Sicily, while the Ionic order developed a little later than the Doric order, in Ionia and on some of the Greek islands. In addition to Doric and Ionic, a third order, the Aeolic, developed in northwestern Asia Minor, but died out by the end of the Archaic period, and a fourth, the Corinthian, emerged late in the 5th century bc.
No matter what order it belonged to, a temple facade was made up of three main parts, the steps, the columns, and the entablature (the part that rested on the columns). Each of these parts also had three parts. There were three steps leading into the temple, the topmost of which was called the stylobate, and each column typically consisted of a base, shaft, and capital. The entablature consisted of an architrave (plain horizontal beam resting on the columns), a frieze, which corresponded to the beams supporting the ceiling, and a cornice, a set of decorative moldings that overhung the parts below.
The Doric order was the simplest and sturdiest of the three orders. Its tapering columns rest directly on the stylobate. Doric columns have no base. Shallow parallel grooves called flutes rise from the bottom to the top of the shaft and emphasize its function as a vertical support. Sharp ridges divide the flutes. At the top of the shaft a fluted ring called the necking provides a transition to the column’s capital. The Doric capital consists of a rounded, cushionlike element called the echinus, and a horizontal square element called the abacus, which bears the load of the building above.
The Doric architrave is a plain beam left undecorated so as not to disguise its function. Above it, the Doric frieze consists of alternating triglyphs and metopes. Triglyphs are thick grooved panels that help support the weight of the structure above. Metopes are thinner panels that do no work in holding up the temple and hence invite decoration in the form of painting or sculpture.
Overhanging the parts below is the decorative cornice molding. Like an eave it helps keep rainwater clear of the building. Above the horizontal cornice a low, pitched roof rises to produce a triangular pediment at either end of the temple. Sculpture fills the pediments of many Doric temples. The simplicity of the Doric order clearly emphasizes the structural function of each part. Originally, paint also enlivened its surfaces. Architectural elements (especially in the entablature) were often painted deep red, yellow-gold, white, or blue.
The oldest well-preserved Doric temple is the Temple of Hera at Olympia (590? bc), although there were temples built earlier in the Doric style. The proportions of this early temple are significant. With 6 columns across the front and back and 16 on each side (counting the corner columns twice), the temple has a ratio of length to width of nearly three to one. As time passed, Greek architects felt these proportions were too elongated. They progressively reduced the temple’s length relative to its width, until by the mid-5th century the ratio was slightly more than two to one. The Parthenon in Athens (447-432 bc), for example, has 17 columns on its sides and 8 on its ends.
The history of the Temple of Hera also hints at the use of wood in early Greek architecture. Although the surviving remains are of limestone, the original columns were of wood and were replaced by stone over a period of centuries as the wood decayed. Many elements of the Doric order may owe their form to wooden prototypes. The three grooves of the triglyphs suggest protective strips attached to the ends of wooden beams. Guttae, which decorate the undersides of the triglyphs, resemble wooden pegs.
Just as the plan of the Greek temple underwent progressive refinement through the centuries, so the Doric order continued to be revised by generations of architects. Whereas at first Doric columns were only about four times as high as their width at the base, by 450 bc the columns were about five and a half or six times as high as their width at the base. This change in proportion, coupled with similar changes to make the entablature look lighter, relieved the massiveness of the oldest buildings and effectively combined grace with strength. The early Doric echinus tended to spread out from the top of the shaft in a soft, rather bulbous curve. Later its curving profile was straightened and strengthened. Each detail of the Doric order received similar attention until, through centuries of experimentation, the order culminated in its most refined example, the Parthenon.
The Ionic order is distinguished from the Doric primarily by its column and frieze. The Ionic column rests on an elaborate curving base rather than directly on the stylobate. The column shaft usually has deeper flutes and is more slender than the Doric. The height-to-base ratio of early Ionic columns was 8 to 1, compared with a ratio between 4 to 1 and 6 to 1 for Doric columns. The typical Ionic capital has two spiral volutes, elements that resemble partly unrolled scrolls. These straddle a small band at the top of the shaft, usually carved with an elaborate decorative pattern. The Ionic capital looks different from the sides than from the front or back. This difference caused problems in columns that stood at the corners, where volutes had to slant at a 45-degree angle so that their spiral pattern would look the same from the front of the temple as from the sides.
The Ionic architrave, unlike the plain Doric architrave, consists of three narrow bands. The frieze above it is often decorated with sculpture and is continuous, not divided into triglyphs and metopes as in the Doric order. Multiple rows of moldings decorate the Ionic cornice. They are generally carved in more intricate patterns than in Doric entablatures, and may include a row of square “teeth” called dentils.
Over all, Ionic is a more ornamental and graceful style than Doric, but it lacks the clarity and power of the Doric style. As a result, ancient critics regarded the Doric order as masculine and the Ionic as feminine. Even so, architects used the Ionic order not only for small, delicate buildings such as the Treasury of the Siphnians at Delphi (525? bc), but also for more monumental structures. In fact, the first colossal Greek temples were Ionic—the Temple of Hera on the island of Sámos and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (both under construction by about 560 bc). Both featured double rows of Ionic columns, and were gigantic—the temple at Ephesus measured 112 m (366 ft) in length, with columns some 18 m (60 ft) tall. Although Doric and Ionic are often considered mutually exclusive regional styles, some buildings combined features of both orders.
The Corinthian order resembles Ionic in most aspects, but Corinthian columns have tall capitals shaped like an upside-down bell and are covered with rows of acanthus leaves and small vinelike spirals called helixes. The first known Corinthian column stood alone inside the cella of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae (429?-405? bc). Indeed, the Corinthian order was at first used only for columns inside buildings—it did not appear externally until the 4th century bc. Its use in exterior temple colonnades did not become widespread until Roman times.
In many ways the Doric and Ionic orders both reached their zenith in the late-5th-century buildings on the Acropolis in Athens. Athenians used both Doric and Ionic styles in many of their buildings, possibly because although Athens was in mainland Greece, where the Doric order was more prevalent, Athenians had settled Ionia.
The Athenian Acropolis is a natural limestone hill that in the Bronze Age was fortified for the city’s defense and in the Archaic period was transformed into a major religious sanctuary. In 480 bc the Persians destroyed the Archaic temples and monuments on the Acropolis, and for decades there was no major construction there. After the Persian Wars ended in 479 bc, Athenian democracy blossomed, its power expanded abroad, and Athens entered a period of great prosperity under the leadership of Pericles. Determined to make Athens the cultural leader of Greece, Pericles undertook one of the more remarkable building campaigns in history, especially considering that the total population of Athens may have numbered no more than 300,000 people.
The campaign centered on the Acropolis and began with the Parthenon (447-432 bc). The Parthenon’s architects were Ictinus and Callicrates, and the temple they designed was unusually large, about 31 by 70 m (102 by 230 ft). Eight columns marked the front and rear facades, and 17 columns ran along each side. The cella had two rooms, east and west, each accessible from a porch. In the larger, eastern room stood a statue of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), her flesh covered in ivory, her drapery and armor in solid gold. Made by the sculptor Phidias, she stood perhaps 10 m (33 ft) tall.
The Parthenon was built as a monument to the goddess Athena and to Athens, and testifies to the Athenians' desire to create a monument of unparalleled beauty. The columns were slender and elegant, with a height 5.5 times their diameter. The harmonious proportional relationship of each part to the whole was determined through mathematical formulas. The temple is richly adorned with sculpture—two pediments filled with statues, 92 carved metopes, numerous sculpted roof-ornaments, and a continuous Ionic frieze atop the cella walls of this otherwise Doric building.
The most impressive features of the Parthenon’s design are its many optical refinements. Some scholars believe that architects in ancient Greece made subtle adjustments in their designs to overcome optical illusions that they believed would mar the perfection of their buildings. For example, a long horizontal line, such as the stylobate, appears to sag when many vertical lines (the columns) rest on top of it. To correct for this sag in the middle, the Parthenon’s architects gave the stylobate and other major horizontal lines a slight upward curve. Because of a similar optical illusion, a perfectly straight column may appear to curve inward. To correct for this, architects added a slight swelling in the taper of the columns. Another adjustment was a slight inward tilt of the columns. The corner columns were made slightly thicker than the others to prevent them from seeming spindly when seen against the backdrop of the sky, rather than the building. While such refinements had been used on earlier buildings, what was new was the Parthenon's subtle and vibrant combination of them all.
The Parthenon was only one of the monuments in Pericles’s building program for the Acropolis. On the north side stood an Ionic temple known as the Erechtheum. Among its many sacred objects, the Erechtheum housed the Athenians’ most sacred statue, an ancient wooden image of Athena Polias (the name for Athena as goddess of the city). The Erechtheum was begun in the 430s or 420s and was mostly complete by 405 bc. It is laid out in an unusual asymmetrical plan. A six-columned porch on the eastern facade is mirrored by six engaged Ionic columns on the western facade, which has no porch. Columned porches on the north and south sides are not centered, but are placed toward the western end of the building. The northern porch is larger than that on the south, and awkwardly extends beyond the west side of the building. The southern porch, sometimes called the Porch of the Maidens, has six marble maidens called caryatids that support the entablature in place of columns. The irregular plan of the Erechtheum can probably be explained by a need for it to incorporate several sacred places of worship already on the site.
The Propylaea (437-432 bc) was a monumental structure that served as the main gateway to the Acropolis on its steep western approach. Like the Parthenon, the Propylaea combines the Doric and Ionic orders. Its west and east facades are Doric and recall the proportions of the Parthenon, while Ionic columns line a taller central passageway between them. The architect Mnesicles designed asymmetrical wings to the north and south of the Propylaea’s central block. Perched on a small outcropping just to the southwest of the Propylaea is the Temple of Athena Nike (420s bc), a tiny, elegant, Ionic structure with a richly sculpted frieze and two (mostly lost) pediments.
|D||Late Classical and Hellenistic Architecture|
After the 5th century, Doric temple design changed little, except for adjustments in the proportions of ground plans and columns, while the Ionic order evolved further. Three Ionic temples in present-day Turkey exemplify its development. The Temple of Athena Polias at Priene (dedicated by Alexander the Great in 334 bc) is notable for the systematic proportions of its plan and colonnade and its elaborate column bases, capitals, and moldings. In some ways, it is the classic example of the Ionic order. The new Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (begun after the 6th-century temple on the same site was destroyed by fire in 356 bc) became known as one of the so-called Seven Wonders of the World for its monumental size and luxurious decoration. Two rows of enormous columns lined each side, with three rows on each end. The bases of the end columns were each sculpted with a band of figures in relief. The colossal Temple of Apollo at Didyma (begun late 4th century bc) had a cella open to the sky, and a roofed shrine structure within the cella. The Ionic order was also applied to another of the Seven Wonders, the monumental Tomb of Mausolus (353? bc) at Halicarnassus, on the coast of Turkey. Built for King Mausolus of Caria, it is from this building that we get the word mausoleum. The architect of the Tomb of Mausolus was Pytheos, who also designed the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene.
Also characterizing late Classical and Hellenistic architecture are advances in engineering; development of a circular building type, called a tholos, such as that at the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia at Delphi (early 4th century bc); and the construction of large civic halls. Also characteristic of the era are sanctuaries with planned layouts, hilltop cities with dramatic vistas (such as Lindus on the island of Rhodes, and Pergamum in Turkey), and monumental altars (such as the Great Altar at Pergamum).
The 4th century bc was also the first great age of Greek theater construction. In the 5th century bc actors performed the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in a modest open-air theater, the Theater of Dionysus, on the south slope of the Acropolis. In its original form, the theater consisted of a round area called an orchestra (meaning 'dancing floor'), where the performance took place, and a seating area on the natural curve of the slope above. Some seats may have been of wood. Behind the orchestra a small wooden building provided scenic backdrops, a place to change costumes, and doors for dramatic entrances. Between 338 and 326 bc the Theater of Dionysus was rebuilt on a grand scale in stone, with a rising fan of stone seats on the hillside, a roughly semicircular performance area, and a permanent stone stage building. An even more impressive stone theater survives mostly intact at Epidaurus (350? bc) and is still used today. Designed by Polyclitus the Younger, it has excellent acoustics and provided the model for many later Hellenistic theaters.
|E||City Planning and Houses|
Even before the start of the Classical period in the early 5th century bc, the Greeks had begun to lay out some cities in a gridlike plan, with streets regularly intersecting at right angles. The ancient Greeks, however, always credited the invention of this right-angled plan to a mid-5th century Ionian architect, Hippodamus of Miletus, who planned new cities for Piraeus, which was a port near Athens, and the Athenian colony of Thurii in Italy. His influence also appeared in the uniform streets and blocks of late 5th-century Olynthus, on the Chalcidice peninsula. By the 4th century bc, carefully planned cities and civic spaces had become the rule in ancient Greece. Around 350 bc, for example, the people of Priene moved from an old, haphazardly laid-out town to a new, more regular one, even though the sloping ground on which it was built made right angles awkward.
Greek houses varied, but in the 5th and 4th centuries bc two standard plans emerged. Typical 5th- and 4th-century houses in Olynthus and then 2nd-century houses on the island of Delos had small rooms arranged in a rectangular plan around a colonnaded interior courtyard, often with a covered veranda facing onto it from one or two sides. A second type of house, found in Priene, also focused on an interior courtyard. But instead of a collection of small rooms, the main living area consisted of a large rectangular hall that opened onto a columned porch. Smaller rooms for servants, storage, or cooking opened off the other sides of the courtyard. In the Hellenistic period, housing types became more diverse, but houses of wealthy people might feature marble thresholds, doorways, and columns; mosaic floors depicting humans or animals; and plastered walls modeled and painted to look like fine stonework.
There are three major categories of Greek sculpture: free-standing statues, architectural sculpture (on pediments, metopes, and friezes), and nonarchitectural reliefs (such as carved gravestones). The principal subjects of Greek sculpture are gods, heroes of legend, and athletes, youths, or maidens intended to demonstrate ideals of beauty. From the 4th century bc on, portraits of historical persons also became commonplace. Also common were sculpted images of animals such as horses or lions and imaginary monsters such as sphinxes. Statues and reliefs (sculpted forms that project from a flat background) were created from a variety of materials. Stone and bronze were the most widely used materials, but the Greeks also created many images in wood, clay, gold, ivory, and silver.
Whatever the subject, category, or material, the typical Greek sculpture was basically religious in function. Most statues and reliefs were dedicated as offerings in sanctuaries to please or thank divinities, or stood as markers over graves, while architectural sculpture was carved essentially only for temples, treasuries, or tombs.
|A||Early Greek Sculpture|
Although many of the earliest Greek sculptures must have been made of wood, the earliest surviving pieces are figurines of terracotta (baked clay), bronze, and in rare cases, ivory. One of the earliest surviving pieces of Greek sculpture is a skillfully modeled terracotta centaur (creature that is part horse, part human), made about 900 bc at Lefkandi on the island of Euboea (Erétria Museum, Euboea). Its subject testifies to the attraction of myth as early as the close of the Dark Age. More typical examples of sculpture from the Geometric period (950 to 750 bc) are small, bronze, and in the form of horses, cattle, warriors, musicians, or artisans (rather than mythological subjects). Many are small enough to fit easily in the palm of one’s hand, and were either attached to the rims and handles of large bronze cauldrons or offered to gods or goddesses in sanctuaries. Less usual were mythological subjects, although a small bronze from about 725 bc shows a hero fighting a centaur (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) and indicates that myth still occasionally interested sculptors. The earliest surviving cult statues may be a series of three relatively large figures thought to represent the gods Apollo and Artemis and their mother, Leto (700? bc, Archaeological Museum, Herakleion). The two female figures of Artemis and Leto are about 40 cm (16 in) tall, and the male Apollo figure is 80 cm (32 in) tall. They were made of hammered bronze and found in a temple at Dreros on the island of Crete.
The formative phase of Greek sculpture closes with a bronze statuette of a youth dedicated to the god Apollo in Thebes about 700 to 675 bc (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts). The statuette is about 20 cm (7.9 in) tall and stands stiffly with one leg forward. It is meant to be viewed principally from the front, a quality known as frontality. This stance—frontality and an advanced left leg—predominates in later monumental (large-scale) statues in Greece and so initiates the Archaic period.
The characteristics of Archaic sculpture began to define themselves after 675 bc, in the so-called Daedalic style. Named after the legendary Greek artist Daedalus (meaning 'Skilled One'), the style in fact derives some of its elements from Syrian and Phoenician models. The typical Daedalic relief or statuette depicts a frontal figure (most often female) standing stiffly with a low forehead and a U-shaped face framed by heavy triangular wedges of hair. Around 650 bc the Daedalic style was used for the first large-scale stone statues in Greece, which show the influence of Egyptian statuary. The earliest known Daedalic statue is a marble figure from Delos (650? bc, National Museum, Athens); inscriptions on the statue reveal that a woman named Nikandre dedicated this female figure to the goddess Artemis. The figure’s hair, dress, and pose are all treated very formally; that is, they adhere to established forms and patterns rather than resembling the hair, dress, and pose of an actual person. The formality of the Daedalic style became a characteristic feature of Archaic sculpture.
|B1||The Human Figure: Kore and Kouros|
The two principal types of Archaic free-standing statues are the standing, clothed female figure called a kore (meaning 'young woman'; plural, korai), and the standing male nude called a kouros (meaning 'young man'; plural, kouroi). One leg of the kouros, usually the left, strides forward, while he holds his arms stiffly at his sides. Most korai and kouroi served as dedications in sanctuaries, although some stood as markers over graves. For the most part they did not represent specific individuals, but rather ideal figures of youth, beautiful objects that might please the gods to whom they were offered.
One of the best-known features of Archaic figure sculptures is their subtle, enigmatic smile. This smile is not a sign of joy or well-being so much as a masklike feature preventing the viewer from perceiving a thinking or feeling being beneath the surface. The Archaic figure lacks an inner character or self-consciousness and seems unable to respond to things outside itself, just as it seems incapable of breaking out of its blocklike stance.
Styles differed from region to region: Kouroi from the Cycladic islands (see Cycladic Culture), such as the so-called Apollo of Melos (550? bc, National Museum, Athens), are less muscular than those from Athens, such as the Anavyssos Kouros (530? bc, National Museum, Athens). Although the rigid pose and blocklike shape of the kouros lasted until the end of the Archaic period, its anatomy gradually became more naturalistic, as seen in the Strangford Apollo from Anaphe (500? bc, British Museum, London). The evolution of the Archaic kore figure is slightly different: Early sculptors concentrated on the kore’s clothing, showing folds in the cloth at first as regularly incised lines and later as more varied and deeply cut. By the close of the Archaic period, artists had begun to pay more attention to the shape of the body beneath the folds and to render figures with greater individuality.
In addition to the kouros and kore, sculptors in the Archaic period produced a wide variety of figure statues in stone. These included draped male figures, seated or reclining figures, horsemen, warriors, figures bearing animals to be sacrificed, warriors, figures of Nike (Victory), and imaginary creatures such as sphinxes.
|B2||Other Archaic Sculpture|
In addition to figures in stone, Archaic artisans also produced large-scale statues in bronze and smaller figurines in terracotta and bronze. These represent many of the same subjects as stone sculpture—divinities, kouroi, korai, athletes, warriors, horsemen, and animal-bearers. Terracotta plaques with myths or scenes of everyday life depicted in relief formed another important category of offering to the gods.
Relief sculpture became a major category of Greek art in the 6th century bc. Grave reliefs from this period typically showed the deceased (warrior, mother, or child, for example). But the scenes carved on pediments, metopes, and the friezes of temples and treasuries best illustrate the history of Greek relief sculpture.
The first large-scale stone pediment in Greek sculpture decorated the Doric Temple of Artemis on the island of Corfu (580? bc). Its carved figures range dramatically in size and subject matter. Carved in shallow relief at the center is a gigantic Medusa, a mythological figure who had snakes for hair and whose gaze turned men to stone. She is flanked by tiny figures of her two children: a winged horse named Pegasus, and Chrysaor, a boy who sprang from her severed neck when she was beheaded. Large reclining leopards to each side provide a transition to the narrow corners of the pediment, which contain miniature figures from apparently unrelated myths. Over the course of the Archaic period, artists sought to unify the pediment in both composition and theme. By the beginning of the 5th century bc, pediments depicted a single myth, with figures of roughly the same size, usually carved in the round.
Mythological figures and scenes were also popular for the decoration of Doric metopes, especially in Magna Graecia on the temples at Paestum in southern Italy and Selinus in Sicily . At Delphi, the metopes of several buildings were also decorated with mythological subjects. The Athenian Treasury at Delphi (490? bc), for example, displayed the exploits of Heracles and Theseus, and a battle between Greeks and Amazons. Delphi also boasted the finest Archaic example of an Ionic frieze: a continuous relief that wrapped around the top of the Siphnian Treasury (525? bc). Although the precise subjects of two sides are uncertain, the east side of the Siphnian Treasury frieze showed a debate between the gods and a battle between Greeks and Trojans, and the north side depicted a battle of gods against giants.
|C||Early Classical Sculpture (480-450 bc)|
Early Classical sculptors, unlike their Archaic predecessors, began to explore the inner character and the emotions of their subjects. At the same time they began to create statues that broke from the rigidity of the Archaic kouros by assuming a relaxed but balanced pose known as contrapposto (counterpose). In this pose, the body turns slightly to one side and its weight rests mainly on one leg. The pose first appears in a marble figure known as the Kritios Boy (480-475 bc, Acropolis Museum, Athens). In contrast to a stiff and unthinking Archaic figure, the Kritios Boy seems to twist and tilt in response to what he is thinking. The Early Classical figure also no longer mechanically smiles but seems lost in its own thoughts. The bronze Charioteer of Delphi (478 or 474 bc, Museum, Delphi), for example, seems to be contemplating his victory in the chariot race just ended.
Many Early Classical figures are openly emotional, displaying anger or suffering, as is a Wounded Warrior from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia in Aegina (490?-480? bc, Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany). Although this sculpture dates from slightly before the Classical period, the emotions that it expresses place it as an Early Classical work. Early Classical sculpture is also characterized by a new simplicity—for example, the drapery of female figures is plainer than the elaborate clothing of Archaic korai. Simplicity of ornament allowed greater concentration on the character of the figure itself.
Bronze became the favorite medium of Early Classical sculptors, partly because it was better suited to action poses. The limbs of a marble figure, if extended too far, might break off or throw the statue off balance. In works such as the Discobolus (“Discus-Thrower,” 460-450? bc), the sculptor Myron depicted an athlete at the moment of greatest potential energy: just before the tensed figure hurled his discus. (Myron’s original bronze is lost, but the sculpture is known through Roman copies in marble.) The statue’s composition depends on the repetition of circles and semicircles: the discus, the head of the athlete, and the semicircle of his arms. This repetition of movement as pattern creates a rhythm that became a leading aesthetic principle of Greek art.
One of the greatest monuments of the Early Classical period was the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (470?-456? bc). Inside this temple sat another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a gigantic gold-and-ivory statue of a seated Zeus (435? bc, now lost) by the sculptor Phidias. Twelve metopes over the front and back entrances to the temple show the Labors of Heracles (better known by his Roman name, Hercules), displaying the hero’s character and emotions as he defeats various beasts and holds the world on his shoulders. The west pediment was filled with a rowdy battle between Lapiths (a civilized Greek tribe) and monstrous Centaurs, while the east pediment showed the preparations for a chariot race between a wicked king, Oenomaus, and a young hero, Pelops. The pediments have justice as a unifying theme: The god Apollo directs the Lapiths in their struggle with the Centaurs, and Zeus, god of justice, stands at the center of the eastern pediment, guaranteeing the eventual restoration of order.
|D||High Classical Sculpture (450-400 bc)|
Of primary concern to the Greek sculptor was achieving a harmonious relationship of the parts of a statue to one another and to the whole. In the High Classical period this sense of harmony reached new heights in the work of Polyclitus of Árgos. Polyclitus wrote a book outlining his theories and, about 440 bc, made a bronze statue of a nude Doryphorus (Spear-bearer) to illustrate them. This statue, which survives in many Roman copies, shows an athlete caught at the moment he begins to take a great stride forward, turning his head to one side and slightly down, and shifting his weight from one leg to the other. A harmonious balance is achieved as straight limbs balance bent ones, and tensed muscles counter relaxed ones. Polyclitus devised a precise numerical scheme to determine the proportions of the statue. The Doryphorus represents a highly idealized conception of the male figure. Its sharply defined muscles do not mimic those of a real man; rather, they are intended to be better than their counterparts in the human body. Polyclitus sought to represent the perfect male nude, an ideal to which real men can only aspire.
Such idealization of the human form is typical of High Classical art and is also present in the sculptures of the Parthenon. Noble figures carved on the Parthenon's exterior metopes (447 To 438 bc) represent battles between the forces of civilization and barbarity, between order and disorder. Metopes on the west show scenes from the Battle Between the Greeks and the Amazons; on the north, from the Trojan War; on the south, from the Battle Between the Lapiths and Centaurs; and on the east, from the Battle Between the Gods and the Giants. These mythical battles can be interpreted as allegories for Greece’s then-recent victory over Persia.
Each of the Parthenon’s two pediments contained more than 20 larger-than-life marble statues. The east pediment depicted the birth of the goddess Athena, while the west pediment showed a legendary competition between Athena and Poseidon, god of the sea, over rights to Athens.
A remarkable feature of the Parthenon is a continuous frieze decorating the top of the cella walls. The frieze is usually thought to represent the Panathenaic Procession, an annual event that culminated in the presentation of a new robe to Athena's ancient wooden statue. The scene is indeed an impressive parade of figures riding on horseback, driving chariots, or proceeding on foot toward a group of seated gods. Some scholars believe the relief may represent not simply the Panathenaic Procession but Athenian sacred life in general. In the frieze, handsome Athenians—some resembling Polyclitus’s statue of Doryphorus—occupy the same space as their gods. The idealization of human beings on the frieze suggests that the ancient Greeks perceived any difference between gods and mortals to be of degree, not of kind.
The Parthenon sculptures and other works from the Acropolis also illustrate changing attitudes toward the display of the female body. Figures such as the goddesses from the Parthenon's east pediment (now known as the Elgin Marbles, British Museum, London) are covered with drapery that seems wet, and so reveals each curve of breast, stomach, and thigh beneath. Using a similar device, the sculptor Paionius depicted Nike (420? bc, Olympia Museum, Olympia, Greece) as if she were caught in a strong wind that pressed the cloth against her body and revealed the forms underneath.
|E||Late Classical Sculpture (400-323 bc)|
Until the 4th century bc no goddess or heroic female figure was depicted completely naked in Greek art. The first great female nude was a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, by Praxiteles. Known as the Aphrodite of Cnidus (340? bc, destroyed; Roman copy in Vatican Museums, Vatican City), it was the most famous Greek statue of its time. Through gentle curves and relaxed poses, Praxiteles introduced gracefulness and sensuality in his works. Even his male figures, such as Hermes Holding the Infant Dionysus (340? bc), seem soft and less manly than the hard-bodied athletes of Polyclitus. Praxiteles also displays uncommon wit. The Aphrodite of Cnidus, for example, is nude because she has been bathing. She covers herself with her hand, as if we, her viewers, have come upon her unexpectedly. Praxiteles has turned us into Peeping Toms.
Another important sculptor of the 4th century bc was Lysippus, who revised the ideal proportions of High Classical works such as the Doryphorus by making the heads of his statues smaller in relation to the body. In works such as the Apoxyomenos (Youth Scraping Himself Clean, 330 bc, destroyed; Roman copy, Vatican Museums), Lysippus extended the statue’s arms forward, making the body more three-dimensional and ensuring that the spectator could appreciate the work from every angle, not just from the front. His portraits of the charismatic Alexander the Great, famed for capturing the lionlike character and expressive eyes of the subject, established a major new type of sculpture, the so-called personality portrait.
Just as the Temple of Zeus and the Parthenon were the major monuments of the Early and High Classical periods, so the great monument of the Late Classical period was the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built about 350 bc. Ancient sources indicate that one of the famous sculptors of the era who worked on this massive, multilevel building was Scopas, known for conveying intense emotion through facial expressions and energetic postures. The Mausoleum was decorated with many free-standing monumental statues, scenes carved in relief, and a continuous frieze representing several stories, among them, a Battle of Greeks and Amazons now housed in the British Museum in London.
|F||Hellenistic Sculpture (323-31 bc)|
After the conquests of Alexander the Great from 334 to 323 bc, the Greek world encompassed vast lands and peoples that were mostly non-Greek. The inhabitants of the Hellenistic kingdoms, such as Egypt and Syria, that made up the Greek world did not universally share legends, traditions, a religion, or other aspects of a common cultural heritage. Because Hellenistic sculpture had to speak to a far more diverse audience, the stylistic unity that had characterized the art of Classical Greece broke down. For the same reason, Hellenistic artists tended to choose subjects that all people could readily understand, regardless of nationality or ethnicity. For example, sculptors increasingly and realistically depicted figures that expressed a specific emotional or physical state, such as old age, anxiety, sleep, fatigue, drunkenness, or even deformity.
At the same time, Hellenistic sculptors developed further some of the trends established in the Late Classical period. Sculptors created numerous nude or seminude Aphrodites, such as the famous Venus de Milo (also known as Aphrodite of Melos, 150-100? bc, Louvre, Paris). It is also an era when numerous sculptures depicted the hermaphrodite, a person equipped with both male and female sexual organs (a logical conclusion of Praxiteles's feminization of the male figure). The emotionalism favored by Scopas was heightened in statues of exhausted boxers, dead or dying warriors, fierce giants and Amazons, and decrepit old men and women. But Lysippus left perhaps the strongest legacy to the Hellenistic period. The personality portrait is one of the leading sculptural genres of a period that is notable for its images of generals, rulers, poets, and philosophers. Hellenistic figures such as the powerfully projecting Nike of Samothrace (or Winged Victory, 200? bc, Louvre, Paris) show an unprecedented depth, insisting that the viewer study them from all sides.
A range of sculptural styles appeared during the Hellenistic period. For example, a highly academic style, which tells a story through a range of symbolic figures, was used in a relief carved by Archelaos of Priene, The Apotheosis of Homer (150? bc, British Museum, London). The relief was dedicated to the Muses or to Homer and shows the poet along with figures representing the World, Time, Homer’s great epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey, and other literary images and ideas.
But perhaps the most distinctive Hellenistic style is one sometimes called Baroque. Hellenistic Baroque, like the Baroque style of 17th-century Europe, is defined by its melodramatic, exaggerated effects. It is especially associated with the ancient city of Pergamum, and its masterpiece is the so-called Great Altar of Zeus built atop the city’s acropolis sometime from about 190 to 156 bc. (A reconstruction of the west facade of the Great Altar is housed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin, Germany.) The monument may in fact be a shrine to Telephus, Pergamum's legendary hero and founder, rather than to Zeus. The life story of Telephus, from his birth to his exploits as a mature hero, unfolds in a continuous frieze inside the monument. A podium supports the monument and around it an even larger frieze recounts the Battle of the Gods and the Giants. Some figures seem ready to leap off the wall. Some even crawl up the sides of a staircase that visitors use to reach the altar. The muscles of the figures are taut and pronounced, the drapery sweeping and tumultuous, the poses violent and dramatic, the faces expressive and pained. In one scene, the goddess Athena has caught a giant by the hair; he gazes helplessly toward the sky as he tries to free himself from her grip. His expressive pose resembles that of a Trojan priest, Laocoön, in a later statue of Laocoön and his Sons (Vatican Museums), shown as he struggles to free himself from giant snakes.
Although the names of the sculptors of the Laocoön are known (Athanadoros, Hagesandros, and Polydoros of Rhodes), the exact date of the statue is a matter of dispute. Although it used to be dated around the time of the Pergamum altar, in the mid-2nd century bc, many scholars now believe the Laocoön is an early Roman work modeled after a Hellenistic original. In any case, it was clearly sculpted in the Baroque tradition of Pergamum. And even if it is a later reworking of a Hellenistic original, the Laocöon demonstrates that Greeks continued to produce important sculptures during the Roman era.
|V||PAINTING AND POTTERY|
Our knowledge of ancient Greek painting, especially wall and panel painting, is limited by the small number of examples that have survived. Most of what we know about Greek painting comes from ancient literary sources, surviving Roman copies, and a number of Greek vases and mosaics that probably reflect some of the attributes of Greek wall paintings.
|A||Wall and Panel Painting|
Literary sources mention only a handful of painters’ names from the Archaic period, including Cleanthes of Corinth, Boularchos, and Cimon. For the most part scholars can only guess at how these paintings looked, but some evidence survives in scraps of paintings by unknown artists that decorated the walls of a temple at Isthmía, near Corinth; in painted terracotta metopes from Thérmon in western Greece; and in a few wooden and clay plaques from Corinth and Athens.
Some of the most complete surviving examples of early Greek panel painting are scenes of banqueting and diving painted by an unknown artist for a tomb at Paestum, Italy (490?-470? bc, Museo Archeologico, Paestum). The figures in the Paestum frescoes show skillful drawing and a developed understanding of human anatomy. The artist has drawn eyes in profile, instead of frontally, and included elements of landscape.
According to literary sources, the 5th century bc produced a host of great painters. Polygnotus, who worked at Delphi and Athens in the 460s and 450s, was famed for giving character to the faces of his figures. He also sought to show depth by placing figures above and below one another on the wall, as if the ground they stood on receded in space. Other Classical era painters include Micon of Athens and Panainos, brother of the sculptor Phidias. Micon and Panainos decorated a building in Athens, known as the Painted Stoa, with a painting of a celebrated encounter between Persians and Greeks, the Battle of Marathon (460? bc). Among High Classical painters, Agatharchus was said to have established new methods for the depiction of receding space, and Apollodorus to have perfected the depiction of highlights and shading.
The leading painters of the 4th century bc were Zeuxis, also noted for his skillful handling of light and shadow, and Parrhasios, noted for his skill at line and contours. Apelles was perhaps the most celebrated painter of them all. Although none of his works survive, descriptions of them inspired artists of the Italian Renaissance, some 1,700 years after he painted them. His portraits, including one of Alexander the Great, and mythological scenes, such as the goddess Aphrodite rising from the sea, were known for their grace. The Hellenistic period produced such artists as Demetrius, a specialist in landscape.
Unfortunately, of the painters whose names we know from ancient literature, not a single brushstroke survives. Literary descriptions by such authors as Pliny the Elder and Pausanias, a traveler and historian of the 2nd-century ad, provide some idea of the work of these painters. Pausanias, for example, described the Battle of Marathon. But scholars also depend on reflections of these painters’ styles found in other media, especially vase painting and mosaic. For example, a vase depicting The Killing of the Niobids (460? bc, Louvre, Paris) seems to reflect both the individual character and the spatial composition for which Polygnotus was famed. A large Roman mosaic from Pompeii, the so-called Alexander Mosaic (2nd century bc, National Museum, Naples, Italy), shows Alexander's defeat of Persian king Darius and may reproduce a late 4th-century painting by Philoxenus of Eretria.
Original Greek wall paintings by unknown artists survive from the late 4th-century bc in tombs at Kazanlak (in ancient Thrace, now Bulgaria), and at Lefcadia and Vergina in ancient Macedonia. The Vergina paintings are notable for evoking an emotional mood, for the loose, spontaneous quality of their drawing, and for their illusion of depth and distance. Roman wall paintings such as those at Pompeii may also reflect the narrative style and atmospheric effects achieved by Hellenistic Greek painters.
Most of what we know about ancient Greek painting comes from painted decorations on clay pots. But it is important to remember that the painted vase is quite unlike a flat wall and has its own conventions and technical demands. Not only is a vase curved, but designs were painted on the clay and then fired (baked at a very high temperature). The narrow range of colored glazes (paints that can be fired) and the process of firing itself determined color schemes. For these and other reasons, the painted Greek vase has a limited value as a guide to other kinds of Greek painting; it is best judged on its own terms. Moreover, for most of its history, vase painting was considered a relatively minor art and is completely ignored in our literary sources. Many vase painters were merely commercial artisans who turned out one ordinary vase after another. A few, however, were accomplished artists.
|B1||Protogeometric and Geometric Styles|
Some of the earliest painted Greek vases held the cremated (burned) remains of the dead or stood as markers over graves. They were painted in styles known as the Protogeometric and Geometric. Probably invented in Athens, the Protogeometric style (1000?-900? bc) is characterized by the use of precisely drawn concentric circles and semicircles that suggest the underlying spherical volumes of the vase. Almost no pictures are drawn on the vases of this period; only a few sketchy horses appear, probably to indicate the aristocratic status of the person whose ashes the vase contained.
The Geometric style that followed in Athens (900?-700? bc) is also basically abstract. The straight lines and angular patterns of this style emphasize the vase’s structure: its vertical and horizontal dimensions and its separate parts—above all, the neck and body. After about 800 bc representations of human figures engaged in funerals, processions, or battles became more prevalent. The masterpiece of the style is a large (1.55 m, or 61 in tall) two-handled vase with a narrow neck, painted by an artist known as the Dipylon Master (750? bc, National Archeological Museum, Athens). Elaborate geometric patterns cover its entire surface. However, a funeral scene occupies the central part of the vase, with mourners rendered as virtually abstract forms, reduced to circular heads, sticklike arms, and triangular torsos. By the late 8th century bc artists had begun to cover more and more of the vase surface with pictures, including the first representations of myths.
Greek vase-painting styles in the 7th century bc varied, but most were influenced by imagery and styles from the east and are often described as orientalizing. The leading orientalizing style is the meticulous, miniaturist style of Corinth called Protocorinthian (720?-620? bc). A typical Protocorinthian work is a small flask for perfumed oil that stands about 5 to 8 cm (2 to 3 in) tall. It is characteristically decorated with a frieze of animals both real and imaginary, including lions, deer, birds, and sphinxes.
The masterpiece of the Protocorinthian style is a slightly larger jug, about 26 cm (10.25 in) tall, which is known as the Chigi Vase (640? bc, Villa Giulia, Rome). Narrow bands of pictures encircle the vase, depicting a rabbit-hunt, parade of horsemen and chariot, double-sphinx, lion-hunt, and infantry battle. The tiny figures are painted in a subtle variety of browns, yellows, and reds. The only recognizable story depicted on the vase is the Judgment of Paris, about a Trojan prince named Paris who must choose between the beauty of three goddesses. Such mythological subjects are relatively rare in Protocorinthian pottery.
Athenian potters and painters of the 7th century bc produced a style that is essentially the opposite of Protocorinthian. The Protoattic style (refers to Attica, the region of Athens) prevailed from about 700 to 620 bc. Used primarily on monumental vases, the style is characterized by imprecise but energetic drawing and a preference for violent mythological scenes, such as Heracles killing the centaur or Odysseus blinding the Cyclops.
|B3||Black Figure Style|
At the end of the seventh century a more disciplined style of vase painting emerged in Athens, known as the Black Figure style. The Black Figure technique was actually invented much earlier in Corinth, but Athenian vase-painters seem to have perfected its use in a style known as Attic Black Figure.
In Black Figure vase painting, figures were painted in black silhouette on a background of light-colored clay. Details on the figures were incised into the black glaze, permitting the color of the clay to show through. Artists also added white, especially for female flesh, and purplish-red, for drapery and other details.
Designs in the Attic Black Figure style are linear and flat—that is, the artist renders forms and details through sharp outlines and incisions, and the figures appear like shiny black cutouts pasted over the red-orange Attic clay. Masters of this style include Kleitias (who worked about 570-560 bc) and Exekias (who worked about 540-530 bc). Both specialized in depicting myths and tales of heroes such as Achilles and Ajax.
|B4||Red Figure Style|
About 525 bc an Athenian vase painter reversed the color scheme of the Black Figure style. He covered the areas around his figures with a shiny black glaze, leaving the figures in the reddish color of the clay. Some scholars attribute this invention to a painter named Psiax, others to the so-called Andokides Painter, who made several vases with Black Figure painting on one side and Red Figure on the other.
On Attic Red Figure vases, the artist used painted lines, rather than incisions, to render the interior details. Unlike incisions, painted lines could be varied in intensity, from a thick, black, raised line to a diluted, light-brown line. This quality allowed the artist to render musculature and cloth more subtly, and to create figures that seem to twist and move in space.
Artists continued to use the Black Figure technique until the end of the Archaic period and even later for one type of Athenian vase awarded as a prize in sports competitions at the Panathenaic festival (see Panathenaea). But it is Red Figure vases of the late Archaic and early Classical periods that echo the achievements ascribed to Greek wall painters in the representation of anatomy, foreshortening, space, and narrative.
|B5||White Ground Style|
A third vase-painting style, perfected in late Archaic and Classical Athens, comes closer still to the multicolored effects of wall and panel painting. It was called White Ground and featured figures outlined in black or golden brown against a white or cream-colored background, with matte (not shiny) reds, yellows, browns, greens, and blues used for clothing and other details. The leading White Ground artists include the Achilles and Phiale Painters, who specialized in oil flasks known as lekythoi. These were used primarily for funerary purposes to anoint the body of the dead with oil or to pour wine over the grave or tomb, and they were left in or at the tomb as gifts afterwards. They might be decorated with scenes of farewell or mourning. The history of Red Figure painting came to an end around 300 bc, but varieties of White Ground pottery lasted well into the Hellenistic period.
Greek decorative arts are closely related to other art forms. For example, most Greek decorative arts in metal can also be considered sculpture. Greek artists decorated bronze shield bands and breastplates with scenes of myth. They adorned pieces of furniture with small figures and designs in relief. And they engraved scenes on the backs of round metal disks that served as mirrors.
Ancient Greek jewelry included earrings, pendants, necklaces, diadems (crowns), and bracelets of gold, bronze, and silver. These pieces might be decorated with miniature cupids, charioteers, flowers, pomegranates, sphinxes, or lions. Artisans also produced gold wreaths in the form of olive or oak leaves. Rings and gems might be engraved with griffins (imaginary beasts: part eagle, part lion), gods, heroes, or events from mythology.
Each city-state minted its own coins in gold, silver, bronze, or electrum (an alloy of silver and gold). These can be considered among the finest products of Greek relief sculpture. Many of them carried delicate renderings of civic symbols, patron gods or goddesses, and, later, the profiles of Hellenistic kings.
From the Geometric period on, Greeks developed a rich tradition of vases in silver, gold, and bronze. According to the Greek poet Pindar, a golden bowl could be a man's finest possession. Few examples survive, however, because most metal objects from antiquity were later melted down and reprocessed.
The 8th and 7th centuries bc produced monumental bronze cauldrons supported on three legs. Set around their rims or attached to the handles were human figures, horses, or the heads and necks of fanciful creatures such as griffins. From the 6th, 5th, and 4th centuries bc a number of bronze kraters (drinking bowls) and hydriai (water jars) have survived, as have a few gold and silver bowls. Many are nearly identical in shape to ceramic examples from the same period, and some are decorated with engraved, embossed, or applied figures of warriors, cupids, or heroes.
Perhaps the most grandiose example is a late 4th-century bronze krater found at Derveni in northern Greece. The Derveni krater (Thessaloníki Museum, Greece) is adorned with cast-metal statuettes on its shoulders, repoussé (raised metal) reliefs of mythological figures on the body, and an abundance of other ornaments around the rim and handles, demonstrating that not all Greeks believed in the motto “nothing in excess.”
The labor-intensive art of mosaic began in Greece in the late 5th century bc. The earliest examples are pebble mosaics, in which small black, white, and colored stones were set into mortar on the floors of houses. Some form geometric or floral patterns, while others depict animals, monsters, or myths. Perhaps the finest pebble mosaics were laid in the late 4th century bc on floors at Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great. Laid with subtle gradations of colored stones to suggest highlights and shading, such mosaics evidently imitated paintings.
Beginning in the 3rd century bc, another variety of mosaic mimicked painting even more closely. This was tessera mosaic, in which tesserae—small cut cubes of colored stone, glass, or baked clay—were used instead of pebbles. The best tessera mosaics were created in Delos, the island of Rhodes, Alexandria, and Pergamum.
In Pergamum an artisan named Sosus (the only mosaicist mentioned by name in any ancient sources) created a scene of doves perched on the rim of a golden bowl from which they are drinking. This panel was surrounded by another mosaic that depicts, with uncanny realism, scattered bits of garbage—fish-bones, nutshells, and other items—seemingly left over from a banquet and dropped on the floor.
The Romans admired and imitated the illusions and scenes in Hellenistic mosaics. A number of Greek originals seem to have been removed and imported to Italy as Rome’s power expanded throughout the Mediterranean. By the beginning of the 1st century bc mosaicists turned increasingly to abstract patterns. They may have realized that the floor was not the best place to put narrative scenes, as many would appear upside down or sideways to people walking over or seated above them.
A recurring feature of Western art and architecture has been the rise of movements that imitate the images, artistic character, and architectural forms of ancient Greece to establish their own good taste and authority. The tendency to stage such Greek revivals is detectable as early as imperial Rome (see Roman Art and Architecture). Romans filled their environment with original works imported from Greece and with reproductions or variants of those works. For example, the finest surviving portrait sculpture of the Roman emperor Augustus (from the Villa of Livia, Prima Porta, Italy, ad 14?, Vatican Museums) adopts the pose of the Doryphorus of Polyclitus. Augustus’s borrowed pose implies that just as the athlete was the ideal man in Classical Greece, so Augustus was the ideal emperor in Rome.
Knowledge of Greek art and architecture passed to later Europeans by way of Rome, which altered and elaborated upon Greek originals. During the Middle Ages (5th to about 15th centuries) people made no real distinction between Greek and Roman styles. Particularly influential on later European art were Roman sarcophagi (stone coffins), many of them carved in a Greek style to depict Greek myths. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the impact of ancient statuary upon European sculpture became increasingly apparent. For example, around 1337 Italian sculptor Andrea Pisano portrayed a Gothic artist carving a Greek-style nude in a relief called The Art of Sculpture (1337?) for the bell tower of the Florence Cathedral in Italy.
The Renaissance, a term derived from an Italian word meaning “rebirth,” was a period during which both the artistic forms and the ideals of Classical antiquity were revived and renewed. It began in Italy about 1400, spread north, and continued until about 1600. Again, it was primarily Roman sculpture and architecture, rather than the original Greek works, that artists sought to emulate. However, European travelers began to gain more direct experience of Greek originals during the 15th century.
References to Classical art, architecture, and mythology were extremely common in the Renaissance, and a few cases may stand for all. One of the earliest works by Italian artist Michelangelo is a relief showing the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs (1489-1492, Casa Buonarotti, Florence, Italy). In 1506 Michelangelo was present when the Greek statue of Laocoön and his Sons was unearthed in Rome, and the influence of this work can be seen in his frescoes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling and in other works. A little earlier, Italian architect Bramante designed one of the first Renaissance buildings to imitate ancient architecture, the Tempietto (1502, Rome), a chapel in the form of a round temple set on a classical platform of three steps. The legacy of ancient sculpture became so valued during the Renaissance that in 1515 Pope Leo X appointed artist Raphael to act as commissioner for antiquities.
Later periods of European art are full of works that have classical subjects or have been created in a neoclassical style. During the 17th century, Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini echoed the motion and emotion expressed in Hellenistic sculpture in his David (1623, Galleria Borghese, Rome) and in other works. And the admiration of 18th-century French painter Jacques-Louis David for classical subjects and compositions is evident in neoclassical paintings such as Oath of the Horatii (1784-1785, Louvre, Paris).
Renaissance popes established the first great collections of antiquities since ancient times, and in the 17th century kings and nobles throughout Europe followed their lead, collecting sculpture above all. In the late 18th century the English ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton, gathered the first great collection of Greek vases. The field of archaeology was born about that time, as was art history, which then promoted Greek art and architecture as the ideal. In 1762 English architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett published important drawings of ancient Athenian buildings.
These developments helped reinforce the dominance of the neoclassical style in architecture throughout Europe from about 1750 through the early 1800s. This style was thought particularly suitable for public buildings. Berlin's Brandenburg Gate (built 1788-1791), for example, was modeled on the Propylaea on the Acropolis. Throughout Europe and the Americas, civic buildings of the early 19th century were similarly inspired by Classical Greek forms.
The first great collection of original Greek sculptures outside Greece is known as the Elgin marbles and consists primarily of sculptures from the metopes, frieze, and pediments of the Parthenon in Athens. The English diplomat Thomas Bruce, earl of Elgin, brought them to England between 1801 and 1806. Originally, Lord Elgin wanted only to make drawings and casts of the Parthenon sculptures to hasten 'the progress of the Fine Arts' in England. However, to prevent the breaking up of the marble for use as building material, he had the sculptures removed from the Acropolis. The British Museum in London acquired them in 1816.
Fifty years before Elgin, the German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann wrote that “There is only one way for the moderns to become great and, perhaps, unequalled: by imitating the Ancients.” Although this attitude is no longer in favor, there have been many times in the history of Western art and culture when it was. Even today, the ways we think about, represent, and perceive the world are still largely founded upon the achievements of the ancient Greeks.