Ancient Greek Art

Ancient Greek art is customarily split into the following period: (1) the Dark Ages (c.1100-900 BCE). (2) The Geometric Period (c.900-700 BCE). (3) The Oriental-Style Period (c.700-625 BCE). (4) The Archaic Period (c.625-500 BCE). (5) The Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE). (6) The Hellenistic Period (c.323-100 BCE). unfortunately, about all Greek work of art and a huge proportion of Greek sculpture has been lost, leaving us with a collection of ruins or Roman duplicates. Greek architecture, as well, is to a great extent known to us through its remains. In spite of this tiny inheritance, Greek artist remain profoundly loved, which shows how genuinely advance they were.

Like all artist of the Mediterranean area, the ancient Greeks borrowed a number of important artistic techniques from their neighbours and trading partners. Even so, by the death of the Macedonian Emperor Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Greek art was regarded in general as the finest ever made. Even the Romans – despite their awesome engineering and military skills – never quite overcame their sense of inferiority in the face of Greek craftsmanship, and (fortunately for us) copied Greek artworks assiduously. Seventeen centuries later, Greek architecture, sculptural reliefs, statues, and pottery would be rediscovered during the Italian Renaissance, and made the cornerstone of Western art for over 400 years.

Dark Ages
After the fall of the Mycenean civilization (12th century BCE) Greece entered a period of decline, known as the Dark Ages – because we know so little about it. Sculpture, painting and monumental architecture almost ceased.

Geometric Period
Then, from around 900 BCE, these arts (created mainly for aristocratic families who had achieved power during the Dark Ages) reappeared during the Geometric period, named after the decorative designs of its pottery.

Oriental Period
The succeeding Orientalizing period was characterized by the influence of Near Eastern designwork, notably curvilinear, zoomorphic and floral patterns.

Archaic Period
The Archaic period was a time of gradual experimentation; the most prized sculptural form was the kouros (pl.kouroi), or standing male nude. This was followed by the Classical period, which represents the apogee of Greek art.

Classical Period
Greek architecture blossomed, based on a system of ‘Classical Orders’ (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) or rules for building design, based on proportions of and between the individual parts. The Parthenon on the Acropolis complex in Athens is the supreme example of classical Greek architecture: other famous examples include: the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Hephaistos, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Theatre at Delphi, and the Tholos Temple of Athena Pronaia. In the plastic arts, great classical Greek sculptors like Polykleitos, Myron, and Phidias demonstrated a mastery of realism which would remain unsurpassed until the Italian Renaissance. But painting remained the most-respected art form – notably panel-paintings executed in tempera or encaustic paint – with renowned Greek painters like Zeuxis, Apelles, and Parrhasius added new techniques of highlighting, shading and colouring.

The beginning of the final Hellenistic phase coincided with the death of Alexander and the incorporation of the Persian Empire into the Greek world. Stylewise, classical realism was superceded by greater solemnity and heroicism (exemplified by the massive statue “The Colossus of Rhodes”, the same size as the Statue of Liberty) as well as a growing expressionism. The period is characterized by the spread of Greek culture (Hellenization) throughout the civilized world, including techniques of sculpture and mosaic art. Famous Hellenistic sculptures include: the celebrated “Venus de Milo”, “Dying Gaul” by Epigonus; the Pergamon Altar of Zeus (c.166-156 BCE); “Winged Victory of Samothrace”; and “Laocoon and His Sons” by Hagesandrus, Polydorus and Athenodorus.

Greek Pottery

Greek pottery developed much earlier than other art forms: by 3000 BCE the Peloponnese was already the leading pottery centre. Later, following the take-over of the Greek mainland by Indo-European tribes around 2100 BCE, a new form of pottery was introduced, known as Minyan Ware. It was the first Greek type to be made on a potter’s wheel. Despite this, it was Minoan pottery on Crete – with its new dark-on-light style – that predominated during the 2nd Millennium BCE. Thereafter, however, Greek potters regained the initiative, introducing a series of dazzling innovations including: beautifully proportioned Geometric Style pottery (900-725), as well as Oriental (725-600), Black-Figure (600-480) and Red-Figure (530-480) styles. Famous Greek ceramicists include Exekias, Kleitias, Ergotimos, Nearchos, Lydos, the Amasis Painter, Andokides, Euthymides, and Sophilos (all Black-Figure), plus Douris, Brygos and Onesimos (Red-Figure).

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