Greek Art

Greek Art

Art of ancient Greece had and has a tremendous impact on the European art. It flourished on a vast territory from contemporary Greece to Asia Minor. Genetically coherent with Creta-Mycenaean civilization, art of this region originated its own visual language that embodied antique system of values.

Periodisation of Ancient Greek Art

Art of Homeric period /XII-VIII cent. B.C./ The period of tribal social order, brought to Greece by Dorians – northen nomades. Its name is connected with a legendary Homer, whose poems are the main informational source on history and culture of that time.

Archaic Period /VII – VI cent. B.C./ “Archaikos” is translated from Greek as primitive. The term is used to outline the “worn” character of the period regarding the subsequent Classical one. In reality, this is rather innovative epoch: development of such social phenomenon as polis (city-state) leads to complexification of culture and arts.

Classical Period /V cent. B.C. ‑ 323 B.C./ The short period of ultimate prosperity in Greek culture, reached after the victory in Greek-Persian war, especially under government of Pericles in Athens.

Hellenistic Period /323 – 30 B.C./ The time of striking changes that occurred in art after death of Alexander the Great and involved big centers of the whole Aegean territory.

Sacral Architecture. The framework of classical greek temple is the post-and-beam system, when two vertical posts support a horizontal element (beam) at both ends. Two of three main architectural orders – Doric, Ionic – were formed in archaic period, the last – Corinthian – in classical one. All of them consist of the same components that together resemble a human figure– pillar itself (with cannelures like drapery of toga), capital (head) and enablement that included cornice, frieze and architrave. Doric order, without column base, is the stockiest one. Elongated Ionic and Corinthian columns are more decorative and delicate.

A typical temple was a rectangular in plan building of mud and bricks with a capped roof. Its core was a sanctuary – naos– with a votive statue. Behind it, there was opisthodomos that could serve as a treasury. Visitor entered naos from the courtyard through pronaos – porch, flanked with two pillars. Specialists define this structure as “temple in antes”. When columns were placed all over the perimeter of the building they form so-called peripteros or peristyle. The oldest remaining Doric peripteral temple is the Temple of Apollo at Corinth (circ. 650 B.C.).

The development of Greek architecture demonstrates gradual transition from Doric order, popular in archaic period, to the Ionic, popular in classical and, finally to the Corinthian, prior to Hellenism. Parthenon is thought to be the masterpiece of ancient building art.

Sculpture. The geometric style was presented with small-scale bronze or terracotta figurines, shape in geometric forms (cones, cylinders, bells). Most common sculptural types of archaic period were Kouros (stanging nude youth) and Kores (stanging draped girl). Statues were life-size, rigid frontal that indicates the influence of Egyptian art. Sculpture was strongly connected to the architecture and was often used as its constructive and decorative part. Despite of the stereotype of “white antiquity”, figures and reliefs were painted in bright colors – gold, yellow, red, blue.

Among the others, freestanding statues of Gods, heroes, athletes were often produced. They’re not portraits of particular individuals, but images of certain ideals of the Greek society – beauty, courage etc. Even their facial expressions were depersonalized, as masters give them enigmatic “archaic smile”. Preserving this tendency towards idealism, Classical art overcame ossification of archaic sculpture. The Athenian Poliklet in his bronze sculpture “Dorifores” established the antique canon of perfect human’s boy proportions that greatly effected art of Greece and Rome. He also gave the first model of contraposto – special pose of a figure in sculpture, standing with most of its weight on one foot. That mode imparts a statue feeling of liberation and dynamic. Such sculptors as Lyssipos, Myron, Praxiteles and Phidias managed to achieve naturalness and harmony in their creations. The calm dignity of classical characters was soon replaced by filled with expressionism Hellenistic art. The outstanding master of transitional period was Skopas, who inspired his successors Agesander and Lyssistratus. Sculptors of that time prefer dramatic mythological episodes, with high emotional tension, shown through S-shaped lines, contrast of light and shadows. Hellenism distinguishing trait was giant-mania: it’s enough to mention one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – 32-meters high statue of Colossus of Rhodes.
We know some Greek sculptures in marble ancient roman replicas. But in fact, many of them were originally made in bronze, as its color was closer to bodily.

Vase painting

The oldest pottery demonstrates predominance of Geometrical style. Its brightest examples are the Dipylon vases – big vases, up to 1,5 meters, sometimes used as tomb-monuments. Their distinctive features were the sharp outlining of structural elements and monochrome coloring –pale yellow glaze ground with black or brown ornamented stripe only on their neck and shoulders. The most widespread pattern is so-called meander. It has become fundamental for the whole Greek art from that epoch onwards.

In VII cent. B.C. geometric style was superseded by oriental. It has traces of the eastern art’s influence, with its love to floral ornaments and images of fantastic animals. Just in a century, a black-figure technique took its place: now images were incised on a ceramic surface through a glossy slip that turned black during firing. Exekias was a renowned master of black-figure pottery, notable for an exquisite sense of composition and drawing. In his works, a leitmotif of Greek art – accentuation on plasticity of human physique – became obvious

The principle of three-phase firing was elaborated in the red-figure ceramic (red images on the black glossy background) around 530 B.C. As the depictions could be drawn, not incised, this technique allowed getting more realistic and detailed results. That made it most popular, especially in the Classical period.

Ancient Greek art was anthropocentric: the distance between Olympian gods and mortals was blurred. The human’s body was perceived as a unique expression of Cosmic harmony and all kinds of art (from architecture to pottery) were meant to incarnate this concept.

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