Greek Art Essay

Greek Art

Greek Art
Art is the creation of beauty, it was the first written language and to study art history
is to study the history of civilizations and mankind. The Greeks essentially molded the
world with their intelligence in art, architecture and astronomy for many. They were a
culture that strived for perfection and harmony.

The abstract geometric patterning that was dominant during the Geometric period is
replaced by a more naturalistic style in the Archaic period which inspired Greek artists
to work in techniques as diverse as gem cutting, ivory carving, jewelry making and metal
working. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2003) Also during this time the increasing
naturalistic representations of the human body was being sculpted into perfection by using
the perfect blend of balance and proportion for the male and female body. They called the
male the Kouros; he was considered to represent the Greek god Apollo and was always
depicted nude in a contrapposto position. The female equivalent was Kore, or standing
draped maiden. She unlike the male was always clothed and standing erect with feet
together or sometimes with one foot to the left.

The Classical period removes us from the world of Archaic rigidity and on to one in which
art takes on the task of representing life, and not merely just creating tokens of life,
this in turn gets the viewer more involved. This period of time comprises of two distinct
periods: the early classical and the high classical. However both these periods shared the

uniquely contradicting, constantly explorative, and modestly idealistic vision of life,
which made the subjects of the stele, at their moment of death, all the more human to the
observer. Neither the previous Archaic period, nor the following 4th century, or the
preceding civilizations quite so convincingly capture for the observer the poignancy of
death the way a fifth century BC stele could. The period of the 5th century B.C. is
sometimes referred to as the golden age, which is the height for Greek art and
civilizations; and ironically has its beginning and ending in war.

?Between the boundaries of 480 and 404 the human figure ran through a wide range of
psychological nuances. ? Of these many ?nuances? there are two significant styles that are
observed in art history. First there is ?the self-confidence brought about by a
deep-seated certainty of the outcome of the struggle with the environment in the course of
the ?severe style?, which is a characteristic of the early classical period. And then
there is the resignation bought about by dashed hopes the fickleness of illusions and
escapism in the ever fragile creatures of the ?rich style? ?, which can be identified in
the high classical period. The stylistic differences mentioned above tend to break this
so-called golden era of the 5th century B.C. into two periods (Bordman, 1985). However,
ironically the one factor that combines these periods together is death, or at least
monuments erected for death.

The Greeks viewed death somewhat differently from the way we do. To them death freed their
souls and brought true happiness: then why does their grave sculpture look so pensive and

thoughtful? It is because unlike today where the dead are only represented figuratively in
a sobbing angel or mournful cherub, the Greeks depicted their dead as they were in life –
life which was full of uncertainties and burdens but also with simple pleasures that made
it all worth while. As seen in the example of this gravestone of a little girl as she
would have been in actually life. Here the little girl holds two doves, one with its beak
closed to her mouth as if kissing it, the other is perched on her left hand. (fig 1)

Although the Parthenon in Athens remains the supreme example of classical Greek art. In
its day, it would have been embellished with numerous wall-paintings and sculptures, yet
even relatively devoid of adornment it stands as an unmistakable monument to Greek
artistry. ?Originally, the Parthenon’s sculptures fell into three groups. (1) On the
triangular pediments at either end were large-scale free-standing groups containing
numerous figures of Gods and mythological scenes. (2) Along both sides were almost 100
relief?s of struggling figures including Gods, humans, centaurs and others. (3) Around the
whole building ran another relief, some 150 meters in length, which portrayed the Great
Panathenia a religious 4 year festival in praise of Athena.? (“Greek Art,” 2010) Despite
being badly damaged, the Parthenon sculptures reveal the supreme artistic ability of their
creators. Above all, they like many other classical Greek sculptures reveal an astonishing
sense of movement as well as a noted realism of the human body.

The transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic period occurred following the
conquests of Alexander the Great. A new reality emerged in Greek sculpture. Instead of
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