The Ancient Greeks lived more than 2,000 years ago, but their art and culture still have a tremendous impact on Western art. We can see the legacy in everything from sculpture to theater.
The Greeks were among the first artists to create realistic sculptures or paintings of people or animals. Today, we call these pieces “realistic” because they look like photographs—but of course photography hadn’t been invented yet! Ancient Greek artists had to make their sculptures and paintings look real by choosing colors and shapes based on how they thought the world looked.
With the help of the Agora Museum, I’ll show you some examples of ancient Greek art and discuss some of the basic elements of this style.
After all, the ancient Greeks were capable of making beautiful sculptures, paintings and mosaics. They didn’t have much in the way of large-scale architecture, but they were highly skilled at making temples and public buildings that were open to the elements. They didn’t have a lot of large-scale sculpture, but they made up for it with small vase paintings.
The Greeks liked to depict their gods as human beings with special powers and beauty. The gods had special powers that allowed them to do things that humans could never do. For example, the god Zeus was said to be able to reach into the sky and catch lightning bolts out of the air. This was a totally impossible thing for a human being to do – or so we thought at first! One of these lightning bolts is now on display at the Acropolis museum in Athens. As you may have guessed by now, it’s not really a lightning bolt – though I’m sure you can see why someone might think it was at first. It’s actually a mask worn by an actor in a play. It’s attached to leather straps which were tied around the forehead and chin to hold it in place. I guess it was supposed to make him look like he was throwing a lightning bolt!
The Greeks loved
Ancient Greek art may be divided into three periods: The Geometric period, the Archaic period, and the Classical period. The Geometric period dates from about 900 to about 700 B.C.E., the Archaic period from about 700 to 500 B.C.E., and the Classical period from about 500 to 300 B.C.E. The Archaic and Classical periods are more closely related stylistically than they are to the Geometric period.
The earliest known paintings on Greek pottery date to c. 600 B.C.E., a time when Greece was divided into many separate city-states–some of which, such as Athens, were quite large and prosperous while others were much smaller and more remote (such as Thermon, where Sicyon was found). In painting, as in all other arts, these city-states tended to develop their own local styles and their own local interpretations of the styles of neighboring states; it is in this sense that we refer to what is called “Geometric art.”
The Geometric style was an outgrowth of the last stages of Mycenaean art (see above). It continued to develop and by c. 750 B.C.E., when it began gradually to give way to
The Parthenon is the most famous building of ancient Greece and one of the most important works of architecture in the world. It was built between 447 and 432 BC on the Acropolis of Athens, Greece. Its architects were Iktinos and Kallikrates who were followers of Phidias (490-430 BC). The sculptor was Phidias himself.
The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena Polias (Athena Protector Of The City). In fact it is not a proper temple but a monument consisting of a central building or cella surrounded by 37 columns. The cella is divided into two rooms. The inner room was used for religious ceremonies while the outer room was used for everyday activities.
The south and north sides of the Parthenon are straight whereas its west side curves gently outwards so that its central rooms are better lit than those at either end. The columns are made of marble and have fluted shafts with twenty-one rows of Doric style fluting decorated with projections called dentils.
The Parthenon is known as a treasury of great sculpture, some of which can now be seen in London’s British Museum after they were brought there by Lord Elgin in 1801. However, much still remains
The Ancient Greeks excelled at sculpture, architecture and painting. But there were other artists in the ancient Greek world whose talents are often overlooked: mosaicists. Mosaics were a form of art that was commonly used by the Greeks to decorate floors and walls of public buildings such as temples and baths.
A mosaic is made up of small pieces of material (usually stone, glass or tile) called tesserae, which are placed together to make an image or pattern. The Ancient Greek mosaics that have survived from the classical period are usually made with colored stone and glass tesserae or with small tiles called cubes.
The earliest surviving Greek mosaics can be found on Crete. However, the most impressive examples of ancient Greek mosaic art come from Sicily and southern Italy in places like Selinunte and Siracusa.
A typical ancient Greek mosaic was made using brightly colored stones and glass (sometimes painted) set in mortar on a large wooden panel. A cartoon drawing was first drawn onto the wooden panel using a wax-based paint mixture. This cartoon drawing would serve as a pattern for the artist creating the mosaic.
Once the artist had finished creating the mosaic, it would be placed in its final location. If it was to be installed on
The Greek artist would have been familiar with the human form in a variety of contexts. In athletic contests, for example, he would have seen men of all ages and body types training hard in the nude.
The sculptor who created the Hermes of Praxiteles (ca. 350 B.C.) took such observations to their natural conclusion by depicting his subject nude. The purpose was not to shock but to reveal: The god Hermes embodies an ideal of male beauty that is more than muscle, more than physique—it is a kind of spiritual grace, an ideal of human development toward which the young man could aspire.
His anatomy seems very accurate as far as it goes: It reflects the best knowledge available at the time. But it also reveals that there were limits to what even the most accomplished sculptors could observe in person—limits imposed by human anatomy itself.*
Still, one can hardly blame them for trying: Achieving anatomical verisimilitude was one of the primary aims of sculpture at the time.* For example, many statues were created using a technique called “contrapposto” (Italian for “counterpose”), in which one shoulder is held lower than the other to create a sense of weight shifting from one leg to another.”
“I have written it to satisfy the claims of justice, and to obviate the cavils of an unjust enemy. For I would have no one ignorant that he is a man who has never studied liberal arts, nor attained to any liberal knowledge, but has passed his life in vile servitude under some king—ruling, indeed, others, but himself ruled by others; knowing nothing better than flattery and falsehood; a slave to the vilest of masters.”