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  1 c. 15000 - 5000 BC Prehistoric Art
  2 5000 BC - 5ОО BC The Art of the Ancient Kingdoms of Egypt - Aegean Art
  3-4 5ОО вс - 12th century The Art of the Greeks
  5-6 5ОО вс - 12th century Italic Art
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  15-16 16th century (1500-1599) Mannerism
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    20th century(1900-1999) ART OF THE 20TH CENTURY
5ОО вс - 12th century

The Art of the Greeks
see also:
Ancient Greek Sculpture

Archaic Vase Painting
  Art in Pompeii & Herculaneum
Archaic Vase Painting
Ancient Greek Sculpture
Lysippos - Praxiteles
The Art of the Greeks

Greek art, the foundation and inspiration of Western artistic culture, was responsible for the invention of forms that embody the ideal of beauty.
The vast output, emanating from centres located throughout the Greek empire, comprised works of fundamental importance created by artists of extraordinary talent.

Cup of Nestor
Museum of Ischia, Italy


For a period of more than a thousand years, the Hellenic peoples of mainland Greece, Sicily, Magna Graecia (the Greek colonies in southern Italy), as well as those of the islands of the Aegean and Ionian seas, created a wealth of sculpture, painting, and architecture whose types, forms, and values lie at the very heart of Western aesthetics. Recently, new archaeological discoveries, combined with new studies and cultural concepts, have brought a historical reality to the personalities of artists who were previously shrouded in legend. As a result, the artistic culture of the ancient Greeks is appreciated for its breadth and influence, from the earliest days through to its absorption into the heart of Roman imperial art. and from there into the mainstream of European culture, Greek art can be seen in the art of the Byzantine period, as well as pre-Romanesque and Romanesque art, and in the modem and artistic cultures of Europe and further afield. The thinkers of ancient Greece are still regarded as the source of modem aesthetic philosophy.

Early Geometric period
National Archaeological Museum, Athens



In Greek building techniques, walls were traditionally erected by applying clay directly to a wooden Framework and the building design was dominated by an apselike curve at the ends. However, the use of sun-dried bricks was introduced during the Geometric era and it then became easier to create right angles. Houses took on a square shape and an elongated rectangular space was used as a place of worship. With the introduction of terracotta tiles in 675bc, it became easier to make a roof waterproof. However, this also increased its weight, leading to a complete reorganization of the network of beams and roof trusses. It was at this time that the word architekton ("chief carpenter") acquired its modem meaning, referring to the person responsible for the plans of a building.
As stone gradually replaced wood, the Doric style of classical Greek architecture evolved. This, the oldest and simplest of architectural styles, consisted of heavy, fluted columns, plain, saucer-shaped capitals, a bold, simple cornice, architraves, and friezes. A perspective modification of the horizontals and verticals in buildings was first introduced in the Temple of Apollo at Corinth (c.540bc), built at a time when painters were first aware of foreshortening. Optical corrections remained a unique feature of Doric architecture, which in mainland and colonial Greece retained the concept of buildings as geometric solids (except in the Ionic temples of Asia Minor, where it would have been incompatible with the double row of pillars around the cella, or inner room of the temple). As an anti-earthquake device, monolithic columns - such as those at Corinth - were replaced by columns of super-imposed blocks of stone held together by flexible lengths of wood, or pegs.

Temple of Apollo
Corinth, Greece, c.540bc


Crete in the seventh century BC saw the beginnings of large-scale sculpture in stone. The style was named "Daedalic" after the legendary founder of sculpture at the court of King Minos at Knossos. Sculptures from Prinias, Eleutherna, Gortyn, Palaikastro, and Dreros in the museum at Heraklion pay homage to his works, and differ from earlier works in that they appear more animated, dynamic, and naturalistic. The bodies have natural proportions, the roundness of the heads tempered by a certain slant to the cheeks and the foreheads enclosed in low, horizontal hairstyles. At this time, ancient artists were breaking down the confines of regional tradition in order to affirm the maturity and ultimate superiority of Hellenic sculpture over its Eastern counterpart.

Torso of female figure
Eleutherna, Crete
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion

The Geometric Period

The appearance of pottery that was decorated with regular, circular motifs drawn with a pair of compasses, marked the start of a new era of artistic creativity in Greek art. Liberated from the direct influence of natural shapes, this style gave expression to intellectually based compositions. The addition of graphic designs - zigzags, triangles, and meandering lines -established the so-called Geometric style, which visualized and was able to express force, opposition, tension, and balance. It reached its peak during the eighth century BC (Late Geometric), coinciding with the transformation of the complex system of tribes into the organism of the city-state (polis). In the same way that citizens took control of their own community, public craftsmen, called demiourgoi, became responsible for the way in which objects were shaped and decorated. A strong sense of public spirit guided craftsmen and politicians alike towards the ideals of order, restraint, and harmony.

The Greek colonial system meant that designs spread quickly to the provinces. The earliest known signature of a potter appears on a krater, or two-handled bowl, from Pithecusae, on the Italian island of Ischia, dating from about 720bc. A skyphos (cup) from the same site bears the first lines known to come from the Iliad. In narrative scenes on pottery — the laying-out of the dead, processions, shipwrecks -the "shadow" of the human figure gives the impression of movement in the limbs and head in relation to the torso. The shape of ail vessels was significant, representing the physical unity of the human body into a powerful allegory; thus the krater became a "sign" of maie burials, while slender amphorae became a mark of female ones. Even today, the different parts of a vase are described in human terms. such as foot, shoulder, neck, mouth, and lip.


The Greeks had a word to indicate the origins of painting: skiagraphia ( "shadow drawing"). Saurias of Samos is said to have been the first man to trace the outline of a horse from its shadow cast on a wall, although the same process is attributed to the anonymous pioneers of painting at Sicyon and Corinth. In pottery designs from the Geometric era, the dark silhouettes of people and animals gradually become elongated, with bodies and heads growing smaller and legs and hooves extended. The last of the Geometric wares made use of a technique that the writer Plinv (AD23-79) attributed to Aridices of Corinth and Telephanes of Sicyon, who filled in the outlines of the silhouetted figures. Pliny's knowledge of monumental painting during that remote age led to him to attribute a painting of a battle scene by Boularchus, active in Ionia, to the "time of Romulus". In the sanctuary at Isthmia, near the Corinth Canal, fragments of wall decoration have been discovered that belong to the Temple of Poseidon (c.700bc). It was during this period that the technique of black-figure painting, the final successor to skiagraphia, was introduced in Corinth. The names of the characters depicted on the vases were added, a union of symbols and images echoed during the modem era in Braque's Cubist collages.

Geometric-style pottery
Necropolis of Dipylon. Athens.
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The central strip of such pottery often showed funeral rites: here, it is the laying-out and chariot procession.



The Chigi Vase, a masterpiece of the Corinthian polychrome style (c.635bc), has a decoration of banded friezes (in keeping with Oriental style) depicting carefully alternated subject matter. The one mythological scene, The Judgment of Paris, has been placed below the handle. The rest of the decoration relates to life and nature: the hunting of hares and foxes, a procession of warriors with a chariot, a lion hunt, hounds chasing wild animals, and a battle scene. To display the devices on the shields, the painter has depicted fewer warriors on the right, but densely overlapped the hoplites, or infantrymen, to the left - only the backs of their shields are visible. In so doing, he provided space for the flautist, shown vigorously blowing on his flute. The music is to accompany the soldiers who advance in a rhythmic fashion, and the change from fast steps to a steady march can be seen in the figures of the last men joining the fray. The portrayal of movement blends with a sophisticated representation of space; the ranks converge at the centre, where the shields are already colliding and the spears are clashing in mortal combat. The artist was clearly not content merely to decorate the surface for the casual delight of the observer, but wanted to create an elaborate interplay of figures and ornamentation that demanded detailed study.

Ekphantos Painter, Warrios
Detail of the Chigi Vase, Veio
Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Rome


Orientalizing Period

In the Cyclades during the seventh century bc, the so-called Orientalizing period, human figures were sculpted from marble found on the islands, a practice dating from the Bronze Age. Egyptian influence increased following the founding of the trading port of Naucratis on the Nile Delta, and visits by Greek mercenaries to the Nile valley. Through the late seventh century bc, stone sculpture on the island of Crete, during the highly inventive Daedalic period was a form in which craftsmen attempted to encapsulate the essence of life. Areas of uniform colour were used in painting, as a result of Eastern influences that arrived via Corinth. The Corinthians traded with the Phoenicians, Khalcideans and Rhodians, and with peoples of the East via the port of Al Mina on the River Orontes (730-640bc). The work of the innovative Corinthian Ekphantos Painter, to whom the Chigi Vase is credited, inspired the technique devised by Athenian potters of black figures on a red clay ground. Most black-figure wares are decorated with beasts or mythological scenes, arranged with a greater feeling of space than in Corinthian pottery.

Fragment of an Attic black-figure bowl, 580bc
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
This illustrates funeral games given in honour of Patroclos



Kleitias owes his fame to the decoration of the largest and most impressive vase known from the Archaic period, modelled by Ergotimos in about 570bc. The piece was found at Chiusi by Alessandro Francois in 1844. The base, body, and neck are decorated with bands of differing widths, a device that creates a great sense of movement. Although most of the vase is decorated with solemn or dramatic episodes, its base bears a comic fight scene. Above this is a band of decorative animals, a band portraying Achilles' ambush of Troilus beneath the walls of Troy, and, finally, the return of Hephaestos to Olympos. On the broadest part of the vase is a procession of the gods at the wedding of Peleos and Thetis. The lower neck shows the chariot race in memory of Patroclos and the fight between the Lapiths and Centaurs, while the upper section depicts the hunt for the Kalydonian boar and the dance of the young people rescued by Theseos from the Minotaur.
The principal narrative of the decoration is drawn from the life of Achilles, from the mythical marriage of his parents to his killing of Priam's son on hallowed ground and the loss of his beloved companion. The vase handles portray the removal of the corpse. The painting uses ail the techniques that Pliny attributes to various ancient masters: the accurate distinction between male and female figures, which turn without stiffness, and the use of superimposition and foreshortening. The wild animal at the centre of the hunting scene dominates the wounded dog and man, while at the sides, heroes grouped in pairs at an angle to the background create the illusion that the action takes place within a defined space.

Francois Vase, Chiusi, c.570bc
Archaeological Museum, Florence

Archaic Period


Kouros, Volomandra, 565bc
National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The Archaic period of Greek history (600-480nc) began in Athens when the statesman Solon codified the privileged position of the wealthy, while at the same time giving jurisdiction to the people (594-591BC). The aristocracy gloried in colossal kouroi (statues of nude youths), erected at Cape Sounion (590-580bc). Emerging from the isolation of the Daedalic Vision. these figures appeared as a perikalles agalma, "an image of great beauty" (for the pleasure of the gods and the contemplation of mortals). In Corinth, one of the Seven Sages, Periander, succeeded Cypselus ( his father) and maintained a court of poets, musicians, and artists. Between 600 and 560bc, he encouraged the production of the middle Corinthian wares, which dominated Western markets. In Athens, the first known master of the black-figure technique was Sophilos. He signed a vivid. epic scene of the games held in honour of Patroclos before Achilles and a crowd of Achaeans in about 580bc. The François Vase, made slightly later by Ergotimos and Kleitias, was commissioned in about 570bc by an Etruscan lord. A second generation of kouroi can be seen in the statue from Volamandra from about 565bc. The way in which the triangular stomach joins with the legs creates an effective sense of harmony. The skin is stretched tautly over the muscles, and the figure's mouth turns up in a smile. During the late Corinthian period (from 560bc), Corinth lost its monopoly on exports to Athens, where, from 561 to 555bc and from 546 to 528bc, the tyrant Pisistratos fostered a policy of economic expansion. Here, the representations of myths began to include the relationship between man, heroes, and gods. Later kouroi showed a more athletic musculature, as in the statue of the youth buried at Anavysos (c.540bc). He stands on a large, stepped plinth inscribed: "Stop and grieve at the tomb of the dead Kroisos, slain by wild Ares in the front rank of battle." The arms, linked to the pectoral muscles, no longer touch the body, while the face reveals a realistically modelled lower jaw and slightly parted lips. From 528 to 510bc, Endoios remained the favourite artist of the sons of Pisistratos. He is credited with having created the pediment on the Acropolis that shows Athena defeating the giants. This was probably a dedication by Hippias to make up for a conspiracy by Aristogeiton and Harmodios that resulted in the death of Hipparchos (514bc). For a century, the kouros was skilfully used by sculptors as a way of investigating the reality of different social and religious circumstances. The subject was portrayed as a bringer of offerings, a dead man. a hero, and even a god, as in the advancing bronze figure of Apollo from Piraeus (c.525bc). The canrving of the female figures (korai) on the Acropolis, employs the use of circular bases to dictate the form of the whole figure. The sun plays on the curved surfaces of the marble, penetrating its crystals, and the light seems to suggest an extra dimension to the stone. During the same period, the exiled Alkmaeonid clan employed the sculptor Antenor to work on the pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. A statue of a goddess there has the same structure as the kore on the Acropolis, which was completed by the artist on his return to Athens after the expulsion of Hippias. Circular bases were soon replaced by rectangular plinths to accommodate the increasingly extroverted gestures of the figures. When Kleisthenes, an Athenian statesman of the Alkmaeonid clan, introduced his democratic reforms between 509 and 507bc, Antenor created a bronze monument in memory of the unsuccessful tyrannicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton.

National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Antenor, kore,
Acropolis Museum, Athens


The technique of black-figure painting on pottery was superseded by a reversal of the process, in which the figures were outlined in red clay and the background was filled in in black. One of the first red-figure artists was Andokides, working in about 520bc. It was no longer necessary to incise details, as these were now painted using light strokes of diluted black or pale brown, a technique that allowed for softer modelling, in keeping with advances in other forms of painting. After the expulsion of Hippias and the birth of the democratic order (510-507BC), much pottery art depicted beautiful youths - often described with the word kalos - and athletes in training or bearing arms. Military service, which was compulsory for ail citizens, is shown in scenes of divination and departure or return from war.
From about 490bc, painting lost its static quality and began to show an awareness by the artists of their surroundings. Athenian vase painters depicted increasingly fluid scenes on their cups, jugs, amphorae, and other vessels commonly used by ail contemporary citizens at banquets, for display in homes, and for burials. These objects were carefully decorated with scenes that included hunting, athletic contests, weddings, ritual Dionysiac drinking, sacrifices, feasts, and funerals, Every aspect of the city's life is revealed on such pieces, just as it was in the theatre and literature of the day. The export of such products brought the culture they depicted both to the Greek colonies of southern Italy and Sicily, as well as the Etruscans, Italic tribes, and other Western peoples. Attic pottery (from Athens) frequently formed part of grave goods.


At the end of Pisistratid rule, shortly before an edict was issued in 510& curbing lavish burials, the funerary monument of Aristodikos was erected near Athens. In contrast to the powerful athleticism of the preceding generation of kouroi, this figure is slender, with a strong sense of inner tension and smooth. expressively modelled skin. The long legs barely betray their underlying structure as shin. knee, and thighs flow into each other in a single sweep. The forward movement of the left leg is reflected in the asymmetry of the pelvis and in the musculature of the abdomen, which is modelled in sections and bounded by chest muscles. The hollow at the base of the neck below the collarbone is clearly visible, and the head inclines to the left, in keeping with early studies into the way weight is distributed on the legs. The mouth has a strong lateral quality and the skin stretches tightly over the chin and full cheeks. The broad curving forehead holds back the short hair that replaces the heavy wig of earlier figures. A later kore (statue of draped female figure) by the same hand also forms part of the monument.

Aristodikos Master, kore,
Acropolis Museum, Athens

Aristodikos Master, kouros,
National Archaeological Museum, Athens


Archaeological Museum, Delphi

In ancient times, to demonstrate their power, major cities erected richly decorated thesauroi inside their shrines. These buildings housed the finest and costliest offerings of private individuals, and, as a result, the original meaning of the word "storehouse" gradually changed to "treasury". A frieze of the marble thesauros, built in Ionic style in about 525bc by the inhabitants of the island of Siphnos (in the Cyclades) with proceeds from their silver and gold mines, can still be seen at Delphi. The entrance was in the western facade, adorned with two karyatids (supporting columns crafted in the form of women). The west frieze showed Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite arriving in their chariots for the judgment of Paris. The southern relief depicted the capture of Helen by Theseos and Pirithoos, and a procession of horsemen. Carved in strong outline, the design followed the grain of the marble.
The eastern and northern friezes are by a different hand. The former shows the fight between Achilles and Memnon under the watchful eye of the gods, as they weighed the contestants' souls to decide the winner, while the latter depicts a gigantomachia (a war between giants and gods). The artist's signature was originally incised on the shield of one of the giants, but the stone has since disintegrated. He was a member of the Parian school, and belonged to the generation following Aristion.

Detail of frieze.
Archaeological Museum, Delphi


The school of Paros, which made use of the island's ancient marble quarries, achieved its finest expression between 550 and 540bo in the work of Aristion. His statue Phrasikleia, found at Merenda (ancient Mirrhynos) on the east coast of Attica, bears the bitter lament: "For ever I shall be called tore. In place of marriage I have received this name as my lot from the gods."
The monumental quality of this virginal figure flows from the embroidered band that closes her dress at the front and is clear in the stately fall of the overlapping folds, which hint at the shape of her leg beneath. The drapery of her floor-length woollen chiton falls in Ionic waves at the sides. Aristion's influence and style spread to Attica, Boeotia, and Delos, and can be seen in a kore from Cyrene.

Aristion, Phrasikleia,
Merenda (Mirrhynos)
Nathional Archaeological
Museum, Athens


Surviving statues of the entire front of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia.
Archaeological Museum, Olympia

Agelades dominated the decorative programme of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (47l-456bc), and it is his statues that adorned the east front of the temple. Under the eye of the gods, Oenomaos prepares for sacrifice in the presence of his wife Sterope and his daughter Hippodamia, at whose side stands Pelops, destined for victory and kingship. An old man seated on the ground surveys the scene with the eye of a seer. Samples of clay used in casting taken from the statue of Tycleos (Bronze A) reveal that it was created in Agelades' workshop at Argos. Resembling the Olympian statue of Zeus in its structural style, the bronze is still archaic with a strong sense of directness. The left foot advances aggressively, the body twists threateningly, and the muscles convey pent-up strength. Agelades' marvellous statues were an inspiration for his pupils: Myron learnt to portray "breath enclosed in bronze", Phidias how to instil a feeling of life, and Polycleitos how to create the illusion of energy and movement.

Sterope, Oenomaos, Zeus, Pelops, and Hippodamia, from the east front of the Temple of Zeus, Olympia.
Archaeological Museum, Olympia

The First Realism

In 479bc, the Athenians re-established their territorial security with a victory over the Persians at Plataea. Fragments of statues left in ruins by the Persians were religiously gathered up and buried on the Acropolis. Fire had completely destroyed paintings by the "primitives" which had for so long provided the models for the portrayal of gods and heroes. The resultant need for the Athenians to rethink their institutions combined with their victory, meant that they were able to plan the future of their city with confidence. For the first time. artists depicted their subjects in realistic situations and characterized them according to surrounding events.

The Severe Style

In sculpture, the transition to realism can be seen in the works of Kritios, Nesiotes, and Egia in Athens, and Agelades at Argos. Using dynamic, fluid outlines, Micon and Myron rejected the solidity of the work of Polygnotos and Kalamis, and in painting. Micon developed spacial concepts, depicting the area between figures and landscape, lifelike gestures and movements. and the tangled tumult of battle. In Myron's statue of Ladas at Olympia (460bc), the runner looks as though he is about to leap off his pedestal; his Timanthes (456bc.) raises his arms to his head to fasten his leather cap; and the legs and torso of his Discus Thrower (c.450bc) are long, the body lean and tense, and the muscles taut. The head echoes the oval shape of the Bronze A, one of two bronze warriors found off Riace, in southern Italy. The pose and physique of Myron's colossal statue of Zeus, on Samos, imitate the work of Agelades. Influenced in Athens by the imagery of the theatre, Myron arranged his sculptures like paintings, using the type of layout that culminated in his group Apollo and Marsyas.

Attributed to Agelades
Tydeos (better known as Bronze A),
from the sea at Riace, southern Italy.
National Museum, Reggio Calabria

Niobid Painter, Slaughter of the Niobids,
detail on an Attic vase showing Apollo and Artemis with bows and arrows.
Musee du Louvre, Paris



An influential sculptor from Eleutherae in Boeotia, Myron (c.480-455bc) was a student of Agelades of Argos, The dynamic linear style of his work in bronze contrasted with the solidity of Kalamis1 work. His Timanthes, Ladas, and Discus Thrower are thought to date from the early Peloponnesian period, and his Lycinos at Olympia from a later phase. The group of Zeus, Athena, and Herakles was sculpted at Samos, white his Perseos, Erechtheos, Athena, and Marsyas groups, and Theseos and the Minotaur, were made in Athens. His famous cow was reproduced as a bronze statuette.

Discus Thrower, copy after Myron
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome

Attributed to Myron,
Athena and Marsyas group (Vatican Museums)
marble copy after 5th century BC original



The painter Polygnotos (c.510-460bc) came from Thasos. He freed art from the craft tradition and rivalled the poets in reviving mythology as a basis for aristocratic virtues. His Punishment of the Suitors at Plataea (479bc) was followed by Odysseos and then Achilles in Skyros (475bc), painted in Athens while in the political entourage of Kimon. He also began the decoration of the Stoa Poikile, which may have remained unfinished until the introduction of democracy (462-461BC). His Destruction of Troy and Odysseos Visiting Hades adorned the large "meeting room" at Delphi.

Red-figure Colyx-krater,
attributed to Polygnotos
Athens, c.450bc

Athenian, Red Figure, Krater, Fragment Polygnotos
Greek Ceramic, Red Figure
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Art attique, Agrigente, Attribue au Groupe de Polygnotos
Thesee et les Amazones
Londres, British Museum



As Greek expansion continued with the defeat of the Persians at Salamis, the victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in Sicily, and the rout of the Etruscan fleet at Cumae by the Syracusans in 474bc, the quality of life in Greece improved. The power of Athens was consolidating, Persia was collapsing as a serious threat, and a new level of comfort and sophistication had been achieved. Paintings on the ceiling and slab of the Tomb of the Diver at Poseidonia (as the city of Paestum was then known) reflect these improvements. Guests recline in front of tables decorated with foliage, with a wine-krater at the centre. A naked boy offers drinks with a long ladle, as drunkenness spreads through the crowd: one man sings, another plays the flute, others talk. An old man arrives, preceded by a flautist and followed by his son, who carries his stick. As in contemporary paintings by Polygnotos, the narrative element of the decoration engages the spectator with its depth of meaning. This is a parting with no return. The youth following his father is the same figure that reappears in the painting on the ceiling - there, amid the tree branches, he dives into the rolling sea. His athletic glory highlights the destiny of the departed, whose soul will cross the sea to reach the Isles of the Blessed.

Diver,painting from the slab of the Tomb of the Diver, Paestum
National Archaeological Museum, Paestum, Italy

Flautist, Dancer, and Deceased,
painting from the lateral slab of the Tomb of the Diver, Paestum
National Archaeological Museum, Paestum, Italy



This tomb offers a rare example of Hellenic painting, decorated as it is with scenes of a funeral banquet held in honour of the departed. On the interior and exterior of the lid of the tomb is a depiction of the diver after whom the tomb is named. This part of the slab portrays a section of the banqueting chamber, and shows a row of three banqueting couches, with arm supports on the right, each of which has a low serving-table in front of it. Five figures are shown reclining on the couches. To the right is a singer, who is performing with a youth who accompanies him on the flute. In the centre, a bearded man and another youth are talking, each holding a goblet in his hand, and on the third couch, to the left, a lyre-player has stopped playing and is resting the instrument on his lap and has turned to face his companions who are listening to the song. The scene is skilfully composed and animated by the artist. Each figure is involved in an activity that relates him both to another figure and to the overall action taking place There are no women in the picture. Instead, this is a world of relationships between the old and young, a society of men gathered together in private solidarity.

Painting on a slab on the southern side of the Tomb of the Diver
National Archaeological Museum, Paestum, Italy

Apollo Alexikakos,
copy after Kalamis
National Archaeological Museum, Athens


The Art of Athens

After the Doric phase of the Severe style, the vigorous Athenian style became even more firmly established with Phidias, who portrayed the gods in open communication with the city that they protected. His Apollo (Kassel version) differs from Kalamis' Apollo Alexikakos in the broad structure of the body and the crisp outline. Compared to the oblong heads of Myron's statues, the forehead has a rectangular quality, and a sense of forward motion creates a powerful effect of immediacy. Whereas Kalamis interpreted the ideals of Kimon, Phidias followed the democratic path of Perikles, who gave him the post of superintendent of new monuments.

The building of the Acropolis gave rise to the style of dynamic narration that lies at the heart of European figurative language. The hierarchy of the subjects, progressively enlivened with colour, is revealed by their different levels above the ground: the Panathenaic festival on the frieze around the inner temple, rising to the mythological and epic subjects on the metopes, and culminating in the pediments. The sacred element increases from west to east, the direction taken by visitors arriving from the Propylaea. In the metopes to the west and south. there are no deities. Some appear on the northern side. while in the gigantomachia on the facade of the Parthenon there is an Olympian god for each metope. Similarly, the frieze contains deities on the eastern side only. The western pediment is peopled by heroes, with just two deities - Poseidon and Athena - shown competing for the ownership of Attica; the eastern pediment contains Zeus and the birth of Athena as well as the divine court.

The architectural narrative of the Parthenon progresses from isolated episodes in the metopes to the processional continuity of the frieze and the heavy mythology of the pediments; the cella once held a colossal gold and ivory statue of Athena. The Parthenon, a monument to democratic co-existence, combines the Doric style with Ionic elements. It celebrates the coming together of citizens ruled by different political systems, and brings together mortals, heroes, and deities. The decoration of the metopes alludes to the threat posed by the constant struggle between Greeks and barbarians. The hand of the Lemnian sculptor Alcamenes can be seen on the slab in the eastern frieze. Poseidon's flowing hair has the same softness found in the Bronze B, one of the two statues of warriors found off Riace, and the wide, staring eyes are also familiar. A similar use of drapery can be seen in Alcamenes' marble group of the mythological Procne and Itys on the Acropolis.

Attributed to Alcamenes,
Hero in Arms (better known as Bronze B),
from the sea off Riace, southern Italy
National Museum, Reggio Calabria, Italy

Drawing of the Acropolis,
Athens, from the Hellenistic age


The great artist of the classical age, the Athenian sculptor Phidias (c.490-430bc) was the one most copied by the Romans. After studying bronze-working with Aegios in Athens and Agelades in Argos, he was the probable creator of The Apollo Parnopios (Kassel version). He was commissioned by Perikles to supervise work on the Acropolis and the Parthenon to plans by the architects Ictinus and Callicrates. He designed (and may have part executed) the Parthenon's 92 metopes of mythical battles, a frieze measuring 159 metres (522 feet) of the Great Panathenaea (the most important Athenian religious festival), sculptures for the pediments, and the 12-metre (40-foot) gold and ivory Athena Parthenos (447-438BC). The Wounded Amazon (Mattei version) and The Aphrodite Urania (Doria Pamphili) then followed.

Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Architects: Iktinos, Kallikrates, Phidias
447-432 BC

Friezes (entablature components) Parthenon Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Architects: Iktinos, Kallikrates, Phidias
447-432 BC


After being put on trial for misappropriating gold and for impiety, Phidias moved to the Peloponnese, where he created a new Urania at Elis. He also set up a workshop at Olympia, where he made a colossal 14-metre (45-foot) gold and ivory statue of Zeus and The Anadoumenos. The originals from the Parthenon, largely kept in the British Museum. London, were an inspiration for European Neoclassical art.

Atributed to the Master of the
Temple of Hera at Selinus,
Melqart-Herakles, marble, c.450bc
Whitaker Museum, Mozia


At the colony of Motya, on the far western tip of Sicily, the cult of Melqart of Tyre was practised by the ruling Carthaginians. Melqart, a Phoenician tutelary god, was generally associated with Herakles in Hellenic times (c.450bc). This statue of Melqart-Herakles is evidence of the maturity of the artist, who was also responsible for the metopes on the Temple of Hera at Selinus (c.465bc); there, his Carthaginian employer allowed him to Hellenize his Eastern subject. As in other statues of Melqart-Herakles discovered on Cyprus, this figure was originally clothed in a lionskin (in this case made of bronze), although it was later removed by Syracusans during the sack of Motya in 397bc. A club in the hero's right hand was raised behind his head, but this threatening pose was softened by the nonchalance of the other hand, which rested on his hip. The sculptor Lysippos, in Alexander's retinue when the sanctuary at Tyre was rebuilt (331bc), was influenced by this statue; his later work of Herakles Overcoming the Lion for Cassander ( 31-tnc) included the original image of the vanquished animal held in the left hand.

Melqart-Herakles, limestone
Nicosia Museum, Cyprus
Hercules Overcoming the Lion
(detail from the Labours of Hercules), after Lysippos
Pillared sarcophagus, Via Cassia, Rome
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome
Nicola Pisano, Strenght,
allegorical figure from the pulpit of the Baptistry
Pisa, Italy


Born in Argos, Polycleitos (c.480-420bc), was a scuiptor and a pupil of Agelades. He wrote The Canon on the harmony of proportions and opposition of forces. His Discophoros (c.460) has both feet firmly on the ground, while the Kyniskos is more typically balanced. with one foot partially raised. Doryphorus was an exploration of the distribution of energy between the limbs, as was his Herakles. The Wounded Amazon (Sciarra version), which he is said to have made for Ephesus in competition with Phidias and Kresilas (c.440), and The Diadoumenos. His final bid to compete with the colossal statues of Phidias was the gold and ivory Hera, roughly 5.5 metres (18 feet) high His statues were widely copied during the late Hellenistic and Roman periods.

Polycleitos' Canon

Whereas Myron captured the transient and the fortuitous. Polycleitos inherited Kritios' and Kalamis' interest in volume and metrical rhythm. A native of Argos like Agelades, he investigated the possibilities of illustrating movement in standing figures. The distribution of weight in his Discophoros echoes the Riace Bronze A. In his Achilles or Doryphoros, unlike Phidias' Apollo. Polycleitos paid great attention to the distribution of weight and strength in the limbs. and created a canon

derived from Pythagoras' research into mathematical proportion. The asymmetrical position of the feet is counterbalanced by an intersection of force lines (chiasmos) through the body. The curls of the hair provide the finishing touch to a perfectly balanced work composed of many disparate elements. In about 440bc. Polycleitos moved to Athens, and challenged the dominance of Phidias. The influence of his rhythmical style proved decisive and came to exemplify the classical period.

Doryphoros by Polycleitos, replica, Naples museum Doryphoros by Polycleitos, Munich university Kyniskos by Polycleitos, Dresden Museum (reconstruction)
Wounded Amazon,
copies after originals known to have been created by Polykleitos and Phidias
for competition won by Polykleitos in Ephesos (?)
Wounded Amazon,
copies after originals known to have been created by Polykleitos and Phidias
for competition won by Polykleitos in Ephesos (?)
The Rise of Individualism

The arrivai in Athens from Sicily of the painter Zeuxis was as important as that of the philosopher Gorgias, also from Sicily, who influenced the birth of rhetoric. However, during the Peloponnesian War (431-404bc). Athens was not the only artistic centre. Parrhasios was painting at Ephesos, as was his father Evenor, and Timanthes at Kythnos, in the Cyclades. Although attracted to Athens, these masters preferred to travel through Greece and the surrounding dominions: Zeuxis worked in southern Italy, Ephesos, Macedonia, Olympia, and Samos, and Parrhasios in Lindos, Rhodes, Samos, Corinth, and Delos. Theirs was "art for art's sake", to be appreciated by other experts, and so technically self-assured that its exponents believed they had found perfection - Parrhasios in his mastery of line and Zeuxis in his brilliant chiaroscuro. This boast was founded more on creative freedom than the secrets of the workshop. The climax of classical art amidst the crisis of war, the radicalism of the Athenian generai Alkibiades, and the impatience of the new intellectuals saw the creation of an extrovert painting style. Stating that he would rather paint for the future than for the city, Zeuxis portrayed a range of everyday subjects for a circle of independent art lovers, which suggests that genre painting was popular with individual enthusiasts.
The fall of Athens (404bc) marked the end of art as a means of existential knowledge. The city's artists had lost their gift for seeing nature in terms of the human form. and also lost faith in reproducing reality according to recognized rules: form was no longer governed by a feeling of certainty. Most of the works produced before the death of Alexander the Great in 323bc had highly original creators. who were working in exceptional circumstances. As the dominant role of the city diminished in the arts, and references to democracy grew fewer, artists became more aware of their independence. Following in the steps of Zeuxis, freedom from public directives encouraged them to replace representational objectivity with a personal agenda. The sculptors Euphranor, Silanion, and Lysippos all experimented with their own systems of representing the human body.

Paris, bronze,
found in the sea at Anticythera


Among the typoi, or reliefs, that Pliny attributed to Euphranor is a funerary tablet (c.340bc) showing an aged parent who resembles the dismayed ambassadors in his Madness of Odysseos. In a marble in Athens' National Archaeological Museum, the dead are represented by a naked man who faces the viewer, shown in torment as he contemplates the scene. Beside him crouches a young boy, who has fallen asleep weeping, his head cradled in his arms. The dead appear to the boy as a dreamlike vision. Euphranor's bronze of Paris, son of the king Priam and his wife Hecuba, is designed to embody the hero's role as judge of the goddesses, husband of Helen, and the killer of Achilles. Euphranor portrayed the dignity of heroes, and preferred a muscular, physically robust look - he himself referred to his Theseos as beef-ted", as opposed to the richer and more elegant "rose-fed" Theseos of Parrhasios. His painting showed Theseos freed from the Minotaur, and it is known today from a copy completed in the first century BC. His critics often remarked on the comparatively large heads of his figures.

Theseos with the Children Rescued from the Minotaur,
fresco, copy of original by Euphranor from Herculaneum,
first century bc
National Archaeological Museum, Naples


A sculptor and architect from Paros, Scopas (c.395-325bc) was active in Continental Greece, in the Peloponnese, and in Asia Minor. His original works survive in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassos (360-350bc) and his Aphrodite on a Goat, the Pothos, the Meleager, and the Maenad are also known from copies. He was noted for his vigorous and forcefully realistic style.

Probably, these two statues were right above the entrance in the east, between the columns of the Pteron. If this is correct, they must represent Artemisia and Maussolus, and were carved by Scopas.


Whereas the Paithenon frieze, the work of many different artists, was unified by its design, the Amazonomachia on the tomb of Mausolos, begun at Halicarnassos in about 360bc, shows a keen desire by the craftsmen to assert their individual characteristics. The reliefs on the four sides of the tomb were seen as an opportunity to compare the work of the different artists - Timotheos, Skopas, Leochares, and Bryaxis - and to discuss their relative values. Pliny writes that after the death of Artemisia (351bc), who had taken over the building project from Mausolos, "the four men did not stop work until it was finished because they realized it would stand as a monument to their talent and their glory, and the contest between them is still undecided today." The faces of Timotheos' soldiers show a classical composure - the calm determination of the ancient heroes. while the aggressiveness in Skopas' sculptures separates them from aristocratic sensibilities: the naked figures are violent, their mouths halt-opened, their nostrils flared, and their eyes flashing beneath frowning foreheads.

Timotheos, Amazonomachia, from Halicarnassos
British Museum, London


from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London
from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London
from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London
from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London
from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London



The work of Leochares (c.390-325bc) shows how he maintained a delicate balance in his sculpture between the different contemporary trends. The lightness of his Apollo Belvedere matches the attenuated proportions of the warriors carved by him on the Mausoleum. Because he has not concentrated the tension in one specific limb, the figure's weight is distributed equally between the two legs, while the bending of the left knee fills the whole body with energy. The undulating contours reflect a feeling of life and physical mobility that is enhanced by the formal vibrancy of the modelling, more so than in the work of Phidias. Apollo rises up from some remote depth, a supreme example of parousia ("presence"). It is generally accepted that he was an archer, his left hand grasping the bow from which he has just unleashed an arrow. In the enigmatic language used by Leochares, the god represents a perfect balance between the pitiless archer and the lord of the sun.

Apollo Belvedere
Roman copy from the original by Leochares
museo Pio-Clemento, Vatican City

Attic vase by Naples Painter
Shwing the divinities of Eleusis,
from Piedimonte d'Alife
National Archaeological Museum, Naples

Colossal bronze head of Hephaestion, c.324bc
Prado Museum, Madrid

Philosophy in Art

Hades and Persephone in the Chariot,
detail from the back of a throne.
Tomb of Queen Eurydice, Vergina, Greece

Individual spiritualism was upheld through belief in the "mysteries" which. unaffected by social and political change, promised personal salvation. The paintings of Eleusian mysteries. as seen on Attic pottery, had a metaphysical quality. and seduced initiates with their vision of benevolent beings in the afterlife. At Vergina, decoration on the marble throne of Eurydice, mother of King Philip, shows the sceptre and Persephone's ornaments in gilded relief, a technique also used on contemporary Attic pottery from Panticapaeum (Kerch). The use of gold led to the discovery of what Pliny calls splendor, a reflection that masks the original colour through the intervention of sunlight. Philosophy encouraged people to aspire to abstract thought: Plato urged an escape to a higher awareness and Praxiteles followed his example, returning to ideal models.
His statues give tangible form to qualities that were hidden to the naked eye, and women assumed a definitive role in art for the first time. Phryne, a courtesan and Praxiteles' mistress, was his model for a memorial to the absolute beauty contemplated by the spirit prior to reincarnation. His naked Aphrodite of Knidos, is a fitting representation of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility; it was described by Pliny as "The finest statue not only of Praxiteles but in the whole world...." Silanion, also within the orbit of the Academy, examined the concept of "divine madness" with his bronze Portrait of Apollodoros, the subject of which was a follower of Socrates and himself a sculptor. Silanion captured the disdain with which Apollodoros, who was popularly called Manikos, smashed his own statues whenever they failed to achieve perfection.
Lysippos, too, explored new aspects of the artistic experience, with the difference that he and other Sikyonian artists did not shrink from physical experience because they were actively involved in new historical developments. From the domination of Thebes (371-323bc). Lysippos took it upon himself to express the experience of living in the midst of incredible change. He interpreted the social upheavals in emotional. ephemeral terms. The era of art as a medium for visual knowledge was brought to an end by the aesthetic philosophy of Aristotle. As the polis grew weaker, communication was transferred to the individual, unleashing the doctrine of expressive freedom preached by the philosopher. Life was portrayed at the "critical moment", represented by Kairos, the deity who Lysippos popularized in sculptural form. As the phenomenal influenced the physical, and reality became fragmented into countless facets, statues reflected the influence of myriad events on the personality and perceptions of the artist.


Pamphilos, a native of Amphipolis on the Macedonian coast and successor to Eupompos as head of the Sikyonian school of painting, encouraged the invitation of his pupil Apelles to Philip II's court. Apelles' Stag Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestiou was painted between 343 and 34()bc, the years when the prince was educated by Aristotle. Hephaestion became a friend of Alexander's during childhood and remained his closest companion. His face can be recognized from a colossal bronze in the Prado Museum. Madrid, a later work commissioned by Alexander. The dominant feature of the painting, reproduced in a mosaic in Pella, Greece, was the balanced relationship between the figures. The careful use of shadows gives a three-dimensional effect to the work, with the different figures on different planes. The foreshortened angle of the dog is contrasted against the flat, solid figures of the heroes, placed either side of the central axis. The feeling of emergent mass and convergent depth, and the illusion of space in the work, are the result of the positioning of regular shapes, as found in the teachings of Pamphilos. The entire group is contained within an ideal circle, and the gap between the hunters and their prey is evoked by the space around and at the centre of the picture. The action of the figures is frozen in suspended gestures, while the rhythm of movement is translated into monumental harmony. The bodies are placed within a mathematical symmetry. A shaft of light from the top left-hand corner illuminates all the figures in the centre but casts no shadows: "artists, when placing many figures together in a painting, distinguish them by means of spaces in such a way that shadows do not fall upon the bodies" (Quintilian). The large, clearly defined layout is matched by the narrow tonal range, in accordance with the use of only four colours, as espoused by Apelles. An effect of realism is created by muted tones and subtle shades, rather than with strong, separate colours.


A painter from Kofophon, Apelles (c.375-305bc) trained at Ephesos and Sikyon. He was court artist to both Philip II and Alexander the Great, and later worked for Ptolemy I and Antigonos. He created the classic Hellenistic style, his compositions and motifs being adopted for contemporary pottery ware and subsequently copied in frescos, mosaics, and on Roman jewellery

The Stag Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestion,
pebble mosaic,
copy after Apelles
Peristyle Houses, Pella, Greece



This mosaic is from one of the peristyle houses erected in Pella, Alexander the Great's native city, after his death. The custom of paving courtyards with pebble decoration dates from the Minoan civilization and continues to this day in the Mediterranean region. Strictly speaking, this work is not a mosaic because the pieces used were not previously cut into
even shapes. However, the technique was frequently used in Greece for the decoration of interiors from classical times up to the third century bc, after which mosaics were produced using uniform, square pieces. This scene, together with the Stag Hum by Alexander and Hephaestion, is from one of ten floors found in private homes in Pella that are decorated with geometrical motifs or paving stones. The Lion Hunt of Alexander and Hephaestion is a copy of an earlier statue group from about 343—340bc. The statue does not easily translate into mosaic: its border cuts through the handle of Alexander's spear, and the two boys and the beast are awkwardly arranged along a system of parallel lines.

The Lion Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestion
pebble mosaic
Archaeological Museum, Pella, Greece