Art History: Ancient Greece

Welcome back to our series on art history! From Ancient Egypt we move north, across the Mediterranean to Greece! Home to distinctive pottery, brilliant statues, and columns, so many columns, the art and culture of Ancient Greece had a profound influence on history and many modern cultures. Let’s discuss a summary of some of the most influential contributions the Greeks had on art history.

Laocoön and his children. Image Source


Unlike in other articles in this series, we will focus on different art styles rather than providing a timeline. We will start with the pottery. We have seen pottery in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. Because there is some overlap between these cultures in the timeline, you will see some similarities in terms of style and structure.

Often painted in great detail, these ships are mostly made of terracotta and are quite durable. Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum  has recorded more than 100,000 pieces of pottery currently in private and public collections around the world.

Protogeometric Pottery. Image Source

Greek pottery can be divided into two categories: statues or useful ships. You can find out the use of the ship from its shape, or at least historians do their best to do it. Uses and shape (though not limited)  amphora for storage or transportation,  krater  as a mixing vessel,  kylix or glass, and  aryballos  for perfume.

While some parts are very plain, some are complicated in the decoration of their paintings. This decoration evolved quite a long time, from the protogeometric style (1050-900 BC), to the minimalist design, to the geometric style (900-770 BC), to the collection of triangles, which were used throughout the ship. After geometric orientation Orientalizing style (725-625 BC) thanks to the influence of Asia Minor. Animals, mystical and real, join the painted motifs around the center of the ship.

Orientalizing Style Pottery. Image source

Next came the most known pottery style from Ancient Greece: black figure (620-480 BC). When discussing the history of art, I became very excited by the development of the figurative works seen in Ancient Greece. There is a kind of perfection achieved by the Greeks in their understanding of anatomy, and seeing black pottery, you can see some of these achievements developing.

Black Image Pottery. Image Source.

The technique used to create this distinctive style involves painting into a vase with clay pulp that turns black after the pieces of pottery are painted. Most of the designs are “painted” with temporary brushes in detail and the lines are cut into clay so the ship can show itself.

Miracles actually occur during the shooting process. At 800 ° C, the flower vase turns red-orange and then at 950 ° C, with ventilation closed in the kiln to help release oxygen, the vase turns black. Open the vents at the final stage and the vase is returned to red orange thanks to the return of oxygen, except the “painted” part that remains black. As I said, it’s magic (or science).


As in the development of pottery, the Greeks finally focused on the great figurative work on their sculptures. In addition, sculptures are produced in various forms including art, public memorials, temple offerings, and more. Let’s divide their contribution to the history of sculpture in three stages: Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. As with this whole article, there is more history, and we will explain it.

Archaic statue

Perhaps inspired by Egypt and Mesopotamia, these figurative works were carved with stone. The most common subjects are young men who stand tall, a girl wrapped in cloth, and a woman sitting. Although rough in terms of accuracy compared to later work, even these figures show a greater understanding of anatomy than any other era at this point in history. Like other cultures, many works are interwoven with religious leaders.

Statue of Kleobis and Biton. Image Source

Because their God mostly looks human, sculptures can focus on the human body in great detail without the idea of ​​focusing on humanity as the subject of art as opposed to the idea of ​​worship. Such attitudes will be seen in other cultures, and in fact there is never something you see reflected in Ancient Greece.

Classic sculpture

This period is often referred to as revolutionary for the skills of the Greek sculptors. Anatomical proportions are correct, and the body is softened and realistic, although idealized (so many six packs – the statue fits). This is a big change between humans: “Is it made of bronze?”

Help. National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Image Source

Relief sculptures adorn the outer walls of the temple during this time, although many of these pieces have been lost, and only fragments remain. Another interesting development is the personalization of the burial statue. Previously they looked stiff and generic during the Archaic era, but now they present real people, usually deceased and family members.

Over time, as in fact, shows how the humanistic classical period developed. This is also something we see reflected in Ancient Greek culture, government, and more when we look at the whole picture.

Patung Hellenistic

Our third and final sculpture period is the Hellenistic or Hellenic period. As in the previous period, sculpture is more naturalistic. Everyday subjects such as ordinary people, animals, and more become popular. This subject is shown in a more expressive and energetic way.

Jockey Artemision. Image Source

Artemision’s jockey  was his best example: the horse moved and the boy, who sat on his back, leaned forward. As if they were frozen in time rather than being a statue. Everything from the horse’s muscles to the child’s tangled hair in a state of motion, maintained forever in the shape of bronze.

One of the most famous statues ever, Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Milos), was created in this period. Colossus of Rhodes, a statue as high as 98 feet (30 meters) high was also created around this time, along with other large pieces. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 BC.


20-stater gold from Eucratides. Image Source

While the Greeks did not invent the use of coins for real currencies, they certainly encouraged their use, which influenced the design of currencies for the rest of history. Pieces of metal discs with dolls or gods are important in the profile on one side and additional information or design on the back – when you look at their coins, there isn’t much difference between the two and like the coins that most countries use today.


Capitol buildings around the world are affected by Greek architecture? Without a good column, that’s where! I guess many don’t have columns, but so many do, and you can blame the Greeks for this architectural contribution.

When discussing Greek architecture, we usually start in the classical period and so on. Before that, many buildings were made of mud bricks and had been lost due to time consuming (as were many arts). There are many things that can be discussed with Greek buildings, but since our focus is on art, we will discuss columns because they have become decorative features of the times.

Doric, Iconic, and Corinthian column styles. Image Source ,  Image Credit ,  Image Source .

There are three architectural orders used in Ancient Greece: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Doric column is usually wider and shorter than the other two styles. Unlike the other two, they have no basis, being flat on the temple floor. Modal (that’s the top of the column) is quite simple and a little blazing.

Ionic columns are uppercase, scroll-like columns. Most likely what you think about the most when the idea of ​​the Greek column pops into your head (I assume). Finally, the Corinthian column is the most luxurious, featuring all kinds of flourishing, green, and even small figures in their capital city. This style was also used in Rome and brought other influences in Roman architecture.


Some common forms of painting in Ancient Greece are panel and wall paintings. Panel painting is done on wooden boards (panels) in encaustic (candles) or tempera. Like the art above, many paintings are figuratively shaped, although none can survive into the modern era. The paintings are mostly wall paintings, paintings done with fresh wet plaster.

One Pitsa tablet. Image Source

Descriptions of panel paintings and their creators were recorded in the literature at the time. A panel set, the Pitsa tablet, survives, demonstrating artistic abilities in the Archaic period. The panels are wooden planks painted on plaster with pictures painted in mineral pigments. They show religious scenes centered around nymphs.

According to historians, this tablet is a votive offering. Like many arts through history, we have examples of art created for worship.

All fresco at Diver’s Tomb. Image Source

Wall paintings are used in buildings and as grave decorations. As discussed above, because many buildings don’t last long, there aren’t many wall paintings. Those who have been in tombs, such as Diver’s Tomb.


From pottery to sculpture from architecture and culture in general, much of Ancient Greek history was influential. This is very prominent influence on Ancient Rome, which we will face later in this series of art history. You will also see that as art history changes towards the modern era, artistic changes rediscover the artistic achievements of the Greeks.


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