Greek Art

Greek art is called the set of artistic manifestations produced in Ancient Greece . These productions, especially architecture and sculpture, had an extraordinary influence on Western culture to the present. Certain forms even expanded towards the East from the conquests of Alexander the Great, giving rise to the development of the Greco-Buddhic or Gandhara style in India.

The sources to know Greek art are the remains that have been preserved, although deteriorated and scattered; the copies made by the Romans after the conquest of Greece and, finally, the literary or written works of antiquity, since the Greek was the first culture to write about art and artists .

Periods of Greek art

Various periods can be determined in the evolution of Greek art.

Geometric style

It appeared around the 8th century BC. C. No preserved monuments of this period, which was characterized by the decoration of ceramics with geometric shapes and scenes taken with schematic and synthetic figures. Between 700 and 600 a. C. this style derived towards a more descriptive and organic one, known as orientalizing style .

Dipilon’s amphora, example of decoration in geometric style. National Archaeological Museum of Athens, Greece.

Archaic period

Which is understood from the end of the VII century a. Until 480 a. C. During this period appeared the first manifestations of architecture and monumental sculpture made of stone and designed to last.

This stage was characterized by the production of ceramics decorated with mythological, literary and everyday scenes, and by the prominence of human representations: naked young men ( kouros ) and clothed women ( koré ) with conventional and somewhat rigid forms.

Furthermore, during this period the Greek temple acquired its particular characteristics and established itself as the most representative architectural monument of Greek culture.

Kouros de Anavyssos, from 530 BC. C. approximately. National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Classical period

It covers from 479 a. C. until the end of the war of the Peloponnese , in 404 a. C. It corresponds to the time when Greek art and culture reached their maximum development .

After a period of transition, known as the severe period, Greek artists managed to condense the philosophical conception of the time into their forms. As a consequence, they produced balanced, harmonious and serene works that responded to the Greek ideal of beauty.

In Athens the Acropolis was rebuilt, which had been destroyed by the Persian invasions, and the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, was built.

Parthenon, temple dedicated to Pallas Athena in the Greek city of Athens.

Hellenistic period

It developed between the 4th century BC. C. and the 1st century BC. It corresponds to the period of dissolution of the Greek city-states from the conquest of the territory by Philip of Macedonia and its incorporation into the Macedonian Empire. Starting from the new situation in Greece, the artists sought to represent individuality, personal character, the novelty and the strange. With the expansion of the Empire, the Greek forms were adapted to oriental tastes.

Laocoon and his sons. Marble sculpture from the Hellenistic period. Pio Clementino Museum, Vatican.

Characteristics of Greek art

The main characteristics of Greek art were the following:

  • In its beginnings, Greek art was influenced by the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations , and especially from Egyptand Mesopotamia, but it soon developed well-differentiated particular characteristics.
  • The representation of the human figurewas prioritized according to an ideal of beauty that responded to an intellectual and philosophical conception. For this they established a canon, that is, a series of relationships between the parts of the works that ensured balance and
  • At the same time that the representation of the human figure was sought, in accordance with the idealized canon of beauty, there was an intention to represent the inner lifeof the characters.
  • Both the sculptures and the temples were painted to give a naturalistic look to the human forms and the depicted narratives.
  • The beautyof works of art began to be valued , beyond their commemorative, homage or memorial function. This favored the emergence of art collectors, critics, and theorists.

Architecture in Greek art

The temple was the characteristic construction of Greek architecture. This had to respond to certain established rules that ensured the proper proportions and harmony of the work. Each part of the temple was in relation to the other parts, according to a certain order.

These orders were Doric, the Ionic and Corinthian (which actually corresponds to a derivation of the Ionian developed during the Hellenistic period).

They also built theaters in a semicircular shape, taking advantage of the slopes of the mountains to install the stands.

Sculpture in Greek art

Sculpture in Greek art was characterized mainly as follows:

  • This category included both free – standing sculptures and reliefs numerous narrative that developed in the eardrums,the metopes and friezes of temples.
  • Many of the sculptural works were made in cast bronze. Most of these works have been lost, however we know of their existence from marble copies from the Roman period.
  • To achieve the ideal of harmony and balance without the sculpture losing its naturalness, they developed the contraposto,which allows to represent the human body in a dynamic rest . This consists of presenting one leg in tension and the other at rest, while the arms alternate tension and rest of the legs. In this way, the hips are slightly inclined in one direction and the line of the shoulders in the opposite direction.
  • The sculpture had, in general, a commemorativeand homage function.

Hermes with the child Dionysus, a sculpture by Praxiteles in which the typical Greek counterpart can be seen.

Painting in Greek art

Virtually nothing of Greek painting has been preserved, but its existence is known from accounts of the time. On the other hand, two-dimensional plastic representations have been preserved in different types of ceramic pieces of great diffusion in the Mediterranean.

Greek artists

Some of the most important Greek artists are:

  • Exequias: painter and potter who worked approximately between 550 BC. C. and 525 a. C. in Athens.
  • Mirón: sculptor active during the middle of the 5th century BC. C.
  • Polykleitos: classical period sculptor who lived between 480 and 420 BC. He wrote a sculpture treatise called Canon that is not preserved.
  • Phidias– one of the most famous sculptors of the classical period. He dealt with the design and ornamentation of the Parthenon.
  • Praxíteles: important sculptor active during the 4th century BC. C.


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