Greek Art: Figures

Ancient Greek art is the origin of western art. This is the era that artists making epoch marking progress. There are 4 main periods: Geometric Period, Archaic Period, Classical Period, and Hellenistic Period. We can see clearly that artists develop their skills from being primitive into being sophisticated.

  • Geometric Period 900-600 BC

As the name declared, artists depict human bodies using very basic geometric shapes. And artists always unfold human bodies to let viewers understand their drawings. Since there isn’t much expression the artists can carry on each figure, much attention are paid to distribute the sparsity and density of the whole pattern. Most art pieces in this period are potteries and small-scale statues.

Attributed to the Anatalos painter – red-figure loutrophoros (c. 700-680 BC)

Attributed to the Anatalos painter – red-figure loutrophoros (c. 700-680 BC)

Dipylon Vase from the Dipylon cemetery, Athens. 8th century B.C.

Dipylon Vase from the Dipylon cemetery, Athens. 8th century B.C.

Dipylon Vase from the Dipylon cemetery, Athens. 8th century B.C.

Dipylon Vase from the Dipylon cemetery, Athens. 8th century B.C.

the excellent ratio of Dipylon Vase
  • Archaic Period 600-480 BC

In this period artists made a great progress. With the influence from Egypt, Greeks begun to understand the human body in a 3-dimensional way, and stopped painting figures in a piled up shape. And they started to depict women. Since women didn’t show up in pubic in ancient Greece, artists didn’t understand female body entirely, they just sculpted female body vaguely with clothes on. While male sculptures are all nude, since men didn’t wear clothes in ancient Greece. In this period artists tried to be as realistic as possible, but they still didn’t skilled enough to create vivid expression on figure’s faces, so all the figures have a mild, benign smile.

head of Rampin Horseman 620-480 B.C.

Head of Rampin Horseman 620-480 B.C. Greek statues are all whole-length portrait. This is only the head of that statue.

Hera 570-560 B.C.

Hera 570-560 B.C.

Herakles Strangling the Nemean Lion

Herakles Strangling the Nemean Lion

Kore 650 B.C. & Kouros 600B.C.

Kore 650 B.C. & Kouros 600B.C.

Peplos Kore 530B.C & Chios Kore 520 B.C.

Peplos Kore 530B.C & Chios Kore 520 B.C.

Polymedes of Argos – the twins Cleobis and Biton (c. 580 BC)

Polymedes of Argos – the twins Cleobis and Biton (c. 580 BC)

Polymedes of Argos – the twins Cleobis and Biton (c. 580 BC)

Polymedes of Argos – the twins Cleobis and Biton (c. 580 BC)

  • Classical Period 480-323 BC

Now artists are pretty familiar with human body. Clothes pleats flow related to the body, not evenly distributed on the figure. Statues are not just standing straight, they have gestures. And what’s more, artists begun to create women body delicately. In this period each statue has an ideal body that we all dream of, even old people have a strong and slick body. Artists were trying to make their clients be sacred like a god.

Myron – Discobolus (c. 450) marble
Apoxyomenos 330 B.C.

Apoxyomenos 330 B.C.

Atlas Bringing Herakles the Apples of the Hesperides

Atlas Bringing Herakles the Apples of the Hesperides

Charioteer 470 B.C.

Charioteer 470 B.C.

Doryphoros 450-440 B.C.

Doryphoros 450-440 B.C.

Knidian Aphrodite 340-330 B.C.

Knidian Aphrodite 340-330 B.C.

Riace warrior A & B, 450 B.C.

Riace warrior A & B, 450 B.C.

Discobolos, Myron (about 450 BC)

Discobolos, Myron (about 450 BC)

Describe: This is a marble statue of a nude man with a round base. He has perfect proportion, firm muscles, slick skins, and short haircut. He is holding a discus, squatting. He is looking backward. His muscles on legs and right arm are tense.

Analyse: His vessels and the tension on the muscle suggest he’s throwing the discus, and he’s staring at the discus to make sure it lands in the place he want.

Interpret: His center of gravity is not solid, which means we can’t hold this gesture steadily.  Actually his body is bent to a critical point. His toes of right foot are grabbing the ground while his whole left foot is relaxed. He has to throw the discus quickly or he’ll fall down. All these make the character look vivid.

Judge: I love this art piece. It’s full of motion which shows the passion of the artist. In this period artists were quite familiar with the structure of human body; they were not satisfied with just carving people correctly. They begun to convey emotions through their works.

  • Hellenistic Period 323-31 BC

In this period artists were sophisticated in creating human bodies. They begun search the thoughts of  ordinary people, expressing their sadness or pain.

farnese bull- 3rd century BC

farnese bull- 3rd century BC

Venus de Milo -Hellenistic

Venus de Milo, 1st century B.C.

  • Dying Gaul 230-220 BC. Roman marble copy of bronze original, life size.

4Hellenistic_Dying Gaul1

Describe
This man is lying down on the ground, bowing his head. His body is carved brilliantly fine in anatomy, and there are bunches of details. The curves on his head, wrinkles and veins on his skin, and also there is blood flowing out of injuries.
Analyze & Interpret
He looks exhausted and depressed. He maybe a soldier from a defeated army, or a villager whose village is invaded.
Judge
At Hellenistic Period, artists were not satisfied with only creating a realistic body, they also pay attention the emotions regular people have. Even emotions from a barbarian.

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