Chapter 5: Gods, Heroes, and Athletes: The Art of Ancient Greece-Notes
For the Greeks, humanity was what mattered, and humans where, in the words of the philosopher Protagoras, “the measure of all things.” The humanistic world view led the Greeks to create the concept of democracy (rule by the demos, the people) and to make seminal contributions in the fields of art, literature, and science. The Greek exaltation of humanity and honoring of the individual are so completely part of modern Western habits of the mind that most people are scarcely aware that these ideas originated in the minds of the Greeks.
Even the gods of the Greeks, in marked contrast to the divinities of the Near East, assumed human forms whose grandeur and nobility were not free from human frailty. Indeed the only difference was that they were immortal. It has been said the Greeks made their gods into humans and their humans into gods. Humans becoming the measure of all things, in turn must represent, if all things in their perfection are beautiful, the unchanging standard of the best. The perfect individual became the Greek ideal.
The Greeks, or Hellenes (Hell eenes), as they called themselves, appear to have been a product of the intermingling of Aegean peoples and Indo-European invaders. They never formed a single nation but instead established independent city-states or poleis (singular polis); the Dorians of the North and the Ionians from the West coast of Asia Minor. Political development differed from polis to polis, although a pattern emerged. Rule was first by kings, then by nobles, and then by tyrants who seized power. At last, in Athens, 2500 years ago, the tyrants were overthrown, and democracy was established.
In 776 BC, the separate Greek speaking states held their first ceremonial games in common at Olympia. The later Greek states calculated their chronology from these first Olympic Games - the first Olympiad. From then on, despite their differences and rivalries, the Greeks all regarded themselves as citizens of Hellas, distinct from surrounding “barbarians” who did not speak Greek. The enterprising Greeks enlarged their geographic and cultural boundaries. In fact, today the best preserved of all the grand temples the Greeks erected are found not in Greece proper but in their western colonies in Italy.
Athens became the symbol of Greek culture. Athens is where the great plays of the Greek playwrights were first performed. Socrates engaged his fellow citizens in philosophical argument, and Plato formulated his prescription for the ideal form of government in the Republic. Complimenting the rich intellectual life was a great interest in physical exercise, which played a large role in education as well as everyday life. The Athenian aim of achieving a balance of intellectual and physical discipline, an ideal of humanistic education, as is well expressed in the familiar phrase “a sound mind in a sound body.”
The great contributions of Greek culture to western civilization are well known and acknowledged. Yet it must equally be realized the indebtedness that Greece had to Egypt and the Near East.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the assessment of Greek culture was all good and uncritical. Many modern arts reject Greek standards. Gauguin called Greek ar “a lie.” Athenian democracy was a reality for only one segment of the people. Slavery was regarded as natural, even beneficial, and was a universal institution among the Greeks. The Great Aristotle, who tutored Alexander the Great, declared at the beginning of his Politics: “It is clear that some are free by nature, and others are slaves.” Greek women were not equal with men and normally were secluded in their homes. Although the Greeks invented and passed on the concepts of democracy, they did not extend them to all in their own society. State craft and military valor were more admired virtues than wisdom and justice. Greek men were educated in the values of Homer’s heroes and the athletic exercises of the palaestra. War among the city states was chronic and atrocious. Fighting among themselves, the Greeks eventually fell to Macedon’s autocracy and Roman’s imperialism
The Geometric and Orientalizing Period
The disintegration of the Bronze Age social order in Greece brought on the so called “Greek Dark Ages.” Knowledge of building and painting and sculpture was lost, there was no strong civil authority, and reading and writing was forgotten. Seclusion from the outer world and depopulation characterized the succeeding centuries. Only in the eighth century BC did things begin to change and the glory that was to become Greece started to develop.
During the eighth century the human figure returned to art on the painted surfaces of ceramics pots, which continued to be manufactured even through the “Dark Ages.” One of the earliest examples is a huge krater or mixing bowl, that marked the grave of an Athenian man buried around 740 BC. The vase is well over three feet high, testifying to the skill of the potter and the wealth of the patron. The bottom of the vase is open, perhaps to permit visitors to the grave to pour libations in honor of the dead, perhaps to provide a drain for rainwater, or both. The artist covered much of the surface with precisely painted abstract motifs in horizontal bands. Especially prominent is the meander, or key, or fret, around the rim of the krater. Most early Greek vases were decorated exclusively with abstract motifs. The nature of the ornament has led art historians to designate this formative period of Greek art as Geometric. The earliest examples date to the Geometric style date to the ninth century BC.
The two main bands are filled with figures depicting a scene of mourning for the man laid out. The simplistic figures show that the artist was not interested in representing space or depth. The figures are silhouettes are composed of triangular frontal torsos with attached profile arms, legs, and heads with a single large frontal eye in the center, following the age old convention. To distinguish between male and female with appropriate features. The artist was not concerned with anatomical accuracy, but rather, specifying gender. The chariots are shown conceptually. The horse’s legs seem to be attached to one body.
Despite its highly stylized and conventional manner of representation, this vessel marks a significant turning point in the history of Greek art. Not only was the human figure reintroduced into the painter’s repertoire, but the art of storytelling also was revived.
The repertoire of the Geometric artist was not limited to scenes inspired by daily life (and death.) Composite monsters were enormously popular in the ancient Near East and Egypt, and renewed contact with foreign cultures may have inspired such figures in Geometric Greece. Like other Geometric male, both painted and sculpted, the hero is nude, in contrast to the Near East statuettes that might have inspired such Greek work. Greek athletes exercised without their clothes and even competed in the nude in the Olympics from very early times.
A masterwork of the early seventh century is a small bronze called the Mantiklos
(Man-teke-loss) Apollo after the man who paid for the statue. We know this by extensive writing on the sculpture. It is an inscription describing its purpose as an offering to Apollo in hopes of a returned blessing. This votive offering demonstrates the increasing Greek interest in depicting human anatomy.
Many motifs borrowed form or inspired by Egyptian and Near Eastern art entered the Greek pictorial vocabulary at this time and caused historians to name this period of the seventh century BC as the Orientalizing period.
An elaborate Corinthian amphora (two handled storage jar), typifies the new Greek fascination with the orient. In a series of bands recalling the organization of Geometric painted vases, animals such as the native boar appear beside exotic lions and panthers and composite creatures inspired by Eastern monsters such as the sphinx and Lamassu (in this case the siren - part bird, part woman) displayed on the amphora’s neck.
Black - Figure Painting
The Corinthians invented a style or technique of painting art historians have called
black - figure painting. This was used on our example. The painter first put down black silhouettes on a lighter clay surface, as in Geometric times, but then used a sharp pointed tool to incise linear details within the forms, usually adding highlights in purplish red or white over the black figures before firing the vessel. The combination of the weighty black silhouettes with the delicate detailing and the bright polychrome overlay proved to be irresistible, and the Athenians soon copied the technique from the Corinthians.
Greece’s First Stone Temples
The foundation of the Greek trading colony of Naukratis (Na-krat-ees) in Egypt before 630 BC brought the Greeks into direct contact with the monumental stone architecture of the Egyptians. Not long after that, the first stone buildings since the fall of the Mycenaean kings began to be constructed in Greece. At Prinias on Crete, for example, a stone temple, called Temple A, was built around 625 BC to honor an unknown deity. Though inspiration for the structure came from the East, the building form represents typical Mycenaean construction. The interior features two columns flanking a hearth or sacrificial pit in the center. The facade consisted of three great piers; the roof was probably flat. Above the doorway is a huge limestone lintel supporting confronting statues of seated women, probably goddesses, wearing tall headdresses and capes. Two other similarly dressed, but standing, goddesses are carved in relief on the underside of the block, visible to those entering the temple. On the face of the lintel is a frieze of Orientalizing panthers with frontal heads - the same motif on the Corinthian amphora earlier. Temple A is the earliest known example of a Greek temple with sculptured decoration.
Lady of Auxerre (Awh-zeer)
Probably earlier and originally from Crete, is the limestone statuette goddess or kore (Kor-a) which means maiden, has the name the Lady of Auxerre, after the French town that is her oldest recorded location. Is she mortal or deity? She has a long skirt and cape, but no headdress. What does the right hand across suggest? (Prayer) This is a kore. Stylistically triangular flat topped head with long strands of hair that form complimentary triangles to that of the face. Small belted waist with pattern. Almost Geometric treatment of the skirt and incised concentric squares once brightly painted. Only two feet tall, it is larger than most bronzes of the area. The Lady of Auxerre is a masterpiece of the style referred to as Daedalic (Die-day-lick), after the legendary artist Daedalus Die-day-luss), whose name means the skillful one. The historical Greeks attribute to him almost all great achievements in early sculpture and architecture before the names of artists and architects were recorded. The story that Daedalus worked in Egypt reflects the enormous impact of Egyptian art and architecture on the Greeks of the aptly named Orientalizing age, as well as their offspring in the succeeding archaic period.
The Archaic Period Statuary
According to one Greek writer, Daedalus used the same compositional pattern for his statutes as the Egyptians used. The first Greek monumental stone statutes very closely follow the Egyptian canon.
This statue emulates the stance of Egyptian statutes. The figure is rigidly frontal with the left foot advanced slightly. The arms are held beside the body, and the fists are clenched with the thumbs forward. This kouros even served a funerary purpose. It stood over a grave in the country side near Athens. Such statues replaced the huge vases of Geometric times as grave markers. They were also used as votive offerings in sanctuaries. The kouros type statues are generic and could be used in different contexts.
Despite similarities, there are two important differences with Egyptian Statutes. First they are liberated from their original stone block. The Egyptian obsession with permanence was alien to the Greeks, who were preoccupied with finding ways to represent motion rather than stability in their sculpted figures. Second the kouroi are nude, and if the monumental statutes lack identifying attributes, they are formally indistinguishable from Greek deities with their perfect bodies for all to see.
In this kouros sculpture which was from a grave of a young man named
Kroisos (Kree-sos) who died a hero’s death in battle sometime around 530 BC. It is from a area near Athens named Anavysos. This statute has several interesting features. The Archaic smile, not meant to be taken literally, seems to be the sculptor’s innovation to indicate that the one portrayed is alive. By adopting this convention, the Greek artist signified a very different intention than the Egyptian artist. What do you notice is similar with the Kouros and what is different?
All Greek statutes were painted. The modern notion that classical was pure white was mistaken. The Greeks did not use garish colors. The flesh was the color of the stone which was waxed and polished. Features were painted in encaustic, which is a technique in which the painter mixes the pigment with wax and applied to the statute while hot.
A stylistic sister to Kroisos is the Peplos kore. It is a clothed female figure wearing a peplos, which was a simple, long, woolen belted garment, which gives the figure a columnar appearance. She was buried for 2000 years preserving her painted surface. This kore, along with many other statutes, had been knocked down by the Persians during their sack of the Acropolis in 480 BC. Shortly after that the Athenians buried all the archaic sculptures. Before that time they stood as votive offerings in Athena’s sanctuary. What are the similarities and contrasts with the Lady of Auxerre?
Another Kore from the Acropolis is attired in the light linen Ionian Aton and heavier himation (mantle). This was the garment choice of wealth and fashion. The cloth is depicted in a more realistic way with its soft delicate folds that contrast the stiff figure, making it appear more lifelike. The sculptor achieved added variety by showing the kore grasping part of her Aton in her left hand to lift it off the ground in order to take a step forward. This is the equivalent of the advanced left foot of the kouroi and became standard for statutes of korai.
Early and High Classical Statuary
The Early and High Classical Periods
Art historians reckon the beginning of the Classical age from an historical event, the defeat of the Persian invaders of Greece by the allied Hellenic city-states. Shortly after Athens was occupied and sacked in 480 BC, the Greeks won a decisive navel victory over the Persians at Salamis. The Persians under king Xerxes threatened to conquer all Greece. In 494 the Persians destroyed the Greek city of Miletos (My-lee-tuss), killing the male inhabitants and selling the women and children into slavery. The close escape of the Greeks from domination from Asian “barbarians” nurtured a sense of Hellenic identity so strong that from that point on the history of European civilization would be distinct from the civilization of Asia, even thought they continued to interact.
Typical of the times were views of the great dramatist Aeschylus (S-kah-liss), who celebrated in his play Oresteia (Or-ah-sti-ah), the triumph of reason and law over barbarous crimes, blood feuds, and mad vengeance. Himself, a veteran of the epic battle of Marathon, Aeschylus repudiated in majestic verse all the slavish and inhuman traits of nature that the Greeks at the time of crises associated with the Persians.
The decades following the removal of the Persian threat are universally considered the high point of Greek civilization. This is the era of the dramatists Sophocles and Euripides, as well as, Aeschylus, the historian Herodotus, the statesman Pericles, the philosopher Socrates, and many of the most famous Greek architects, sculptors, and painters.
Early Classical sculptors were also the first to break away from the rigid and unnatural Egyptian inspired pose of the archaic kouroi. This change may be seen in the postures of the figures. A small (2’ 10”) statue from the Athenian Acropolis, though well under life size is one of the most important works of Greek sculpture. Known as
Kritios (Kree-tee-ous) Boy, the sculpture was once thought to have been carved by the sculptor Kritios. Never before had a sculptor been concerned with portraying a human being as he actually stands. Real people do not stand as the kouroi and korai, or the Egyptian predecessors. Humans shift their weight and the position of the main body parts around a vertical, but flexible, axis of the spine. When humans move, the bodies’ musculoskeletal structure dictates a harmonious, smooth motion of all its elements. The sculptor of Kritios Boy was among the first to grasp this fact and to represent it in statuary. The youth has a slight dip to the right hip, indicating the shifting weight onto the left leg. His right leg is bent, at ease. The head also turns slightly to the right and tilts, breaking the unwritten rule of frontality dictating form of virtually all earlier statues. This shift in weight, which art historians describe as contrapposto (counter balance), separates Classical from Archaic Greek statuary. Its reappearance, after a long absence, is one of the hall marks of the renewed interest in Classical art during the later Middle Ages and Renaissance.
The innovations of the Kritios Boy were carried even further in the bronze statue of a Warrior found in the sea near Riace at the “toe” of the Italian “Boot.” It was one of a pair found. Found in the cargo of a sunken ship that was probably transporting it to Rome, it lay in the sea for nearly 2000 years. It is lacking its shield, spear, and helmut. It is a masterpiece of hollow bronze casting, with inlaid eyes, silver teeth and eye lashes, and copper lips and nipples. The weight shift is more pronounced than in Kritios Boy. The warriors head turns more forcefully to the right, his shoulders tilt, his hips swing more markedly, and his arms have been freed from the body. Natural motion in space has replaced archaic frontality and rigidity.
Diskobolos (Diss-kah-bow-low-ss) (Discus Thrower)
By Myron was originally a bronze, but is only known to us from Roman marble copies. Demand for Greek bronzes so greatly exceeded supply that an industry developed to create marble copies for Roman public places and private villas. Marble copies were usually less costly than bronze. The change in medium resulted in a different surface appearance. In most cases the copyist also had to add an intrusive tree trunk to support the great weight of the stone statue and struts between arms and body to strengthen weak points. The copies rarely approach the quality of the originals, and the Roman sculptors sometimes took liberties with their models to conform to their own tastes and needs. Without Roman copies it would be impossible to reconstruct the history of Greek sculpture after the archaic period. In contrast to archaic athletic statues, the Classical Diskobolos does not perform for the spectator but concentrates on the task at hand.
The Quest for Ideal Form
One of the most frequently copied Greek statues was the Doryphoros (Dory-four-õs)
(Spear Bearer) by Polykleitos (Poly-klee-tuss), a work they epitomizes the intellectual rigor of Classical statuary design. The original is lost. Our image is of a marble copy that stood in a palaestra at Pompeii, where it served as a model for Roman athletes. It was made as a demonstration piece to embody Polykleitos’ vision of the ideal statue of a nude male athlete or warrior that he described in his treatise on the subject. Spear Bearer is the modern descriptive name for this work, Polykleitos called it Canon.
Doryphoros is the culmination of the evolution in Greek statuary from Kritios boy to the Riace warrior. The contrapposto is more pronounced than ever before in a standing statue, but Polykleitos was not content with this and strives to impose order on human movement, to make it “beautiful”, to “perfect” it. He achieved it through a system of chiastic (Kee-ass-tick), or cross balance. What appears to be a casually natural pose is, in fact, the result of an extremely complex and subtle organization of the figure’s various parts. The rigid supporting leg is echoed by the straight hanging arm, providing the figure’s right side with the columnar stability needed to anchor the left sides dramatically flexed limbs. If read anatomically, however, the tensed and relaxed limbs may be seen to oppose each other diagonally - the right arm and left leg are relaxed, and the tensed supporting leg opposes the flexed arm, which held a spear. In like manner, the head turns to the right while the hips twist slightly to the left. Although the figure may seem to step forward he does not move. The dramatic asymmetrical balance, this motion while at rest, and the resulting harmony of opposites are the essence of the Polykleitan style.
The Late Classical Period
The Peloponnesian War, which began in 431 BC, ended in 404 BC, with the complete defeat of plague-weakened Athens, and left Greece drained of its strength. The victor Sparta and Thebes undertook, unsuccessfully the leadership of Greece. In the middle of the fourth century BC, a threat from without caused the city states to reunite. But at the battle of Chaeronea (Care-o-knee-ah) in 338 BC, the city-states suffered a devastating loss and had to relinquish their independence to Philip II, king of Macedon. Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, and was succeeded by his son Alexander III, known as the Great. Alexander led a powerful army that crushed the Persian Empire (the ultimate revenge for the Persian invasion of Greece in the early fifth century), wrested control of Egypt, and even reached India.
The political upheaval of the fourth century BC had a profound impact on the psyche of the Greeks and on the art they produced. In the fifth century BC, Greeks generally believed that rational human beings could impose order on their environment, create “perfect” statues such as the Canon of Polykleitos, , and discover the “correct” mathematical formulas for construction of temples such as the Parthenon. The Peloponnesian War and the unceasing strife of the fourth century BC brought an end to the serene idealism of the fifth century. Disillusionment and alienation followed. Greek thought and Greek art began to focus more on the individual and on the real world of appearances rather than on the community and the ideal world of perfect beings and perfect buildings.
Praxiteles (Prax-it-ah-lees) did not reject the themes of the High Classical period. His Olympian gods and goddesses retained their superhuman beauty, but in his hands they lost some of their solemn grandeur and took on a worldly sensuousness. Nowhere is this new spirit more obvious than in the statue of Aphrodite that Praxiteles sold to the Knidians (Ka-nide-ans) after another city rejected it. The lost original is known only through Roman copies. The Roman, Pliny, considered it “superior to all works, not only of Praxiteles, but indeed in the whole world.” It made the city of Knidos famous, and many people sailed there just to see the statue in its round temple, where “it was possible to view the image of the goddess from every side.” According to Pliny (Plee-knee), some visitors were “overcome with love for the statue.”
The Aphrodite of Knidos (Kah-kree-dose) caused such a sensation at the time because Praxiteles took the unprecedented step representing the goddess of love completely nude. Female nudity was rare in earlier Greek art. If women were so depicted, they tended to be courtesans or slave girls, not noblewomen or goddesses, and no one dared fashion for a temple a goddess without her clothes. Moreover, Praxiteles’ Aphrodite is not a cold remote image. She engages in a trivial act of removing her garment, draped it over a hydra, and is about to step into the bath.
Although not openly erotic she is sensuous, Lucian, writing in the second century AD noted she had a “welcoming look” and a “slight smile.” Praxiteles was renowned for his ability to transform marble into soft radiant flesh. It is certain the Roman marble copies are only a pale reflection of the original.
Praxiteles’ Hermes and the infant Dionysos from the Temple of Hera, in Olympia Greece, further develop an emotional, relational quality in the depiction of the subject.
Hermes has stopped to rest in a forest on his journey to Nysa (Knee-sah) to entrust the upbringing of Dionysos to Papposilenos (Papo-sell-ain-õs) and the nymphs. Hermes leans on a tree trunk (here it is a integral part of the composition and not a copyists addition), and his slender body forms a sinuous, shallow S-curve that is hall mark of many of Praxiteles’s statues.
The tender and very human interaction between an adult and a child that one frequently encounters in real life, was absent from Greek sculpture until the fourth century.
The delicacy of the marble facial features stands in sharp contrast to the metallic precision of Polykleitos’s Doryphoros
Sensuous languor and the order of beauty that appeals more to the eye than the mind replaced majestic strength and rationalizing design.
The Rise of Individuality
In the Archaic period and throughout most of the Early and High Classical Periods, Greek sculptors generally shared common goals, but in the Late Classical period of the fourth century BC, distinctive styles emerged. There was a general trend toward humanization of the Greek gods and heroes, and the introduction of intense emotion that foreshadowed the Hellenistic period
Lysippos and a New Canon
One of the three greatest sculptors of the Late Classical period was Lysippos
(Lie-sipp-õ-ss) of Sikyon, was so renowned that Alexander the Great selected him to create his official portrait. Lysippos is to have said, “Other artists make men as they are, I make them as they appear.”
Lysippos introduced a new canon of proportions in which the bodies were more slender than those of Polykleitos-whose canon still exerted tremendous influence. Lysippos changed the proportions of the human figure from the height that would be seven heads tall, to a height that would be eight heads tall. These new proportions may be clearly seen in one of Lysippos’ most famous works a bronze statue of an apoxyomenos (Ah-poke-see-o-may-no-ss) (an athlete scraping oil from his body after exercising), known only from Roman marble copies. A comparison with Polykleitos’ Doryphoros reveals more than a change in physique. A nervous energy runs through Apoxyomenos that one seeks in vain in the Doryphoros. Lysippos also began to break down the dominance of the frontal view in statuary and encouraged the viewer to look at the athlete from multiple angles. Because the figures right arm boldly thrusts forward, it breaks out of the shallow rectangular box that defined the boundaries of earlier statues. To comprehend the action, the viewer must move from the front to the side.
To grasp the full meaning of another work of Lysippos, a colossal statue depicting a weary Herakles, the observer must walk around it. The most impressive surviving Roman Marble copy is nearly twice the size of life, and was exhibited in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. The statue provided inspiration for Romans who came to exercise at the baths. The copyists name is inscribed Glykon of Athens, with no mention of Lysippos. The educated Roman public, however, did not need a label to recognize this great work. The exaggerated muscles of Herakles ironically are in contrast with the depiction of the strongman so weary that he must lean on his club for support. Without the prop he would topple over. Lysippos and other fourth century BC artists rejected stability and balance as worthy goals for statuary. Instead of showing serenity, instead of showing joy, or at least satisfaction at having completed one of his twelve impossible labors, he is almost dejected. Exhausted by his physical efforts, he can only think of his pain and weariness, not the reward of immortality that awaits him. This is a great example of the Late Classical sculptors’ interest in humanizing the great gods and heroes of the Greeks.
Ancient sources reveal that Alexander believed that only Lysippos had captured the essence in a portrait, and that is why he was the only one authorized to sculpt the king’s image.
The Hellenistic Period
Alexander the Great's conquest of the Near East and Egypt (where he is buried), ushered in a new cultural age that historians and art historians alike call Hellenistic. The Hellenistic period is traditionally reckoned from the death of Alexander in 323 BC, and lasted nearly three centuries, until 31 BC, when Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her Roman consort Mark Anthony were decisively defeated at the battle of Actium, by Anthony’s rival Augustus. A year later, Augustus made Egypt a province of the Roman Empire.
The cultural centers of the Hellenistic period were the court cities of the Greek kings: Antioch in Syria, Alexandria in Egypt, Pergamon in Asia Minor, and others. An international culture united the Hellenistic world, and its language was Greek. Hellenistic kings were enormously rich on the spoils of the East, priding themselves on their libraries, art collections, scientific enterprises, and skills as critics and connoisseurs, as well as on the learned men they could assemble at their courts. The world of small austere and heroic city-states passed away, as did the power and prestige of its center, Athens. A cosmopolitan (“citizens of the world” in Greek) civilization replaced it.
Sculptures from Pergamon
The victory of Attalos (At-ah-loss)I over the Gauls is depicted in a statuary group known to us by Roman copies of some of the Greek originals. The sculptor carefully studied the distinctive features of the Gauls, most notably their long bushy hair, mustaches, and torques or neck bands they frequently wore. The Pergamene victors were not included in the group, only their foes and their noble moving response to defeat.
In what was probably the centerpiece of the group, a heroic Gallic chieftain defiantly drives a sword into his own chest just below the collar bone, preferring suicide to surrender. He has already taken the life of his wife, who if captured, would have been sold into slavery. The figures are meant to be seen by walking fully around them. The Gauls intensely expressive face is seen from one view, his powerful body from another, and the wife’s limp lifeless body from yet another. The man’s twisting posture, and almost theatrical gestures, and the emotional intensity of the suicidal act are hallmarks of the Pergamene baroque style, and were closely paralleled in the frieze on Zeus'’ altar.
The third Gaul from this group is a trumpeter who collapses upon his large oval shield as blood pours out of the gash in his chest. As in the suicide group and the gigantomachy frieze, the sculptor rendered the male musculature in a exaggerated manner. Note the tautness of the chest and the bulging veins of the left leg implying that the unseen Attalid hero who struck him down was an extraordinary man. If this figure is the tubicen (trumpeter), mentioned by Pliny, as the work of Epigonos (Ah-pig-n-õs), then Epigonos may have been the sculptor of the entire group and the creator of the dynamic Hellenistic baroque style.
One of the great masterpieces of all Hellenistic sculpture was set up in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace. The Nike of Samothrace has just alighted on the prow of a Greek warship. Her missing right arm was once raised high to crown the naval victor. The Samothracain Nike’s wings seem to beat and wind sweeps her drapery. Her himation bunches in thick folds around her right leg, and her chiton is pulled tightly around her abdomen and left leg. The statues setting amplified its theatrical effect. The war galley was displayed in the upper basin of a two tiered fountain. In the lower basin were large boulders. The fountain’s flowing water created the illusion of rushing waves dashing up against he prow of a ship. The statues reflection in the shimmering water below accentuated the sense of lightness and movement. The sound of splashing water added an aural dimension to the visual drama. Art and nature are combined together in one of the most successful sculptures ever fashioned. In this sculpture and others in the Hellenistic baroque manner, sculptors resoundingly rejected the Polykleitan conception of a statue as ideally proportioned, self contained entity on a bare pedestal. The Hellenistic statues interact with their environment and appear as living and intensely emotive human of divine presences.
Hellenistic sculptors also began to openly explore the eroticism of the nude female form. The famous Venus de Milo is a larger than life marble statue found in Melos together with its inscribed base, now lost, signed by the sculptor, Alexandros of Antioch on the Meander. In this statue, the goddess of love is more modestly draped than the fully nude Aphrodite of Knidos but is more overtly sexual. He left hand (separately preserved) holds the apple Paris awarded her when he judged her the most beautiful goddess of all. He right hand may have lightly grasped the edge of he drapery near the left hip in a halfhearted attempt to keep it from slipping down her body. The sculptor intentionally designed the work to tease the spectator. By doing so he imbued his partially draped Aphrodite with a sexuality that is not present in Praxiteles’ entirely nude image of the goddess.
The Aged and the Ugly
The realistic bent of much of Hellenistic sculpture - the very opposite of the Classical periods idealism - is evident in the series of old women and men from the lowest rungs of the social order. Shepherds, fisherman, and drunken beggars are common - the kinds of people who were pictured on earlier red-figure vases but never before were they thought worthy of statuary. One of the finest preserved of these types depicts a haggard old woman bringing chickens and a basket with fruits and vegetables to sell in the market. Her face is wrinkled, her body bent with age, and he spirit broken by a life time of poverty. She carries on because she must, not because she derives pleasure from life. No one knows the purpose of such statues, but they attest to an interest in social realism absent in earlier Greek statuary.
Statues of the weak, aged and ugly are of course polar opposites of the images of the young and the beautiful that dominated Greek art until the Hellenistic age, but they are consistent with the periods changed character. The Hellenistic world was a cosmopolitan place, and the highborn could not help but encounter the poor and the growing number of foreigners (non-Greek “barbarians”) on a daily basis. Hellenistic art reflects this different social climate in the depiction of a much wider variety of physical and ethnic types. Gallic warriors, as has been noted, along with Africans, Scythians, and others, formally only an occasional subject of vase painters, entered the realm of monumental sculpture in Hellenistic art.
Hellenistic Art Under Roman Patronage
Greece became a Roman province in 146 BC. Sixty years later they sided with an opponent of Rome and were crushed by the Roman General Sulla. Thereafter Athens regained some of its stature as a center of culture and learning, but politically it was just another city in the ever expanding Roman Empire. Nonetheless Greek artists continued to be in great demand both to supply the Romans with copies of Classical and Hellenistic masterpieces and to create new statues for Roman patrons.
One such new masterpiece was the famous group of the Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons, which was unearthed in Rome in 1506 in the presence of the great Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo. The original of the second century BC, was found in the remains of the palace of the emperor Titus (79-81 BC), exactly where Pliny had seen it 14 centuries before. Pliny attributed the statue to three sculptors –Athanadoros
(Ah-than-a-door-os), Hagesandros (Hag-ah-sand-dros), and Polydoros (Poly-door-os) of Rhodes - who are now generally thought to have worked in the early first century BC. They probably based their group on a Hellenistic masterpiece depicting Laocoon and only one son. Their variation on the original added the son at Laocoon’s left (note the greater compositional integration of the other two figures) to conform to the Roman poet Vergil’s account in The Aeneid (Ah-knee-id). Vergil vividly described the strangling of Laocoon and his two sons by sea serpents while sacrificing at an altar. The gods who favored the Greeks in the war against Troy had sent the serpents to punish Laocoon who had tried to warn his compatriots about the danger of bringing the Greeks’ wooden horse within the walls of their city.
In Vergil’s graphic account, Laocoon suffers in terrible agony, and the torment of the priest and his sons is communicated in spectacular fashion in the marble group. The three Trojans writhe in pain as they struggle to free themselves from the death grip of the serpents. One bites into Laocoon’s left hip as the priest lets out a ferocious cry. The serpent entwined figures recall the suffering giants on the altar of Zeus at Pergamon, and Laocoon himself is strikingly similar to Alkyoneos, Athena’s opponent. In fact many scholars believe the Pergamene statuary group of the second century BC was the inspiration for the three Rhodian sculptors.
Architecture and Architectural Sculpture
Many early Greek temples have not survived because they were made of wood and mud bricks. Archaic and later Greek temples were built with more permanent materials lime stone and marble which was more expensive. In Greece marble was plentiful. In the Archaic age, with the Egyptian columnar halls before them, Greek architects began to build columnar stone temples that have been more influential on the later history of architecture in the Western world than any other building type ever devised.
Greek temples differed in function from most, later religious shrines. The alter lay outside the temple - at the East end, facing the rising sun - and the Greeks gathered outside, not inside, the building to worship. The temple proper housed the cult statue of the deity, the grandest of all votive offerings. In early and mature Greek temples, they were houses for the deity and not the followers.
Figural sculpture played a major role in the exterior program of the Greek temple from early times. It served to embellish the god’s shrine, to tell something about the deity symbolized within, and to serve as votive offerings. The building itself, with its finely carved capitals and moldings was conceived as sculpture, abstract in form and possessing the power of sculpture to evoke human responses. The commanding importance of the sculpted temple, its inspiring function in public life, was emphasized in its elevated site, often on a hill above the city (acropolis means “high city”).
Plan and Proportion
In basic plan, the Greek temple still shows a close connection with the Mycenaean megaron, if nothing else in its basic simplicity. In all cases, the remarkable order, compactness, and symmetry of the Greek scheme strike the eye first, reflecting the Greek’s sense of proportion and their effort to achieve ideal forms in terms of regular numerical relationships and geometric rules. Whether the plan is simple or more complex, no fundamental change occurs in the nature of the units or of their grouping. Classical Greek architecture, like classical music, has a simple core theme, with a series of complex, bit always intelligible, variations developed from it.
The Greeks’ insistence on proportional order guided their experiments with the proportions of temple plans. The earliest temples tended to be long and narrow, with the proportion of the ends to the sides roughly expressible as 1:3. From the sixth century on, plans approached but rarely had a proportion of exactly 2:1. Classical temples tended to be a little longer than twice their width. To the Greek mind, proportion in architecture and sculpture was much the same as harmony in music, reflecting and embodying the cosmic order.
Sculptural ornament was concentrated on the upper part of the building, in the frieze and pediments. Architectural sculpture, as well as, free standing, was painted and usually was placed only in the building parts that had no structural function. This is particularly true of Doric order, where decorative order appears only in the metope (Met-o-pee) and pediment voids. Ionic builders were willing to decorate the entire frieze and sometimes even the lower column drums. Occasionally, they replaced their columns with female figures (called caryatids). Capitals, decorative moldings, and other architectural elements were painted. By painting parts of the building the designer could bring out more clearly the relationship of structural parts and soften the stone’s glitter at specific points, as well as provide a background to set off the figures.
Although color was used for emphasis and to relieve what might have seemed too bare a simplicity, Greek architecture primarily depended on clarity and balance. To the Greeks, it was unthinkable to use surfaces in the way the Egyptians used their gigantic columns - as fields for complicated ornamentation. The history of Greek temple architecture is the history of the Greek architects’ unflagging efforts to find the most satisfactory (that is what they believed were perfect) proportions for each part of the building and for the structure as a whole.
The Temple of Hera I
The prime example of early Greek efforts at Doric temple design is in Paestum, Italy, south of Naples. The huge (80’ x 170’) Archaic temple was erected around 550 BC. It retains its entire peripteral colonnade, but most of the entablature is missing. It was incorrectly called the Basilica after the Roman style building near by that early investigators felt it resembled. It is called Hera I, because a later building to Hera is nearby and called Hera II. This confusion was partly due to the buildings plan that was different from most Greek temples. The unusual feature, found only in early Archaic temples, is the central row of columns that divides the cella into two aisles. While this provides obvious support for the roof, it has several disadvantages. This arrangement allowed no place for a central statue of the deity to whom the temple is dedicated. Also the peripteral colonnade, in order to correspond to the interior, had to have an odd number of columns (nine in this case) across the temple’s facade. In Hera I, three columns were set in the door way (unlike the two columns in Temple A), making a central doorway entrance to behold the statue of the deity. However, a simple 1:2 ratio of facade and flank columns was achieved by erecting 18 columns on each side of the temple.
In the Temple of Hera I, the columns are heavy and closely placed with pronounced swelling at the middle of the shafts. The Doric capitals were large and bulky, appearing to be compressed by the weight of the entablature. This bulkiness was probably due to the concern that the structure would collapse under the weight of the roof and entablature if less substantial forms were used. Later Doric temples display a thinning of columns, wider spacing, capitals smaller, and a lighter entablature. Greek architects sought the ideal proportional relationship among the parts of the building. Figure sculptors and architects grappled with these similar problems. Architecture and sculpture developed in a parallel manner in the seventh century.
The Pediment Problem
Architects and sculptors were frequently called upon to work together. The Temple of Artemis was a great Doric temple built early in the sixth century BC and is located on Corfu, an island trading port on the West coast of Greece. Both pediments of the temple were filled with huge sculptures.
Designing figural decoration for a pediment was always a very difficult task for the sculptor because of the pediment’s awkward triangular shape. To fill the space the central figures were huge, but as the pediment tapered, space became increasingly cramped. How does a sculptor deal with this?
At the center of the pediment is the gorgon, Medusa, a demon with a woman’s body and bird wings. Medusa had a hideous face and snake hair; anyone who gazed upon her would be turned to stone. She is shown in a posture that signifies running or flying. On either side are two great felines to repulse temple enemies. They serve the same function as the lions on Mycene’s Lions Gate and the Lamassu in the Assyrian palaces. This arrangement is a further example of the Orientalizing manner in early Greek sculpture. Between Medusa and the felines are two figures. On her left is the human chrysaor and on the right winged Pegasus, who were both Medusa’s children who sprang forth from her head when it was split open with a sword by the Greek hero Perseus. Their presence shows a chronological impossibility. The sculptor was not interested in telling a coherent story but in identifying the central figure by depicting her offspring.
Narration was the purpose of the rest of the pediment. The viewer’s right depicts gigantomachy (gee-gohn-toe-ma-kee) (battles of gods and giants) which was a popular theme in the history of Greek art and was a metaphor for the triumph of reason over chaos. Zeus is shown with lightening bolt, slaying a kneeling giant. The left side shows Achilles son Neoptolemos killing the enthroned King Priam from the climax of the Trojan War. The fallen figure may be a dead Trojan.
The master responsible for the Corfu pediments was a pioneer in composition and experimentation. The lack of narrative unity and the extraordinary scale diversity of the figures eventually gave way to pedimental designs with figures all acting out a single event and appearing the same size. The Corfu sculptor had already shown the way. The sculptor realized that the area below the racking cornice could be filled with gods and heroes of similar size if a combination of standing, leaning; kneeling, seated, and prostrate figures were employed in the same composition. Animals, it was discovered, could be very useful space fillers, because unlike humans, they have one end taller than the other.
This is a gem of Ionic architecture. A treasury was a small building set up for the storage of votive offerings. The Siphnian Treasury is located in Delphi, Greece and was built by the city of Siphnos in the sanctuary of Apollo. The cities wealth was from the gold and silver mines on their island. This luxurious building also used Caryatids (Cary-ah-tids), instead of Ionic columns, to support the porch Caryatids are rare in Ionic architecture and unknown in Doric architecture. Another Ionic feature is the continuous sculpted frieze on all four sides of the building. It represents the popular theme of gigantomachy on the North side. Much more detailed than the Corfu pediment. The theme is united. Some of the warriors had metal weapons. The figures were painted and painted labels were on the figures. Apollo and Artemis pursue fleeing giants. A lion pulling a goddesses chariot takes a bit out of a giant.
Architecture and the Transition to the Classical Period
The years just before and after 500 BC were also a time of dynamic transition in architecture and architectural sculpture. Some changes were evolutionary in nature and others were revolutionary. Both are evident in the Temple of Aphaia, (Ah-pha-ah) in Aegina, (Ah-ji-nah) Greece. The temple sits on a prominent ridge with a dramatic view of the sea. The colonnade is 45 x 95 feet and consists of six Doric columns on the facade and 12 on the flanks. This is a much more compact structure than the Temple of Hera I at Paestum. Doric architects had learned much in the half century between the constructions of the two temples. The columns of the Aegina temple are more slender and more widely spaced. The capitals create a smooth transition from the vertical shafts below to the horizontal architrave above. Gone are the archaic flattened echinuses and bulging shafts of the Paestum columns.
The Aegina architect also refined the temple plan and internal elevation. In the place of a single row of columns down the center of the cella is a double colonnade and each row has two stories. This arrangement allowed a statute of the deity to be placed on the central axis and also gave those gathered in front of the building an unobstructed view through the pair of columns in the pronaos.
Both pediments were filled with life-size statuary depicting the same subject and using a similar composition. The theme was the battle of the Greeks and Trojans, with Athena at the center of the bloody combat. She is larger than all the other figures because she is superhuman. The sculptors carved all the mortal heroes at the same scale, regardless of the statue’s position on the pediment. Unlike the experimental designs at Corfu, the Aegina pediments feature a unified theme and consistent size. The later was achieved by using a whole range of body postures from upright to leaning, falling, kneeling, and lying.
The sculptures were set in place when the temple was completed around 490 BC. But the pedimental statues at the eastern end were damaged and replaced with a new group a decade or two later. It is very instructive to compare the earlier and later figures. The West pediments dying warrior was still conceived in the Archaic mode. His torso is rigidly frontal and he looks directly at the spectator. In fact he smiles at us in spite of the bronze arrow puncturing his chest. He looks arranged. There is no sense of a thinking and feeling human being.
The comparable figure on the later East pediment is radically different. The posture is more natural and complex, with the torso placed at an angle to the viewer. Moreover he reacts to his wound as a flesh and blood human would. He knows he is dying, yet he struggles to rise once again, using his shield for support. He does not look out to the viewer but is concerned with his pain. Though created only a decade or two apart, the statues belong to different eras. The later warrior is not a creation of the Archaic world, when sculptors imposed anatomical patterns (and smiles) on statues from without. This statue belongs to the Classical world, where statues move as humans move and possess the self consciousness of real men and women. This was a radical change in the conception of what a statue was meant to be. In sculpture and painting the Classical revolution had occurred.
Classical Greek Architecture
The Athenian Acropolis
In 478 BC, in the aftermath of the Persians expulsion from the Aegean, the Greeks formed an alliance for mutual protection from ant new Eastern threat. The new confederacy became known as the Delian (Dee-Lee-N) League, because the headquarters was on the island of Delos, (Dee-loss) midway between the Greek mainland and Asia Minor. Although each city state had equal representation, Athens was first among equals providing the allied fleet commander and determining which cities were to furnish ships and which were to pay an annual tribute to the treasury at Delos. While defense against the Persians kept the alliance intact, the Athenians gradually assumed a dominant role. In 454 BC, the treasury was transferred to Athens for supposed “security reasons.” The Greek leader of Athens, Pericles succeeded in turning the alliance into an Athenian empire. Tribute continued to be paid to the treasury, but was not used for the common good. Instead, they were “expropriated” to pay the costs of Pericles grand plan to embellish the Acropolis.
The allies were furious. They felt they were dealt a “terrible and wanton insult” when Athens used the funds contributed for mutual defense to “guild and embellish itself with images and extravagant temples, like some pretentious women decked out with precious stones.” This is important to keep in mind when examining those great and universally admired buildings erected on the Acropolis in accordance with Pericles’ vision of his polis reborn from the ashes of the Persians sack. They are not, as some people would wish to believe, the glorious fruits of Athenian democracy but are instead the by products of tyranny and the abuse of power. Too often art historians do not ask how a monument was financed. The answer is often revealing and very embarrassing.
The centerpiece of Pericles’ great building program on the Acropolis was the