Art 11 2757H
October 11th 2009
Ancient Greece can be linked to many of modern society’s ideals from art, architecture, and theater, to its writings, philosophies, poems and its very alphabet. The impact that ancient Greece has had on the political make-up and ideas such as democracy, has shaped the very structure of all our lives and the realities we have seen in our modern history. These ideals can be seen in ancient Greece’s stylization and expression through art of the inspiration of “Man is the measure of all things” and this ideal is described and translated through the Greeks artistic movement towards naturalism.
Greece was not unified by a strong sense of its identity as a nation until the invasions of 490 and 480 B.C. by the Persians, who were long standing enemies of the Greeks (Adams 82). But after defeating the Persians, the Greeks thought of themselves as the most civilized culture in the world, a view reflected in their sense of being a single people, superior to all others (Adams 82). The surviving works from the classical period of ancient Greece, emphasize the individual above all (Adams 83).
This ideal will be reflected through the Greeks new found nationalism, and pride of the human form as its relation to its environment. Their movement toward displaying through art the ideals of perfection, harmony, and balance will become ingrained in the stylization of their art forms. These were attributes that emphasized the values of their beloved culture and was a blue print for the aspirations of all good Greek citizens to live their lives by.
The inner soul of this culture can be seen through its remnants of artistic expression and span through the time periods known as the classical period of ancient Greece, and its evolving stylization according to changing ideals, through the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece, and even more so through the time of ancient Rome because of its diverse and multicultural population and the artistic influences of this diversity.
The first type of artistic expression can be seen through remnants of Greek paintings and pottery. Greek artists of the archaic period used a technique called black-figure and this style was characterized by painting the figures in black silhouette with a slip made of clay and water. Details were added by a sharp tool by incising lines through the painted surface and exposing the orange clay below. The vase was then fired (baked in a kiln) in three stages and the final result was an oxidization process that turned the surface of the vase reddish-orange and the painted areas black (Adams 86).
The late archaic style (c. 530-400 B.C.) gave way to the classical style and was characterized by freer painting and the representation of more natural forms that were not possible utilizing black-figure. The new technique of this period, called red-figure, and when used on vases, the firing process was reversed from the process used in black-figure. Figures were left in red against a painted black background, and details were painted in black.
In addition to increased organic form, the Greek painters of this period began to set figures in nature and depict elements of landscape (Adams 87). A representation of this would be the Niobid painter, Kalyx krater, showing the death of the children of Niobe, Louvre, Paris. The decorative surface patterns have decreased with those in comparison to black-figure, and the painted lines are more flexible (Adams 87).
The classical style gave way to the Hellenistic style (c. 450-1st century B.C.) and the technique of painting that became popular was called white-figure. As used on vases, a wash of white clay formed the background, figures were then applied in black and after firing, additional colors were sometimes added (Adams 86). The Greek interest in naturalism led to an enchantment in illusionism as can be represented by the Reed painter; warrior by a grave, (c. 410 B.C.) National Archaeological Museum, Athens. The use of foreshortening, which depicts the round shield as an oval because it is partly turned, indicates the Greek artists interest in rendering forms as they would appear in natural, three-dimensional space, a clear evolution of previous styles (Adams 87).
Another type of artistic expression can be seen through the Greek and Roman styles of sculpture. From early classical (c. 480-450 B.C.) in which a change in artistic style seems to coincide with the final departure of the Persians from Greek soil, and sometimes called severe because the smiles have disappeared and the forms are simpler, produced radical changes in the approach to the human figure (Adams 90). An example of these new developments can be seen in the marble Kritios boy, attributed to the sculptor Kritios.
This sculpture signifies a moment of self awareness in Greek history that is marked by the change from archaic to early classical. The flesh now seems to cover an organic structure of bone and muscle. The archaic smile has disappeared, and the face, like the body, has become idealized; the expression is neutral (Adams 90). The most important development is that the head is turned slightly and the right leg bends forward at the knee so that the left leg appears to hold the body’s weight. The torso shifts, and the right hip and shoulder are lowered, a pose referred to as Contrapposto. For the first time, a contrast between rigid and relaxed elements allows the viewer to feel the inner workings of the human body (Adams 90-91).
The late classical style (c. 400-323 B.C.) was marked by the decline of Athens political supremacy as Other Greek city-states, especially Sparta, began to exert political and military power over Greece. In the fourth century B.C. Philip II of Macedon conquered the main land of Greece and his son Alexander the great extended his empire. Nevertheless, the intellectual leaders of that period, notably Plato and Aristotle, continued to flourish in Athens (Adams 106).
The leading Athenian sculptor of the late classical style was Praxiteles. A gentle S-shape, sometimes called the “Praxitelean curve”, outlines the stance of his most famous statue, the Aphrodite of Knidos and more than any earlier Greek sculptor, Praxiteles celebrated the female nude. Also it was this work that entered the female form into the canon of beauty in Greek art, which had been previously restricted to the male nude (Adams 107).
The Hellenistic period extended from the death of Alexander the great (323 B.C.) to the beginning of the roman empire under Augustus, who assumed power in 31 B.C. and became emperor four years later. The term Hellenistic refers to the spreading of Greek culture beyond Greece -especially to the east- as a result of Alexander’s conquests (Adams 110). Hellenistic style continues the developments introduced by Lysipos and further expands the diversity of sculpture formally and iconographically. There is an increase in portrait types; children and old people are represented; theatricality and melodrama express extremes of emotion; and the inner character of figures is conveyed through an emphasis on formal realism (Adams 110). The bronze boxer from around the turn of the first century B.C. reveals the ravaging effects of the sport, Museo delle terme, Rome, and the emotion present through facial expressions is distinct and evident in depicting his turmoil (Adams 110).
There were important differences between the Greek and Roman approaches to history, which in some sense, parallel the differences in their views of art. Greek art was a model throughout the Mediterranean and provided a classical ideal for art thereafter. In Rome, art had its local styles, but the Romans continued to be influenced by Greek sculpture, painting, and architecture (Adams 124). They identified their own gods with counterparts in the Greek pantheon and adopted Greek iconography. Roman artists copied Greek art, and roman collectors imported Greek works by the thousands. Greek art tended towards idealization, but roman art was typically commemorative, narrative, and based on history rather than myth (Adams 124).
Roman architecture was greatly influenced by the Greeks and like Greek art; many styles were often imitated and then innovated. Roman use of pillars in the pantheon, Rome, for instance combined with their own innovation of a round structure called a rotunda, is reminiscent of the Greeks Parthenon in Athens but with a roman twist to its inner construction. Romans also copied Greek design from their temples in devising plans for their own personal villas where personal comfort and extravagance was of great importance to roman culture and stature.
All through history cultural traits have been adapted, exchanged, innovated, and sometimes revived from earlier cultures whose ideals and ideologies have inspired humans to dive deep into their inner selves and aspire to become as perfect as human nature could possibly allow. Around the end of the thirteenth century, developments in Italy, inspired by roman tradition, led to a major shift in western European art (Adams 222).
The name given to the period of Italian history from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries is renaissance; the French word for re-birth. The word renaissance denotes a self conscious revival of interest in ancient Greek and roman texts and culture, which began in the fourteenth century. Italy was the logical place for such a revival since the model of Rome was an intricate part of its own history and territory (Adams 222).
These revivals can be seen during the period of early renaissance in Donatello’s David (c.1430-40 B.C.) which is utilizing the s-curve of Praxiteles and through such painters as Leonardo and his depiction of the last supper, which is reflective of high emotional detail like that of the Hellenistic period, who in turn influenced Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo with his version of the David which is reminiscent of ancient Greek nudes.
These painters, who are synonymous with the high renaissance period in Italy, have all been greatly influenced by ancient Greek and Roman art, which is greatly represented through their use of classical and Hellenistic technique and content. Also influenced was the neo-classical style of the eighteenth century which can be seen in the styles used by Angela Kauffman and her clear interest in the use of classical form and content in her painting, Amor and Psyche, Museo Civico Revoltella, Trieste (Adams 378).
Greek art continues to influence emerging civilizations in their political structures, writings, architecture, and seems to influence humanity on all levels of its development. Examples of this can be linked from our own government’s Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and can be seen in structures such as grand central station, which was copied from the design of ancient roman bath houses, and even Gould Memorial library at Bronx Community College, which is an exact replica of the pantheon from ancient Rome. Humanity will continue to take the idealistic and best qualities of emerging and ancient cultures alike and integrate them into their own philosophies forever intertwining the cultures of all great civilizations that have marked this planets history for the better or worse.
Adams, Laurie Schneider. A History of Western Art. 4th ed. New York: