The art of Ancient Greece started out very precise and repetitive, but slowly shifted focus from patterns and portrayal of a story to the human body and naturalism. The most drastic shift I saw in Greek art took place in the Classical to Hellenistic Style (c. 450-1st century B.C.) where figures began to be painted and sculpted in a more natural way. Dimension was gained and the artwork was more realistic than ever before. In contrast to the Late Archaic style where the figures on vases were very flat and rigid, figures in the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic style had more natural curves and postures. As seen below, a vase shows a man sitting by a grave with his clothes draping around his body and legs (Adams, 3rd edition, 87). His position is slouched and he is three-dimensional which is very different than the men painted on the Late Archaic vases. From this point on, more detail and texture was added to the human body to make artwork come to life even more. Also, this painting is on white-ground lekythos rather than a black-ground vase which was more aesthetic from my point of view because it emphasized the colors used and looks so much different than the previous Greek paintings. If you just glance at it, the painting looks like it could be a drawing or sketch in a modern day artist’s notebook because the lines vary in thickness and the colored areas seem sporadic. This is why it caught my eye.
Reed Painter, Warrior by a Grave (c. 410 B.C.) Image Source
I found this period amusing mostly because of the humorous stories that arose from it. Artists of this time period were said to have painted objects so realistic that people were fooled into thinking some of the things they painted were actually real. For example, Apekkes of Kos used such naturalism in his paintings of horses that real horses neighed when they saw them during the 4th Century B.C. Using these illusionary paintings to trick the viewers thrilled the artists, I’m sure. When we look at these paintings from the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic period, we aren’t necessarily impressed by the naturalism because we are used to the more modern types of paintings which show hyperrealism and we see portraits taken on modern-day technologies quite often in magazines, books, social media etc. Even though it may not look super intricate to us now, we can still appreciate the art of Ancient Greece in the late fifth century because it shows the big step from 2-D figures to 3-D figures.
Marble grave stele with a family group (ca. 360 B.C.) Image Source
This grave stele pulled my attention because at first, it seems abruptly unfinished and/or something is clearly missing. This marble sculpture shows an older man, his wife, his young daughter (facing profile), and another person in the top left corner. Three of the figures are complete, but the fourth is not. After doing some outside reading on this sculpture, I found several different interpretations, but the final answer is unclear because the inscription was lost. Some say the unfinished body is the deceased person who is trying to reach out to his family, while others say the man holding the staff is the deceased man. Regardless of who the dead person is, this scene is clearly sorrowful. The mother and father look straight ahead while the eyes of the head in the top left corner gazes directly at the two. This gives a sense of brokenness from the person who was lost. All of the figures display mournful facial expressions which is a new technique seen in the Late Classical period. The fabric of the clothes looks real and naturalistic texture is also seen in the figures’ hair/beard and postures. Artists of the Classical period idealize the human body, which can be seen in the older man’s body structure. The proportion of his daughter to the father is a little off of what it would be in real life, but this reflects a little bit of previous Ancient Greek artwork where women and children of lower status than the male were smaller in size.
The Parthenon is quite the work of art. After watching the videos and reading the textbook, I had a lot more respect for the amount of planning and organization that went in to it. I also thought it was interesting how the pillar/column idea has carried on through many years in many different structures (see images). When comparing the Parthenon to Stonehenge, ziggurats, the Pyramids, and other monumental structures, I notice one thing they all have in common (physically): they’re all quite large. From a spiritual standpoint, all of these things were built to honor someone or many someones who were significant or important to that period of time. When these things were constructed, I think the builders all had a similar thought of “This needs to be very big and very memorable to all who see it so that I can honor the person(s) I’m making it for”. I think we’ve realized now that bigger does not necessarily give anything more spiritual value or “honor points”, but our monuments in the United States are still quite large. The difference though, is that we don’t tie our monuments here to spirituality as much as they did in Ancient Greece/Egypt/etc. We build monuments to honor those who have lived noble lives and give little attention to its effect on the human spirit. Instead of displaying our spirituality in large structures like monuments, we have moved towards a more individualized society where people express their spirituality in their own ways, like praying or practicing religious customs. Since our country is filled with freedom and diversity, we cannot place something large (like a monument) under a certain spirituality because it could cause discrimination or other conflict (because conflict seems to arise out of just about anything these days). However, people in the Ancient times, like the Greeks and Egyptians, connected their monuments to their spirituality because majority of the people had the same beliefs.
Adams, L. S. (2001). A History of Western Art (3rd Edition ed.). New York , New York: McGraw Hill.
“Grave stele with a family group”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. October 2006. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/11.100.2
Kelly, R. “Classical Greek Grave Stelae”. CCIV 224: A Virtual Museum of Death and Afterlife in Egypt & Greece. ccivcopy.site.wesleyan.edu/project-6/grave-stele/