Week 4 Post (Melia)

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

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.

Image Source (Lower Left)
Image Source (Upper Left)
Image Source (Upper Right)
Image Source (Lower Right)

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/

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Hi! My name is Melia and my passions include teaching, art, and adventure. In pursuit of my biggest dream, I moved to Japan in March, 2022 to teach English. I am currently teaching kindergarten, exploring new places, trying new foods, and learning new things! Check out my blog to read about my journey and experiences :-)

7 thoughts on “Week 4 Post (Melia)”

  1. I really liked the Marble Grave Stele with a Family Group, it’s so interesting that the fourth person is incomplete. At a first glance, I thought that this piece of art was broken and pieced together with a chunk of it missing. I find it interesting that not only the child is a bit small in comparison to the parents, but also, she is facing away from the deceased. Do you know why that might be?

    I agree with you that the Parthenon is amazing. I think it’s quite impressive how the columns were measured to the exact inch with such great precision.


    1. My thought about the child facing out, instead of profile like her parents, is that the artist wanted to either emphasize the dimension of the piece (because figures seen in early Ancient Greek periods were usually in profile position on vases) or maybe hint the naiiveness of a child when it comes to death or sorrowful situations like the one shown. The other three figures are looking at each other (well not exactly, but near) while the child looks in a completely different direction which I think shows that children are often oblivious to mourning and the impact of death because they are naturally innocent. I’m not sure what the actual reasoning of the child’s position is, but that’s my interpretation 🙂


      1. I think if I had to interpret this piece, I agree with you that the child might be looking away due to the age of the child. The innocence of the child does not understand death yet. Nice interpretation 🙂


  2. I like how you gave background of how Greek art transitioned from patterns/story-telling to human body/naturalism. Your comparison of the Archaic style to the Classical/Hellenistic style was well said. I love the vase you used as one of your examples. It is a perfect representation of the Late Classical/Early Hellenistic. It does look like it could be a sketch done in a notebook. I like that style too. I agree that these sculptures do you not look super life like to us because we have art that uses hyperrealism now. I like the sculpture you found outside of the textbook. The amount of detail with the drapery is very nice. You did some amazing research on this sculpture. I agree that all of the places/sites we have studied so far are similar to the monuments we have present day. They all are made in respect to an important person. It is just ours are not connected to anything spiritual.


  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog this week, Melia! It is funny how we chose to use the same stele. I also loved the naturalistic view of the Classical period. It is amazing how they were so detailed in their sculptures much like we are detailed in our photography. It is interesting that you brought up individualism in America. Do you think the collectivist mindset of the ancient cultures had an influence on the massive structures they built? I agree with you that the individualism in America influences are levels of spirituality.


  4. Last night I was running a middle school event through work, and I got to witness a less than two year old fill a cone up with water, waddle it over to behind his dad, and slowly pour it into his dad’s shoes while dad was talking to a parent. Matthias, the kid, beaming with giggles. People around bursted up in laughter and amazement, that even at such a young age we can comprehend humor as complex as light hearted pranks! I think a lot of the time we can dehumanize history. That’s were a lot of people find history boring, its more about what people did rather than who they ere. I think what we find inthis realism era like youre talking about, is the core of who we are as humns, the sense of humor we are drawn to that is sometimes forgotten when looking at cultures. I think it’s such a beuatiful, human thing that people were pulling pranks on one another with their art.


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