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Ancient Mediterranean + Europe

Course: ancient mediterranean + europe   >   unit 6.

  • Ancient Greece, an introduction

Introduction to ancient Greek art

  • Contrapposto explained
  • Classic, classical, and classicism explained
  • Introduction to Greek architecture
  • The classical orders
  • Greek architectural orders
  • Black Figures in Classical Greek Art
  • Greek sanctuaries as artistic hubs
  • Olympic games
  • Victorious athlete: The Vaison Daidoumenos
  • Prize amphora showing a chariot race
  • A competitor in the long jump
  • Sprinter on a vase from Rhodes and a bronze running girl

A shared language, religion, and culture

The dark ages (c. 1100–c. 800 b.c.e.) to the orientalizing period (c. 700–600 b.c.e.), the archaic period (c. 600–480/479 b.c.e.), the classical period (480/479–323 b.c.e.), the hellenistic period and beyond (323 b.c.e.–31 b.c.e.), want to join the conversation.

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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The art of classical greece (ca. 480–323 b.c.).

Terracotta amphora (jar)

Terracotta amphora (jar)

Attributed to the Berlin Painter

Terracotta pyxis (box)

Terracotta pyxis (box)

Attributed to the Penthesilea Painter

Bronze mirror with a support in the form of a draped woman

Bronze mirror with a support in the form of a draped woman

Terracotta volute-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)

Terracotta volute-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)

Attributed to the Painter of the Woolly Satyrs (namepiece)

Marble grave stele of a little girl

Marble grave stele of a little girl

Terracotta column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)

Terracotta column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water)

Attributed to the Marlay Painter

Marble head of a woman wearing diadem and veil

Marble head of a woman wearing diadem and veil

Terracotta calyx-krater (mixing bowl)

Terracotta calyx-krater (mixing bowl)

Attributed to the Dolon Painter

Marble grave stele with a family group

Marble grave stele with a family group

Gold box ring surmounted by a scarab

Gold box ring surmounted by a scarab

Gold finger ring engraved with an image of Hermes

Gold finger ring engraved with an image of Hermes

Gold stater

Gold stater

Terracotta statuette of the Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head)

Terracotta statuette of the Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head)

Marble relief with a dancing maenad

Marble relief with a dancing maenad

Adaptation of work attributed to Kallimachos

Marble statue of Eirene (the personification of peace)

Marble statue of Eirene (the personification of peace)

Roman copy of Greek original by Kephisodotos

Marble head from a statue of Harmodios

Marble head from a statue of Harmodios

Original attributed to Kritios and Nesiotes

Colette Hemingway Independent Scholar

Seán Hemingway Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

January 2008

After the defeat of the Persians in 479 B.C., Athens dominated Greece politically, economically, and culturally. The Athenians organized a confederacy of allies to ensure the freedom of the Greek cities in the Aegean islands and on the coast of Asia Minor. Members of the so-called Delian League provided either ships or a fixed sum of money that was kept in a treasury on the island of Delos, sacred to Apollo. With control of the funds and a strong fleet, Athens gradually transformed the originally voluntary members of the League into subjects. By 454/453 B.C., when the treasury was moved from Delos to the Athenian Akropolis , the city had become a wealthy imperial power. It had also developed into the first democracy. All adult male citizens participated in the elections and meetings of the assembly, which served as both the seat of government and a court of law.

Perikles (r. ca. 461–429 B.C.), the most creative and adroit statesman of the third quarter of the fifth century B.C., transformed the Akropolis into a lasting monument to Athen’s newfound political and economic power. Dedicated to Athena, the city’s patron goddess, the Parthenon epitomizes the architectural and sculptural grandeur of Perikles’ building program. Inside the magnificent Doric temple stood the colossal gold-and-ivory statue of Athena made by the Greek sculptor Pheidias. The building itself was constructed entirely of marble and richly embellished with sculpture, some of the finest examples of the high Classical style of the mid-fifth century B.C. Its sculptural decoration has had a major impact on other works of art, from its own day to the present ( 27.45 ).

Greek artists of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. attained a manner of representation that conveys a vitality of life as well as a sense of permanence, clarity, and harmony. Polykleitos of Argos was particularly famous for formulating a system of proportions that achieved this artistic effect and allowed others to reproduce it. His treatise, the Canon , is now lost, but one of his most important sculptural works, the Diadoumenos, survives in numerous ancient marble copies of the bronze original ( 32.11.2 ). Bronze , valued for its tensile strength and lustrous beauty, became the preferred medium for freestanding statuary , although very few bronze originals of the fifth century B.C. survive. What we know of these famous sculptures comes primarily from ancient literature and later Roman copies in marble ( 14.130.9 ).

The middle of the fifth century B.C. is often referred to as the Golden Age of Greece, particularly of Athens. Significant achievements were made in Attic vase painting . Most notably, the red-figure technique superseded the black-figure technique, and with that, great strides were made in portraying the human body, clothed or naked, at rest or in motion. The work of vase painters, such as Douris, Makron, Kleophrades, and the Berlin Painter ( 56.171.38 ), exhibit exquisitely rendered details.

Although the high point of Classical expression was short-lived, it is important to note that it was forged during the Persian Wars (490–479 B.C.) and continued after the Peloponnesian War (431–404 B.C.) between Athens and a league of allied city-states led by Sparta . The conflict continued intermittently for nearly thirty years. Athens suffered irreparable damage during the war and a devastating plague that lasted over four years. Although the city lost its primacy, its artistic importance continued unabated during the fourth century B.C. The elegant, calligraphic style of late fifth-century sculpture ( 35.11.3 ) was followed by a sober grandeur in both freestanding statues ( 06.311 ) and many grave monuments ( 11.100.2 ). One of the far-reaching innovations in sculpture at this time, and one of the most celebrated statues of antiquity, was the nude Aphrodite of Knidos, by the Athenian sculptor Praxiteles. Praxiteles’ creation broke one of the most tenacious conventions in Greek art in which the female figure had previously been shown draped. Its slender proportions and distinctive contrapposto stance became hallmarks of fourth-century B.C. Greek sculpture. In architecture, the Corinthian—characterized by ornate, vegetal column capitals—first came into vogue. And for the first time, artistic schools were established as institutions of learning. Among the most famous was the school at Sikyon in the Peloponnesos, which emphasized a cumulative knowledge of art, the foundation of art history. Greek artists also traveled more extensively than in previous centuries. The sculptor Skopas of Paros traveled throughout the eastern Mediterranean for his commissions, among them the Mausoleum at Halicarnassos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

While Athens began to decline during the fourth century B.C., the influence of Greek cities in southern Italy and Sicily spread to indigenous cultures that readily adopted Greek styles and employed Greek artists. Depictions of Athenian drama, which flourished in the fifth century with the work of Aeschylus, Sophokles, and Euripides, was an especially popular subject for locally produced pottery ( 24.97.104 ).

During the mid-fourth century B.C., Macedonia (in northern Greece) became a formidable power under Philip II (r. 360/359–336 B.C.), and the Macedonian royal court became the leading center of Greek culture. Philip’s military and political achievements ably served the conquests of his son, Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 B.C.). Within eleven years, Alexander subdued the Persian empire of western Asia and Egypt, continuing into Central Asia as far as the Indus River Valley. During his reign, Alexander cultivated the arts as no patron had done before him. Among his retinue of artists was the court sculptor Lysippos, arguably one of the most important artists of the fourth century B.C. His works, most notably his portraits of Alexander (and the work they influenced), inaugurated many features of Hellenistic sculpture, such as the heroic ruler portrait ( 52.127.4 ). When Alexander died in 323 B.C., his successors, many of whom adopted this portrait type, divided up the vast empire into smaller kingdoms that transformed the political and cultural world during the Hellenistic period (ca. 323–31 B.C.).

Hemingway, Colette, and Seán Hemingway. “The Art of Classical Greece (ca. 480–323 B.C.) .” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tacg/hd_tacg.htm (January 2008)

Further Reading

Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period: A Handbook . London: Thames & Hudson, 1985.

Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Late Classical Period and Sculpture in Colonies and Overseas . London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.

Picón, Carlos A., Seán Hemingway, Christopher S. Lightfoot, Joan R. Mertens, and Elizabeth J. Milleker, with contributions by Richard De Puma. man The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Greece, Cyprus, Etruria, Rome . New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. See on MetPublications

Pollitt, Jerome J. Art and Experience in Classical Greece . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Additional Essays by Seán Hemingway

  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Greek Hydriai (Water Jars) and Their Artistic Decoration .” (July 2007)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Hellenistic Jewelry .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Intellectual Pursuits of the Hellenistic Age .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Mycenaean Civilization .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Africans in Ancient Greek Art .” (January 2008)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Ancient Greek Colonization and Trade and their Influence on Greek Art .” (July 2007)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Greek Gods and Religious Practices .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Athletics in Ancient Greece .” (October 2002)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ The Rise of Macedon and the Conquests of Alexander the Great .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Cyprus—Island of Copper .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Music in Ancient Greece .” (October 2001)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Etruscan Art .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Prehistoric Cypriot Art and Culture .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Seán. “ Minoan Crete .” (October 2002)

Additional Essays by Colette Hemingway

  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Greek Hydriai (Water Jars) and Their Artistic Decoration .” (July 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Hellenistic Jewelry .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Intellectual Pursuits of the Hellenistic Age .” (April 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Mycenaean Civilization .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Retrospective Styles in Greek and Roman Sculpture .” (July 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Africans in Ancient Greek Art .” (January 2008)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Ancient Greek Colonization and Trade and their Influence on Greek Art .” (July 2007)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Architecture in Ancient Greece .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Greek Gods and Religious Practices .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ The Labors of Herakles .” (January 2008)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Athletics in Ancient Greece .” (October 2002)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ The Rise of Macedon and the Conquests of Alexander the Great .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ The Technique of Bronze Statuary in Ancient Greece .” (October 2003)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Women in Classical Greece .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Cyprus—Island of Copper .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Music in Ancient Greece .” (October 2001)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) and Art .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Etruscan Art .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Prehistoric Cypriot Art and Culture .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Sardis .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Medicine in Classical Antiquity .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Southern Italian Vase Painting .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Theater in Ancient Greece .” (October 2004)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ The Kithara in Ancient Greece .” (October 2002)
  • Hemingway, Colette. “ Minoan Crete .” (October 2002)

Related Essays

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Artist or Maker

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Ancient Greek Art

By: History.com Editors

Updated: June 23, 2023 | Original: May 17, 2010

Athena presides over the voting for the award of the arms of Achilles, c. 490 BC. Found in the collection of the Art History Museum, Vienne. Artist Duris (Douris), (Vase painter) (ca. 505-465 BC). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

In around 450 B.C., the Athenian general Pericles tried to consolidate his power by using public money, the dues paid to Athens by its allies in the Delian League coalition, to support the city-state’s artists and thinkers. Most of all, Pericles paid artisans to build temples and other public buildings in the city of Athens. He reasoned that this way he could win the support of the Athenian people by doling out plenty of construction jobs while building public monuments so grand that people would come from far and wide to see them, increasing Athens’ prestige as well as his own.

The Architecture of Classical Greece

The most noteworthy result of Pericles’ public-works campaign was the magnificent Parthenon , a temple in honor of the city’s patron goddess Athena. The architects Iktinos and Kallikrates and the sculptor Phidias began work on the temple in the middle of the 5th century B.C. The Parthenon was built atop the Acropolis , a natural pedestal made of rock that was the site of the earliest settlements in Athens, and Pericles invited other people to build there as well: In 437 B.C., for example, the architect Mnesikles started to build a grand gateway known as the Propylaia at its western end, and at the end of the century, artisans added a smaller temple for the Greek goddess Athena—this one in honor of her role as the goddess of victory, Athena Nike—along with one for Athena and Erechtheus, an Athenian king. Still, the Parthenon remained the site’s main attraction.

Did you know? Many of the sculptures from the Parthenon are on display at the British Museum in London. They are known as the Elgin Marbles.

Greek Temple Architecture

With its rectangular stone platform, front and back porches (the pronaos and the opisthodomos) and rows of columns, the Parthenon was a commanding example of Greek temple architecture. Typically, the people of ancient Greece did not worship inside their temples as we do today. Instead, the interior room (the naos or the cella) was relatively small, housing just a statue of the deity the temple was built to honor. Worshippers gathered outside, entering only to bring offerings to the statue.

The temples of classical Greece all shared the same general form: Rows of columns supporting a horizontal entablature (a kind of decorative molding) and a triangular roof. At each end of the roof, above the entablature, was a triangular space known as the pediment, into which sculptors squeezed elaborate scenes. On the Parthenon, for example, the pediment sculptures show the birth of Athena on one end and a battle between Athena and Poseidon on the other.

So that people standing on the ground could see them, these pediment sculptures were usually painted bright colors and were arrayed on a solid blue or red background. This paint has faded with age; as a result, the pieces of classical temples that survive today appear to be made of white marble alone.

Proportion and Perspective

The architects of classical Greece came up with many sophisticated techniques to make their buildings look perfectly even. They crafted horizontal planes with a very slight upward U-shape and columns that were fatter in the middle than at the ends. Without these innovations, the buildings would appear to sag; with them, they looked flawless and majestic.

Ancient Greek Sculpture

Not many classical statues or sculptures survive today. Stone statues broke easily, and metal ones were often melted for re-use. However, we know that Greek sculptors such as Phidias and Polykleitos in the 5th century and Praxiteles, Skopas and Lysippos in the 4th century had figured out how to apply the rules of anatomy and perspective to the human form just as their counterparts applied them to buildings. Earlier statues of people had looked awkward and fake, but by the classical period they looked natural, almost at ease. They even had realistic-looking facial expressions.

One of the most celebrated Greek sculptures is the Venus de Milo , carved in 100 B.C. during the Hellenistic Age by the little-known Alexandros of Antioch. She was discovered in 1820 on the island of Melos.

Ancient Greek Pottery

Classical Greek pottery was perhaps the most utilitarian of the era’s art forms. People offered small terra cotta figurines as gifts to gods and goddesses, buried them with the dead and gave them to their children as toys. They also used clay pots, jars and vases for almost everything. These were painted with religious or mythological scenes that, like the era’s statues, grew more sophisticated and realistic over time.

Much of our knowledge of classical Greek art comes from objects made of stone and clay that have survived for thousands of years. However, we can infer that the themes we see in these works–an emphasis on pattern and order, perspective and proportion and man himself–appeared as well in less-durable creations such as ancient Greek paintings and drawings.

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Art History and Artists

Ancient greek art.

Statue of the goddess Athena

  • Many of the original Greek sculptures were painted in bright colors and often included elements other than stone such as metal and ivory.
  • The painting of pottery was considered a high art form. The artists often signed their work.
  • The most famous of the Greek sculptors was Phidias. He was the artistic director of the Parthenon.
  • The Greeks used the lost-wax process to make bronze statues. This made it easy to make multiple copies of a statue.
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Greek art and 2,000 years of history.

Greek art and 2,000 years of History

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Greek art and 2,000 years of History

Greek art influenced various artistic movements many centuries after its emergence. The Renaissance is a good example.Greece has a dense and incredible history, with ideas that have shaped the world in several areas of knowledge: politics, society, mathematics, philosophy, and…

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Greek art influenced various artistic movements many centuries after its emergence. The Renaissance is a good example.

Greece has a dense and incredible history, with ideas that have shaped the world in several areas of knowledge: politics, society, mathematics, philosophy, and arts and culture.

It's over 2,000 years of Greek history before the Romans conquered the territory. So, there's much to talk about the arts that emerged during this time.

In this sense, it's easier to talk about Greek art according to the historical periods of its history.

So here we go!

The History of Greece and Greek Art

The history of Ancient Greece stretches from 2000 B.C. to 136 B.C. In other words, it's almost 2000 years of history.

Therefore, it's impossible to have a single definition for Greek art because people were continuously evolving during this period, and so did art.

Historians generally divide Greek history into 5 periods . Each period has its own particularities in the artistic realm. They are:

  • Pre-Homeric (2000-1100 BC);
  • Homeric (1100-800 BC);
  • Archaic (800-500 BC);
  • Classical (500-338 BC);
  • Hellenistic (338-136 BC).

We will go through each of these periods, briefly explaining their historical context and showing what their artistic manifestations were like.

Pre-Homeric Period

The Pre-Homeric Period is connected to the rise of the Greeks , with two civilizations standing out: Cretan and Mycenaean.

The Cretans arose in the present-day region of Turkey and migrated to the islands of the Aegean Sea, mainly to the island of Crete.

The life of the Cretans included agriculture, livestock, and trade, which were responsible for their expansion throughout Asia Minor.

The Cretan people existed until about 1400 B.C. and were replaced by the Mycenaeans. The fall of the Cretan civilization, it is believed, happened because of the high exploitation of the soil added to the natural disasters that struck the island.

The Mycenaeans assimilated the Cretan culture and this had a great influence on the formation of the Greek culture. For example, the Mycenaeans already organized themselves into city-states and maintained strong trade relations with other peoples and regions.

The Mycenaean civilization declined from 1200 B.C. onwards because of the Dorian invasion. After this event, the Homeric Period began

Mycenaean art

The Mycenaeans had great architecture and masonry projects . They also worked with gold and oil.

In addition, they transformed how they used pottery, giving it a more aesthetic and decorative appeal, not just functional.

Despite the fall of the Mycenaean civilization around 1200 BC, their culture remained present until the invasion of Troy by the Greeks. From then on, the Mycenaean culture diminished until it became extinct.

Homeric Period

The destruction of the Mycenaean civilization by the Dorians caused the civilization to go through a retreat. The great Mycenaean cities were reduced to small villages and great palaces were destroyed.

The Homeric Period is somewhat obscure. Historians know little about this part of Greek history.

What is known is that it was during this period that the genos , small patriarchal agricultural communities based on solidarity and collectivity, arose. As time went by, an aristocracy was formed, and other genos joined together and formed brotherhoods.

These unions brought instability and inequality. As this type of organization began to lose control, city-states began to emerge. This process also strengthened trade and promoted social and political changes.

Geometric Art

With the rise of the city-states, the geometric period of Greek art also began.

Ceramics were no longer only used functionally but also had an aesthetic and decorative appeal. Then, in the geometric period of Greek art, the decoration on pottery also started to contemplate animals and human beings, however, using simple geometric shapes.

Geometric greek art

Reading Tip: Bauhaus: Functional Design For People

Archaic Period

The Greek city-state model was consolidated in the Archaic period. The polis , as they were called, occupied the entire Greek territory and their main characteristic was autonomy .

Each polis had its autonomy in terms of law, politics, religion , etc. This meant that Greece did not exactly have a territory, like an empire, or clearly defined borders.

Some polis were so outstanding that they are remembered to this day, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth.

The development of the polis, on the other hand, also influenced the process of income concentration. In other words, the poorest people had less and less access to land, were more and more in debt, and could be enslaved if they did not pay their debts.

This social problem encouraged part of the population to seek new opportunities in other regions outside the Greek territory, taking advantage of Greek ships that traded in different places.

Thus, many Greeks settled in other locations such as North Africa, southern Spain, France, etc. These groups were responsible for forming polis in regions beyond the Greek territory, and this process became known as Greek colonization .

These colonies incorporated other characteristics of each region in which they settled, and this, of course, contributed to the development of various aspects of society, including culture and the arts.

Greek art from the Archaic period

In the middle of the Archaic period, Greek art began to be influenced by the more Asian side of the world, due to the expansion of trade.

New languages and new cultures influenced Greek art, featuring curvilinear designs of creatures that mixed animals with humans, such as the Sphinx.

During this period, ceramic decoration became increasingly figurative . Artists began to include more animals and humans in their art and culture.

Ceramic jar with animals from the archaic period - Greek art

Greek sculptures of the Archaic period were created in stone, bronze, or terracotta and were heavily influenced by Egyptian culture.

The most common arts referred to men and women ( kouros and kore ).

Greek art from the archaic period - Nude men sculptures

Painting was very much present in the decoration of vases and sculptures in the archaic period of Greek art. Therefore, the growth of this artistic category was natural.

Besides paintings on pottery, the Greeks painted walls, buildings, and tombs.

In the archaic period, there are not many panel paintings. The only references that exist are the Pitsa panels. In this regard, when we talk about painting in Archaic Greek art, the best reference is the ones we find in ceramics.

Pitsa panel - Archaic Greek Art

Classical Period

The Classical Period is considered the pinnacle of Greek civilization , also because of the development of its arts and culture.

In this period, the focus is on two polis: Athens and Sparta.

Although they belonged to the same Greek territory, as we have seen, each polis had its own autonomy. And Athens and Sparta were very different from each other.

Athens developed its own democratic system (which always ended up benefiting the aristocracy), and Sparta was a city based on warriors, with slavery and oligarchic practices.

Even though they had their differences, Athens and Sparta united in the period to defeat the Persian invasion.

Greek art of the classical period

Classical Greek art corresponds to the artistic manifestations that took place at the height of Greek civilization. Many consider this period to be a " Golden Age " of Greece.

In terms of art, the main characteristics of this period are realism and narratives . Art then represents not only an object or a person but also an entire context and setting.

So paintings now contained many details, sculpting also developed, and in architecture, there was the construction of the Parthenon in Athens.

The Greek art of ceramics suffered a significant decline during the classical period, but the reasons for this are not exact. There were no more technical innovations for this art. The last technique developed was White Ground which used paint and gilding on white clay.

Greek art: white ground technique


Greek architecture was very prominent during the classical period.

The main styles of Greek architecture were Doric and Ionic, and they were responsible for setting a standard of beauty in architectural designs.

You can't talk about Greek architecture without mentioning the Parthenon , the most iconic Greek temple of the period, which honored the goddess Athena.

Despite being an icon of architecture, the Parthenon shared several characteristics common to Greek architecture of the time, such as:

  • Columns as supporting decorative moldings;
  • Triangular-shaped roof;
  • Pediments on the roofs, where sculptors worked artistic pieces.

Greek architecture: The Parthenon

The classical period was very interesting for Greek sculpture. This is because various techniques were improved, and the art pieces became more and more realistic .

In addition, the use of bronze as a raw material for sculpture became more prominent due to its ability to maintain its shape. Other more expensive materials were used for specific works, such as statues for cults.

Apollo Sculpture from Ancient Greek Art - Classical Period

Classical Greek painting represented a milestone in the history of art, being surpassed only in the Renaissance period.

In the classical period, paintings were in vases, on panels, and on walls and tombs.

Greek artists had still life, figurative scenes, and portraits as the main subjects of their art.

Tomb Painting in the Classical Period - Ancient Greek art

Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic Period represents the decline of the Greek civilization.

After the war against the Persians, Athens experienced a period of supremacy, developing greatly in economic and cultural matters.

Athens' growth bothered Sparta, so the two cities started a war. The Peloponnesian War , as it became known, lasted from 431 BC to 404 BC.

The Spartans defeated the Athenians and became the great city in Greece. But their rule did not please everyone either, and the city of Thebes declared war on Sparta in 371 BC and defeated them.

This succession of wars significantly weakened the entire Greek territory and left them susceptible to invasions from other peoples.

In 338 BC, Philip of Macedon conquered Greek territory, and two years later, his son Alexander became king and expanded his empire.

After Alexander's death, the Macedonian empire began to decline, and the Romans – centuries later – conquered his empire and Greece.

Reading Tip: Storytelling: How To Tell The Right Story

Hellenistic Greek Art

With the Macedonian conquest of Greece, the two cultures merged and incorporated.

This new moment in Greek culture and art changed the form of artistic expression that existed in Greece, especially with regard to architecture .

With the division of the Greek territory, each part under a different domain, the architecture started to have a cultural mix.

In general, the characteristics of Hellenism in architecture include more extravagant forms inspired by the Ionic and Corinthian Orders.

Architecture of the Hellenistic Period

Greek sculptures of the Hellenistic period followed what had been developed in the classical period.

Naturalism remained the subject of Greek art, but artists began to portray human emotions with more attention.

paragraph on greek art

Like sculpture, painting developed significantly during the Hellenistic period of Greek art. Even its techniques and characteristics were taught in several schools in the territory.

During this period, the subjects started to portray animals, still life, and landscapes instead of mythology and gods.

One of the greatest contributions of Greek artists was in portrait painting. The portraits were so realistic that they were used on funeral cloth, covering the faces of mummified bodies.

Portrait painting from the Hellenistic Period

The influence of Greek art over the centuries

Even before the invasion and conquest of Greek territory by Rome, many Greek artists were working in Italy for good pay.

So after the Roman domination, Greek culture and art spread even more throughout the empire.

Over time, artists migrated to other regions and spread Greek art to other locations.

Despite the end of the Greek empire, its culture and art influenced other movements many centuries later, such as Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and modern art.

Consequently, Greek art played a fundamental role in influencing the various artistic movements that came after. We can't deny that the history of Greek art is full of inspirations, whether for all the melting pot of cultures that occurred during the 5 periods or for the dissemination through migratory artists.

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  • A arte grega e seus diferentes períodos

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“Western civilization has carefully constructed itself in the image of the Greek and Roman Worlds” (Hall, 2007, p. 103). Greek art has incorporated itself even in this generation. We see examples of Greek art in the design of libraries, government buildings, banks and college campuses. (Hall, 2007). It’s more than just classical statues and buildings; it uses art to talk about issues such as the difference in men vs. women, and even culture vs. religion. Throughout the years, it has evolved to fit the period. "Mirrored in light and darkness, in man and woman.  In their art as their literature, the ancient Greeks addressed the tension between these polar opposites" (Hall, 2007, p. 103). 

Greek art is the backbone of the modern day era. For obvious reasons group two chose to focus on Greek art. We concentrated on the 800 to 100 BCE era and focused mainly on the depictions of the human body sculpted in marble or bronze. As a group, we explored themes based on movement, realism, and baroque elements. To do this efficiently, we used our book as well as Google Art to select different pieces that supported our theme.

       The depictions of the human body are incorporated into all the elements described above. First, we reflected on the movement of the body, which is described by Lucy Lamp in a truly beautiful way: "Art exists in time as well as space. Time implies change and movement; movement implies the passage of time. Movement and time, whether actual or an illusion, are crucial elements in art although we may not be aware of it.” Her depiction of art movement is engaging and true. Many Greek sculptures that we focused on involved movement such as, Zeus, sculpted in 460 BCE. Through all the art our group has chosen you can clearly define the movement in the piece.

            “Realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or contemporary life" (Realism, 2016). Greek art is excellent at portraying realism in its work. Many, if not all, of our pieces depict realism. Although realism is not always easy to describe in the works of art, if the viewer studies it long enough and hard enough they can find it. Realism is an important aspect of art; it brings the sculpture, painting, or drawing to life right before the viewer.

            Lastly, we focused on baroque, which is defined by Hall as, “To describe extreme emotions, extravagant gestures, and theatrical locations. . .” (2007, p. 159).  Baroque is the most interesting aspect of viewing art. One of the best examples of baroque is Nike of Samothrace, which is a marble sculpture from 190 BCE. This represents baroque by the dramatic pose of the Nike landing on the ship despite the great winds rushing against her, which are evident by the swirling drapery. "Its swirling motion suggests the head-wind she struggles against, which, in turn, balances the rushing forward thrust of her arrival. The drapery creates the environment around the figure” (Hall, 2007, p. 159). Baroque is an interesting element that is even more greatly expanded upon in this era.

            Overall our group chose Greek art for its extraordinary work as well as its history. By choosing to focus on the mediums bronze and marble, we witnessed the amount of thinking and logic it took to make such a classical sculpture without it falling apart. Furthermore, we focused on the 800 to 100 BCE era allowing us to dive deeper into the history of that time, which gave us a better understanding of the art. Lastly, the use of movement, realism and baroque described the purpose of the human anatomy in relation to one, if not all of the elements above.

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Greek Art by Ioannis Mylonopoulos LAST REVIEWED: 12 May 2023 LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0088

Greek art is all about images: images of gods, images of heroes, and images of humans. The self-awareness of the Greeks is reflected in the ways they decided to visualize themselves and the world, both real and imaginary, surrounding them. For a long period of time, the study of Greek art followed the interpretive path of Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who understood Greek artistic expression in an almost biological way: just like a living organism, Greek art had its early formative period, a time of vigor, and a final moment of decay. Strongly influenced by the Renaissance concept of artistic genius, generations of scholars devoted themselves to the recognition and analysis of the styles of artists known mainly through literary sources, following the methods founded by Adolf Furtwängler and John D. Beazley. Nowadays, although stylistic analysis remains a conditio sine qua non for the understanding of Greek art, scholars have moved toward a more contextual appreciation of art as a historical and cultural phenomenon firmly rooted in its own social, political, and intellectual frame. Statues, reliefs, and vases are no longer considered mere objects of art, an aesthetic delight in a museum showcase, but evidence for the ways a culture visualized and artistically reinvented abstract philosophical ideas, political concepts, religious beliefs, or social constructs. One should always take into consideration, however, that there is nothing like the all-encompassing Greek art, but rather many different artistic expressions in the many separate political and geographical entities of the Greek Mediterranean world.

There are a great many introductions to Greek art that present a vast amount of material in a comprehensive way. However, one should keep in mind that oversimplification is an inherent feature of every introductory book. In most cases, scholars and students are dealing either with very general introductions to Greek art that tend to begin with the Geometric period—or in rare cases with the arts of the Bronze Age (e.g., Pedley 2007 )—or with introductions to the art of specific periods ( Betancourt 2007 , Burn 2004 , Coldstream 2003 ). Strangely enough, the practical aspects of artistic production are rarely discussed (but see Ling 2000 ). The still unwritten introduction to the economics of Greek art would be an invaluable addition to our knowledge and appreciation of artistic expression in the Greek world. For practical reasons, the majority of introductory studies concentrate on Athenian art, and there are almost no general introductions with a strong comparative approach, although Coldstream 2003 does this for the Geometric period.

Betancourt, Philip P. 2007. Introduction to Aegean art . Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press.

A chronological and geographical survey of art and architecture of the Minoan, Mycenaean, and Cycladic cultures, intended for students and the general public, so that complex and problematic issues such as the scholarly dispute on the high or low chronology are only superficially mentioned. The approach is strictly “art historical,” with no attempt to embed Bronze Age art into anthropologically reconstructed social systems. The book complements rather than replaces Sinclair Hood’s The arts in prehistoric Greece (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978), which is structured according to categories of artistic expression and not chronologically or geographically.

Burn, Lucilla. 2004. Hellenistic art: From Alexander the Great to Augustus . London: British Museum Press.

A concise, up-to-date introduction to the art of the Hellenistic Age. The book does not follow the usual pattern of a thematic structure based on strict categories of artistic expression; instead, art is presented within specific topographical contexts such as city, sanctuary, house, or tomb. The important issues of workshops, art collections, and the interaction between artist and clientele are addressed in a separate chapter. An excellent supplement to the more thematically arranged Pollitt 1986 .

Coldstream, John N. 2003. Geometric Greece: 900–700 BC. 2d ed. London: Routledge.

The main part is unchanged from the 1st edition (London: Benn, 1977), with additions only at the end. The approach is clearly art historical, not anthropological. The structure of the book is geographical (Macedonia is the big absentee). In every chapter, pottery, architecture, and minor arts, as well as burial customs of a specific region, are briefly discussed. More general chapters are dedicated to settlements, sanctuaries, visual and literary traditions, and possible Eastern influences.

Furtwängler, Adolf. 1964. Masterpieces of Greek sculpture: a series of essays on the history of art . Edited by Al N. Oikonomides. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers.

Available online in both English and German ( Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik. Kunstgeschichtliche Untersuchungen . Leipzig: Giesecke & Devrient, 1893).

Langdon, Susan. 2008. Art and identity in Dark Age Greece, 1100–700 B.C.E. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

A long overdue analysis of the Geometric figurative art as a reflection of and, more importantly, as a powerful means for constructing age, gender, and social identity via images. It offers the best contextual iconological appreciation of Geometric art. This is definitely not an introduction to Geometric art and culture in the sense Coldstream 2003 is, but these two studies combined are the best way to enter the world of Geometric art.

Ling, Roger, ed. 2000. Making Classical art: Process and practice . Stroud, UK: Tempus.

The first part is dedicated to the production processes of Greek and Roman art. Practical aspects associated with working practices, techniques, materials, and tools are discussed in brief papers on stone and bronze sculpture, wall painting, mosaics, and Greek painted pottery. The second part is an introduction to various categories of artistic expression, such as colossal statues, the Parthenon, Greek funerary monuments, and Macedonian tomb painting.

Pedley, John Griffiths. 2007. Greek art and archaeology . 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Indispensable for anyone teaching a survey course on Greek art and architecture. The structure is strictly based on chronology, so that sometimes an almost evolutionist pattern arises. Refreshingly, the artistic production of Bronze Age Greece is also explored, so that the reader is presented with a more holistic approach to the term “Greek.” Illustrations are numerous and of excellent quality.

Pollitt, Jerome J. 1972. Art and experience in Classical Greece . New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Perhaps the most influential general book on Greek art of the Classical period. The fascinating transitions from Archaic to Classical and from Classical to Hellenistic art are also insightfully discussed. Based on formal and stylistic analyses of the monuments explored, the book embeds art in a broader cultural context. Classical literature is often referred to as a means for understanding art. The study attempts, however, to understand the reasons why rather than the ways in which art and literature are interrelated.

Pollitt, Jerome J. 1986. Art in the Hellenistic Age . Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

An invaluable, helpful survey of material that is extremely complicated in terms of both chronology and stylistic analysis. The book deals mainly with sculpture, architecture, painting, and mosaics. In a geographically defined chapter, the art of Alexandria is briefly discussed. The anachronistic use of the terms baroque and rococo as descriptive characterizations of specific parts of the Hellenistic sculptural tradition appears problematic but does not lessen the high quality of the text.

Stewart, Andrew. 2008. Classical Greece and the birth of Western art . New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Conceived as a successor to Pollitt 1972 , this is the most recent and perhaps one of the best introductions to Classical Greek art readily available. Although roughly chronologically structured, the book does not offer a decontextualized analysis of the various artistic expressions. On the contrary, the art of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE is firmly placed in social, political, and cultural context. Art is conceptualized and presented not as a series of “important” museum objects but as an integral part of the ancient Greek Lebenswelt .

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How has Greek art theory influenced art?

Here we look at how the influences on Ancient Greek art, including the importance, and what is meant by, the Goldern Ratio.

Art developed so much during the Ancient Greek Period that it became the driving influence on art for the following centuries. 

What influenced Ancient Greek art?

Ancient Greek art was influenced by the philosophy of the time and that shaped the way they produced art forms. The difficulty in understanding Ancient Greek art is that the philosophers held a theoretical view of colour and art while the artists were more pragmatic in their production of art. This might be because the Ancient Greeks did not have a concept of art. They used the word techne , which translates as ‘skill’, to describe painting or any skilful act. Artists and architects were artisans.

Here in the word techne we see the embryo of what was to become technology. So, for the Ancient Greeks, art and technology were closely entwined, and it could be argued that this was influenced by the theories of Plato and Aristotle.

Did Plato and Aristotle agree in their views?

Plato’s (c429-347 BCE) view of the world was as something always changing − a poor, decaying copy of a perfect, rational, eternal, and changeless original. So the beauty of a flower or a sunset is an imperfect copy of ‘beauty’ and just a pointer to perfection.

In book The Republic , Plato says art imitates the objects and events of ordinary life. It is a copy of a copy of perfection, and so even more of an illusion than ordinary experience. Works of art are at best entertainment, and at worst a dangerous delusion. Art is imitation, which was known as mimesis (the representation of nature). We can conclude that Plato didn’t take the notion of ‘art being created by divine inspiration’ very seriously.

Aristotle (384-322 BCE) on the other hand, saw an ‘art’ form as a way of representing the inner significance of something, the ‘essence’. To Aristotle art offers unity and the form should be complete in itself. He sums this up in his theory of mimesis; the perfection and imitation of nature. So, now art as imitation involves the use of mathematical ideas such as symmetry, proportion and perspective in the search for the perfect, the timeless and contrasting object.

Hence the Greek concept of beauty was based on a pleasing balance and proportion of form. The Ancient Greeks were innovators in the field of art and developed many new styles and techniques to achieve that perfectness of balance and proportion and that concept has influenced countless artists ever since. It can be argued that art up to the Greeks had been abstract and formal, while from the Greeks onwards it was based upon realism.

The idea of imitation to create realism through the capture of the essence of a form was still very strong in the Renaissance, when Vasari, in his Lives of the Painters , said that:

“… painting is just the imitation of all the living things of nature with their colours and designs just as they are in nature.”

Beauty and utility

The ancient Greeks were obsessed with aesthetics (from the Greek aisthetikos, meaning ‘of sense perception’). Aesthetics is the study of beauty and the Ancient Greeks held beauty above all. To Plato it was an ideal.

Despite the differences in Plato’s and Aristotle’s views of art they did agree that art objects should try to be beautiful and useful. For Plato beauty was summed up in an object’s suitability and utility for purpose. It is from these times that beauty is linked to function.

Aristotle wrote about the idea of four causes. The first formal cause is like a blueprint for the idea. The second cause is the material; what a thing is made out of. The third cause is the process by which the artist makes the thing. The fourth cause is the purpose of a thing, known as telos .

Aristotle considered it important that there be a certain distance between the work of art on the one hand and life on the other. Functionality in these terms leaves us with a dilemma.

Can’t an object be beautiful without being useful?

It is possible to see the problem since the skills of the artist, the craftsman, and the technologist involve changes. A sculptor changes a block of marble into a statue, the artist changes pigments into a coloured picture, and the craftsman uses tools and heat to change a block of metal into a tool. But really two of these examples would be described as art and the other as technology.

It appears that art and technology have diverged completely. It could be rationalised as artists aspiring to give permanence to the present, by creating works that will endure for all time, and technicians aiming to use skills to press on into the future, to new discoveries which will change with time. So, technology is about permanent change, improvement and moving society on to a new age; progress.

Imitation or self-expression?

The concept of realism and beauty could still be the most commonly held theory for art amongst the majority of people today. But is that too simplistic?

John Ruskin writing about art (1819-1900) stated:

“Art does not represent things falsely, but truly as they appear to mankind.”

Yet not long after, Pablo Picasso (1881- 1873), when asked whether he painted what he saw, replied:

“I paint what I know is there.”

Painting what one sees is a description of art as imitation, but Picasso’s is clouding the issue of imitation alluding to artistic creation as something entirely within the artist. So now the goal of the artist is self-expression, not necessarily imitation of any feature. Inspiration and the subject matter can derive from within the mind of the artist, or they could be trying to distil the essence of what is seen, creating an abstraction of its qualities.

Arguably this view of art as an expression started with the impressionists in France, and their attempts to capture art through light. The artist is not just painting a representation, but giving a personal impression of what is seen. A painting or a piece of sculpture no longer has to refer to something familiar. It can consist of abstract lines, shapes and colours expressing the inner thoughts, imagination or emotions of the artist, or pure abstraction itself.

There is still a whisper of the Greek ideal since harmony is found in symmetry. An image which is perfectly balanced is appealing, and the perception of colour as contrasts can be beautiful in its balance.

Another dilemma - What is colour?

Aristotle believed light is something transmitted from an object to the eye, so the colour of the object is an intrinsic property, like its weight or taste.

Aristotle reasoned that in a rainbow each droplet of water acts like a tiny mirror. They reflect light and such mirrors change white light into coloured light. This lead to the idea that colour in a rainbow is not the same as normal colour. Aristotle knew about prisms and the way light is refracted into its colours but he again believed the glass was modifying the light.

Isaac Newton, in the 17th century, also showed that white light was split into the spectrum of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. When he used a lens to re-focus the spectrum the result was white light, showing that light is made up of different wavelengths and is not modified by passing through a prism.

The Greeks also held a view that colour was related to light and dark, so yellow would be related to light, and blue to dark. They also spent time trying to link pigment colours to the four Aristotelian elements, which lead to the notion that mixed colours are inferior to the pure colours. This could be seen as the origin of primary and secondary colours, since mixing colours changes the tone and hue and sometimes moves towards a brown or dark colour.

In today’s world we refer to two types of primary colours. The first concerns the colours of projected light known as additive primary colours, which are red, green and blue. In the world of painting the primaries are reflected light, known as subtractive primaries, and are cyan, magenta and yellow, though an artist will refer to them as blue-green, violet-red and yellow.

In Ancient Greece, mimesis was the idea that influenced the creation of art as a model for beauty. 

Examples of where the theories of Greek art have been used

The second half of the 5th century BCE, the Golden Age of Greece was the period of the most beautiful art and architecture. To look at the way this symbolises the Greek ideas of art we must consider the part geometry plays in the story. Geometry was entering a series of great developments one of which was the Golden Mean or Ratio.

Phidias and other architects knew, and used, the principles of geometry and optics. Their mantra was: ‘Success in art is achieved by meticulous accuracy in a multitude of mathematical proportions’.

Their buildings symbolised perfection through the beauty of calculated geometric harmony. In the city of Athens geometry took another form. Philosophers were lecturing on mathematics, geography and rhetoric. Their method was called dialectics, and had been borrowed from the geometers in the design of deductive reasoning and proofs.

Pythagoras (560-480 BCE), the Greek geometer, had founded a school of philosophy in Athens where mathematics was studied and taught. Pythagoras was especially interested the proportions of the human figure and had shown, in the Golden ratio, that it was the basis for the proportions of the human figure. Pythagoras’ discovery had a huge effect on Greek art. In architecture every part of a major building was constructed upon this proportion and the Parthenon was perhaps the best example of a mathematical approach to art.

It is true the Parthenon (447-438 BCE) had been designed by Ictinus (c450-420 BCE) and Callicrates (5th century BCE) according to mathematical principles but there is no evidence of the use of the golden ratio. Its surrounding pillars were an example of applied ‘number’: an even 8 pillars in the front, as Pythagoras advised, so that no central column would block the view, then where it was alright to have an odd number, 17 pillars were built on each side.

Some people have gone further and claimed the Parthenon was built according to the principles of the Golden Ratio. However as stated, there is no strong evidence to support this. Analysis has shown that parts do follow the principles, but there are many who have demonstrated that when a beautiful piece of art is analysed the proportions will all follow the Golden Ratio. The question is: Is that by design or just the eye of inspiration?

It was not until 300 BCE that knowledge of the Golden Ratio was published and this was in an historical record by Euclid called ’ Elements’ . So, maybe it was the influence of Pythagoras on mathematicians at the time that promotes this idea. In his record Euclid had shown that in the Golden Ratio (known as phi Φ) the longer part of a line divided by the smaller part of the same line is equal to the whole length divided by the longer part. This ratio (phi Φ) is 1.6180339887. See the diagram below:

paragraph on greek art

If the Golden Ratio was applied by an artist it produced a balance and harmony in the object. Whether or not the ratio was applied in the construction of the Parthenon, to the Greeks it was considered the most pleasing building to the eye.

The Greek sculptor Phidias sculptured many things using the Golden Ratio. Many artists who lived after Phidias, such as Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519), used the ratio in the execution of their work. Indeed the Mona Lisa has been shown to conform to the Golden Ratio.


Another important development in art is that of perspective; the illusion of three dimensions (3D) from a two-dimensional (2D) picture. In it the artist must use tricks to fool the observer’s sight into perceiving the object in 3D.

As part of the Ancient Greek theatre the Greeks had experimented with perspective from the 5th century. To give the scenery depth they created illusions using skenographia in which depth of colour and foreshortening created the sense of depth. However, in terms of linear geometry the Ancient Greeks did not have a clear idea of perspective. The philosophers Anaxagoras (c500-428 BCE) and Democritus (c460-370 BCE) worked out some simple geometric theories of perspective for use with skenographia on the stage, but in art it was not so widespread other than in the use of colour, tone and hue.

To conclude, Ancient Greek art was influenced by the philosophy of the day and there are arguments to support the proposal that to the Greeks, good art was about imitation, with balance, proportion and harmony in colour and structure, to create beauty.

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