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Greek Art: Perfection of Form!

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Art history always develops along with social, political and economic of a people. It is not an exception art of ancient Greece that with its frantic search of formal perfection as well as balance and harmony, has influenced many population all over the world. Greek art departs and stands out  from previous art forms for a special attention about realism and study of human anatomy,especially in sculpture. In painting the focus was placed more to depiction of volumes and to the space as well as a strict study on perspective while in the architecture  study is focused on relatioship between form and function. When we talk about greek art we need to remember necessarily that this kind of art includes all population of Hellenic language therefore not only the Hellinic penisula but all the colonies founded in Asia Minor,on the Black Sea, on southern and insular Italy not to mention the aegean and ionian island. Greek art influenced even most of the territories conquered by Alexander the Great as for istance Egypt, Anatolia and Phoenicia.  However its influence there was not only to the East but also to the West especially in the age of the Roman Empire so much that roman art is considered a continuation of greek one. Greek art with its perfect harmony of form and plasticity of volumes has inspired several artists mostly in the italian Renaissance period, where artists like Michelangelo, were cleary inspired by aesthetic canons created by ancient greek artists. Greek art indeed reach the highest level of formal  perfection,thus laying the foundation of european classicism which would dominate western art for several centuries.


Studies by the German archaeologist Winchelmann led to the conventional division of greek art in four periods which we can resume in archaic, severe,classical and hellenistic. Archaic period between VII and VI centuries b.C. is remembered generally as a period of experimentations and strong oriental influences in which were created first forms of sculpture called daedalic that will be the beginning of greek statuary.Right in such period was sculped the  first statue life-size called Kore of Nikandre(650 b.C.) the material of which was marble and the artist was unknow. In this archaic period statues are always very static and geometric as well as very restained in the expression of emotions. The most used material were ivory,ebony and cedar which were  imported materials from the Orient and they were used to model votive statues of medium-sized.  On the other hand in the ancient polis of Corinth prevailed ceramic art and  it started even an importat relationship between sculpture and architecture so much that it laid the foundations to the canon of the Doric temple,the most ancient of the greek architectural orders.   


Severe period or style is considered a transitional period between archaic and classicism. In severe style we can notice a greater focus to realism of human figures as weel as a search for anatomical detail; it is sought even a spatial relationship more harmonic between one sculpture and another that leads to a perfect balance between realism and idealization of figures; such research will provide the basis toward a decise evolution of architectural sculpture which had the task to decorate pediments that used to adorn temples. In the severe period the vast majority of statues were made of bronze with the ancient lost wax technique thanks to the help of models in clay and terracotta while in painting prevail decorations of ceramic vases along with an important evolution of famous black figures and likewise well-know red figures. Essentially two artworks mark the passage between archaic style and the severe one namely Blond Kouros’s Head of the Acropolis and The Euthydikos Kore.Among statues survived the most famous and representative of severe period is Discobolus by Myron even though the original one in bronze was lost while the Roman copy(made of marble) most succesful is probably Discobolus Palombara or Lancellotti.


With end of severe style around 450 b.C. begins classic period which end up in 323 b.C. with death of Alexander the Great. The term”classical”would mean the achievement of an unbeatable formal perfection which was considered as an ideal timeless art. The term “classical”was used in modern times to denote  rational artworks with harmonic forms which can be used as a model. In such period indeed there is a remarkable improvement of anatomical knowledge of human body that allows to the sculptors to achieve an incomparable mastery,it is reached an apex of absolute perfection. Mostly two innovative and genial personalities contribute to the achivement of such perfection,namely Phidia e Policleto. This last one set out to study even the proportions of the human body in a mathematical way so as to create a  canon of harmonious and ideal proportions which takes the name of “Canon of  Polykleitos” which has been lost but that we know thanks to quotations made by Roman historians. His two masterpieces that have come down to us thanks to Roman copies are Doryphoros and Diadumenos which were bronze statues. The other great genious of classic period was Phidia who created several statues among which statue of Zeus in Olympia and the colossal Athena on the acropolis of Athens and he was even responsible to supervise the works to decotation of Parthenon. He was a great innovator since he always sought new compositions and his works are characterized for the amazing “wet effect”of the drapery. We can’t avoid mentioning other great artists of classical period as Praxiteles,Skopas and Lysippos which became the official court sculptor of Alexander the Great. Even Lysippos was considered by his contemporaries an innovator since he reduced the size of head and he sculpted the body more streamlined so that statues seemed higher. The most common themes of classic art are centered on myth indeed in such period teem with rapresentations of divinities,heroes demogods,nymphs, giants and monsters to defeat.

statua greca
Doryphoros of Polykleitos



The last phase of greek art is called hellenistic and it start conventionally from death of Alexander the Great to Roman conquest of Egypt. The first difference that we notice between classical art and hellenistic one is that hellenistic sculptures become more natural and therefore less idealized and perfect indeed were carved even common people and scenes of everyday life. Among the most famous works of such period we need to remember Nike of Samothrace, Venus of Milo,Dying Gaul and the Laoconte group. By observing these works are deduced clearly the differences between perfect and austere classical art and more emotional and drammatic hellenistic one which is enriched even of greatest motion. In this period started with constancy the creations of portraits which at first depicted sovereigns and illustrious people then became popular even to common people but surely wealthy.

In the ancient Greece a point of meeting between art and religion was surely architecture which played a very important role in pubblic and daily life of citizens. Three famous greek architectural orders namely doric, ionic and corinthian were codified in the archaic period even though their origin is quite controversial and still open to various guesses. In the classic age the most important building is ,of course, Parthenon dedicated to goddess Athena; it is the biggest doric temple best preserved and symbol of Athens and the whole Greece. Its proportions are just perfect and despite it have been built with doric order for its size is close to ionic order. The hellenistic period is very important since greek architecture spreads beyond greek borders and colonies thanks to the work of unification  of the immense empire of Alexander the Great.


In the ancient Greece the manual trades as sculpting and painting were considered as simple handicraft so much that painters and sculptors didn’t have social status of “artist” but just a simple artisan which learned the craft in the workshop  and very often they were a slaves of rich guys. After 32o b.C. just with hellenistic age, manual labor, as sculpting and painting, managed to have the same social dimension of poets and playwrights. Right in such period potters started to sign their artworks and the pictorial art and the sculptural one finally were associeted with to cultured people so that arose the first private collections as well as a real art market. Actually greek art did not end with the conquest of Greece by Roman empire but in fact it influenced both art and many others aspects of roman society. Even several artists of Italian Renaissance took inspiration to that absolute harmony and perfection of ideal form shaped by greek artists which managed to create and spread a classic art ,immortal and timeless!

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