The Acropolis at Athens / Encyclopedia Britannica, Creative Commons
Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
1 – Introduction to Ancient Greece
1.1 – Overview
1.1.1 – Ancient Greek Culture
Ancient Greek culture covers over a thousand years of history, from the earliest civilizations in the area to the cultures that became the Ancient Greeks. Following a Greek Dark Age, Greece once more flourished and developed into the ancient culture that we recognize today .
Classical Greece: Map of Ancient Greece.
1.1.2 – Bronze Age and Proto-Greek Civilizations
184.108.40.206 – Cycladic Civilization
During the Bronze Age, several distinct cultures developed around the Aegean. The Cycladic civilization, around the Cyclades Islands, thrived from 3,000 to 2,000 BCE. Little is known about the Cycladic civilization because they left no written records. Their material culture is mainly excavated from grave sites, which reveal that the people produced unique, geometric marble figures.
220.127.116.11 – Minoan Civilization
The Minoan civilization stretches from 3700 BCE until 1200 BCE, and thrived during their Neopalatial period (from 1700 to 1400 BCE), with the large-scale building of communal palaces. Numerous archives have been discovered at Minoan sites; however their language, Linear A , has yet to be deciphered. The culture was centered on trade and production, and the Minoans were great seafarers on the Mediterranean Sea.
18.104.22.168 – Mycenaean Civilization
A proto-Greek culture known as the Mycenaeans developed and flourished on the mainland, eventually conquering the Aegean Islands and Crete, where the Minoan civilization was centered. The Mycenaeans developed a fractious, war-like culture that was centered on the authority of a single ruler. Their culture eventually collapsed, but many of their citadel sites were occupied through the Greek Dark Age and rebuilt into Greek city-states.
22.214.171.124 – The Dark Age
From around 1200 BCE, the palace centers and outlying settlements of the Mycenaeans’ culture began to be abandoned or destroyed. By 1050 BCE, the recognizable features of Mycenaean culture had disappeared.
Many explanations attribute the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and the collapse of the Bronze Age to climatic or environmental catastrophe, combined with an invasion by the Dorians or by the Sea Peoples, or to the widespread availability of edged weapons of iron, but no single explanation fits the available archaeological evidence.
This two- to three-century span of history is also known as the Homeric Age. It is believed that the Homeric epics The Iliad and The Odyssey were first recited around this time.
126.96.36.199 – The Geometric and Orientalizing Periods
The Geometric period (c. 900–700 BCE), which derives its name from the proliferation of geometric designs and rendering of figures in art, witnessed the emergence of a new culture on the Greek mainland. The culture’s change in language, its adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet, and its new funerary practices and material culture suggest the ethnic population changed from the mainland’s previous inhabitants, the Mycenaeans.
During this time, the new culture was centered on the people and independent poleis, which divided the land into regional populations. This period witnessed a growth in population and the revival of trade.
The Orientalizing period (c. 700–600 BCE) is named for the cultural exchanges the Greeks had with Eastern, or Oriental civilizations. During this time, international trade began to flourish. Art from this period reflects contact with locations such as Egypt, Syria, Assyria, Phoenicia, and Israel.
188.8.131.52 – Archaic Greece
Greece’s Archaic period lasted from 600 to 480 BCE, in which the Greek culture expanded. The population in Greece began to rise and the Greeks began to colonize along the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The poleis at this time were typically ruled by a single ruler who commanded the city by force.
For the city of Athens, this led to the creation of democracy. Several city-states emerged as major powers, including Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. These poleis were often warring with each other, and formed coalitions to gain power and allies. The Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BCE marked the end of the Archaic period.
184.108.40.206 – Classical Greece
The era of Classical Greece began in 480 BCE with the sacking of Athens by the Persians. The Persian invasion of Greece, first lead by Darius I and then by his son Xerxes, united Greece against a common enemy.
With the defeat of the Persian threat, Athens became the most powerful polis until the start of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE. These wars continued on and off until 400 BCE. While marred by war, the Classical period saw the height of Greek culture and the creation of some of Greece’s most famous art and architecture.
However, peace and stability in Greece was not achieved until it was conquered and united by Macedonia under the leadership of Philip II and Alexander the Great in the mid-third century BCE.
220.127.116.11 – Hellenistic Greece
The Hellenistic period began with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, and ended with the Roman victory at the Battle of Actium in 30 BCE. Greece poleis spent this time under the hegemony of foreign rulers, first the Macedons and then the Romans, starting in 146 BCE.
New centers of Hellenic culture flourished through Greece and on foreign soil, including the cities of Pergamon, Antioch, and Alexandria—the capitals of the Attalids, Seleucids, and Ptolemies.
1.2 – The Ancient Greek Gods and Their Temples
1.2.1 – Introduction
Greek religion played a central and daily role in the life of ancient Greeks, and group worship was centered on the temple and cult sites.
The principal religious sanctuaries of the Greek Aegean: This map lists the major Greek gods and shows where their principal religious sanctuaries are located throughout the Greek Aegean region.
Greek religious traditions encompassed a large pantheon of gods, complex mythologies, rituals, and cult practices. Greece was a polytheistic society, and looked to its gods and mythology to explain natural mysteries as well as current events. Religious festivals and ceremonies were held throughout the year, and animal sacrifice and votive offerings were popular ways to appease and worship the gods. Religious life, rituals, and practices were one of the unifying aspects of Greece across regions and poleis (cities, or city-states , such as Athens and Sparta).
1.2.2 – Greek Gods
Greek gods were immortal beings who possessed human-like qualities and were represented as completely human in visual art. They were moral and immoral, petty and just, and often vain. The gods were invoked to intervene and assist in matters large, small, private and public.
City-states claimed individual gods and goddess as their patrons . Temples and sanctuaries to the gods were built in every city. Many cities became cult sites due to their connection with a god or goddess and specific myths. For instance, the city of Delphi was known for its oracle and sanctuary of Apollo, because Apollo was believed to have killed a dragon that inhabited Delphi.
The history of the Greek pantheon begins with the primordial deities Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky), who were the parents of the first of twelve giants known as Titans. Among these Titans were six males and six females.
- The males were named Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Crius, Iapetus, and Kronos.
- The females were named Themis, Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, and Rhea.
Kronos eventually overthrew Uranus and ruled during a mythological Golden Age. Over time, he and Rhea had twelve children who would become the Olympian gods. However, Kronos heard a prophecy that his son would overthrow him, as he did to Uranus. In an effort to avert fate, he ordered Rhea to allow him to devour each of the children upon their birth.
1.2.3 – The Olympian Gods
Themis: One of the first 12 Titans, Themis was the personification of divine law, as opposed to human ordinance.
Best known among the pantheon are the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses who resided on Mt. Olympus in northern Greece. Zeus, the youngest son of Rhea and Kronos, was hidden from his father, instead of being swallowed. Once he became a man, he challenged his father’s rule, forcing Kronos to regurgitate the rest of his swallowed children. These children were Zeus’s siblings, and together they overthrew Kronos, making Zeus the father of gods and men.
Violence and power struggles were common in Greek mythology, and the Greeks used their mythologies to explain their lives around them, from the change in seasons to why the Persians were able to sack Athens.
Hermes and the Infant Dionysos by Praxiteles: Here, Hermes cares for the now motherless Dionysos. Originally, Hermes held a bunch of grapes, with which he teased the infant god of wine. c. 4th century BCE.
The traditional pantheon of Greek gods includes
- Zeus, the king of gods and the ruler of the sky,
- Zeus’ two brothers, Poseidon (who ruled over the sea) and Hades (who ruled the underworld).
- Zeus’s sister and wife, Hera, the goddess of marriage, who is frequently jealous and vindictive of Zeus’s other lovers.
- Their sisters Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, and Demeter, the goddess of grain and culture .
- Zeus’s children:
- Athena (goddess of warfare and wisdom).
- Hermes (a messenger god and god of commerce).
- the twins Apollo (god of the sun, music, and prophecy) and Artemis (goddess of the hunt and of wild animals).
- Dionysos (god of wine and theatre).
- Aphrodite (goddess of beauty and love), who was married to Hephaestus (deformed god of the forge).
- Ares (god of war and lover of Aphrodite) are also part of the traditional pantheon.
- Hephaestus was in some mythologies the son of Zeus while in others the fatherless son of Hera.
1.2.4 – Heroes
Heroes, who were often demigods , were also important characters in Greek mythology. The two most important heroes are Perseus and Hercules.
1.2.5 – Perseus
Perseus is known for defeating the Gorgon, Medusa. He slew her with help from the gods: Athena gave him armor and a reflective shield, and Hermes provided Perseus with winged sandals so he could fly.
1.2.6 – Hercules
Hercules and Cerberus : Hercules bringing Cerberus back to King Eurystheus. Black figure hydra. c. 525 BCE.
Hercules was a strong but unkind man, a drunkard who conducted huge misdeeds and social faux pas. Hercules was sent on twelve labors to atone for his sins as punishment for his misdeeds. These deeds, and several other stories, were often depicted in art, on ceramic pots, or on temple metopes . The most famous of his deeds include slaying both the Nemean Lion and the Hydra, capturing Cerberus (the dog of the underworld), and obtaining the apples of the Hesperides.
1.2.7 – Theseus
A third hero, Theseus, was an Athenian hero known for slaying King Minos’s Minotaur . Other major heros in Greek mythology include the warriors and participants of the Trojan War, such as Achilles, Ajax, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Paris, Hector, and Helen.
Hero cults were another popular form of Greek worship that involved the honoring of the dead, specifically the dead heroes of the Trojan War. The sites of hero worship were usually old Bronze Age sites or tombs that the ancient Greeks recognized as important or sacred, which they then connected to their own legends and stories.
1.2.8 – Sacred Spaces
Sacrificial scene: Scene of a sacrifice. Attic red-figure bell krater. Circa 430–420 BCE. Athens, Greece.
Greek worship was centered on the temple. The temple was considered the home of the god, and a cult statue of the god would be erected in the central room, or the naos. Temples generally followed the same basic rectangular plan, although a round temple, known as a tholos , were used at some sites in starting in the Classical period.
Temples were oriented east to face the rising sun. Patrons would leave offerings for the gods, such as small votives, large statues, libations or costly goods. Due to the wealth dedicated to the gods, the temples often became treasuries that held and preserved the wealth of the city. Greek temples would be extensively decorated, and their construction was a long and costly endeavor.
Rituals and animal sacrifices in honor of the god or goddess would take place outside, in front of the temple. Rituals often included a large number of people, and sacrifice was a messy business that was best done outdoors. The development and decoration of temples is a primary focus in the study of Greek art and culture.
2 – The Geometric Period
2.1 – Pottery in the Geometric Period
The Geometric period in Greek art is distinguished by a reliance on geometric shapes to create human and animal figures as well as abstract décor.
2.1.1 – Geometric Pottery
In the eleventh century BCE, the citadel centers of the Mycenaeans were abandoned and Greece fell into a period with little cultural or social progression. Signs of civilization including literacy, writing, and trade were lost and the population on mainland Greece plummeted.
During the Proto-Geometric period (1050–900 BCE), painting on ceramics began to re-emerge. These vessels were only decorated with abstract geometric shapes adopted from Mycenaean pottery. Ceramicists began using the fast wheel to create vessels, which allowed for new monumental heights.
Proto-Geometric amphora: Proto-Geometric amphora, c. 975–950 BCE.
In the Geometric period that followed, figures once more became present on the vessel. The period lasted from 900 to 700 BCE and marked the end of the Greek Dark Ages. A new Greek culture emerged during this time. The population grew, trade began once more, and the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet for writing.
Unlike the Mycenaeans, this culture was more focused on the people of the polis , which is reflected in the art of this period. The period gets its name from the reliance on geometric shapes and patterns in its art, and even their use in depicting both human and animal figures.
2.1.2 – Athens
[LEFT]: Geometric amphora: Geometric amphora, from the Dipylon Cemetery, Athens, Greece, c. 740 BCE.
[RIGHT]: Geometric krater: Geometric krater. From the Dipylon Cemetery, Athens, Greece, c. 740 BCE.
The city of Athens became the center for pottery production. A potter’s quarter in the section of the city known as the Kerameikos was located on either side of the Dipylon Gate, one of the city’s west gates. The potters lived and work inside the gate in the city, while outside the gate, along the road, was a large cemetery.
In the Geometric period, monumental-sized kraters and amphorae up to six feet tall were used as grave markers for the burials just outside the gate. Kraters marked male graves, while amphorae marked female graves.
The Dipylon Master, an unknown painter whose hand is recognized on many different vessels, displays the great expertise required for decorating these funerary markers. The vessels were first thrown a wheel, an important technological development at the time, before painting began. Both the Diplyon Krater and Dipylon Amphora demonstrate the main characteristics of painting during this time.
For one, the entire vessel is decorated in a style known as horror vacui, a style in which the entire surface of the medium is filled with imagery. A decorative meander is on the lip of the krater and on many registers of the amphora. This geometric motif is constructed from a single, continuous line in a repeated shape or motif.
The main scene is depicted on the widest part of the pot’s body. These scenes relate to the funerary aspect of the pot and may depict mourners, a prothesis (a ritual of laying the body out and mourning), or even funerary games and processions.
On the Dipylon Krater, two registers depict a processional scene, an ekphora, (the transportation of the body to the cemetery) and the prothesis. The dead man of the prothesis scene is seen on the upper register. He is laid out on a bier and mourners, distinguished by their hands tearing at their hair, surround the body. Above the body is a shroud, which the artist depicts above and not over the body in order to allow the viewer to see the entirety of the scene.
On the register below, chariots and soldiers form a funerary procession. The soldiers are identified by their uniquely shaped shields. The Dipylon Amphora depicts just a prothesis in a wide a register around the pot.
In both vessels, men and women are distinguished by protruding triangles on their chest or waist to represent breasts or a penis. Every empty space in these scenes is filled with geometric shapes—M’s, diamonds, starbursts—demonstrating the Geometric painter’s horror vacui.
2.2 – Sculpture in the Greek Geometric Period
2.2.1 – Introduction
Although derived from geometric shapes, the Ancient Greek sculptures of the Geometric period show some artistic observation of nature.
The ancient Greek sculptures of the Geometric period , although derived from geometric shapes, bear evidence of an artistic observation of nature in some circumstances. Small-scale sculptures, usually made of bronze, terra cotta, or ivory, were commonly produced during this time. Bronzes were made using the lost-wax technique, probably introduced from Syria, and were often left as votive offerings at sanctuaries such as Delphi and Olympia.
2.2.2 – Human Figures
Seated Male Figure: This is made of bronze and created around 750–700 BCE. Note how the statue’s elongated arms mirror the dimensions of his legs.
The human figures are made of a triangle as a torso that supports a bulbous head with a triangular chin and nose. Their arms are cylindrical, and only their legs have a slightly more naturalistic shape. These attributes can be seen in a small sculpture of a seated man drinking from a cup that displays the typical modeling figures as simple, linear forms that enclose open space . Especially noteworthy are his elongated arms that mirror the dimensions of his legs.
Man and Centaur (Heracles and Nessos) : This bronze statue was made around 750–730 BCE.
A relatively naturalistic rendering of human legs is also evident in Man and Centaur, also known as Heracles and Nessos (c. 750–730 BCE). Without the equine back and hind legs, the centaur portion of the sculpture is a shorter man with human legs.
Like the seated man above, the two figures feature elongated arms, with the right arm of the centaur forming one continuous line with the left arm of the man. While the seated man appears to be clean shaven, the figures in Man and Centaur wear beards, which usually symbolized maturity. The hollow eye sockets of the figure of the man probably once held inlay for a more realistic appearance.
2.2.3 – Animal Figures
Geometric Horse statuette: This bronze statue from Olympia, Greece, circa 700 BCE.
Animals, including bulls, deer, horses, and birds, were also based in geometry. Horse figurines were commonly used as offerings to the gods. The animals themselves became symbols of wealth and status due to the high cost of keeping them. Equine bodies may be described as rectangles pinched in the middle with rectangular legs and tail and are similar in shape to deer or bulls.
The heads of these mammals are more distinctive, as the horse’s neck arches , while the bull and deer have cylindrical faces distinguished by horns or ears. While the animals and people are based in basic geometric shapes, the artists clearly observed their subjects in order to highlight these distinguishing characters.
3 – The Orientalizing Period
3.1 – Vase Painting in the Orientalizing Period
During the Orientalizing period, Greek art evolved to feature a blend of Near Eastern and Egyptian stylistic conventions.
3.1.1 – Introduction
The Orientalizing Period followed the Geometric period and lasted for about a century, from 700 to 600 BCE. This period was distinguished by international influences—from the Ancient Near East, Egypt, and Asia Minor—each of which contributed a distinctive Eastern style to Greek art.
The close contact between cultures developed from increasing trade and even colonization. Motifs , creatures, and styles were borrowed from other cultures by the Greeks, who transformed them into a unique Greek–Eastern mix of style and motifs.
3.1.2 – Corinthian Pottery
Corinthian black figure jug: Corinthian black figure jug with animal frieze, circa 580 BCE.
During the Orientalizing period in Corinth human figures were rarely seen on vases. Animals such as lions, griffins, sphinxes , and sirens were depicted instead.
Palmettes and lotus blossoms were used instead of geometric patterns to fill empty space , although on some vessels negative space became more prominent. This oriental black figure style originated in the city of Corinth, spread to Athens, and was exported throughout Greece.
3.1.3 – Black Figure Painting
The Corinthians developed the technique of black figure painting during this period. Black figure pottery was carefully constructed and fired three different times to produce the unique red and black colors on each vase.
The black color came from a slip painted onto the vessel, after which incised lines were drawn on to outline and detail the figures. Additionally, red and white pigments could be added for more color or to differentiate details.
The unpainted portions of the vase would remain the original red-orange color of the pot. The full effect of this style of painting would not have been seen until after the vase emerged from its firings in the kiln . As the style spread, the subject matter changed from strictly Near Eastern animals to scenes from Greek mythology and everyday life.
3.1.4 – Proto-Attic Pottery
The Polyphemos Painter, The Blinding of Polyphemos, c. 600 BCE: This detail from a Proto-Attic amphora shows the outline and silhouette-based forms in which the human body was depicted at the time, as well as the orange clay available to Attic ceramicists.
Pottery produced during the Orientalizing period across the Isthmus of Corinth in Athens is known as Proto-Attic. In this region, floral and animal motifs are common, but the human figure appears in the work of the most prominent painters such as the Analatos Painter, the Mesogeia Painter, and the Polyphemos Painter.
The Proto-Attic style marked the first depictions of discernibly Greek religious and mythological themes in vase painting. The bodies of men and animals were depicted in silhouette, though their heads were drawn in outline. Women were drawn completely in outline. Proto-Attic vases are usually distinguished by their orange clay, which is available in the Athens area.
3.2 – Sculpture in the Greek Orientalizing Period
3.2.1 – Introduction
Sculpture produced during the Orientalizing period shares stylistic attributes with sculpture produced in Egypt and the Near East.
The Orientalizing Period lasted for about a century, from 700 to 600 BCE. This period was distinguished by international influences, from the Ancient Near East, Egypt, and Asia Minor, each of which contributed a distinctive Eastern style to Greek art. The close contact between cultures developed from increasing trade and even colonization.
Styles were borrowed from other cultures by the Greeks who transformed them into a unique Greek-Eastern mix of style and motifs . Male and female sculptures produced during this time share interesting similarities, but also bear differences that inform the viewer about society’s expectations of men and women.
3.2.2 – The Lady of Auxerre
A small limestone statue of a kore (maiden), known as the Lady of Auxerre (650–625 BCE), from Crete demonstrates the style of early Greek figural sculptures. This style is known as Daedalic sculpture, named for the mythical creator of King Minos’s labyrinth , Daedalus. The style combines Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian motifs.
The Lady of Auxerre, circa 650–625 BCE: This small limestone statue is possibly from Crete.
The Lady of Auxerre is stocky and plank-like. Her waist is narrow and cinched, like the waists seen in Minoan art. She is disproportionate, with long rigid legs and a short torso. A dress encompasses nearly her entire body—it tethers her legs together and restricts her potential for movement. The rigidity of the body recalls pharaonic portraiture from Ancient Egypt .
Her head is distinguished with large facial features, a low brow, and stylized hair. The hair appears to be braided, and falls down in rigid rows divided by horizontal bands. This style recalls a Near Eastern use of patterns to depict texture and decoration.
Lady of Auxerre reconstruction: A reconstruction of the original Orientalizing sculpture. Cambridge University.
Her face and hair are reminiscent of the Geometric period. The face forms an inverted triangle wedged between the triangles formed be the hair that frames her face. Traces of paint tell us that this statue would have originally be painted with black hair and a dress of red and blue with a yellow belt.
3.2.3 – The Mantiklos Apollo
Mantiklos Apollo: Bronze Early 7th century BCE. Thebes. The side view shows the separation of the figure’s arm from his chest and his slightly advancing left leg.
There are no inscriptions on sculpture before the appearance of the bronze Mantiklos Apollo (early seventh century BCE) found in Thebes. The figure, named for the individual who left it as an offering , is that of a standing man with a rigid and somewhat Daedalic form.
His legs bear the inscription, “Mantiklos offered me as a tithe to Apollo of the silver bow; do you, Phoibos [Apollo], give some pleasing favor in return.” The inscription is a declaration of the statuette to Apollo, followed by a request for favors in return.
Apart from the novelty of recording its own purpose, this sculpture adapts the formulae of later Orientalized sculptures, as seen in the shorter more triangular face and slightly advancing left leg. This is sometimes seen as anticipating the greater expressive freedom of the later seventh century BCE. As such, the Mantiklos figure is referred to in some quarters as proto-Daedalic.
3.2.4 – Similarities of the Statues
Despite the separation of several decades and over 200 miles, the Mantiklos Apollo and the Lady of Auxerre share interesting similarities, including their long plaited hair, cinched waist, stylized smile, and hand raised to the chest—all of which recall ancient Egyptian sculpture. Although the right arm of the Mantiklos Apollo is missing, the position of its shoulder implies a possible position similar to that of the left arm of the Lady of Auxerre, straight at its side.
However, we can already see striking differences that will remain the standard in Greek art for centuries. The male body, as a public entity entitled to citizenship, is depicted nude and free to move. This freedom of movement is seen not only in the legs of the Apollo figure but also in the separation of his hand from his chest.
On the other hand, the female body, as a private entity without individual rights, is clothed and denied movement. While the Mantiklos Apollo holds his hand parallel to his chest, the Lady of Auxerre places her hand directly on hers, maintaining the closed form expected of a respectable woman.
3.3 – Temple Architecture in the Greek Orientalizing Period
The temples of the Greek Orientalizing period had simple plans and sculpture that were influenced by styles from Egypt and the Near East.
3.3.1 – Greek Temple Architecture
The basic principles for the development of Greek temple architecture have their roots between the tenth and seventh centuries BCE. In its simplest form as a naos or cella , the temple was a simple rectangular shrine with protruding side walls (antae) that formed a small porch. By adding columns to this small basic structure, the Greeks triggered the development and variety of their temple architecture.
Anta schematic: Early anta-planned temples consisted of a portico (pronaos) and an inner chamber (naos/cella) atop a simple platform. Two columns marked the entrance to the inner chamber.
The building of stone temples first began during the Orientalizing period. Earlier temples were made from wood and other perishable materials and used terra cotta revetments in the form of rectangular and circular panels. With the introduction of stone as a building material, revetments became unnecessary and were replaced by sculptural ornamentation.
These temples derive their structure from Minoan and Mycenaean architectural designs. Minoan shrines, as seen at Knossos, were tripartite shrines fronted by three columns, while the plan of the Mycenaean king’s chamber (or megaron) was appropriated for use by the gods.
Oriental Greek stone temples were fronted by three columns and one entrance which lead into a single room chamber (cella), where the cult statue would be placed. The temple cella was reserved for the cult statue, while cult rituals (often sacrifices) took place outside in front of the temple and usually around an altar.
3.3.2 – Temple A at Prinias
Temple A at Prinias (c. 650–600 BCE) on the island of Crete is the oldest known Greek temple decorated with sculpture. Its plan was similar to the anta design with a third column in the center in front of the doorway. One step spanning the width of the facade led to the pronaos . The columns were very simple, rectangular (as opposed to cylindrical) blocks with very thin bases and capitals . Unlike Minoan columns, the shafts of the columns of Temple A did not taper; rather, their width remained constant for the entire length.
On the entablature , the frieze of the facade consisted of a series of reliefs depicting a procession of riders on horseback with little variation. The scale of the horses dwarfs that of their riders. Each horse stands in profile, while each rider faces the viewer with his sword raised and his shield seemingly connecting his head to his legs.
Although their shields cover most of their bodies, the seemingly bare state of their legs implies that the riders might be nude, as was typical for the male body in art. Each rider has a stylized nose, eyes, and eyebrows and wears a helmet. Like free-standing sculptures of the time, the hairstyle of the riders is plaited in a somewhat Egyptian style .
A meander runs atop the reliefs. The current cracked condition of the frieze is a likely indicator that it was assembled in a piecemeal fashion, as opposed to being carved as a singular entablature. Atop the entablature sat sculptures of two winged female creatures resembling the sphinx or the lamassu of the ancient Assyrian and Babylonian cultures.
Temple A portico frieze: Made of marble and originally from Prinias, Crete, c. 650–600 BCE.
Behind the facade of Temple A sat a doorway with an intricately designed lintel . Its frieze consisted of six stylized panthers standing in high relief . This motif is typical of northern Syria.
Unlike the horses on the façade frieze, each group of three panthers face each other with their heads turned toward the viewer. Between each group sits a plain rectangular recess, probably to mark the location of the central column that supported the lintel.
Atop the frieze sit two stylized female sculptures in the round who face each other. One figure places her hands flatly on her lap, while the other holds her hands in a position to accommodate a cup or similar object. It is believed that these figures represent goddesses, although the identities of those goddesses remain disputed.
Lintel from Temple A: Made of marble and originally from Prinias, Crete, c. 650–600 BCE.
Each sits in profile on a plain backless bench. The face of each figure has almond-shaped eyes and stylized eyebrows similar to those on Egyptian sculptures. Their hair is plaited and falls to either side of their shoulders.
Like the free-standing sculptures of the Orientalizing period, each figure on the lintel of Temple A wears Egyptian-style headgear with geometric patterns and cloaks atop their geometrically patterned dresses, which are cinched at the waist. While their feet protrude from beneath their long skirts, the blocks that define the lower parts of their bodies provide no acknowledgement of the body beneath the clothing.
4 – The Archaic Period
4.1 – Delphi and Greek Treasuries
Delphi was an important cult site for Apollo and was home to many treasuries that housed the community’s offerings to the god.
4.1.1 – Delphi
The ancient site of Delphi, located in central Greece on the slope of Mt. Parnassus, was known for its Sanctuary of Apollo, the Delphic Oracle, and the Pythian Games. Delphi was home to the dragon Python who protected the navel of the earth.
Apollo slew the Python, establishing his presence at the site. The Panhellenic Pythian games that were held every four years, along with musical compositions , commemorated Apollo’s victory over the beast.
Not only was the site the main place of worship for the god Apollo, it was also the home of an oracle. The oracle was a sibyl or priestess known as a Pythia.
According to myth, when Apollo slew the Python, the creature’s body fell into a fissure and began decomposing. The oracle would place her tripod seat over the fissure, inhale the fumes, and then would be possessed by Apollo, allowing him to speak through her.
The Delphic Oracle was an essential part of Greek life and was consulted for matters public and private, small and large, and so had commanding power over the lives of the Greeks. The oracle’s prophecies were usually unintelligible and would be translated into poetic meter by priests.
4.1.2 – Temple of Apollo
The site of Delphi is dominated by a central Temple of Apollo, a fourth-century BCE replacement of the Archaic sixth-century temple. One peristyle of Doric columns (the order used in Archaic architecture) surrounded the perimeter of the stylobate that rested atop two steps.
Inside the Temple of Apollo was the seat of the Pythia, in a small restricted room in the back of the naos , known as an adyton, which translates to English as not to be entered.
Temple of Apollo: Reconstructed Doric columns mark the east end (front) of the temple.
There was also a large theater built into the hillside located just above the Temple of Apollo. The theater was first built in the fourth century BCE and renovated multiple times in the following centuries. It could seat 5,000 spectators and offered a view of the entire sanctuary site and the valley.
4.1.3 – Treasuries
The road leading up to the sanctuary site of Apollo was lined with votive statues and treasuries. The treasuries were built by different poleis to honor the oracle, thank her for her advice, and commemorate military victories. These small, temple-like structures held the votives and offerings made to Apollo as well as a small proportion of the spoils won from battle from each polis . Because the buildings held a wealth of materials and goods, they are known as treasuries. These buildings were single-room naosoi (plural of naos) fronted by two columns in antis and decorated in either the Doric or Ionic style.
4.1.4 – Siphnian Treasury
Herakles and Apollo: Herakles stealing the tripod of Apollo. From the east pediment of the Siphnian Treasury. Marble. c. 530 BCE. Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, Greece.
The Siphnian Treasury was built for the polis of Siphnos, a city-state that occupied a Cycladic island. The Siphnians had large gold and silver mines, from which they profited enormously, and they used the profits to erect their treasury at Delphi.
The treasury housed their gold and silver gifts to the gods. The Siphian Treasury was the first structure built entirely from marble when it was erected in 530 BCE and was elaborately decorated.
The two columns in the antis were not typical columns but caryatids, support columns that took the shape of women. A continuous Ionic frieze that wrapped around the top of the treasury beneath the pediment depicted scenes from Greek mythology, including a gigantomachy on the north side, the Judgment of Paris on the west side, and gods watching the sack of Troy by the Greeks on the south and east sides.
The east pediment recounts the story of Herakles stealing Apollo’s tripod, which visually connects the pediment and the treasury to the oracle site at the Temple of Apollo.
Gigantomachy: A gigantomachy scene from the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury. Marble. c. 530 BCE. Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, Greece.
The figures are carved in an Archaic style and in high relief, and they are almost, but not entirely, freed from the wall of the frieze. While the figures appear to be in motion, with wide stances and arms open wide for battle, the majority of them stand with both feet flat on ground . This inhibits the sense of motion given by the rest of their bodies.
The pedimental figures are especially rigid and linear, although the figures are no longer scaled to fit into the small corners of the pediment. When looking at these figures, from the front they appear to appropriately model the body, while from the side the figures appear block-like, emphasizing the fact that they were carved from stone.
4.1.5 – Athenian Treasury
[LEFT]: Herakles and Ceryean Hind: Metope depicting Herakles and Ceryean Hind. Marble. c. 510-480 BCE. Treasury of Athens, Delphi, Greece
[RIGHT]: Athenian treasury: Athenian treasury. Marble. c. 510–490 BCE, Delphi, Greece.
The Athenian treasury at Delphi was built between 510 and 480 BCE to commemorate the Athenian victory over the Persians during the Battle of Marathon. Like the Siphnian Treasury, the Athenian Treasury was constructed entirely of marble.
The treasury has Doric columns and a frieze of triglyphs and thirty metopes that depict scenes from the life of Theseus, an Athenian mythological hero, and Herakles. The metopes also display the development of Archaic relief and temple decoration. The figures do not feel forced into their frame but instead begin to fill out the scene.
Most of the scenes consist of only two characters and few scenes, such as Herakles fighting the Ceryean Hind (an enormous deer), display a new sense of ingenuity. The figure of Herakles breaks out of the frame as he leans on the hind’s back, trying to catch it. Furthermore, the figures, unlike those on the Siphnian pediment, appear modeled from all sides, as opposed to just frontally.
4.2 – Temple Architecture in the Greek Archaic Period
The temples of the Archaic period are the first stone temples built in Greece. They demonstrate a developing knowledge of stone building through their use of decorative spaces on buildings.
4.2.1 – Introduction
Stone temples were first built during the Archaic period in ancient Greece. Before this, they were constructed out of mud-brick and wood—simple structures that were rectangular or semi-circular in shape—that may have been enhanced with a few columns and a porch. The Archaic stone temples took their essential shape and structure from these wooden temples and the shape of a Mycenaean megaron.
4.2.2 – Temple Design
The standard form of a Greek temple was established and then refined through the Archaic and Classical period. Most temples were rectilinear in shape and stood on a raised stone platform, known as the stylobates , which usually had two or three stairs.
Temple plans: These illustrations show various examples of Greek temples.
The main portion of the temple was the naos. To the front of the naos was the pronaos, or front porch. A door between the naos and pronaos provided access to the cult statue. Columns, known as prostyle , often stood in front of the pronaos. These were often aligned with molded projections to the end of the pronaos’s wall, called the anta (plural antae). Such aligned columns were referred to as columns in antis.
A rear room, called the opisthodomos, was on the other side of the temple and naos. A wall separated the naos and opisthodomos completely. The opisthodomos was used as a treasury and held the votives and offerings left at the temple for the god or goddess. It also had a set of prostyle columns in antis that completed the symmetrical appearance of the temple.
4.2.3 – Other Temple Plans
While this describes the standard design of Greek temples, it is not the most common form found. One notable exception to this standard was the circular tholos , dedicated to Apollo at Delphi. Columns were placed on the edge of the stylobate in a line or colonnade, which was peripteral and ran around the naos (an inner chamber that holds a cult statue) and its porches.
The first stone temples varied significantly as architects and engineers were forced to determine how to properly support a roof with such a wide span. Later architects, such as Iktinos and Kallikrates who designed the Parthenon, tweaked aspects of basic temple structure to better accommodate the cult statue.
4.2.4 – Mathematical Scale
All temples, however, were built on a mathematical scale and every aspect of them is related to one another through ratios. For instance, most Greek temples (except the earliest) followed the equation 2x + 1 = y when determining the number of columns used in the peripteral colonnade.
In this equation, x stands for the number of columns across the front, the shorter end, while y designates the columns down the sides. The number of columns used along the length of the temple was twice the number plus one the number of columns across the front. Due to these mathematical ratios, we are able to accurately reconstruct temples from small fragments.
4.2.5 – Doric Order
The style of Greek temples is divided into three different and distinct orders, the earliest of which is the Doric order. These temples had columns that rested directly on the stylobate without a base. Their shafts were fluted with twenty parallel grooves that tapered to a sharp point.
The capitals of Doric columns had a simple, unadorned square abacus and a flared echinus that was often short and squashed. Doric columns are also noted for the presence of entasis , or bulges in the middle of the column shaft. This was perhaps a way to create an optical illusion or to emphasize the weight of the entablature above, held up by the columns.
Doric and Ionic order: This drawing illustrates the stylistic differences between the Doric and Ionic order.
The Doric entablature was also unique to this style of temples. The frieze was decorated with alternating panels of triglyphs and metopes. The triglyphs were decorative panels with three grooves or glyphs that gave the panel its name. The stone triglyphs mimicked the head of wooden beams used in earlier temples. Between the triglyphs were the metopes.
4.2.6 – Decorative Spaces
Sculptors used the metope spaces to depict mythological occurrences, often with historical or cultural links to the site on which the temple stood.
Herakles fights the Cretan Bull: This is one of the metopes from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. It is one of the Twelve Labors depicted on the temple.
On the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (constructed between 470BC and 456BC), the choice to sculpt the Twelve Labors of Herakles was in direct correlation with the site’s Olympic Games and the spirit of triumph in physical challenge. Most sculptors attempted to use the limited and angular space of metopes to show distinct moments that filled the shape, but not all were successful in doing so.
Another space used for decoration was the pediment at each end of the temple. Due to the larger space afforded by these sections, the sculptors often chose to depict larger and more eventful scenes.
The sculptures from the pediments on the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina: These scenes show fight scenes between Greeks and Trojans, such as those described in Homer’s Iliad.
The shape of the pediment made it difficult to arrange figures in a coherent and cohesive scene, so the sculptors placed the most prominent ones in the apex (the highest point of the triangle). All of these decorative sculptures would be painted in bright colors and recognizable to onlookers.
4.2.7 – Paestum, Italy
The Greek colony at Poseidonia (now Paestum) in Italy, built two Archaic Doric temples that are still standing today.
Temple of Hera II and Temple of Hera I, Paestum, Italy. c. 500–460 BCE.: The Greek colony at Poseidonia (now Paestum) in Italy, built two Archaic Doric temples that are still standing today.
The first, the Temple of Hera I, was built in 550 BCE and differs from the standard Greek temple model dramatically. It is peripteral, with nine columns across its short ends and 18 columns along each side. The opisthodomos is accessed through the naos by two doors. There are three columns in antis across the pronaos. Inside the naos is a row of central columns, built to support the roof.
The cult statue is placed at the back, in the center, and is blocked from view by the row of columns. When examining the columns, they are large and heavy, and spaced very close together. This further denotes the Greeks unease with building in stone and the need to properly support a stone entablature and heavy roof. The capitals of the columns are round, flat, and pancake-like.
The Temple of Hera II, built almost a century later in 460 BCE, began to show the structural changes that demonstrated the Greek’s comfort and developing understanding of building in stone, as well as the beginnings of a Classical temple style.
In this example, the temple was fronted by six columns, with 14 columns along its length. The opisthodomos was separated from the naos and had its own entrance and set of columns in antis. A central flight of stairs led from the pronaos to the naos and the doors opened to look upon a central cult statue. There were still interior columns; however they were moved to the side, permitting prominent display of the cult statue.
4.2.8 – Aegina
Temple of Aphaia at Aegina, c. 500–490 BCE: The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina as it stands today.
The temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina is an example of Archaic Greek temple design as well as of the shift in sculptural style between the Archaic and Classical periods. Aegina is a small island in the Saronic Gulf within view of Athens; in fact, Aegina and Athens were rivals.
While the temple was dedicated to the local god Aphaia, the temple’s pediments depicted scenes of the Trojan War to promote the greatness of the island. These scenes involve the Greek heroes who fought at Troy—Telamon and Peleus , the fathers of Ajax and Achilles.
In an antagonistic move, the battle scenes on the pediments are overseen by Athena, and the temple’s dedicated deity , Aphaia, does not appear on the pediment at all. While very little paint remains now, the entire pediment scene, triglyphs and metopes, and other parts of the temple would have been painted in bright colors.
4.2.9 – Temple Design
Plan of the sanctaury of the Temple of Aphaia: Ground plan of the Temple of Aphaia and the surrounding area.
The Temple of Aphaia is one of the last temples with a design that did not conform to standards of the time. Its colonnade has six columns across its width and twelve columns down its length. The columns have become more widely spaced and also more slender.
Both the pronaos and opisthodomos have two prostyle (free-standing) columns in antis and exterior access, although both lead into the temple’s naos. Despite the connection between the opisthodomos and the naos, the doorway between them is much smaller than the doorway between the naos and the pronaos.
As in the Temple of Hera II, there are two rows of columns on either side of the temple’s interior. In this case there are five on each side, and each colonnade has two stories. A small ramp interrupts the stylobate at the center of the temple’s main entrance.
4.3 – Sculpture in the Greek Archaic Period
4.3.1 – Introduction
Sculpture in the Archaic Period developed rapidly from its early influences, becoming more natural and showing a developing understanding of the body, specifically the musculature and the skin. Close examination of the style’s development allows for precise dating.
Most statues were commissioned as memorials and votive offerings or as grave markers, replacing the vast amphora (two-handled, narrow-necked jars used for wine and oils) and kraters (wide-mouthed vessels) of the previous periods, yet still typically painted in vivid colors.
4.3.2 – Kouroi
New York Kouros, c. 600 BCE: New York Kouros. Marble. Origin unknown.
Kouroi statues (singular, kouros ), depicting idealized, nude male youths, were first seen during this period. Carved in the round , often from marble, kouroi are thought to be associated with Apollo; many were found at his shrines and some even depict him. Emulating the statues of Egyptian pharaohs, the figure strides forward on flat feet, arms held stiffly at its side with fists clenched. However, there are some importance differences: kouroi are nude, mostly without identifying attributes and are free-standing.
Early kouroi figures share similarities with Geometric and Orientalizing sculpture, despite their larger scale. For instance, their hair is stylized and patterned, either held back with a headband or under a cap. The New York Kouros strikes a rigid stance and his facial features are blank and expressionless. The body is slightly molded and the musculature is reliant on incised lines.
Kroisos, c. 530 BCE: Kroisos, from the Anavysos Group. Marble. Greece.
As kouroi figures developed, they began to lose their Egyptian rigidity and became increasingly naturalistic. The kouros figure of Kroisos, an Athenian youth killed in battle, still depicts a young man with an idealized body. This time though, the body’s form shows realistic modeling.
The muscles of the legs, abdomen, chest and arms appear to actually exist and seem to function and work together. Kroisos’s hair, while still stylized, falls naturally over his neck and onto his back, unlike that of the New York Kouros, which falls down stiffly and in a single sheet. The reddish appearance of his hair reminds the viewer that these sculptures were once painted.
4.3.3 – Archaic Smile
Kroisos’s face also appears more naturalistic when compared to the earlier New York Kouros. His cheeks are round and his chin bulbous; however, his smile seems out of place. This is typical of this period and is known as the Archaic smile. It appears to have been added to infuse the sculpture with a sense of being alive and to add a sense of realism.
4.3.4 – Kore
Peplos Kore: Reconstruction of the paint on the Peplos Kore.
A kore (plural korai) sculpture depicts a female youth. Whereas kouroi depict athletic, nude young men, the female korai are fully-clothed, in the idealized image of decorous women. Unlike men—whose bodies were perceived as public, belonging to the state—women’s bodies were deemed private and belonged to their fathers (if unmarried) or husbands.
However, they also have Archaic smiles, with arms either at their sides or with an arm extended, holding an offering. The figures are stiff and retain more block-like characteristics than their male counterparts. Their hair is also stylized, depicted in long strands or braids that cascade down the back or over the shoulder.
The Peplos Kore (c. 530 BCE) depicts a young woman wearing a peplos, a heavy wool garment that drapes over the whole body, obscuring most of it. A slight indentation between the legs, a division between her torso and legs, and the protrusion of her breasts merely hint at the form of the body underneath.
Remnants of paint on her dress tell us that it was painted yellow with details in blue and red that may have included images of animals. The presence of animals on her dress may indicate that she is the image of a goddess, perhaps Artemis, but she may also just be a nameless maiden.
Acropolis Kore, c. 520–510 BCE: Wearing a chiton and himation. Marble. Athens, Greece.
Later korai figures also show stylistic development, although the bodies are still overshadowed by their clothing. The example of a Kore (520–510 BCE) from the Athenian Acropolis shows a bit more shape in the body, such as defined hips instead of a dramatic belted waistline, although the primary focus of the kore is on the clothing and the drapery. This kore figure wears a chiton (a woolen tunic), a himation (a lightweight undergarment), and a mantle (a cloak). Her facial features are still generic and blank, and she has an Archaic smile. Even with the finer clothes and additional adornments such as jewelry, the figure depicts the idealized Greek female, fully clothed and demure.
4.3.5 – Pedimental Sculpture: The Temple of Artemis at Corfu
Pediment of the Temple of Artemis at Corfu, c. 600–580 BCE: Sculpture and reconstruction of the west pediment. Limestone. Corfu, Greece.
This sculpture, initially designed to fit into the space of the pediment, underwent dramatic changes during the Archaic period, seen later at Aegina. The west pediment at the Temple of Artemis at Corfu depicts not the goddess of the hunt, but the Gorgon Medusa with her children; Pegasus, a winged horse; and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword surrounded by heraldic lions.
Medusa faces outwards in a challenging position, believed to be apotropaic (warding off evil). Additional scenes include Zeus fighting a Titan, and the slaying of Priam, the king of Troy, by Neoptolemos. These figures are scaled down in order to fit into the shrinking space provided in the pediment.
4.3.6 – Pedimental Sculpture: The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina
Dying Warrior, c. 490 BCE: Marble, west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina.
Sculpted approximately one century later, the pedimental sculptures on the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina gradually grew more naturalistic than their predecessors at Corfu. The dying warrior on the west pediment (c. 490 BCE) is a prime example of Archaic sculpture. The male warrior is depicted nude, with a muscular body that shows the Greeks’ understanding of the musculature of the human body. His hair remains stylized with round, geometric curls and textured patterns.
However, despite the naturalistic characteristics of the body, the body does not seem to react to its environment or circumstances. The warrior props himself up with an arm, and his whole body is tense, despite the fact that he has been struck by an arrow in his chest. His face, with its Archaic smile, and his posture conflict with the reality that he is dying.
4.3.7 – Aegina: Transition between Styles
Dying Warrior, c. 480 BCE: Marble, East Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina.
The dying warrior on the east pediment (c. 480 BCE) marks a transition to the new Classical style. Although he bears a slight Archaic smile, this warrior actually reacts to his circumstances. Nearly every part of him appears to be dying.
Instead of propping himself up on an arm, his body responds to the gravity pulling on his dying body, hanging from his shield and attempting to support himself with his other arm. He also attempts to hold himself up with his legs, but one leg has fallen over the pediment’s edge and protrudes into the viewer’s space. His muscles are contracted and limp, depending on which ones they are, and they seem to strain under the weight of the man as he dies.
4.4 – Ceramics in the Greek Archaic Period
Archaic black- and red-figure painting began to depict more naturalistic bodies by conveying form and movement.
4.4.1 – Pottery Decoration Overview
The Archaic period saw a shift in styles of pottery decoration, from the repeating patterns of the Geometric period , through the Eastern-influenced Orientalizing style, to the more naturalistic black- and red-figure techniques. During this time, figures became more dynamic and defined by more organic—as opposed to geometric—elements.
4.4.2 – Black-Figure Painting
Black-figure painting, which derives its name from the black figures painted on red backgrounds, was developed by the Corinthians in the seventh century BCE and became popular throughout the Greek world during the Archaic period. As painters became more confident working in the medium , human figures began to appear on vases and painters and potters began signing their creations.
4.4.3 – The François Vase
Francois Vase: Made by Kleitias and Ergotimos. The François Vase is an Athenian black-figure volute krater, c. 570 BCE, Chiusi, Italy.
One of the most famous early Athenian black-figure pots is a large volute krater by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias, known as the François Vase. The krater, named for the man who discovered it in the nineteenth century, depicts 270 figures on the six registers that wrap around the krater.
Unlike the monumental vases of the Geometric period, this krater stands at 66 cm (2.17 feet) tall. The surface depicts various mythological scenes with many figures labeled by name. On one side of the krater’s neck are scenes from the Calydonian Boar hunt, in which several men and a powerful woman named Atalanta hunted and killed a monstrous boar sent by Artemis to terrorize the region of Calydon after the king offended her.
The other side depicts Theseus, who slayed the Minotaur , with Athenian youths and his wife Ariadne. Other registers depict scenes of the Trojan War and Peleus with his son Achilles. The detail and skill demonstrate new styles of Archaic vase painting, shifting away from past centuries’ animal motifs and geometric patterns.
Instead of filling negative space with patterns and geometric designs, Kleitias leaves areas empty. The people and horses are depicted differently than Oriental and Geometric prototypes. Bodies are more accurately rendered and less dependent on geometric shapes, although profile views dominate, and sharp lines provide texture for musculature and clothing. While many figures still stand flat-footed, the limbs of people, horses, and centaurs show movement and are dramatic compositions within the confines of the style.
4.4.4 – Exekias
Achilles and Ajax: By Exekias, Achilles and Ajax Playing a Dice Game. Athenian Black-figure amphora, c. 540–530 BCE. Vulci, Italy.
Exekias, considered the most prominent black-figure painter of his time, worked between 545 and 530 BCE in Athens. He is regarded by art historians as an artistic visionary whose masterful use of incision and psychologically sensitive compositions mark him as one of the greatest of all Attic vase painters. His vessels display attention to detail and precise, intricate lines.
Exekias is also well-known for reinterpreting mythologies. Instead of providing the entire story, as Kleitias did on the François Vase, he paints single scenes and relies on the viewer to interpret and understand the narrative.
One example is an amphora that depicts the Greek warriors Achilles and Ajax playing dice. Both men are decorated with fine incised details, showing elaborate textile patterns and almost every hair in place. As they wait for the next battle with the Trojans, their game foreshadows their fates. Inscribed text allows the two figures to speak: “Achilles has rolled a four, while Ajax rolled a three.” Both men will die during the the Trojan War, but Achilles dies a hero while Ajax is consistently considered second best, eventually committing suicide.
4.4.5 – Red-Figure Painting
Red-figure painting developed in Athens in 530 BCE and remained popular into the Classical period. The technique is similar to black-figure painting but with key differences.
Instead of painting a figure with black slip and using a burin to scrape away the slip to create details, red-figure painting has the background painted black and the figures left the red color of the terra cotta . Black slip was painted with a brush to add detail.
Brushes could achieve more fluid lines than a burin, so details were better rendered and figures became livelier than the black-figure silhouettes. The black slip could also be diluted with water to create shades for modeling bodies or clothing. Overall, the technique allowed vase painters to create compositions that rendered the body more naturally.
4.4.6 – Bilingual Painting
[LEFT]: Herakles and Athena: Herakles and Athena. Red-figure side of a bilingual amphora, c. 520–510 BCE, Vulci, Italy.
[RIGHT]: Herakles and Athena: Herakles and Athena. Black-figure side of a bilingual amphora, c. 520–510 BCE, Vulci, Italy.
Bilingual vase painting became popular with the advent of red-figure painting. Bilingual vases were painted with a single scene on each side of the vessel, usually the same scene rendered twice. One side depicts the scene in black-figure and the other side depicts the scene in red-figure.
The Andokides Painter is credited as the inventor of red-figure style and its early production on bilingual vases. Several of his bilingual amphorae mimic some of Exekias’s most famous subjects, such as Achilles and Ajax playing dice. These similarities lead many scholars to conclude that he was Exekias’s student.
A score of vases with black figures, whose attribution is disputed by some researchers, show that the Andokides painter gradually attained greater control and virtuosity in the technique. Earlier examples appear a little stiff. Later, the artist exploits the benefits inherent in the technique and utilizes a range of colors from red to dark brown.
The Andokides painter marked the arrival of the red-figure style that was later used by many artists. The painter’s most favored subject matter was a wide range of mythological scenes that depicted the gods and heroes. Heracles was his favorite character.
4.4.7 – Additional Red-Figure Painters
Euthymides. Revelers Vase: Red-figure amphora, c. 510 BCE.
Additional red-figure painting can be seen in the work of the rivals Euthymides and Euphronios. Euthymides is known as a pioneer of red-figure painting.
His vessels depict people in movement and he attempted perspective by showing figures with foreshortened limbs. The Revelers Vase is an amphora that depicts three drunk men dancing. While the figures do not overlap, the bodies are in shown in profile, three-quarter view, and from behind.
Breaking the traditional rigidity of contemporary Archaic statues and paintings, the revelers are in dynamic postures. The two outer figures stand in active stances, with their legs and hands in motion. The middle figure is in a twisted position, with his back to the viewer and his head looking over his left shoulder. The use of foreshortening , although rudimentary, gives the entire composition a more natural and believable feel. It is perhaps the use of this relatively untried technique that led Euthymides to write on his vase, “As never Euphronios [could do!]” as a taunt to his contemporary and rival.
Herakles and Antaios: Euphronios. Herakles Wrestling Antaios. Athenian Red-figure calyx krater. (C. 510 BCE. Cervetri, Italy. )
The painter Euphronios is also recognized for his dramatic and complex compositions. He used diluted clay slip to create a range of shades to color his figures, making them appear energetic and present in three-dimensional space.
A scene of Herakles and Antaios wrestling conveys the bodies of both men with previously unseen naturalism. The men’s bodies bend and twist and their limbs overlap, disappear and reappear, which helps achieve both naturalism as well as a sense of space.
5 – The Early Classical Period
5.1 – Marble Sculpture and Architecture in the Greek Early Classical Period
Early Classical Greek marble sculptures and temple decorations display new conventions to depict the body and severe style facial expressions.
5.1.1 – Temple of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia is a colossal ruined temple in the center of the Greek capital Athens that was dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. Its plan is similar to that of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina.
It is hexastyle , with six columns across the front and back and 13 down each side. It has two columns directly connected to the walls of the temple, known as in antis, in front of both the entranceway ( pronaos ) and the inner shrine ( opisthodomos ). Like the Temple of Aphaia, there are two, two-story colonnades of seven columns on each side of the inner sanctuary (naos).
Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Wilhelm Lübke’s illustration of the Temple as it might have appeared in the fifth century BCE.
The pedimental figures are depicted in the developing Classical style with naturalistic yet overly muscular bodies. Most of the figures are shown with the expressionless faces of the Severe style.
The figures on the east pediment await the start of a chariot race, and the whole composition is still and static . A seer, however, watches it in horror as he foresees the death of Oenomaus. This level of emotion would never be present in Archaic statues and it breaks the Early Classical Severe style, allowing the viewer to sense the forbidding events about to happen.
Seer from the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus, marble, c. 470–455 BCE, Olympia, Greece: The level of emotion on the seer’s face would never be present in Archaic statues and it breaks the Early Classical Severe style, allowing the viewer to sense the forbidding events about to happen.
Unlike the static composition of the eastern pediment, the Centauromachy on the western pediment depicts movement that radiates out from its center. The centaurs, fighting men, and abducted women struggle and fight against each other, creating tension in another example of an early portrayal of emotion. Most figures are depicted in the Severe style. However, some, including a centaur, have facial features that reflect their wrath and anger.
Centauromachy, c. 460 BCE: West pediment, Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
The twelve metopes over the pronaos and opisthodomos depict scenes from the twelve labors of Herakles. Like the development in pedimental sculpture, the reliefs on the metopes display the Early Classical understanding of the body. Herakles’ body is strong and idealized, yet it has a level of naturalism and plasticity that increases the liveliness of the reliefs.
[LEFT]: Herakles and the Cretan Bull, c. 460 BCE: This metope fragment depicts Herakles in a more dynamic and emotive pose. It is from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
[RIGHT]: Athena and Herakles depicting the Stymphalian Birds, c. 460 BCE: This metope fragment depicts Herakles with relatively calm body language. From the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
The scenes depict varying types of compositions. Some are static with two or three figures standing rigidly, while others, such as Herakles and the Cretan Bull, convey a sense of liveliness through their diagonal composition and overlapping bodies.
5.1.2 – Kritios Boy
Kritios Boy, marble, c. 480 BCE, Acropolis, Athens, Greece: This marble statue is a prime example of the Early Classical sculptural style and demonstrates the shift away from the style seen in Archaic kouroi.
A slightly smaller-than-life statue known as the Kritios Boy was dedicated to Athena by an athlete and found in the Perserchutt of the Athenian Acropolis. Its title derives from a famous artist to whom the sculpture was once attributed.
The marble statue is a prime example of the Early Classical sculptural style and demonstrates the shift away from the stiff style seen in Archaic kouroi. The torso depicts an understanding of the body and plasticity of the muscles and skin that allows the statue to come to life.
Part of this illusion is created by a stance known as contrapposto. This describes a person with his or her weight shifted onto one leg, which creates a shift in the hips, chest, and shoulders to create a stance that is more dramatic and naturalistic than a stiff, frontal pose. This contrapposto position animates the figure through the relationship of tense and relaxed limbs.
However, the face of the Kritios Boy is expressionless, which contradicts the naturalism seen in his body. This is known as the Severe style. The blank expressions allow the sculpture to appear less naturalistic, which creates a screen between the art and the viewer. This differs from the use of the Archaic smile (now gone), which was added to sculpture to increase their naturalism. However, the now empty eye sockets once held inlaid stone to give the sculpture a lifelike appearance.
5.1.3 – Polykleitos
Polykleitos was a well-known Greek sculptor and art theorist during the early- to mid-fifth century BCE. He is most renowned for his treatise on the male nude, known as the Canon, which describes the ideal, aesthetic body based on mathematical proportions and Classical conventions such as contrapposto.
His Doryphoros, or Spear Bearer, is believed to be his representation of the Canon in sculpted form . The statue depicts a young, well-built soldier holding a spear in his left hand with a shield attached to his left wrist. Both military implements are now lost. The figure has a Severe-style face and a contrapposto stance. In another development away from the stiff and seemingly immobile Archaic style, the Doryphoros’ left heel is raised off the ground , implying an ability to walk.
Doryphoros: Polykleitos’s Doryphoros, or Spear Bearer, is believed to be his representation of the Canon in sculpted form. This is a Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze original, c. 450 BCE.
This sculpture demonstrates how the use of contrapposto creates an S-shaped composition. The juxtaposition of a tension leg and tense arm and relaxed leg and relaxed arm, both across the body from each other, creates an S through the body.
The dynamic power of this composition shape places elements—in this case the figure’s limbs—in opposition to each other and emphasizes the tension this creates. The statue, as a visualization of Polykletios’ canon, also depicts the Greek sense of symmetria, the harmony of parts, seen here in the body’s proportions.
5.2 – Bronze Sculpture in the Greek Early Classical Period
Surviving Greek bronze sculptures from the Early Classical period showcase the skill of Greek artists in representing the body and expressing motion.
5.2.1 – Introduction
Diadoumenos Atenas (Roman copy): The extension connecting the tree trunk to the leg of the figure is an example of a strut used in marble Roman copies of original Greek bronzes.
Bronze was a popular sculpting material for the Greeks. Composed of a metal alloy of copper and tin, it provides a strong and lightweight material for use in the ancient world, especially in the creation of weapons and art. The Greeks used bronze throughout their history.
Because bronze is a valuable material, throughout history bronze sculptures were melted down to forge weapons and ammunition or to create new sculptures. The Greek bronzes that we have today mainly survived because of shipwrecks, which kept the material from being reused, and the sculptures have since been recovered from the sea and restored.
The Greeks used bronze as a primary means of sculpting, but much of our knowledge of Greek sculpture comes from Roman copies. The Romans were very fond of Greek art, and collecting marble replicas of them was a sign of status, wealth, and intelligence in the Roman world.
Roman copies worked in marble had a few differences from the original bronze. Struts , or supports, were added to help buttress the weight of the marble as well as the hanging limbs that did not need support when the statue was originally made in the lighter and hollow bronze. The struts appeared either as rectangular blocks that connect an arm to the torso or as tree stumps against the leg, which supports the weight of the sculpture, as in this Roman copy of the Diadoumenos Atenas.
5.2.2 – Lost Wax Technique
The lost wax technique, which is also known by its French name, cire perdue, is the process that ancient Greeks used to create their bronze statues. The first step of the process involves creating a full-scale clay model of the intended work of art. This would be the core of the model.
Once completed, a mold is made of the clay core and an additional wax mold is also created. The wax mold is then be placed between the clay core and the clay mold, creating a pocket, and the wax is melted out of the mold, after which the gap is filled with bronze. Once cooled, the exterior clay mold and interior clay coreis are carefully removed and the bronze statue is finished.
The multiple pieces are welded together, imperfections smoothed, and any additional elements, such as inlaid eyes and eyelashes, are then added. Because the clay mold must be broken when removing the figure, the lost wax method can be used only for making one-of-a-kind sculptures.
5.2.3 – Charioteer of Delphi
The Charioteer of Delphi is an Early Classical bronze sculpture of a life-sized chariot driver. An inscription at the base tells us that the statues were originally dedicated by a man, named Polyzalus of Gela, to Apollo at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.
Polyzalus commissioned and dedicated the work in commemoration of his victorious chariot race during the Pythian Games. The Charioteer is the only remaining part of a large statue group that included the chariot, grooms, and horses.
Charioteer of Delphi: Charioteer of Delphi. Bronze. c. 475 BCE. Sanctuary of Apollo, Delphi, Greece.
While the commissioner was a tyrant of the Greek colonial city of Gela on Sicily, the statue is believed to have been made in Athens. It was made by the lost wax technique in multiple sections and then assembled.
The Charioteer stands tall, his right arm stretched out to grasp reins; his left arm is missing. He has a high waist, which probably looked more natural when he stood on his chariot. However, despite the high waist, the figure has a high degree of naturalism , on par with the marble sculptural developments of the Early Classical style. The arms, face, and feet are rendered with high plasticity, and the inlaid eyes and added copper of his lips and eyelashes all add a degree of naturalism.
When compared to Archaic sculptures, it appears very natural. However, as an Early Classical sculpture, the Charioteer has yet to achieve the full Classical style. The Archaic smile is gone, but his appears almost blank and expressionless, on par with other sculptures produced in the Severe stye of the Early Classical period.
5.2.4 – Riace Warriors
Riace Warriors: Warrior A (right) and Warrior B (left). Bronze, c. 460–450 BCE, Riace, Italy.
The Riace Warriors are a set of two nude, bronze sculptures of male warriors that were recovered off the coast of Riace, Italy. They are a prime example of Early Classical sculpture and the transition between Archaic to Classical sculpting styles.
The figures are nude, unlike the Charioteer. Their bodies are idealized and appear dynamic, with freed limbs, a contrapposto shift in weight, and turned heads that imply movement. The muscles are modeled with a high degree of plasticity, which the bronze material amplifies through natural reflections of light. Additional elements, such as copper for the lips and nipples, silver teeth, and eyes inlaid with glass and bone, were added to the figures to increase their naturalism. Both figures originally held a shield and spear, which are now lost. Warrior B wears a helmet, and it appears that Warrior A once wore a wreath around his head.
5.2.5 – Artemision Bronze
Artemision Bronze: The Artemision Bronze figure depicts either Zeus or Poseidon, c. 460–450 BCE, Cape Artemision, Greece.
The Artemision Bronze represents either Zeus or Poseidon. Both gods were represented with full beards to signify maturity. However, it is impossible to identify the sculpture as one god or the other because it can either be a lightning bolt (symbolic of Zeus) or a trident (symbolic of Poseidon) in his raised right hand.
The figure stands in heroic nude, as would be expected with a god, with his arms outstretched, preparing to strike. The bronze is in the Severe style with an idealized, muscular body and an expressionless face.
Like the Charioteer and the Riace Warriors, the Artemision Bronze once held inlaid glass or stone in its now-vacant eye sockets to heighten its lifelikeness. The right heel of the figure rises off the ground , which anticipates the motion the figure is about to undertake.
The full potential of the god’s motion and energy, as well as the grace of the body, is reflected in the modeling of the bronze.
5.3 – Ceramics in the Early Greek Classical Period
The ceramic art from Early Classical Greece displays important compositional developments and increased naturalism in the figures.
5.3.1 – Introduction
The Classical period witnessed the continuation of red- and black-figure painting techniques on ceramic objects. While artists continued to produce black-figure paintings into the second century BCE, the technique became increasingly rare, overtaken around 520 BCE by red-figure painting.
Attic red-figure vases were exported throughout Greece and beyond, and for a long time dominated the market for fine ceramics. Only a few centers of pottery production could compete with Athens in terms of its innovation, quality, and production capacity.
5.3.2 – Red-Figure Painting
Red-figure painting continued to flourish during the Early, High, and Late Classical periods. The naturalism of the figures in Early Classical vase painting continued to increase, as the figures became less stocky and less linear. Both the figures and their drapery began to appear more plastic, and the scenes often depicted a single moment within a mythical story or event. Furthermore, vase painting began to be influenced by the changes occurring in both sculpture and the large-scale painting of walls and panels.
5.3.3 – The Mannerists
The Mannerists were a group of Attic red-figure painters known for their affected (emotive) subject matter. They were active from about 480 BCE until near the end of the fifth century BCE. Their main characteristic is that they maintained features of black-figure vase painting in the red-figure technique.
Their figures seem elongated and have small heads, the garment folds fall stiff and resemble stairs, and the images are framed with black-figure style ornamentations. The range of motifs is also influenced by previous periods. The figures gesticulate as if using a form of sign language—the hands often appear stiff and theatrical. We can see typical Mannerist small heads and affected gestures in the Pan Painter’s Herakles Fighting Busiris (c. 470 BCE).
Herakles Fighting Busiris: A mannerist red-figure by the Pan Painter, c. 470 BCE.
The Niobid Painter’s red-figure krater of Artemis and Apollo slaying the children of Niobe, from 460 BCE, is believed to be a composition inspired by a panel painting. The side of the vessel depicting Artemis and Apollo relates to the myth of the twin god and goddess who slew Niobe’s fourteen children after she boasted that her ability to birth children exceeded Leto, the mother of Apollo and Artemis.
This story alludes to ancient Greek admonitions against hubris, or extreme pride. The scene is one of the first vase painting scenes to show the figures on different ground lines. Apollo and Artemis stand in the center of the vessel as Niobe’s children fall to ground around them. One child has even fallen behind a rock in the landscape.
On the other side of the vase is an image of gods and heroes, with Herakles at the center. All the figures stand and sit on various ground lines. The figures on both sides are depicted from multiple angles, including three-quarter view, and a profile eye is used for the figures in profile, a first in Greek vase painting.
[LEFT]: Herakles with Gods and Heroes: Painted by the Niobid Painter. The reverse side of the krater depicts Artemis and Apollo slaying the children of Niobe. An Athenian red-figure calyx krater, c. 450 BCE, Orvieto, Italy.
[RIGHT]: Artemis and Apollo Slaying the Children of Niobe: Painted by the Niobid Painter on an Athenian red-figure calyx krater, c. 450 BCE, from Orvieto, Italy.
The Berlin Painter is another well-known Early Classical vase painter. His unique style depicts figures, isolated from context, on a small ground line against a glossy black background. His figures also start in the middle of the vase and extend onto the vessel’s shoulder, stopping at the neck.
Ganymede with a Hoop and Cock: Painted by the Berlin Painter on an Attic red-figure bell krater, c. 500–490 BCE.
He pays particular attention to the details of the body and the drapery of each figure, and allows both figure and drapery to express emotion, space , and movement. His painting entitled Ganymede with a Hoop and Cock conveys a sense of dynamism by arranging the body through a series of diagonal outlines, using contour lines to mark the locations of muscles and tendons beneath the skin.
5.3.4 – White-Ground Painting
White-ground painting developed around 500 BCE and gained popularity during the following century. The technique is based on the use of paints, instead of slip, to create polychrome vessels.
The vessels were first coated in a white slip before various colors of paint were added. The white background and firing techniques allowed for various colors to be used, including blue, yellow, red, brown, and green. Because the style is less durable than black- and red-figure painting, it was often used for votives and as grave offerings .
The common outline paintings of the white-ground technique would not dominate the style until approximately the mid-fifth century BCE. For the first 50 years of white-ground painting, known as Type I, the imagery resembled conventional black-figure painting, with the color of the background as the only difference. This depiction of Herakles fighting Geryon provides an example of Type I white-ground painting.
Herakles Fighting Geryon: Herakles (in the center) attacks Geryon (on the far right). Eurytion lays wounded at their feet. Athena (on the left) watches the scene. Attic white-ground black-figure lekythos.
White-ground painting is often seen on a lekythos , a vessel used to hold oils, which were sometimes used for anointing the dead. Due to this funerary function, lekythoi were also used as grave offerings. As such, many of the scenes painted on white-ground lekythoi depict or allude to funerary scenes (such as funerary rites and rituals) or images of warriors departing their wives for battle and death. While the scene of Herakles fighting Geryon depicts a rather violent prelude to death, the imagery on later lekythoi is somewhat more sedate.
Woman Attending a Tomb: Painted by the Thanatos Painter on an Attic white-ground lekythos, c. 440–430 BCE.
The Achilles Painter, a pupil of the Berlin Painter and creator of both red-figure and white-ground vessels, is one of the most well-known white ground painters. The scenes he painted on his white-ground lekythoi are filled with pathos and sorrow, often depicting women sitting in front of grave stelae or bidding their battle-bound husbands farewell.
Muse with Lyre: Painted by the Achilles Painter on an Attic white-ground lekythos, c. 440–430 BCE.
Overall, in both white-ground and red-figure painting during the Early Classical period, the form of the body was perfected by the artisans. Painted vessels were now depicting figures on a two-dimensional plane, with the illusion of three-dimensional space. These figures were rendered in that space naturally, in terms of their movement and form.
Black-figure painting nearly disappeared in the Early Classical period and was primarily reserved for objects made to seem old or to recall antique styles, such as victory amphorae for the Panhellenic Games.
6 – The High Classical Period
6.1 – Architecture in the Greek High Classical Period
High and Late Classical architecture is distinguished by its adherence to proportion, optical refinements, and its early exploration of monumentality.
6.1.1 – Classical Greek Architecture Overview
During the Classical period, Greek architecture underwent several significant changes. The columns became more slender, and the entablature lighter during this period.
In the mid-fifth century BCE, the Corinthian column is believed to have made its debut. Gradually, the Corinthian order became more common as the Classical period came to a close, appearing in conjunction with older orders, such as the Doric.
Additionally, architects began to examine proportion and the chromatic effects of Pentelic marble more closely. In the construction of theaters, architects perfected the effects of acoustics through the design and materials used in the seating area.
The architectural refinements perfected during the Late Classical period opened the doors of experimentation with how architecture could define space, an aspect that became the forefront of Hellenistic architecture.
6.1.2 – Temples
Throughout the Archaic period, the Greeks experimented with building in stone and slowly developed their concept of the ideal temple. It was decided that the ideal number of columns would be determined by a formula in which twice the number of columns across the front of the temple plus one was the number of columns down each side (2x + 1 = y).
Many temples during the Classical period followed this formula for their peripteral colonnade , although not all. Furthermore, many temples in the Classical period and beyond are noted for the curvature given to the stylobate of the temple that compensated for optical distortions.
6.1.3 – Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae
Plan of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae : Marble. Late 5th century BCE. Bassae, Greece.
The Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae is a hexastyle temple with fifteen columns down its length. The temple was built by Iktinos, known for his work on the Parthenon, in the second half of the fifth century BCE. The temple’s plan is unusual in many respects.
- The temple is aligned north to south instead of east to west, which accommodates the landscape of the site.
- The temple has a door on the naos that provides access and light to the inner chamber.
- It shares some attributes with the Parthenon, such as a colonnade in the naos. However, in this case the colonnade is a single story, and only the columns of the temple (not the stylobate) have entasis .
- The temple has elements of all three architectural orders and has the earliest known example of a Corinthian capital .
Interestingly, the temple has only one Corinthian column, located in the center of the naos. Experts hypothesize that it was placed in that location to replace the cult statue as an aniconic representation of Apollo.
6.1.4 – Tholos of Athena Pronaia
Tholos of Athena Pronaia: The Tholos of Athena Pronaia at Delphi, Greece (380–360 BCE) was built as a sanctuary by Theodoros of Phoenicia.
The Tholos of Athena Pronaia at Delphi (380–360 BCE) was built as a sanctuary by Theodoros of Phoenicia. Externally, 20 Doric columns supported a frieze with triglyphs and metopes . The circular wall of the cella was also crowned by a similar frieze, metopes, and triglyphs to a lesser extent.
Inside, a stone bench supported 10 Corinthian style pilasters , all of them attached to the concave surface of the wall. The Corinthian capital was developed in the middle of the fifth century and used minimally until the Hellenistic era; it was later popular with the Romans.
The manifold combination and blending of various architectural styles in the same building was completed through a natural polychromatic effect that resulted from the use of different materials. The materials used included thin slabs of Pentelic marble in the superstructure and limestone at the platform.
When exposed to the air, Pentelic marble acquires a tan color that sets it apart from whiter forms of marble. The building’s roof was also constructed of marble and housed eight female statues carved in sharp and lively motion.
6.1.4 – Theater at Epidauros
Theater at Epidauros: The large theater located at Epidauros, Greece, provides an example of the advanced engineering at that time. The theater was designed by Polykleitos the Younger.
The large theater located at Epidauros provides an example of the advanced engineering at that time. The theater was designed by Polykleitos the Younger, the son of the sculptor Polykleitos, in the mid-fourth century BCE.
The theater seats up to 14,000 people. Like all Greek theaters, this theatre was built into the hillside, which supports the stadium seating, and the theater overlooks a lush valley and mountainous landscape. The original 34 rows were extended in Roman times by another 21 rows.
As is usual for Greek theatres, the view on a lush landscape behind the skênê is an integral part of the theatre itself and is not to be obscured. The theater is especially well known for its acoustics. A 2007 study indicates that the astonishing acoustic properties may be the result of its advanced design. The rows of limestone seats filter out low-frequency sounds, such as the murmur of the crowd, and amplify high-frequency sounds from the stage.
6.2 – The Acropolis
6.2.1 – Introduction
The study of Classical-era architecture is dominated by the study of the construction of the Athenian Acropolis and the development of the Athenian agora . The Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on a high, rocky outcrop above and at the center of the city of Athens. It contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance.
The word acropolis comes from the Greek words ἄ (akron, meaning edge or extremity) and π (polis, meaning city). Although there are many other acropoleis in Greece, the significance of the Acropolis of Athens is such that it is commonly known as The Acropolis without qualification.
The Acropolis at Athens: The Acropolis has played an important role in the city of Athens from the time the area was first inhabited.
The Acropolis has played a significant role in the city from the time that the area was first inhabited during the Neolithic era. While there is evidence that the hill was inhabited as far back as the fourth millennium BCE, in the High Classical Period it was Pericles (c. 495–429 BCE) who coordinated the construction of the site’s most important buildings, including the Parthenon, the Propylaea, the Erechtheion, and the temple of Athena Nike.
The buildings on the Acropolis were constructed in the Doric and Ionic orders, with dramatic reliefs adorning many of their pediments , friezes, and metopes.
In recent centuries, its architecture has influenced the design of many public buildings in the Western hemisphere.
6.2.2 – Early History
Archaeological evidence shows that the acropolis was once home to a Mycenaean citadel. The citadel’s Cyclopean walls defended the Acropolis for centuries, and still remains today. The Acropolis was continually inhabited, even through the Greek Dark Ages when Mycenaean civilization fell.
It is during the Geometric period that the Acropolis shifted from being the home of a king to being a sanctuary site dedicated to the goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their patron . The Archaic -era Acropolis saw the first stone temple dedicated to Athena, known as the Hekatompedon (Greek for hundred-footed).
This building was built from limestone around 570 to 550 BCE and was a hundred feet long. It has the original home of the olive-wood statue of Athena Polias, known as the Palladium, that was believed to have come from Troy.
In the early fifth century the Persians invaded Greece, and the city of Athens—along with the Acropolis—was destroyed, looted, and burnt to the ground in 480 BCE. Later the Athenians, before the final battle at Plataea, swore an oath that if they won the battle—that if Athena once more protected her city—then the Athenian citizens would leave the Acropolis as it is, destroyed, as a monument to the war. The Athenians did indeed win the war, and the Acropolis was left in ruins for thirty years.
6.2.3 – Periclean Revival
Plan of the Acropolis: Plan of the Acropolis and surrounding area. The buildings include: (1) Parthenon (2) Old Temple of Athena (3) Erechtheum (4) Statue of Athena Promachos (5) Propylaea (6) Temple of Athena Nike (7) Eleusinion (8) Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia or Brauroneion (9) Chalkotheke (10) Pandroseion (11) Arrephorion (12) Altar of Athena (13) Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus (14) Sanctuary of Pandion (15) Odeon of Herodes Atticus (16) Stoa of Eumenes (17) Sanctuary of Asclepius or Asclepieion (18) Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus (19) Odeon of Pericles (20) Temenos of Dionysus Eleuthereus (21) Aglaureion.
It was immediately following the Persian war that the Athenian general and statesman Pericles funded an extensive building program on the Athenian Acropolis. Despite the vow to leave the Acropolis in a state of ruin, the site was rebuilt, incorporating all the remaining old materials into the spaces of the new site.
The building program began in 447 BCE and was completed by 415 BCE. It employed the most famous architects and artists of the age and its sculpture and buildings were designed to complement and be in dialog with one another.
6.2.4 – The Parthenon
The Parthenon represents a culmination of style in Greek temple architecture. The optical refinements found in the Parthenon—the slight curve given to the whole building and the ideal placement of the metopes and triglyphs over the column capitals —represent the Greek desire to achieve a perfect and harmonious design known as symmetria.
While the artist Phidias was in charge of the overall plan of the Acropolis, the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates designed and oversaw the construction of the Parthenon (447–438 BCE), the temple dedicated to Athena. The Parthenon is built completely from Pentalic marble, although parts of its foundations are limestone from a pre-480 BCE temple that was never completed.
The design of the Parthenon varies slightly from the basic temple ground plan . The temple is peripteral , and so is surrounded by a row of columns. In front of both the pronaos (porch) and opisthodomos is a single row of prostyle columns.
The opisthodomos is large, accounting for the size of the treasury of the Delian League, which Pericles moved from Delos to the Parthenon. The pronaos is so small it is almost non-existent. Inside the naos is a two-story row of columns around the interior, and set in front of the columns is the cult statue of Athena. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.
The Parthenon: The Parthenon, designed by Iktinos and Kallikrates, is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the maiden goddess Athena, the patron of Athens. Its construction began in 447 BCE when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power.
The Parthenon’s elevation has been streamlined and shows a mix of Doric and Ionic elements. The exterior Doric columns are more slender and their capitals are rigid and cone-like. The entablature also appears smaller and less weighty then earlier Doric temples. The exterior of the temple has a Doric frieze consisting of metopes and triglyphs.
Inside the temple are Ionic columns and an Ionic frieze that wraps around the exterior of the interior building. Finally, instead of the columns, the whole building has an entasis , a slight curve to compensate for the human eye. If the building was built perfectly at right angles and with straight eyes, the human eye would see the lines as curved. In order for the Parthenon to appear straight to the eye, Iktinos and Kallikrates added curvature to the building that the eye would interpret as straight.
The sculpted reliefs on the Parthenon’s metopes are both decorative and symbolic, and relate stories of the Greeks against the others. Each side depicts a different set of battles.
- Over the entrance on the east side is a Gigantomachy , depicting the battle between the giants and the Olympian gods.
- The west side depicts an Amazonomachy, showing a battle between the Athenians and the Amazons.
- The north side depicts scenes of the Greek sack of Troy at the end of the Trojan War.
- The south side depicts a Centauromachy, or a battle with centaurs. The Centauromachy depicts the mythical battle between the Greek Lapiths and the Centaurs that occurred during a Lapith wedding.
These scenes are the most preserved of the metopes and demonstrate how Phidias mastered fitting episodic narrative into square spaces.
Centauromachy: A metope from the south side of the Parthenon, of a Lapith and a centaur. Acropolis, Athens, Greece. c. 447–438 BCE.
The interior Ionic processional frieze wraps around the exterior walls of the naos. While the frieze may depict a mythical or historical procession, many scholars believe that it depicts a Panatheniac procession.
The Panathenaic procession occurred yearly through the city, leading from the Dipylon Gate to the Acropolis and culminating in a ritual changing of the peplos worn by the ancient olive-wood statue of Athena. The processional scene begins in the southwest corner and wraps around the building in both directions before culminating in the middle of the of the west wall.
It begins with images of horsemen preparing their mounts, followed by riders and chariots, Athenian youth with sacrificial animals, elders and maidens, then the gods before culminating at the central event. The central image depicts Athenian maidens with textiles, replacing the old peplos with a new one.
Horsemen in the Processional Scene: An Ionic frieze from the interior of the Parthenon. Acropolis, Athens, Greece. c. 447–438 BCE.
The east and west pediments depict scenes from the life of Athena and the east pediment is better preserved than the west; fortunately, both were described by ancient writers. The west pediment depicted the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the patronage of Athens. At the center of the pediment stood Athena and Poseidon, pulling away from each to create a strongly charged, dynamic composition.
Sculpture group from the east pediment of the Parthenon: While the central image of Zeus, Athena, and Haphaestus has been lost, the surrounding gods, in various states of reaction, have survived (c. 447–439 BCE).
The east pediment depicted the birth of Athena. While the central image of Zeus, Athena, and Haphaestus has been lost, the surrounding gods, in various states of reaction, have survived.
6.2.5 – The Propylaea
Mnesicles designed the Propylaea (437–432 BCE), the monumental gateway to the Acropolis. It funneled all traffic to the Acropolis onto one gently sloped ramp. The Propylaea created a massive screen wall that was impressive and protective as well as welcoming.
It was designed to appear symmetrical but, in reality, was not. This illusion was created by a colonnade of paired columns that wrapped around the gateway. The southern wing incorporated the original Cyclopean walls from the Mycenaean citadel. This space was truncated but served as dining area for feasting after a sacrifice .
The northern wing was much larger. It was a pinacoteca , where large panel paintings were hung for public viewing. The order of the Propylaea and its columns are Doric, and its decoration is simple—there are no reliefs in the metopes and pediment.
The Propylaea: The Propylaea as it stands today. Acropolis, Athens, Greece. c. 437–432 BCE.
Upon entering the Acropolis from the Propylaea, visitors were greeted by a colossal bronze statue of Athena Promachos (c. 456 BCE), designed by Phidias. Accounts and a few coins minted with images of the statue allow us to conclude that the bronze statue portrayed a fearsome image of a helmeted Athena striding forward, with her shield at her side and her spear raised high, ready to strike.
6.2.6 – The Erechtheion
The Erechtheion (421–406 BCE), designed by Mnesicles, is an ancient Greek temple on the north side of the Acropolis. Scholars believe the temple was built in honor of the legendary king Erechtheus.
It was built on the site of the Hekatompedon and over the megaron of the Mycenaean citadel. The odd design of the temple results from the site’s topography and the temple’s incorporation of numerous ancient sites.
The temple housed the Palladium, the ancient olive-wood statue of Athena. It was also believed to be the site of the contest between Athena and Poseidon, and so displayed an olive tree, a salt-water well, and the marks from Poseidon’s trident to the faithful.
Shrines to the mythical kings of Athens, Cecrops and Erechteus—who gives the temple its name—were also found within the Erechtheion. Because of its mythic significance and its religious relics , the Erechtheion was the ending site of the Panathenaic festival, when the peplos on the olive-wood statue of Athena was annually replaced with new clothing with due pomp and ritual.
The Erechtheion: A view from the southwest. Acropolis, Athens, Greece. c. 421–405 BCE.
A porch on the south side of the Erechtheion is known as the Porch of the Caryatids, or the Porch of the Maidens. Six, towering, sculpted women (caryatids) support the entablature. The women replace the columns, yet look columnar themselves. Their drapery, especially over their weight-bearing leg, is long and linear, creating a parallel to the fluting on an Ionic column.
While they stand in similar poses, each statue has its own stance, facial features, hair, and drapery. They carry egg-and-dart capitals on their heads, much as women throughout history have carried baskets. Between their heads and this capital is a sculpted cushion, which gives the appearance of softening the load of the weight of the building.
The porch of the Erechtheion: The porch of the Erechtheion is held up by the caryatids. Acropolis, Athens, Greece. c. 421–405 BCE.
The sculpted columnar form of the caryatids is named after the women of the town of Kayrai, a small town near and allied to Sparta. At one point during the Persian Wars the town betrayed Athens to the Persians. In retaliation, the Athenians sacked their city, killing the men and enslaving the women and children. Thus, the caryatids depicted on the Acropolis are symbolic representations of the full power of Athenian authority over Greece and the punishment of traitors.
6.2.7 – The Temple of Athena Nike
The Temple of Athena Nike (427–425 BCE), designed by Kallikrates in honor of the goddess of victory, stands on the parapet of the Acropolis, to the southwest and to the right of the Propylaea. The temple is a small Ionic temple that consists of a single naos, where a cult statue stood fronted by four piers . The four piers aligned to the four Ionic prostyle columns of the pronaos. Both the pronaos and opisthodomos are very small, nearly non-existent, and are defined by their four prostyle columns.
[LEFT]: The plan for the Temple of Athena Nike : This temple is a small Ionic temple that consists of a single naos, where a cult statue stood fronted by four piers, c. 427–425 BCE.
[RIGHT]: Temple of Athena Nike: The Temple of Athena Nike, c. 427–425 BCE. Acropolis, Athens, Greece.
The continuous frieze around the temple depicts battle scenes from Greek history. These representations include battles from the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, including a cavalry scene from the Battle at Marathon and the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea.
The scenes on the Temple of Athena Nike are similar to the battle scenes on the Parthenon, which represented Greek dominance over non-Greeks and foreigners in mythical allegory . The scenes depicted on the frieze of the Temple of Athena Nike frieze display Greek and Athenian dominance and military power throughout historical events.
Nike Adjusting Her Sandal: This statue is in the Temple of Athena Nike, c. 425–420 BCE. It is located in the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.
A parapet was added on the balustrade to protect visitors from falling down the steep hillside. Images of Nike, such as Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, are carved in relief.
In this scene Nike is portrayed standing on one leg as she bends over a raised foot and knee to adjust her sandal. Her body is depicted in the new High Classical style. Unlike Archaic sculpture, this scene actually depicts Nike’s body. Her body and muscles are clearly distinguished underneath her transparent yet heavy clothing.
This style, known as wet drapery , allows sculptors to depict the body of a woman while still preserving the modesty of the female figure. Although Nike’s body is visible, she remains fully clothed. This style is found elsewhere on the Acropolis, such as on the caryatids and on the women in the Parthenon’s pediment.
6.3 – Urban Planning in the Greek High Classical Period
Hippodamus of Miletus is considered the father of rational city planning, and the city of Priene is a prime example of his grid-planned cities.
6.3.1 – Hippodamus of Miletus
Although the idea of the grid was present in early Greek city planning, it was not pervasive prior to the fifth century BCE. Following the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, many cities were left decimated and in need of rebuilding. Before rational city planning, cities grew organically and often radiated out from a central point, such as the Acropolis and Agora at the center of Athens.
Hippodamus of Miletus on the Ionian coast (the western coast of modern Turkey) was an architect and urban planner who lived between 498 and 408 BCE. He is considered the father of urban planning, and his name is given to the grid layout of city planning, known as the Hippodamian plan.
His plans of Greek cities were characterized by order and regularity in contrast to the intricacy and confusion common to cities of that period. He is seen as the originator of the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order.
The Hippodamian plan is now known as a grid plan formed by streets intersecting at right angles. Hippodamus helped rebuild many Greek cities using this plan, and the construction was exported to newly settled Greek colonies. It was later adopted by Alexander the Great for the cities he founded and was eventually used extensively by the Romans for their colonies.
The plan not only encompassed the grid pattern for the streets but also designated a standard size for city blocks and allocated public and private space. Typically the public spaces of the Greeks’ agorae and theaters were located at the center of the city. Additional space would be cleared for gymnasiums and stadiums. The acropolis, the highest part of the city, was always reserved for the city’s most important temples.
6.3.2 – Priene and Miletus
The city of Priene, located near Miletus on the Ionian coast, is a prime example of the Hippodamian plan. The city is located on a hillside, and the urban plan forces structure onto the natural landscape. The city’s grid-planned streets divide the sloping hillside into blocks, which are further divided into lots for private housing.
In the middle of the city were many public buildings. The agora was the central component of the city. Its colonnaded stoa bounded the public space to the north. The agora stretched the length of six city blocks and was flanked on its southern side by the Temple of Zeus.
North of the stoa was the bouleuterion, the assembly hall, and a small theatre. A Temple of Athena was located just northwest of the agora. Blocks of housing surrounded the agora. Down the slope from them on level ground were the gymnasium and stadium. Above the city, high on a hillside, was the city’s acropolis.
Bouleuterion: A bouleuterion in Priene, Turkey.
The plan of Priene follows the rational grid plan established by Hippodamus and demonstrates its function, even when laid over the rocky and hilly terrain. The city’s location on a hillside did not constrict its uniformity or the allocation of public and private space. Instead, the rational plan of Priene allowed for access to multiple sites of the city and easy navigation through the city.
Grid plan of Miletus, c. 400 BCE: In Hippodamus’ home city of Miletus, the grid plan would become the model of urban planning followed by the Romans.
In Hippodamus’ home city of Miletus, the grid plan would become the model of urban planning followed by the Romans. What is most impressive is its wide central area, which is kept unsettled according to his macro-scale urban estimation and in time evolved to the Agora, the center of both the city and society.
6.4 – Stelae in the Greek High Classical Period
Large, relief-carved stelae became the new funerary markers in Greece during the High Classical period.
6.4.1 – Funerary Stelae
A stele (plural: stelae) is a large slab of stone or wood erected for commemorative and funerary purposes. The stelae of ancient Greece replaced the funerary markers of the Geometric kraters and amphorae, and the Archaic kouroi and korai of the Classical period.
The stelae were wide and tall and were Classical-style portraits. While the figures were still idealized, they were meant to represent specific individuals. Stelae were inscribed with the name of the dead and often the names of the relatives. Most stelae are rectangular and often topped with a pediment. Columns often, but not always appear on each side, seemingly to support the pediment. Stelae in this faux-architectural style assume the form of a funerary temple called a naiskos . An inscription would be located on the pediment or below the image, in which case the pediment was painted, plain, or decorated simply with geometric designs.
The figures depicted on Classical-era stelae are in the same style and manner seen in Classical sculpture and on sculptural decoration of architecture, such as a temple’s pediments and frieze . Stelae as grave markers became popular around 430 BCE, coinciding with the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. Each stele is unique for its attempts to individualize and characterize the attributes and personality of the dead.
6.4.2 – Grave Stele of Hegeso
Grave Stele of Hegeso: This stele is from the Kerameikos Cemetery outside of Athens and depicts a seated woman with her servant before her. The stele dates to 400 BCE, and the woman fits the stylistic representation of women at this time.
The Grave Stele of Hegeso from the Kerameikos Cemetery outside of Athens depicts a seated woman. The stele dates to 400 BCE, and the woman fits the stylistic representation of women at this time.
Hegeso sits on a chair with her feet resting on a footstool. She is elegantly dressed in long, flowing drapery. A female attendant in simple dress stands before her holding a small box, from which Hegeso chooses jewelry. The jewelry is now absent because it was only a painted detail, as opposed to carved in relief.
Both women wear transparent clothing that clings to their body to relieve their feminine form, although the clothing is more revealing on Hegeso than her servant. This style, known as wet drapery , also appears on the Temple of Athena Nike in Athens. Both figures are expressionless and emotionless.
6.4.3 – Grave Stele of an Athlete
Grave Stele of an Athlete: This stele show an athlete standing in a contrapposto pose with his head cocked, reaching for the flask held by the young attendant. Circa 375 BCE, from Delos, Greece.
The Grave Stele of an Athlete (early fourth century BCE), from the island of Delos, depicts a male athlete receiving lekythos of oil from a male youth. The athlete’s body is reminiscent of Polykleitos’s Doryphoros. It is athletic, and the muscles are defined through modeling instead of lines .
He stands in a contrapposto pose with a cocked head, reaching for the flask held by the young attendant. The youth’s age is defined not by his well-built body (which is very similar to that of the athlete) but by his diminutive size.
6.4.4 – Grave Stele of Dexileos
Grave Stele of Dexileos: This marble stele recalls the carved relief of Athenian horsemen from the Ionic frieze of the Parthenon. Circa 390 BCE, from the Dipylon Cemetery in Athens, Greece.
The Grave Stele of Dexileos (390 BCE) in the Kerameikos Cemetery of Athens is another demonstration of how stele reliefs reflect the sculpture style and motifs of the period. This stele recalls the carved relief of Athenian horsemen from the Ionic frieze of the Parthenon.
Dexileos rides astride a rearing horse, charging down an enemy. The inscription refers to his early death in a battle against the Corinthians. He probably originally held a metal spear in his raised hand. The two figures, Dexileos and the Corinthian, are dressed differently. The Corinthian’s nudity signifies his difference from the civilized Athenian who is properly clothed. Dexileos’s flying cape and rearing horse add drama to scene, which despite its content, is oddly expressionless due to emotionless faces of the characters.
6.4.5 – Grave Stele of a Little Girl
Grave Stele of a Little Girl : This stele lacks a pediment and allows the deceased to assume most of the space. It depicts a young child holding two doves, presumably her pets. From the Island of Paros, c. 450–440 BCE.
While the above stelae commemorate adults, grave stelae also commemorate children. The Grave Stele of a Little Girl (450–440 BCE), which lacks a pediment and allows the deceased to assume most of the space , depicts a young child holding two doves, presumably her pets.
One bird perches in her hands, while the other seems to cuddle next to her and affectionately peck at her mouth. She bows her head toward both doves, wearing a solemn facial expression, as if bidding the animals farewell. Such images of children and companion animals are common subject matter on grave stelae of the Classical era.
The doves’ ability to fly connected them to death and the afterlife. Some experts theorize that doves were believed to be able to communicate with those in the afterlife. Like the women on the Grave Stele of Hegeso, the child’s clothing assumes the wet-drapery style to accentuate the contours of her body while allowing her to maintain feminine modesty.
6.5 – Painting in the Greek High Classical Period
Panel and tomb paintings from the High Classical Period depict natural figures with high plasticity and dynamic compositions.
6.5.1 – Introduction
Classical Greece was a 200-year period in Greek culture that lasted from the fifth through fourth centuries BCE. This Classical period, following the Archaic period and succeeded by the Hellenistic period, had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundations of the Western Civilization . Much of modern Western politics and artistic thought, such as architecture, scientific thought, literature, and philosophy, derives from this period of Greek history.
6.5.2 – Panel Painting
Pitsa Panels: These are the earliest known panel paintings, and date to the Archaic period between 540 and 530 BCE.
Panel painting is the painting on flat panels of wood, either a large single piece or several joined together. Because of their organic nature many panel paintings no longer exist. Panel paintings were usually done in encaustic or tempera and were displayed in the interior of public buildings, such as in the pinacoteca of the Propylaea of the Athenian Acropolis.
The earliest known panel paintings are the Pitsa Panels that date to the Archaic period between 540 and 530 BCE; however, panel painting continued throughout the Classical Period.
The painter Apollodorus was considered by the Greeks and Romans to be one of the best painters of the Early Classical period, although none of his work survived. He is credited for the use of creating shadows by a technique known as skiagraphia. The technique layers crosshatching and contour liners to add perspective to the scene and is similar to the Renaissance technique of chiaroscuro.
6.5.3 – Tomb Painting
Tomb painting was another popular method of painting, which due to its fragile nature has often not survived. However, a few examples do remain, including the 480 BCE Tomb of the Diver and the wall paintings from the royal Macedonian tombs in Vergina that date to the mid-fourth century BCE. A comparison between the paintings demonstrate how painting followed sculptural development in regards to the rendering of the human body.
The Tomb of the Diver is from a small necropolis in Paestum, Italy, which was then the Greek colony of Poseidonia, and dates from the beginning of the Classical period. The tomb depicts a symposium scene on its walls and an image of diver on the inside of the covering slab.
The images are painted in true fresco with a limestone mortar. The scene of the diver is simple image with a small landscape of trees, water, and the diver’s platform. The diver is nude and his body is simply defined through the use of line and color. The bodies of the men at the symposium more accurately demonstrate an Archaic reliance on line to model the form of the body and the draping of their clothing.
Tomb of the Diver: This is the symposium-scene fresco painted on the Tomb of the Diver.
Compared to the wall paintings from the tombs at Vergina, the Early Classical tomb painting is static and rather Archaic. The frescos from Vergina depict figures in a full-painted version of the High Classical style .
For example, there is an image believed to depict King Philip II on a chariot pulled by two horses. The fresco is poorly preserved but one is able to see on Philip’s horse the modeling of the animals produced by the color shading and a suggestion of perspective when looking at the chariot. The artist relies on the shades and hues of his paints to create depth and a life-like feeling in the painting.
Man on a Chariot: The frescos from Vergina depict figures in a full-painted version of the High Classical style.
One of the quintessential wall paintings at Vergina is Hades Abducting Persephone. The painted scene appears similar to the Late Classical sculptural style and the dynamic, emotion-filled composition seems to predict the style of Hellenistic sculpture.
The scene depicts Hades on his chariot, grasping on to Persephone’s nude torso as the pair ride away. The colors are faded and faint, but the bright red drapery worn by Persephone is still easily identifiable. Lines and shading emphasize its folds.
Hades Abducting Persephone. : One of the quintessential wall paintings at Vergina is a scene of Hades abducting Persephone.
The style appears almost impressionistic, especially when examining Persephone’s face and hair. Persephone and Hades create a tension filled chiastic composition, as Hades races to the left, against the pull of Persephone’s outward, desperate reach to the right.
6.5.4 – Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedonia (356–323 BCE), better known as Alexander the Great, very carefully controlled and crafted his portraiture. In order to maintain control and stability in his empire, he had to ensure that his people recognized him and his authority.
Because of this, Alexander’s portrait was set when he was very young, most likely in his teens, and it never varied throughout his life. To further control his portrait types, Alexander hired artists in different media such as painting, sculpture, and gem cutting to design and promote the portrait style of the medium. In this way, Alexander used art and artisans for their propagandistic value to support and provide a face and legitimacy to his rule.
18.104.22.168 – Alexander Mosaic
The Alexander Mosaic is a Roman floor mosaic from approximately 100 BCE that was excavated from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. The mosaic depicts the Battle of Issus that occurred between the troops of Alexander the Great and King Darius III of Persia. The mosaic is believed to be a copy of a large-scale panel painting by Aristides of Thebes, or a fresco by the Philoxenos of Eretria from the late fourth century BCE.
Alexander Mosaic (Battle of Issus): This is believed to be a copy of a fresco by Philoxenos of Eretria or a panel painting by Aristides of Thebes (late fourth century BCE). Alexander is depicted in profile at the far left. This is a Roman piece, from the House of the Faun in Pompeii during the late second or third century BCE.
The mosaic is remarkable. It depicts a keen sense of detail, dramatically unfolds the drama of the battle, and demonstrates the use of perspective and foreshortening . The two main characters of the battle are easily distinguishable and this portrait of Alexander may be one of his most recognizable. He wears a breastplate and an aegis , and his hair is characteristically tousled. He rides into battle on his horse, Bucephalo, leading his troops. Alexander’s gaze remains focused on Darius and he appears calm and in control, despite the hectic battle happening around him.
Darius III, on the other hand, commands the battle in desperation from his chariot, as his charioteer removes them from battle. His horses flee under the whip of the charioteer and Darius leans outward, stretching out a hand having just thrown a spear. His body position contradicts the motion of his chariot, creating tension between himself and his flight.
Other details in the mosaic include the expressions of the soldiers and the horses, such as a collapsed horse and his rider in the center of the battle, to a terrified fallen Persian, whose expression is reflected on his shield.
The shading and play of light in the mosaic, reflects the use of light and shadow in the original painting to create a realistic, three-dimensional space . Horses and soldiers are shown in multiple perspectives from profile, to three quarter, to frontal, and one horse even faces the audience with his rump. The careful shading within the mosaic tesserae models the characters to give the figures mass and volume .
6.6 – Sculpture in the Greek High Classical Period
High Classical sculpture demonstrates the shifting style in Greek sculptural work as figures became more dynamic and less static.
6.6.1 – Polykleitos
Polykleitos was a famous Greek sculptor who worked in bronze. He was also an art theorist who developed a canon of proportion (called the Canon) that is demonstrated in his statue of Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) Many of Polykleitos’s bronze statues from the Classical period, including the Doryphoros, survive only as Roman copies executed in marble. Polykleitos, along with Phidias, is thought to have created the style recognized as Classical Greek sculpture.
Another example of the Canon at work is seen in Polykleitos’s statue of Diadumenos, a youth trying on a headband, and his statue Discophoros, a discus bearer. Both Roman marble copies depict athletic, nude, male figures.
The bodies of the two figures are idealized. The nudity allows the harmony of parts, or symmetria, to easily be seen and illustrates the principles discussed in the Canon. The Canon focused on the proportion of parts of the body in relationship to each other to create the ideal male form . Both statues demonstrate fine proportion, ideal balance, and the definable parts of the body.
[LEFT]: Discophoros: This is a Roman marble copy of the Greek bronze original by Polykleitos, c. 440 BCE.
[RIGHT]: Diadoumenos: This is a Roman marble copy of Greek bronze original by Polykleitos, circa 430 BCE.
The athletes are shown in contrapposto stances. The Discophoros shifts his weight to his left leg. His hips and the slightly forward lean toward his right leg exaggerate the weight shift. The figure is balanced on his left leg, which is drawn back, and the rest of his body appropriately responds to this stance.
The Diadumenos also stands in contrapposto, although his movement seems more forward and stable than that of the Discophoros. He ties on a band that identifies him as a winner in an athletic contest. His raised arms add a new dynamic component to the composition .
The Discophoros and Diadumenos, along with the Doryphoros, demonstrate the flexibility of composition based on the Canon and the innate liveliness produced by contrapposto postures. Despite the lively aspects and unique poses of the figures, all three still retain the Severe style and expressionless face of early Greek sculpture.
Polykleitos not only worked in bronze but is also known for his chryselephantine cult statue of Hera at Argos, which in ancient times was compared to Phidias’ colossal chryselephantine cult statues.
6.6.2 – Phidias
Phidias was the sculptor and artistic director of the Athenian Acropolis and oversaw the sculptural program of all the Acropolis’ buildings. He was considered one of the greatest sculptors of his time and he created monumental cult statues of gold and ivory for city-states across Greece.
Phidias is well known for the Athena Parthenos, the colossal cult statue in the naos of the Parthenon. While the statue has been lost, written accounts and reproductions (miniatures and representations on coins and gems) provide us with an idea of how the sculpture appeared.
It was made out of ivory, silver, and gold and had a wooden core support. Athena stood crowned, wearing her helmet and aegis . Her shield stood upright at her left side and her left hand rested on it while in her right hand she held a statue of Nike. An artist’s reconstruction is housed in the Parthenon in Nashville.
Reconstruction of Phidias’s Athena Parthenos: This is housed in the Parthenon in Centennial Park, Nashville, TN.
Before he created the statue of Athena Parthenos for Athens, Phidias was best known for his chryselephantine statue of Zeus at Olympia, which was considered one of the wonders of the world. The statue of Zeus at Olympia is said to have been 39 feet tall chryselephantine statue.
Reconstruction of Phidias’s Zeus at Olympia: An artist’s conception of the colossal sculpture resides in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.ia.
As with Athena Parthenos, not much is known for sure about how the statue looked, although written accounts and marble and coinage copies provide possible ideas. Besides being built on a colossal scale, reports indicate that the figure of Zeus was seated and held a scepter and a statue of Nike. An eagle was perched either at his side or on his scepter.
Besides being decorated with gold and ivory, the sculpture was further embellished with ebony and previous stones. An artist’s conception of the colossal sculpture resides in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
6.6.3 – Myron
The Athenian artist Myron also produced bronze sculptures during the mid-fifth century BCE. His most famous work is of the Diskobolos, or discus thrower (not to be confused with Polykletios’ discus bearer, Discophoros). The Diskobolos shows a young, athletic male nude with a Severe-style face. His body holds a contrapposto pose; one leg bears his weight, while the other is relaxed. A relaxed arm balances his body and the other arm tenses, preparing to let go of the disc. The Diskobols demonstrates a dynamic, chiastic composition that relies on diagonal lines to move the eye about the sculpture.
Diskobols: This is a Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze original by Myron, c. 450 BCE.
This figure represents another new element in Classical sculpture—the illustration of the potential for energy. His energy appears wound up, waiting for the figure to release it. The statue depicts a swift and transitory moment and that is frozen at a precise moment to exhibit the harmony, balance, and rhythm perfected by both the athlete and the artist.
7 – The Hellenistic Period
7.1 – Architecture in the Hellenistic Period
Architecture during the Hellenistic period focused on theatricality and drama; the period also saw an increased popularity of the Corinthian order.
7.1.1 – Introduction
Architecture in the Greek world during the Hellenistic period developed theatrical tendencies, as had Hellenistic sculpture. The conquests of Alexander the Great caused power to shift from the city-states of Greece to the ruling dynasties . Dynastic families patronized large complexes and dramatic urban plans within their cities. These urban plans often focused on the natural setting, and were intended to enhance views and create dramatic civic, judicial, and market spaces that differed from the orthogonal plans of the houses that surrounded them.
Architecture in the Hellenistic period is most commonly associated with the growing popularity of the Corinthian order. However, the Doric and Ionic orders underwent notable changes. Examples include the slender and unfluted Doric columns and the four-fronted capitals on Ionic columns, the latter of which helped to solve design problems concerning symmetry on the temple porticos.
7.1.2 – Stoa
The restored Stoa of Attalos: This is a view of the ground-level marble colonnades in the Agora in Athens, Greece.
A stoa, or a covered walkway or portico, was used to bind agorae and other public spaces. Highlighting the edge of open areas with such decorative architecture created a theatrical effect for the public space and also provided citizens with a basic daily form of protection from the elements. Both the stoa and the agora were used by merchants, artists, religious festivals, judicial courts, and civic administrations.
The Stoa of Attalos (c. 150 BCE) in Athens was built in the Agora, under the patronage of King Attalos II of Pergamon. This portico consists of a double colonnade. It was two stories tall, and had a row of rooms on the ground floor. The exterior colonnade on the ground level was built in the Doric order, and the interior was Ionic. On the second level, Ionic columns lined the exterior, and columns with a simple, stylized capital lined the interior.
7.1.3 – Temple of Apollo at Didyma
Other examples of grand and monumental architecture can be found in Ionia , modern day Turkey in Pergamon, and Didyma. The Temple of Apollo at Didyma was both a temple and an oracle site.
Temple of Apollo: Begun around 313 BCE, this was both a temple and an oracle site in Didyma, Turkey.
The temple was designed by the architects Paionios of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus. Its construction began in 313 BCE but was never completed, although work continued until the second century CE. This temple’s site is vast.
The interior court was 71 feet wide by 175 feet long and contained a small shrine. The court was also dipteral in form, edged with a double row of 108 columns, each 65 feet tall, that surrounded the temple. The structure creates a series of imposing spaces, from the exterior colonnade to the oracle rooms, and the interior courtyard inside of which the shrine to Apollo stood.
Plan and elevation of the Temple of Apollo: Construction began c. 313 BCE, in Didyma, Turkey. The building plan also played with theatricality and drama, forcing its visitors through a dark interior and then opening up into a bright and open courtyard that did not have a roof.
The building plan also played with theatricality and drama, forcing its visitors through a dark interior and then opening up into a bright and open courtyard that did not have a roof. The building is dramatically different from the perfected Classical plan of temples. Instead of focusing on symmetry and harmony, the building focuses on the experience of the viewer.
7.1.4 – Corinthian Order
The Corinthian order is considered the third order of Classical architecture. The order’s columns are slender and fluted and sit atop a base . The capital consists of a double layer of acanthus leaves and stylized plant tendrils that curl up towards the abacus in the shape of a scroll or volute.
The decorative Corinthian order was not widely adopted in Greece, although it was popular in tholoi. It was, however, used substantially throughout the Roman period.
Corinthian capital: A corinthian capital at the Odeon of Agrippa, c. 14 BCE, in the Agora inAthens, Greece.
The ruined Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens (also known as the Olympieion) contains one of the best-known examples of the Corinthian column in Hellenistic architecture. Originally designed in the Doric order in the sixth century BCE, the temple was redesigned in the second century BCE in the Corinthian order on a colossal platform measuring 134.5 feet by 353.5 feet.
Temple of Olympian Zeus: Note the corinthian colonnades and Pentelic marble.
It was to be flanked by a double colonnade of eight columns across the front and back and twenty-one on the flanks, surrounding the cella . The design was eventually changed to have three rows of eight columns across the front and back of the temple and a double row of twenty on the flanks, for a total of 104 columns. The columns stand 55.5 feet high and 6.5 feet in diameter. In 164 BCE, the death of Antiochus IV (who had presented himself as the earthly embodiment of Zeus) brought the project to a halt, and the temple would remain incomplete.
7.2 – Pergamon
Pergamon rose as a power under the Attalids and provides examples of the drama and theatrics found in Hellenistic art and architecture.
7.2.1 – Introduction
Scale model of Pergamon as it might have looked in antiquity: Center left: Theatre of Pergamon. Center right: Altar of Zeus. Pergamon Museum, Berlin.
The ancient city of Pergamon, now modern day Bergama in Turkey, was the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon following the death of Alexander the Great and was ruled under the Attalid dynasty . The Acropolis of Pergamon is a prime example of Hellenistic architecture and the convergence of nature and architectural design to create dramatic and theatrical sites.
The acropolis was built into and on top a steep hill that commands great views of the surrounding countryside. Both the upper and lower portions of the acropolis were home to many important structures of urban life, including gymnasiums, agorae, baths, libraries, a theater, shrines, temples, and altars.
Theater of Pergamon: The theater at Pergamon could seat 10,000 people and was one of the steepest theaters in the ancient world.
The theater at Pergamon could seat 10,000 people and was one of the steepest theaters in the ancient world. Like all Hellenic theaters, it was built into the hillside, which supported the structure and provided stadium seating that would have overlooked the ancient city and its surrounding countryside. The theater is one example of the creation and use of dramatic and theatrical architecture.
7.2.2 – Altar of Zeus
Plan of the Altar of Zeus: The altar is a U-shaped Ionic building built on a high platform with central steps leading to the top, c. 175 BCE, in Bergama, Turkey.
Another element found at Pergamon is the great Altar of Zeus (now housed in Germany). The altar was commissioned in the first half of the second century BCE during the reign of King Eumenes II to commemorate his victory over the Gauls, who were migrating into Asia Minor.
Altar of Zeus: Originally from Bergama, Turkey, the altar is now in Berlin, Germany.
The altar is a U-shaped Ionic building built on a high platform with central steps leading to the top. It faced east, was located near the theater of Pergamon, and commanded an outstanding view of the region. The altar is known for its grand design and for its frieze depicting the Gigantomachy—it wraps 370 feet around the base of the altar.
7.2.3 – The Gigantomachy
The Gigantomachy depicts the Olympian gods fighting against their predecessors the Giants (Titans), the children of the goddess Gaia. The frieze is known for its incredibly high relief, in which the figures are barely restrained by the wall, and for its deep drilling of lines with details to create dramatic shadows.
The high relief and deep drilling of the figures also increases the liveliness and naturalism of the scene. The figures are rendered with high plasticity. The texture of their skin, drapery, and scales add another level of naturalism. Furthermore, as the frieze follows the stairs, the limbs of the figures begin to spill out of their frame and onto the stairs, physically breaking into the space of the viewer . The style and high drama of the scenes is often referred to as the Hellenistic Baroque for its exaggerated motion, emphasis on details, and the liveliness of the characters.
Nereus, Doris, a Giant, and Oceanus: Located on the north frieze of the Altar of Zeus, Bergama, Turkey, e. c. 175 BCE. The high relief and deep drilling of the figures also increases the liveliness and naturalism of the scene.
The most famous scene on the frieze depicts Athena fighting the giant Alkyoneus. She grabs his head and pulls it back while Gaia emerges from the ground to plead for her son’s life and a winged Nike reaches over to crown Athena.
Athena’s drapery swirls around her with deep folds and her whole body is nearly removed from the frieze. The figures are depicted with the heightened emotion commonly found on Hellenistic statues. Alkyoneus’s face strains in pain and Gaia’s eyes, which are all that remain of her face, are full of terror and sorrow at the death of her son.
Athena and Alkyoneos: Located on the east frieze of the Altar of Zeus, Bargama, Turkey, c. 175 BCE. The entire composition is depicted in a chiastic shape, and the scene is filled with the tension and emotion that are key features in Hellenistic sculpture.
The entire composition is depicted in a chiastic shape. Athena stretches out to grasps Alkoyneus’s head, the two figures pull at each other in opposite directions. Meanwhile, the figure of Nike moves diagonally towards Athena, showing their convergence in a moment of victory. The diagonal line created by Gaia mimics the shape of her son, connecting the two figures through line and pathos. The scene is filled with the tension and emotion that are key features in Hellenistic sculpture.
7.2.4 – The Dying Gauls
Dying Gaul: This is a Roman marble copy of the Greek bronze original by Epigonos, c. 230–220 BCE, in Pergamon, Turkey.
A group of statues depicting dying Gauls, the defeated enemies of the Attalids, were situated inside the Altar of Zeus. The original set of statues is believed to have been cast in bronze by the court sculptor Epigonus in 230–220 BCE. Now only marble Roman copies of the figures remain.
Like the figures on the frieze and other Hellenistic sculptures, the figures are depicted with lifelike details and a high level of naturalism. They are also depicted in the common motif of barbarians. The men are nude and wear Celtic torcs . Their hair is shaggy and disheveled. The figures are positioned in dramatic compositions and are shown dying heroically, which turns them into worthy adversaries, increasing the perception of power of the Attalid dynasty. All three figures in the group are depicted in a Hellenistic manner. To fully appreciate the statues, it is best to walk around them. Their pain, nobility, and death are evident from all angles.
One Gaul is depicted lying down, supporting himself over his shield and a discarded trumpet. He furrows his brow as he looks downward at his bleeding chest wound as he prepares himself for death. His muscles are large and strong, signifying his strength as a warrior and implying the strength of the one who struck him down.
Ludovisi Gaul: This is a Roman marble copy of the Greek bronze original by Epigonos, c. 230–220 BCE, in Pergamon, Turkey.
Two other figures complete the group. One figure depicts a Gallic chief committing suicide after he has killed his own wife. Also known as the Ludovisi Gaul, this sculpture group displays another heroic and noble deed of the foes, for typically women and children of the defeated would be murdered to avoid them from being captured and sold as slaves by the victors. The chief holds his fallen wife by the arm as he plunges his sword into his chest, where blood is already exiting the wound.
7.3 – Sculpture in the Hellenistic Period
7.3.1 – Introduction
A key component of Hellenistic sculpture is the expression of a sculpture’s face and body to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.
Hellenistic sculpture continues the trend of increasing naturalism seen in the stylistic development of Greek art. During this time, the rules of Classical art were pushed and abandoned in favor of new themes, genres , drama, and pathos that were never explored by previous Greek artists.
Furthermore, the Greek artists added a new level of naturalism to their figures by adding an elasticity to their form and expressions, both facial and physical. These figures interact with their audience in a new theatrical manner by eliciting an emotional reaction from their view—this is known as pathos.
7.3.2 – Nike of Samothrace
Nike of Samothrace: Also known as the Winged Victory (c. 190 BCE), this marble statue, in Samothrace, Greece, commemorates a naval victory.
One of the most iconic statues of the period, the Nike of Samothrace, also known as the Winged Victory (c. 190 BCE), commemorates a naval victory. This Parian marble statue depicts Nike, now armless and headless, alighting onto the prow of the ship. The prow is visible beneath her feet, and the scene is filled with theatricality and naturalism as the statue reacts to her surroundings.
Nike’s feet, legs, and body thrust forward in contradiction to her drapery and wings that stream backwards. Her clothing whips around her from the wind and her wings lift upwards. This depiction provides the impression that she has just landed and that this is the precise moment that she is settling onto the ship’s prow.
In addition to the sculpting, the figure was most likely set within a fountain, creating a theatrical setting where both the imagery and the auditory effect of the fountain would create a striking image of action and triumph.
7.3.3 – Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo: This marble statue, in Melos, Greece, was sculpted by Alexandros of Antioch, c. 130–100 BCE.
Also known as the Aphrodite of Melos (c. 130–100 BCE), this sculpture by Alexandros of Antioch, is another well-known icon of the Hellenistic period. Today the goddess’s arms are missing. It has been suggested that one arm clutched at her slipping drapery while the other arm held out an apple, an allusion to the Judgment of Paris and the abduction of Helen.
Originally, like all Greek sculptures, the statue would have been painted and adorned with metal jewelry, which is evident from the attachment holes. This image is in some ways similar to Praxitiles’ Late Classical sculpture Aphrodite of Knidos (fourth century BCE), but it is considered to be more erotic than its earlier counterpart.
For instance, while she is covered below the waist, Aphrodite makes little attempt to cover herself. She appears to be teasing and ignoring her viewer , instead of accosting him and making eye contact.
7.3.4 – Altered States
While the Nike of Samothrace exudes a sense of drama and the Venus de Milo a new level of feminine sexuality, other Greek sculptors explored new states of being. Instead of reproducing images of the ideal Greek male or female, as was favored during the Classical period, sculptors began to depict images of the old, tired, sleeping, and drunk—none of which are ideal representations of a man or woman.
7.3.5 – The Barberini Faun
Barberini Faun: This is a Roman marble copy, in Rome, Italy, of the Greek bronze original, c. 220 BCE. Italy.
The Barberini Faun, also known as the Sleeping Satyr (c. 220 BCE), depicts an effeminate figure, most likely a satyr, drunk and passed out on a rock. His body splays across the rock face without regard to modesty.
He appears to have fallen to sleep in the midst of a drunken revelry and he sleeps restlessly, his brow is knotted, face worried, and his limbs are tense and stiff. Unlike earlier depicts of nude men, but in a similar manner to the Venus de Milo, the Barberini Faun seems to exude sexuality.
7.3.6 – Drunken Old Woman
Drunken Old Woman: This is a Roman marble copy of the Greek bronze original by Myron, c. 200–180 BCE.
Images of drunkenness were also created of women, which can be seen in a statue attributed to the Hellenistic artist Myron of a drunken beggar woman. This woman sits on the floor with her arms and legs wrapped around a large jug and a hand gripping the jug’s neck.
Grape vines decorating the top of the jug make it clear that it holds wine. The woman’s face, instead of being expressionless, is turned upward and she appears to be calling out, possibly to passersby. Not only is she intoxicated, but she is old: deep wrinkles line her face, her eyes are sunken, and her bones stick out through her skin.
7.3.7 – Seated Boxer
Seated Boxer: This bronze statue, c. 100–50 BCE, is in Rome, Italy.
Another image of the old and weary is a bronze statue of a seated boxer. While the image of an athlete is a common theme in Greek art, this bronze presents a Hellenistic twist.
He is old and tired, much like the Late Classical image of a Weary Herakles. However, unlike Herakles, the boxer is depicted beaten and exhausted from his pursuit. His face is swollen, lip spilt, and ears cauliflowered. This is not an image of a heroic, young athlete but rather an old, defeated man many years past his prime.
7.3.8 – Portraiture
Demosthenes: This is a Roman copy of the Greek, bronze, original portrait bust by Polyeuktos.
Individual portraits, instead of idealization, also became popular during the Hellenistic period. A portrait of Demosthenes by Polyeuktos (280 BCE) is not an idealization of the Athenian statesman and orator. Instead, the statue takes notes of Demosthenes’s characteristic features, including his overbite, furrowed brow, stooped shoulders, and old, loose skin.
Even portrait busts, often copied from Polyeuktos’ famed statue, depict the weariness and sorrow of a man despairing the conquest of Philip II and end of Athenian democracy.
7.3.9 – Roman Patronage
The Greek peninsula fell to Roman power in 146 BCE. Greece was a key province of the Roman Empire, and the Roman’s interest in Greek culture helped to circulate Greek art around the empire, especially in Italy, during the Hellenistic period and into the Imperial period of Roman hegemony .
Greek sculptors were in high demand throughout the remaining territories of the Alexander’s empire and then throughout the Roman Empire. Famous Greek statues were copied and replicated for wealthy Roman patricians and Greek artists were commissioned for large-scale sculptures in the Hellenistic style.
Originally cast in bronze, many Greek sculptures that we have today survive only as marble Roman copies. Some of the most famous colossal marble groups were sculpted in the Hellenistic style for wealthy Roman patrons and for the imperial court. Despite their Roman audience, these were purposely created in the Greek style and continued to display the drama, tension, and pathos of Hellenistic art.
7.3.10 – Laocoön and His Sons
Laocoön was a Trojan priest of Poseidon who warned the Trojans, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” when the Greeks left a large wooden horse at the gates of Troy. Athena or Poseidon (depending on the story’s version), upset by his vain warning to his people, sent two sea serpents to torture and kill the priest and his two sons.
Laocoön and His Sons, a Hellenistic marble sculpture group (attributed by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder to the sculptors Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus from the island of Rhodes) was created in the early first century CE to depict this scene from Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid.
Laocoön and His Sons: This marble statue is attributed by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder to the sculptors Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus from the island of Rhodes.
Similar to other examples of Hellenistic sculpture, Laocoön and His Sons depicts a chiastic scene filled with drama, tension, and pathos. The figures writhe as they are caught in the coils of the serpents. The faces of the three men are filled with agony and toil, which is reflected in the tension and strain of their muscles. Laocoön stretches out in a long diagonal from his right arm to his left as he attempts to free himself.
Laocoön and His Sons: This detail of Laocoön’s face shows the carving and detail, the attention to the musculature of the body, and the deep drilling that are all characteristic elements of the Hellenistic style.
His sons are also entangled by the serpents, and their faces react to their doom with confusion and despair. The carving and detail, the attention to the musculature of the body, and the deep drilling, seen in Laocoön’s hair and beard, are all characteristic elements of the Hellenistic style.
7.3.11 – Farnese Bull
Farnese Bull: This marble statue, c. 200–180 BCE, was sculpted by Apollonius and Tauriscus of Tralles, Rhodes.
The Farnese Bull (c. 200–180 BCE), named for the patrician Roman family who owned the statue in the Italian Renaissance , is believed to have been created for the collection of Asinius Pollio, a Roman patrician. Pliny the Elder attributes the statue to the artists and brothers Apolllonius and Tauriscus of Trallles, Rhodes.
The colossal marble statue, carved from a single block of marble, depicts the myth of Dirce, the wife of the King of Thebes, who was tied to a bull by the sons of Antiope to punish her for mistreating their mother. The composition is large and dramatic, and demands the viewer to encircle it in order to view and appreciate the narrative and pathos from all angles. The various angles reveal different expressions, from the terror of Dirce, to the determination of Antiope’s sons, to the savagery of the bull.
Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless Art History under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.