Greek Art

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Ancient Greek Art: Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic
By: Catherine Marten
CLA3114 sect. 02D3
Spring 2013

Art is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, usually through visual forms. Art in ancient Greece went through a variety of changes throughout its history, especially from the Archaic to the Hellenistic periods. These changes are mainly due to the different views in Greek society that developed throughout these periods. The art of the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic eras in ancient Greece are examples of how the philosophical views of the ancient Greeks changed and developed from 600-31 BCE and are still influencing views on art today.

The art of ancient Greece during the Archaic era (600-480 BCE) made a shift from the earlier geometric forms of patterns and shapes to a more realistic form with large human sculptures being the focus. Many of the sculptures of this era seem to reflect an Egyptian influence from the East. The Archaic style of sculpture was stiff and blocky like that of the Egyptians' sculptures. The two most prominent types of sculptures of this time were the male “kouros”, or standing youth, and the female “kore”, or standing draped maiden1. These large limestone statues were usually made as dedications to the gods or as grave markers. They could be found at funeral monuments outside of the city walls. Among the earliest examples of the type, the kouros in the Metropolitan Museum reveals Egyptian influence in both its pose and proportions2. The statues of the Archaic period were not always made to depict specific individuals. Instead, they exemplified the ancient Greek's new view of beauty and perfection. They were always statues of young men and women that ranged in age between adolescence and maturity. The male statues were usually not clothed and the female statues were clothed. This was most likely because the Greeks did not approve of female nudity in public.

Another art form that emerged in the Archaic era was that of red figure pottery. It was invented in Athens around 530 BCE3. This style of pottery was characterized by red figures on a black background, where the figures were created in the original red of the clay. This allowed for more details to be seen in the pottery than with the earlier black figure technique because lines could be drawn onto the figures rather than being scraped out. The firing process of both red and black figure pottery was the same. It consisted of three stages. The first stage was called the oxidizing stage where air was allowed into the furnace. This resulted in the whole vase turning the color of the clay. In the second stage, green wood was introduced into the chamber and the oxygen supply was reduced. This caused the object to turn black in the smoky surroundings. In the third stage, air was reintroduced into the furnace which resulted in certain portions turning back to red while the glossed areas remained black. The red figure technique gradually replaced the black figure technique as innovators recognized the possibilities that came with drawing forms4. Again, the images looked more realistic than previous art forms because of the more natural look of anatomy and garments.

Painted vases were often made into different shapes for specific uses. A vase used for storing and transporting wine and food was called an “amphora”. A vase used for drawing water was called a “hydria”, and one used for drinking wine or water was called a “kantharos” or “kylix”4. The subject matter of red figure vases varied greatly from portraits of the gods and heroes, to depictions of every day Athenian life5. This, in turn, led to result in an archaeological record of historical, social, and mythological information of ancient Greece. The pictorial decorations provide insights into many aspects of Greek life and complement some of the literary texts and inscriptions from the Archaic and, especially,...
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