The Arts of Ancient Greece

The Arts of Ancient Greece

Geometric and Orientalizing Period

Expression of a strongly structured society, but geographically divided ( fig. 4 ), Greek art in its beginnings appears strictly connected to the religious sphere and is documented in simple sacred precincts (temène di Thermos, Delphi, Olympia) by votive statuettes in terracotta or metals. The phenomenon of protogeometric (1050-900 BC) and geometric (900-700 BC) figurative culture can however be understood above all through ceramics. This presents vases first entirely covered with black paint and then abstractly decorated (circles, meanders), with strongly stiffened naturalistic motifs; only in the late geometrical did the figurative representation take on a particular importance. Among the most important centers Athens, Argo, Sicyon, Rhodes, Miletus, Ephesus and especially Corinth (miniature style, 725-650 BC).

The sculpture had in the 8th and 7th century. its first manifestations in rigid statues, marked by principles of frontality When the geometric civilization reached Mannerist formulas (second half of the 8th century BC), the ideas of the oriental style began to be reworked in all their complexity. The dominance of orientalizing motifs over geometric ones occurred in a different way in the various regions of Greece and coincided with the moment of maximum colonial expansion (750-650 BC).

Archaic period and severe style

The greater diffusion of wealth during the Archaic period (600-480 BC), also testified by the minting of coins, was based on a more intense productivity. Through inexpensive materials (wood, stone, marble, terracotta, bone, bronze, iron) great masterpieces were produced. At the beginning of the 6th century. BC the classic black-figure pottery was born in Athens, with the great productions of Sofilo, Clizia, Ergotimo, Lido, Exechia and Amasi. In Attic pottery, the more expressive technique of red figures was used. Around 200 painters and 50 potters must have been active in the Athens Ceramics in this period: a real industry. In Corinth, on the other hand, the consistency of the ceramic factories is calculated on a number of 4-5 shops and 20-25 painters.

In Greek architecture the central subject was the temple, which also defined the tasks of plastic decoration. To the grandiose Doric creations of the 6th century. BC (Olympia, Corinth, Thermo, Delphi, Aegina) followed by the Ionian ones (Ephesus, Miletus, Samos). Sculpture arrived at a naturalistically organic conception, which found expression first in some of the koùroi, then in Attic statuary and large decorative sculpture. From the abstract archaic monumentality he moved on to the study of rhythm, nude, proportions, drapery; it is the so-called severe style. The Attic school triumphed with Critio and Nesiote, Calamide, Egia, Mirone.

Classical period

The period between the battle of Salamis (480 BC) and the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC) represents the highest moment of ancient civilization. The greatest merit was in Athens, where the building activity appears surprising in terms of quantity and quality. The impulse given by Pericles transformed the Acropolis of Athens into a marble sanctuary. Also important are the sanctuaries of Zeus in Olympia and Apollo in Delphi. Phidias, chosen by Pericles, was the brilliant interpreter of the aesthetic ideals of Athens; Polykleitos, on the other hand, was the interpreter of the Peloponnesian culture, more individualistic than the Attic one. Urban planning had found in Hippodamus of Miletus a theorist: the cities were transformed, assuming an ever more regular plan, with spacious porticoed agora, and were embellished with sumptuous monuments; the houses centered around the peristyle and were adorned with mosaics. The tombs are simpler, surmounted by elongated sculpted steles and then of the aedicule type. The painting had passed, at the beginning of the 5th century. BC, from the linear design, from the chromatic unity of archaism to a richer range of expressive means (Cimonof Cleon, Polygnotus of Thasos, Micone, Panenus, Agatarco of Samo, Apollodorus of Athens, Zeusi).

In the architecture of the 4th century. the Corinthian order became more and more widespread; the theaters took on complex forms in the decoration of the scene, as well as the monumental nymphaeums. Spacious gymnasiums were built, the type of library was created with a room with niches and arcades with several superimposed orders. The urban and architectural phenomenon of the cities of Asia Minor was quite remarkable in this period: works by Pytheos were the urban project and the construction of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus; the temple of Athena in Priene. In 4th century sculpture BC, Praxiteles he made grace the ideal of his art, while a profound drama characterizes Scopa’s works. In this period the ceramics registered a figurative crisis, with a change in the iconographic repertoire, and in the painting there were famous masters (Sicione, Apelle di Colofone, Protogene di Cauno, Aristide, Nicomaco, Antifilo, Filosseno di Eretria, Nicia, Cidia di Citno, Aezione, Antifilo, Ctesilochus).

Macedonian art and the Hellenistic period

It is difficult to establish the date of the beginning of Hellenism, because the crisis that caused this phenomenon had its roots already at the beginning of the 4th century. Furthermore, from the middle of this century we can observe a precise autonomy of the new Macedonian culture, which was being organized in the northern Greece, especially with regard to painting, toreutics and goldsmithing. Creator of new iconographic and stylistic formulas was Lysippus, the greatest representative of sculpture. By convention, however, the Greek culture of the period between the death of Alexander the Great and the battle of Actium (31 BC) is considered to be Hellenistic. From the dissolution of the empire the various Hellenistic kingdoms arose, which became lively centers of culture, with important cities, such as Pergamum, Priene, Miletus, Delos, Samothrace, Coo. Figurative art took on new forms: construction was characterized by a diversity of models and functions; the production of objects in precious stones or metals increased. But alongside the originality of the forms, there was less inventiveness in the decoration, which drew inspiration rather from the repertoire of great contemporary sculpture or painting. The patrician houses were decorated with paintings, stuccos, bronzes, mosaics, fabrics. Specialized artists were trained. Hellenistic art humanized the divinities, gave life to allegorical figures, produced the landscape relief, the genre subject, the scenographic and decorative groups. Alongside the mythical themes he elaborated bucolic, idyllic ones; he contrasted ugliness and deformity with beauty and grace; he created the physiognomic portrait. Among the painters, the best known are Theon of Samos, Euante of Egypt, Artemon, Timomachus, Piraeus, Nealce, Apaturius of Alabanda.

The Arts of Ancient Greece

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