From the stylized human figure sculptures of the Archaic period ( 600- 480 BCE) , to the ardent manifestation of human form in the Hellenistic period- the Greeks have chiselled , moulded and fabricated some of the most magnificent sculptures the World has even seen. In this essay, I will discuss the evolution of Greek sculpture dating back to the Archaic Age (800 BCE) all the way through to the Hellenistic period in ancient Greece (330 BCE).
One thing is for sure-the art sculptures that emerged from the Archaic period were heavily influenced by Egyptian sculpture, votives and burial monuments. The human sculptures in this era can be broken down into two types- The Kouros ( That means “Boy”, standing with one foot forward) and the Kore ( Meaning “Female”, standing with both feet together) . Within this idealized period, there was a clear interest in geometric patterns, and the stylization of the human figure was broken down into more simplified shapes. The Metropolitan Kouros stands at ‘6 “4, with a broad straight, vertical posture. His arms are locked at his side, and with one foot forward, his balance remains centred. The Kouros & Kore sculptures from the Archaic period were blocky in shape, carved from a single rectangular piece of stone- and seem to be “flattened”, with their best angles for viewing being the front or the back. When looking at the Metropolitan Kouros (from Greece) and Menkaure and Khamerernebty( from Gizeh, Egypt ) it is hard not to ascertain the heavy similarities of the two. But aside from their obvious stoic spirits, the Kouros is not a deity- rather, and idealized representation of a “fallen youth”. One that perhaps died in battle, and in turn is heroically memorialized. Unlike the Egyptian religion which blended animal/humans as Gods, the Greeks were anthropomorphic. Which means their gods & goddesses had characteristics of a human, and the ideal form of one too. Many scholars also believe the Kouros, because he is in the nude, gives notion to the heroic Greek deities such as Apollo and Zeus- who were also depicted in the nude when fighting battles. In the statue “Peplos Kore”(530 BCE), it depicts a goddess with a more simplified style and natural expression. As with most Greek sculpture, both the Kore & Kouros were brightly painted- with traces of black, blue and red pigment found on some sculptures. It is fascinating to think that our ideals of Greek sculpture, carved in snowy white marble- were actually vividly decorated!
After the Greeks defeated the Persians (490 BCE), there seemed to be a revolution from the Archaic symmetry, and stylized sculpturing. With statues now depicting heroic victory over the Persians- there was a sense of balance, harmony and composition. One of the greatest sculptor artists of the Greeks- was Polyclitus, whom was the first to compose a “canon”, with a written theory on the human body and its counterbalance- introducing principles of rhythm, symmetry and most importantly, his use of the contropposto pose. In example of one of his most perfected pieces- Doryphoros, you can see how human form and stance is harmoniously balanced in the most perfect formula of proportions and contropposto.
No sooner after Alexander the Great dies, (323 BCE) does the rise of the Hellenistic era begin. There was now raw emotion emitting from the sculptures, with depictions of love, hate & anger. Emotions that were as alive as the god’s were real to the Greeks. It was a culmination brought on by the progress of scientists & scholars such as Aristotle, Archimedes and Polybius. Artists now depicted defeat, sorrow, the poor, the lonely, the sensual and mysterious.
From the stylized Egyptian influenced sculptures ( Kouros Figure of the Archaic Period) to the dynamic and enriching sculptures of the Hellenistic Era like – Laocoön and His Sons- the Greeks really had evolved from the Dark Ages. By the influence of writers and scholars- they began depicting more convincing realistic sculptures of the human and the divine. The World was opening up to a culture that and could now breathe life into stone.
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“The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Greek Art From Prehistoric to Classical: A Resource for Educators.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art – Greek Art From Prehistoric to Classical: A Resource for Educators. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
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“Polyclitus (Greek Sculptor).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
“LA 120 OL3: Art History through the 15th Century- Ancient Greek Art and the Evolution of Greek Sculpture” Academy of Art University -. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.