Art & Architecture
Ancient Greek art can be divided into a number of different periods, roughly paralleling the eras in Greek history including: the Metal Age cultures (Cyclades, Minoan and Mycenaean); the Geometric Period; the Archaic Period; the Classical Period; the Hellenistic Period and the Byzantine period. These divisions are important; they represent major periods of artistic development and clearly distinguish various artistic movements within Greek historical cultural.
The earliest Greek artist were concerned with pleasing their gods, but in time they moved away from this and developed a bolder, more expressive art. Above all, ancient Greek art placed a great emphasis on the human aspect of life and treated divine subject in terms of human behavior.
The earliest Greek societies, which consisted of warrior tribes that spread primarily on the Peloponnese and Crete, developed the craft of metalwork. The early Bronze Age Cycladic Civilization, though originally derived from Asia Minor, has followed a clear local line of development. It evolved and spread to become Aegean Civilization. Many sculptures remain from this period. The Minoans, who flourished on the island of Crete from 2500 to 1400 BC, built grand palaces such as the Minoan Palace, but all were destroyed by the Thera cataclysms in 1450 BC.
The Mycenaeans, whose culture dominated mainland Greece from 1600 to 1100 BC were fond of monumental sculpture. One of the best examples is the Lion Gate at Mycenae, a magnificent structure that has been remarkably well-preserved.
The Geometric Period (900-700 BC), named from a style of pottery that emerges at this time, fostered the development of now artistic techniques and styles, and greater freedom of expression in sculpture and painting. The city-states that existed during the Geometric Period promoted the works of painters, sculptors and architects. The most prevalent form of architecture was the one-room temple.
The Archaic Period (800-550 BC) marked an important transition from the simple architectural forms of the Geometric Period to the more elaborate forms; the Doric, a plain, cylindrical column, and the Ionic, a fluted column. The classic Doric temple was a massive rectangular structure with rows of columns around the outside and two interior rooms, the cell and the pronaus.
Vase painting proliferated during the Archaic Period, and artists developed an iconography for gestures, figures, and composition, effectively improving the techniques for enlivened narrative painting.
It was the Classical Period, however, in which Athens reached the pinnacle of its cultural, military and economic power under Pericles. Some relics from this era are now housed in the various British Museums (in particular, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon) but many outstanding statues, ruins and vases remain in Greece.
Sculptors from this period, including Praxiteles and Scopas, concentrated on the heroic nude form in their work, introducing the technique of counter-poise in which a free-standing figure stands bearing weight on one foot to suggest motion. The statue of Hermes holding the baby Dionysus by Praxiteles and the statue of Nike (Winged Victory) by Paeonius are two excellent examples of Classical sculpture.
It is important to remember that although much of the work produced during the Classical Period represents the institutional ideal of all subsequent Western art, at the time it was created, it was very innovative.
Architecture also underwent a tremendous boom in the Classical Period. The great leader Pericles ordered the construction of the Parthenon and the agora in Athens. Under the watchful eye of the architect Iktinos, these constructions, like many other Classical buildings, showed a greater spaciousness, fluidity and gracefulness than the massive temples of the Archaic Period.
When Alexander the Great led Greek armies south towards Egypt, Greek civilization spread far beyond its present borders. The Hellenistic Period (323-146 BC) in art is characterized by the addition of new, more fluid styles. In architecture, the Corinthian column, a fluted column with a multi-leafed top (shaped somewhat like an inverted bell), was introduced in many buildings.
Several amphitheaters were built at this time also, most notably those at Epidauros and Argos. The magnificent acoustics of these constructions mystify architects today, and stand as testaments to creative genius of their Greek designers.
From the 1st century BC to 500 AD, the Romans controlled Greece but they adopted much of the Hellenic style, and are in some ways responsible for spreading it to the rest of Europe. One of the more interesting examples of Greco-Roman architecture is Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, built by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD. In 295 AD, the Roman Empire split into two parts: the Western Empire and the Eastern or Byzantine Empire. The Greeks fell under the latter, and the new political arrangement gave Greeks the opportunity to exercise more political control.
Since the Roman Emperor Constantine commanded the Christianization of the empire in 313 AD, Greek artists had begun to devote their work to the glorification of Christianity. During the Byzantine years (330-1453 AD) many churches were built and a religious iconography developed.