Historical Background 

The Ancient Greek art proper raised during the 8th BC century, as things calmed down around the Aegean. About this time, the iron was made into weapons and tools, people began to use an alphabet, the first Olympic Games took place in Greece, a complex religion appeared, and a relaxed sense of cultural identity grew up around the idea of Greece (Hellas).



By that time, kingdoms began to be replaced by oligarchies and city states. Nevertheless, an early form of Greek art is largely limited to ceramics, as the Greece suffered continued disruption from widespread famine, forced emigration and social unrest. This has limited the development of architecture and most other types of art. Around 650 BC, when trade ties in shipping have been restored between Greece and Egypt, Greek prosperity eventually managed to return and facilitate the rise of Greek civilization.


The phases of ancient Greek Art


Mycenaean Art:This occurred from 1550 to 1200 BC on the Greek mainland. That time, the Mycenaean and Greek cultures were two different entities and they shared the same lands successively. Greek culture was taught many thing from the Mycenaean Art, including how to build gates and tombs.  Apart from the architectural explorations, the Mycenaeans were awesome goldsmiths and potters. They raised pottery from merely functional to beautifully decorative and segued right out of the Greek Bronze Age into their own insatiable appetite for gold.   Around 1200 the Mycenaean culture downsized and finally died, followed by an artistic phase known as the Dark Ages. From BC 1025 to 900 BC the Proto-Geometric phase saw pottery beginning to be decorated with simple shapes, black bands and wavy lines. Additionally both technique in creating and shapes of pots were being refined.

Geometric Art: This occurred from 900 to 700 BC. Its name is descriptive of the art created in Greece, during this phase. During this phase, pottery decoration included also animals and humans. Every art in Greece was rendered with the use of simple geometric shapes.

Archaic Art: From 700 to 480 BC, during this period, elements from other civilizations began to slipped into the Greek art. The elements mainly were those of the Near East. The Archaic phase in Greece, is best known for the beginnings of realistic humans depictions and the monumental stone sculptures.

Classical Art: From 480 to 323 BC, The classical phase in Greece, was created during a "golden age", from the time Greece come to proscenium, to Greek expansion and right up until the death of Alexander the Great. During this period human statues became so heroically proportioned.

Hellenistic Art: From 323 to 31 BC. During that time and after the death of Alexander the Great, Greek sculptors had mastered carving marble. They were so technically perfect that they began sculpting human’s heroics.




The Greek Tragedy


The real tragedy of Greek art is the fact that so much of it, has disappeared. Just a very small number of temples, like the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus, have been survived. Greece built five Wonders of the World (the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Lighthouse of Alexandria), yet only ruined fragments have survived. Similarly, the vast majority of all sculpture in Greece has been destroyed. The Greek bronzes were mostly melted down and converted to tools or weapons while stone statues were pillaged or broken down for use as building material. The metalwork art in Greece has also largely disappeared.




By the time, Greece was superseded by Rome, during the 100 BC, a huge number of talented Greek sculptors and painters were already working in Italy, attracted by the amount of lucrative commissions. These Greek artists thrived in Rome for five centuries before fleeing the city just before the barbarians sacked it in the fifth century CE, to create new forms of art in the capital of Eastern Christianity, Constantinople. They thrived here, for almost a thousand years before leaving the city for Venice, to help start the Italian Renaissance. Throughout this entire period, these migratory of the Greek artists retained their traditions which they duly bequeathed to the Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Modern eras. At 18th century, Greek architecture was an important attraction for intrepid travelers on the Grand Tour.  Briefly the Greek art is still very much alive in the traditions of our academies, and the works of our greatest artists.


Temple Architecture


Three architectural systems were developed in Greece, called orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The Greek orders are: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

The Doric style is sturdy and its top is plain. This style was used in Greek mainland territory and the colonies in southern Italy and Sicily.  The Parthenon, -temple of Athena Parthenos (Virgin)-, Greek goddess of wisdom, on the Acropolis in Athens, is a Doric style monument. The Parthenon was built in the 5th century BC and it has sustained over the centuries, Parthenon still communicates the ideals of order and harmony for which Greek architecture is known as arthnenon.

The Ionic style is thinner and more elegant. The capital is decorated with a scroll like design. This style was found in eastern Greece and the islands. Erechtheum is an Ionic order monument. Built on the Acropolis of Athens between 421 BC and 405 BC.  The Erechtheum contained sanctuaries to Athena Polias, Poseidon, and Erechtheus. From the body of the building porticoes project on east, north, and south sides. The southern portico, known as the Porch of the Caryatids, from the six sculptured draped female figures that support its entablature, is the temple's most striking feature.

The Corinthian style is often seen on Roman temples. Its capital is very elaborate and decorated with acanthus leaves.  The Corinthian style is the most ornate of the classic orders of architecture in Greece. It was also the latest. The Greeks made little use of the order, the chief example is the circular structure at Athens known as the choragic monument of Lysicrates, 335 BC. The temple of Zeus at Athens (started in the 2nd century BC and completed by Emperor Hadrian, was perhaps the most notable of the Corinthian temples.





Greeks used many different types of materials in their sculptures including stone and marble, as these were abundant in Greece. Other materials such as clay were also used but due to their brittle nature very few have survived.  Greek sculptures are very important as the majority of them tell us a story about Gods, Heroes, Mythical Creatures and Greek culture in general. Greek sculptures are mainly divided into 7 time periods, Mycenaean Art, Dark Age, Proto Geometric, Geometric Art, Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic.  Greek art and sculpture have been reproduced and copied by some of the finest artists to have ever lived.


The Greek pottery was the most developed art form of the pre archaic period. Large vases and other vessels were involved.

Greek pottery, at the beginning, was decorated with linear designs, then more elaborate patterns of triangles, zigzags and other similar shapes. Greek geometric pottery includes some of the finest Greek artworks, with vases typically made according to a strict system of proportions.

After 7th century, Greece renewed contacts with the Black Sea basin and the Middle East, led to a noticeable eastern influence, which was mastered by Corinth ceramicists.  The pottery result featured a wider repertoire of motifs, such as curvilinear designs, as well as a host of composite creatures like sphinxes, griffins and chimeras.  During the Archaic era, Greek decoration became more figurative, as more animals, and then human figures themselves were included.  This ceramic figure painting was the first sign of the Greek fascination with the human body.  Famous Greek Archaic-era ceramic artists included the genius Exekias, as well as Kleitias, Andokides, Euthymides, Ergotimos, Lydos, Nearchos and Sophilos.



Archaic Greek painting boasts very few painted panels. From the very few examples we have, are the Pitsa panels decorated in stucco colored with mineral pigments. Due to vandalism and destruction, few original Greek paintings have survived from this period.  All that remains are a few painted slabs of terracotta, some wooden panels and murals.  Since most vases and sculptures were painted, the growth of pottery and sculpture in Greece during the 7th century led automatically to more work for Greek painters. Additionally the temple walls in Greece, municipal buildings and tombs were decorated with fresco painting, while their marble or wooden sculpture was colored with tempera or encaustic paint. The most prevalent art form to shed light on ancient Greek painting is pottery. Greek pottery gives us a rough idea of Archaic aesthetics and techniques.


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