In the early classical, or transitional, period (c.480–450 B.C.) a new humanism began to find its aesthetic expression in terms of a perfect balance between verisimilitude and abstraction of form. The largest surviving single group of sculpture is from the temple of Zeus at Olympia. Although certain conventions in rendering hair and draperies persist from the archaic period, the magnificent marble figures from the pediments reveal a new kind of insight into the structure of the human figure.
The “golden age” of Greece lasted for little more than a century but it laid the foundations of western civilization. The age began with the unlikely defeat of a vast Persian army by badly outnumbered Greeks and it ended with an inglorious and lengthy war between Athens and Sparta.
The height of this period was the time of Pericles and Thucydides, of the great dramatists Sophocles and Euripides, and of the young Socrates. The aesthetic ideal based on the representation of human character as an expression of a divine system embodying a rational ethic and ordered reality was integral to the culture. The sculptor Polykleitos sought to arrive at a rational norm for the structure of the ideal human figure.
The most magnificent original sculptures from this period are those from the temples of the Athenian acropolis. Earliest of these are the Parthenon sculptures including the frieze representing the Panathenaic procession and the pedimental sculptures (see Elgin Marbles). The Parthenon sculptors are anonymous, but Phidias is believed to have drawn up the designs. Somewhat later in date are the sculptures of the Hephaesteum, the Erechtheum, and the Nike Balustrade.
In the late classical period (there was increased emphasis on the expression of emotion in art. Sculptural works attributed to Praxiteles are characterized by elegance of proportion and graceful beauty. Powerful emotional effects are typical of the sculpture in the style of Scopas, and a new feeling for individualization and three-dimensional movement appeared in the art of Lysippos.
Other sculptors of the period between 500 and 300 B.C. were Myron, Kresilas, Timotheus, and Bryaxis; painters included Polygnotus, Apollodorus, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, and Apelles. Aside from literary references, little is known about the actual work of these men. The style of the sculptors is adduced from fragments and Roman copies. Even less is known about the painters. From the vase paintings some reconstruction of the Greek school of mural painting is possible.
The Battle of Marathon took place during the first Persian invasion of Greece. The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greek army decisively defeated the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars.
Important battle during the Persian War, in which the Greek allies defeated the Persian navy. After the Persian victories at Artemisium and Thermopylae, king Xerxes proceeded to Athens, which he captured in the last days of September 480.
One of the earliest surviving examples of korai, displaying one of the oldest inscriptions of Ancient Greek in stone. The inscription reads:
“Nikandre dedicated me to the goddess, far-shooter of arrows, Nikandre, the daughter of Deinodikos of Naxos, distinguished among women, sister of Deinomenes and wife of Phraxos."
While some scholars see the blocky nature of the woman’s body as unfeminine, others believe the more masculine depiction was used to illustrate the respectability and stature of the woman in her society.
The Sounion Kouros (kouros being the Greek word for ‘young man’) is one of the largest examples of this kind of statue, standing at 3.05 metres tall. Its stance is a conventional one, with its left leg in front of the right and an even distribution of weight between them. The style is more stylised than naturalistic, with its large earlobes, almond-shaped eyes and very symmetrical proportions, emblematic of the Archaic period.
The twin kouroi are said to be characters from a legend told by Herodotus. They harnessed themselves to a wagon in place of oxen and pulled their mother to the temple of Hera. Having accomplished this feat, they feasted, went to sleep in the temple and, at the urging of their mother, were granted the highest honor men may receive — death. Their stocky rounded frames are typical of the Peloponnesian style. They are idealistic representations of masculine strength and piety.
A statue of a woman or goddess wearing an embellished polos and holding a pomegranate — a fruit with funerary associations — in her right hand. She is adorned with jewelry, and traces of red, blue and yellow pigment are discernable. There is no clear indication of the purpose this object had. The pomegranate could denote a gift to a goddess, or a representation of the goddess Persephone.
Piraeus Apollo is an Archaic style bronze sculpture, seen to be the final stage in the development of the kouros type. Though it maintains the simplicity of earlier kourai, the positioning of the limbs gives a far more lifelike effect than for example the Anavysos Kouros. He strides forward with his right leg, instead of the usual left, and his head is slightly bent to the front and right, abandoning the strictly frontal viewing position of the kouroi.
This unusually fleshy statue stands stiffly with his hands clenched. It is a funerary statue. On the base a verse is carved:
"Stand and grieve at the tomb of Kroisos the dead,
in the front line slain by the wild Ares"
One of the best known examples of Archaic Greek art. Originally colourfully painted, this statue gets its name from the heavy woolen garment it wears. The bore holes in its head suggest that it would have been decorated with jewelry, perhaps a crown, indicating it could be a depiction of a goddess.
A small Archaic kore (only 50cm tall) which still bears the marks of earlier embellishment. This sculpture is attributed to Archermos from Chios. She wears a chiton, as well as a transverse himation hung to her right shoulder. With her left hand she moves the chiton so she can move her leg, while her right hand used to have an offering. Her face and hair are far more detailed than earlier similar statues.
Another funerary statue, and one that is considered a landmark in the development of Greek sculpture. This kouros has a smaller head than earlier examples of kouros, with greater attention paid to muscle groupings and proportion (most notably the detail on the legs) in a way that is almost naturalistic. Furthermore, the hair is cropped shorter than on earlier kouroi, and the arms are no longer trapped at the sides. Despite this, the stiff pelvis and spine do not allow for the illusion of movement. This piece is attributed to an Attic sculptor, who was familiar with and understood the structure of the body and the balance of its individual parts.
The Kritios Boy belongs to the Early Classical period of Greek sculpture. It is the earliest surviving statue to use the contrapposto pose that is typically associated with Greek sculpture in the public imagination. This positioning displays a deeper understanding of how the body’s components act as a system than the statues of the Archaic period. In another notable departure from its predecessors, this statue’s lips are rendered in a lifelike fashion, rather than the fixed smile of the Archaic man.
This is the head of a lost statue of a young man, belonging to the late Archaic or Classical period. His features are still overwhelmingly stylistic (almond eyes, helmet-like hair) though softer than the same examples on earlier statues.
Another statue of the Early Classical period (like the Piraeus Apollo, it straddles the line between idealism and realism) and one of the best-preserved examples of classical bronze casts. The statue was made to commemorate the victory of a chariot team in the Pythian Games, which were held at Delphi every four years in honor of Pythean Apollo. It was originally part of a larger group of statuary, including the chariot, four (possibly six) horses and two grooms. Some fragments of the horses were found with the statue.
The stance of the Charioteer, the attention paid to both the folds of his chiton and his feet and even the man’s softly curled hair and beard and even the nobility of his facial expression are a remarkable departure from the earliest Greek statues, exemplifying the balance between stylized geometric representation and idealized realism.
An inscription on the limestone base of the statue shows that it was dedicated by Polyzalus, as a tribute to Apollo for helping him win the chariot race. The inscription reads: "Polyzalos dedicated me. ... Make him prosper, honoured Apollo."
An Early Classical representation of either Zeus or Poseidon (most commonly thought to be Zeus), slightly over life-size. This sculpture represents complete mastery of the human anatomy, with the bulging veins on his feet and variegated transitions between its muscles indicating that the bronze was rendered from a human model. Even so, the slightly exaggerated proportions give the sculpture a bearing worthy of its divine status.
Praxiteles’ creation broke one of the most tenacious conventions in Greek art in which the female figure had previously been shown draped. Its slender proportions and distinctive contrapposto stance became hallmarks of fourth-century B.C. Greek sculpture.Praxiteles’ creation broke one of the most tenacious conventions in Greek art in which the female figure had previously been shown draped. Its slender proportions and distinctive contrapposto stance became hallmarks of fourth-century B.C. Greek sculpture.
The Amasis Painter, was an ancient Greek vase painter who, with Exekias, was among the most accomplished of Archaic vase painters. He was responsible for the decoration of several of the black-figure amphorae, cenochoae, and lekythoi of the Amasis Potter.
The Amasis Painter, amphora
Andokides and Lysippides
Euphronios, volute krater
Kleophrades Painter, hydria
The Berlin Painter, volute krater
Pan Painter, hydria
Pan Painter, oinochoe
Chicago Painter, pelike
Niobid Painter, calyx krater
Lykaon Painter, pelike
Meidias Painter, hydria