What perfect timing! There is no better way to honor the great Olympic games than by spending some time with the game’s founding fathers: the ancient Greeks. Aside from the Olympics, the ancient Greeks are best known for their unparalleled excellence in art, architecture, poetry, drama, philosophy, government, law, logic, history and mathematics. They set so many of the standards that are seen throughout history as well as in today’s society, especially regarding the arts. Greek history is divided into several different periods: Geometric, Orientalizing, Archaic, Aegina, Early, High and Late Classical, and Hellenistic. As you can see, there is a ton of art from this time period. There is no way we’ll be able to cover all the time periods. So instead, we’ll be focusing on three areas: vase painting, sculpture and architecture. I will be choosing a few pieces for each category that, in my opinion, best represent ancient Greek skill and brilliance.
The ancient Greeks were extremely skilled in everything their hands touched — so it seemed. Painting was no exception. Vase paintings were highly popular among the ancient Greeks. Artists would paint scenes and depictions of gods and heroes of Greek myths. They would also paint what was occurring in daily life such as the many battles or wars. The best period known for their vase paintings is the Archaic period. In this period, ancient Greeks painted vases in the black-figured style. This meant that black forms that stood out against a reddish clay background. Artists would etch an image on the vase that would then allow the red beneath to be exposed. Around 530 B.C. things were reversed. Now there were red figures set on a black background.
Sculptures — the ancient Greeks excelled in this area. Their sculptures usually consisted of nude, male bodies or sensually clad female bodies with ideal proportions. They were representations of the perfect body through athletic and intellectual endeavors. Sculptures are almost always found in some kind of motion. To the surprise of many, when the Greeks created their sculptures, they decorated it with colored encaustic (pigmented hot wax). So the bleach white statues that we have come to associate with the ancient Greeks is not totally accurate. As well, the ancient Greeks incorporated this principle of ‘weight shifting,’ or contrapposto, into their sculptures. With contrapposto, we see the sculpture’s weight being held on one leg with the body realigned accordingly. This gives the sculpture a sort of relaxed look.
“Aphrodite of Knidos”
Architecture — one of the most influential art practices of the ancient Greeks. We see banks and courthouses that resemble Greek temples everywhere. This Greek style was very much in vogue, especially during the Renaissance and in the 18th century. The best example of Greek architecture is none other than the Parthenon. The Parthenon was intended to be the iconic piece of Athens, and undoubtedly, it was and still is. It crowns the acropolis in a way that no other structure can. Monuments and any piece of architecture were treated as sculptures to the Greeks. They were built on the rules of symmetry and ideal proportions. Each piece of the building was intricately made and many parts are inlaid with immense detailing of myths and gods — especially in the triangular pediments and horizontal friezes.
The ancient Greeks had a profound effect on the world, especially in the realm of art. Their style and way of thinking continues and will continue to influence other artists that we’ll be seeing on this blog. So stay tuned!
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