The Classical Period480 – 400 BCE“In the first place, the fifth century b.c. is one of the epochs in the history of art which have made the most important and fruitful conquests in the field of naturalism. Not merely is this true of the early classical style of the Olympia sculptures and the art of Myron; the whole century shows a joy in nature which, with some short pauses, is continually on the increase. It is precisely the fact that its impulse to be true to nature is almost as strong as its desire for proportion and order which distinguishes Greek classicism from the later classicist styles derived from it.”Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art , Volume 1
Polykleitos was trained in the Severe Style and extended the concepts of that period creating even more fluidity in the movement. In the Classical Period the muscular development connecting torso to legs becomes more pronounced. It has been suggested that the athletes of the period actually developed this area rather than this being an invention of the sculptors.
The Classical Period is one of the most important periods for its influence on later styles and periods of art. As we will see this period influenced the great Italian Renaissance sculptors Donatello and Michelangelo and the late 19th century artist Rodin.
The Doryphoros or Spear Bearer demonstrates the new ideals in regards to the beautiful in Greek art. Proportion and contrapposto become more subtle and, to create a more lyrical figure Polykleitos adds an interesting system of cross balances in the arms and legs. This system softens the absolute symmetry of the human body creating a contrast in the bodies contour on the left and right.
Praxiteles is one of the most important sculptors of the 4th century BCE and his work demonstrates the changes that take place in Greek art of this period. In earlier periods the artists seem to have held to a common aesthetic but in the Classical Period the artists seem to develop more individual forms. Praxiteles continues the use of weight shift, contrapposto but adds to it the “S” curve. These three devices give the figure more grace and beauty
Praxiteles – Hermes and
Ca. 340 BCE
The female nude was extremely rare until the 4th century BCE. It has been said that Praxiteles was the first to sculpt the female nude. Kenneth Clarke wrote in his scholarly work, The Nude, “It is remarkable that in the female nude there is hardly a single formal idea of lasting value that was not originally discovered in the 4th century.” Knidos was the sacred island of Aphrodite (Aphrodite becomes Venus in Rome). Praxiteles created the cult idol for her temple on the island. As one entered the temple they would view the Goddess from behind as she steps into a ritual bath. Notice at the feet of Aphrodite there is a dolphin with Eros on its back. These are symbols of the goddess and we will see them again on the Roman Augustus of Primaporta.
Venus de Medici (after Praxiteles)
Pliny, the Roman writer, said of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite, it was “ superior to
all works of art, not only of Praxiteles, but indeed in the whole world.
There is a tale that two male pilgrims went to Knidos to pay homage to
the goddess of love. As they entered the temple they saw the statue of
the goddess as we see her in the Venus de Medici. They were so taken
with her beauty that they bribed the priest to allow them to come around
so they might see her in her full glory.
Another story about the beauty of Aphrodite concerns Phidias. Phidias
had done a sculpture of the goddess and when it was seen a rumor
spread through Athens that the model was as beautiful as Aphrodite.
Heresy! Phidias was brought to trial before the all male senate. When
it came time for his defense the model was brought in, Phidias removed
the pin that held up her garment, the garment fell to the floor. Phidias
was acquitted as she was truly as beautiful as the goddess.
We have here two
more examples of
Roman copies of
the Aphrodite by
Praxiteles. Not all
copies are of quality.
Notice the arm
brought forward in the
Aphrodite of Knidos,
clumsy. This occurred
during the restoration
of the sculpture.
Lysippos was the most renowned artist of the second half of the 4th century BCE. He was a sculptor for Alexander the Great. In his work we see a new set of proportions which makes
the figure more slender and elegant. The
differences are slight but profound.
ca. 330 BCE
This beautiful figure, Hermes tying his
Sandals, has been attributed to Lysippos
but the attribution has been challenged.
The proportions are consistent with those
stated in Lysippos canon.
Michelangelo spoke of the sculpture being
in the stone and that the task of the
artist was to release it.
In the Apoxymenos we see Lysippos
moving the sculpted figure into the viewers
space. Another innovation in the sculptors
work is the introductions, as can be seen
here, of a spiraling or twisting affect in
Lysippos’ Hercules at Rest , is found
at the Archeological Museum in Naples,
Italy. The museum is one of the great
repositories of Classical (Greek and
Roman) art. It and the great
Capodimonte Museum make a trip to
Naples very rewarding . . . then have
a pizza. Naples is the birth place of the
The emotion captured by Lysippos in
this sculpture is astonishing. Through
the formal devices used by artists to
communicate Lysippos captures the
exhaustion of this Classical giant.
Hercules at Rest
ca. 320 BCE
Hellenistic323 – 31 BCEThe Hellenistic Period begins with the death of Alexander the Great and ends with the defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra at Actium.In the art of the period we see an expansion of subject matter from the young through the old. The figures are no longer idealized butare more naturalistic. Complex dramas also emerge in this period.In the Hellenistic Period Athens becomes less influential and power shifts to the cosmopolitan cities of the East.
Comparing these two sculptures is
very interesting. The Dying Warrior
is a product of the Archaic Period,
the piece by Epigonos is an example
of what is often called the Hellenistic
Baroque style. The Dying Gaul shows
the intense drama that characterizes
many Hellenistic sculptures. The pose
of the Dying Gaul, the realism of the
face and the expression of total
exhaustion creates a vividly theatrical
piece which is the essence of the
Hellenistic Baroque Style.
As your text says, “The
Hellenistic statues interact
with their environment
and appear as living,
breathing, and intensely
emotive human (or divine)
The Dying Warrior is
more stylized adhering to
the principles of the Archaic
Epigonos, Dying Gaul, ca. 230 – 220 BCE
Dying Warrior, ca. 490 – 480 BCE
The Nike of Samothrace
is one of the glories of the Hellenistic Baroque Style. As with some of the other sculptures of the period the compositions become complex. “The fountain’s flowing water created the illusion of rushing waves dashing up against the prow of the ship. The statue’s reflection in the shimmering water below accentuated the sense of lightness and movement. The sound of splashing water added an aural
dimension to the visual drama. Art and nature were here combined in one of the most successful sculptures ever fashioned.” This same aesthetic is seen in the great Italian Baroque artist, Bernini. Many of Bernin’s most moving works use nature as an artistic tool.
Nike of Samothrace
ca. 190 BCE
One of the most beautiful aspects
Of the “Winged Victory” is the sensitive
play of the complex ins and outs of the
contour. As the piece was to be seen
from a distance the contour is extremely
The Farnese Bull was carved in the 2nd century BCE. This “mountain of marble,” as it has been called, was discovered in Rome in 1545.
The narrative comes from Classical mythology. Dirce was tied to a bull as punishment for her ill treatment of Antiope.
Apollonius and Tauriskos,
The Farnese Bull
2nd century BCE