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Ancient Greek sculpture

Athena in the workshop of a sculptor working on a marble horse,

Attic red-gure kylix, 480 BCE, Staatliche Antikensammlungen
(Inv. 2650)

Ancient Greek sculpture is the sculpture of ancient

Greece. Modern scholarship identies three major
stages. Frequent subjects were the battles, mythology,
and rulers of the area historically known as Ancient

1 Materials
Ancient Greek monumental sculpture was composed al-
most entirely of marble or bronze; with cast bronze be-
coming the favoured medium for major works by the Sculpture from the Ancient Art Collection at Yale.
early 5th century; many pieces of sculpture known only
in marble copies made for the Roman market were orig-
inally made in bronze. Smaller works were in a great va-
riety of materials, many of them precious, with a very
large production of terracotta gurines. The territories
of ancient Greece, except for Sicily and southern Italy,
contained abundant supplies of ne marble, with Pentelic
and Parian marble the most highly prized, along with that
from modern Prilep in Macedonia, and various sources
in modern Turkey. The ores for bronze were also rela-
tively easy to obtain.[1] Marble was mostly found around
the Parthenon and other major Greek buildings.
Both marble and bronze are fortunately easy to form and
very durable; as in most ancient cultures there were no
doubt also traditions of sculpture in wood about which
we know very little, other than acrolithic sculptures, usu-
ally large, with the head and exposed esh parts in mar- Natural marble
ble but the clothed parts in wood. As bronze always had
a signicant scrap value very few original bronzes have
survived, though in recent years marine archaeology or nicantly extended modern understanding. Many copies
trawling has added a few spectacular nds, such as the of the Roman period are marble versions of works origi-
Artemision Bronze and Riace bronzes, which have sig- nally in bronze. Ordinary limestone was used in the Ar-


chaic period, but thereafter, except in areas of modern ultraviolet light, specially designed cameras, plaster casts,
Italy with no local marble, only for architectural sculptureand certain powdered minerals, Brinkmann proved that
and decoration. Plaster or stucco was sometimes used for the entire Parthenon, including the actual structure as well
the hair only.[2] as the statues, had been painted. He analyzed the pig-
Chryselephantine sculptures, used for temple cult images ments of the original paint to discover their composition.
and luxury works, used gold, most often in leaf form and Brinkmann made several painted replicas of Greek stat-
ivory for all or parts (faces and hands) of the gure, and ues that went on tour around the world. Also in the col-
probably gems and other materials, but were much less lection were replicas of other works of Greek and Ro-
common, and only fragments have survived. Many stat- man sculpture, and he demonstrated that the practice of
ues were given jewellery, as can be seen from the holes painting sculpture was the norm rather than the excep-
for attaching it, and held weapons or other objects in dif- tion in Greek and Roman art.[4] Museums that hosted the
ferent materials.[3] exhibit included the Glyptotek Museum in Munich, the
Vatican Museum, and the National Archaeological Mu-
seum in Athens, et al. The collection made its American
debut at Harvard University in the Fall of 2007.[5]

3 Development of Greek sculptures

3.1 Geometric
It is commonly thought that the earliest incarnation of
Greek sculpture was in the form of wooden cult statues,
rst described by Pausanias as xoana.[6] No such statues
survive, and the descriptions of them are vague, despite
the fact that they were probably objects of veneration
for hundreds of years. The rst piece of Greek statuary
to be reassembled since is probably the Lefkandi Cen-
taur, a terra cotta sculpture found on the island of Eu-
boea, dated c. 920 BCE. The statue was constructed in
parts, before being dismembered and buried in two sep-
arate graves. The centaur has an intentional mark on
its knee, which has led researchers to postulate[7] that
the statue might portray Cheiron, presumably kneeling
wounded from Herakles' arrow. If so, it would be the
earliest known depiction of myth in the history of Greek
The Victorious Youth (c. 310 BCE). A remarkably weather-
preserved bronze statue of a Greek athlete in Contrapposto pose. The forms from the geometrical period (c. 900 to c.
700 BCE) were chiey terra cotta gurines, bronzes,
and ivories. The bronzes are chiey tripod cauldrons,
and freestanding gures or groups. Such bronzes were
2 Painting of sculpture made using the lost-wax technique probably introduced
from Syria, and are almost entirely votive oerings left
at the Hellenistic civilization Panhellenic sanctuaries of
By the early 19th century, the systematic excavation of Olympia, Delos, and Delphi, though these were likely
ancient Greek sites had brought forth a plethora of sculp- manufactured elsewhere, as a number of local styles may
tures with traces of notably multicolored surfaces, some be identied by nds from Athens, Argos, and Sparta.
of which were still visible. Despite this, inuential art his- Typical works of the era include the Karditsa warrior
torians such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann so strongly (Athens Br. 12831) and the many examples of the
opposed the idea of painted Greek sculpture that propo- equestrian statuette (for example, NY Met. 21.88.24
nents of painted statues were dismissed as eccentrics, and online). The repertory of this bronze work is not conned
their views were largely dismissed for more than a cen- to standing men and horses, however, as vase paintings of
tury. the time also depict imagery of stags, birds, beetles, hares,
It was not until published ndings by German archaeol- grins and lions. There are no inscriptions on early-to-
ogist Vinzenz Brinkmann in the late 20th and early 21st middle geometric sculpture, until the appearance of the
century that the painting of ancient Greek sculptures be- Mantiklos Apollo (Boston 03.997) of the early 7th cen-
came an established fact. Using high-intensity lamps, tury BCE found in Thebes. The gure is that of a stand-
3.2 Archaic 3

ing man with a pseudo-daedalic form, underneath which male and female, began wearing the so-called archaic
lies the inscription " ' smile. This expression, which has no specic appropri-
{}- ateness to the person or situation depicted, may have been
[]", written in hexameter. The La- a device to give the gures a distinctive human character-
tinized script reads, Mantiklos manetheke wekaboloi istic.
argurotoxsoi tas dekatas; tu de Foibe didoi xariwettan Three types of gures prevailedthe standing nude
amoiw[an]", and is translated roughly as Mantiklos of- youth (kouros, plural kouroi), the standing draped girl
fered me as a tithe to Apollo of the silver bow; do you, (kore, plural korai), and the seated woman. All empha-
Phoibos [Apollo], give some pleasing favour in return.
size and generalize the essential features of the human
The inscription is a declaration of the statuette to Apollo, gure and show an increasingly accurate comprehension
followed by a request for favors in return. Apart from
of human anatomy. The youths were either sepulchral or
the novelty of recording its own purpose, this sculpture votive statues. Examples are Apollo (Metropolitan Mu-
adapts the formulae of oriental bronzes, as seen in the
seum of Art, New York), an early work; the Strangford
shorter more triangular face and slightly advancing left Apollo from Ana (British Museum, London), a much
leg. This is sometimes seen as anticipating the greater
later work; and the Anavyssos Kouros (National Archae-
expressive freedom of the 7th century BCE and, as such, ological Museum of Athens). More of the musculature
the Mantiklos gure is referred to in some quarters as and skeletal structure is visible in this statue than in ear-
proto-Daedalic. lier works. The standing, draped girls have a wide range
of expression, as in the sculptures in the Acropolis Mu-
seum of Athens. Their drapery is carved and painted with
3.2 Archaic the delicacy and meticulousness common in the details of
sculpture of this period.
The Greeks thus decided very early on that the human
form was the most important subject for artistic endeav-
our. Seeing their gods as having human form, there
was no distinction between the sacred and the secular in
artthe human body was both secular and sacred. A
male nude without any attachments such as a bow or a
club, could just as easily be Apollo or Heracles as that
years Olympic boxing champion. In the Archaic Pe-
riod the most important sculptural form was the kouros
(plural kouroi), the standing male nude (See for example
Biton and Kleobis). The kore (plural korai), or stand-
ing clothed female gure, was also common; Greek art
did not present female nudity (unless the intention was
pornographic) until the 4th century BCE, although the
development of techniques to represent drapery is obvi-
ously important.
As with pottery, the Greeks did not produce sculpture
merely for artistic display. Statues were commissioned
either by aristocratic individuals or by the state, and used
for public memorials, as oerings to temples, oracles and
sanctuaries (as is frequently shown by inscriptions on the
statues), or as markers for graves. Statues in the Archaic
period were not all intended to represent specic indi-
viduals. They were depictions of an idealbeauty, piety,
Kleobis and Biton, kouroi of the Archaic period, c. 580 BCE. honor or sacrice. These were always depictions of young
Held at the Delphi Archaeological Museum. men, ranging in age from adolescence to early maturity,
even when placed on the graves of (presumably) elderly
Inspired by the monumental stone sculpture of Egypt[8] citizens. Kouroi were all stylistically similar. Gradua-
and Mesopotamia, the Greeks began again to carve in tions in the social stature of the person commissioning
stone. Free-standing gures share the solidity and frontal the statue were indicated by size rather than artistic inno-
stance characteristic of Eastern models, but their forms vations.
are more dynamic than those of Egyptian sculpture, as for
example the Lady of Auxerre and Torso of Hera (Early
Archaic period, c. 660580 BCE, both in the Louvre,
Paris). After about 575 BCE, gures such as these, both

of the Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, depicting a
Gigantomachy, c. 525 BCE, Delphi Archaeological

Dipylon Kouros, c. 600 BCE,

Athens, Kerameikos Museum.

Euthydikos Kore. c.
490 BCE, Athens, authorized replica, original in
National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The Moschophoros or calf-

bearer, c. 570 BCE, Athens, Acropolis Museum.

An Ethiopian's head
and female head, with a kalos inscription. an Attic
Greek janiform red-gure aryballos, ca. 520510
Phrasikleia Kore, c.
550 BCE, Athens, National Archaeological Mu-
seum of Athens.
3.3 Classical

The Classical period saw a revolution of Greek sculpture,

sometimes associated by historians with the popular cul-
ture surrounding the introduction of democracy and the
end of the aristocratic culture associated with the kouroi.
The Classical period saw changes in the style and func-
tion of sculpture, along with a dramatic increase in the
technical skill of Greek sculptors in depicting realistic hu-
man forms. Poses also became more naturalistic, notably
during the beginning of the period. This is embodied in
works such as the Kritios Boy (480 BC), sculpted with the
earliest known use of contrapposta ('counterpose'), and
the Charioteer of Delphi (474 BC), which demonstrates
Peplos Kore, c. 530 BCE, Athens, a transition to more naturalistic sculpture. From about
Acropolis Museum. 500 BCE, Greek statues began increasingly to depict real
3.3 Classical 5

Artemision Bronze, thought to be either Poseidon or Zeus, c. 460

BCE, National Archaeological Museum, Athens. Found by sh-
ermen o the coast of Cape Artemisium in 1928. The gure is
more than 2 m in height.

British Museum.

Riace bronzes, examples of proto classic bronze sculpture, Museo

Nazionale della Magna Grecia, Reggio Calabria

people, as opposed to vague interpretations of myth or en-

tirely ctional votive statues, although the style in which
they were represented had not yet developed into a real-
istic form of portraiture. The statues of Harmodius and Family group on a grave marker from Athens, National Archae-
Aristogeiton, set up in Athens mark the overthrow of the ological Museum, Athens
aristocratic tyranny, and have been said to be the rst pub-
lic monuments to show actual individuals. Funeral statuary evolved during this period from the
The Classical Period also saw an increase in the use of rigid and impersonal kouros of the Archaic period to the
statues and sculptures as decorations of buildings. The highly personal family groups of the Classical period.
characteristic temples of the Classical era, such as the These monuments are commonly found in the suburbs
Parthenon in Athens, and the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, of Athens, which in ancient times were cemeteries on
used relief sculpture for decorative friezes, and sculpture the outskirts of the city. Although some of them depict
in the round to ll the triangular elds of the pediments. ideal typesthe mourning mother, the dutiful son
The dicult aesthetic and technical challenge stimu- they increasingly depicted real people, typically showing
lated much in the way of sculptural innovation. Most the departed taking his dignied leave from his family.
of these works survive only in fragments, for example This is a notable increase in the level of emotion relative
the Parthenon Marbles, roughly half of which are in the to the Archaic and Geometrical eras.

Another notable change is the burgeoning of artistic

credit in sculpture. The entirety of information known
about sculpture in the Archaic and Geometrical periods
are centered upon the works themselves, and seldom, if
ever, on the sculptors. Examples include Phidias, known
to have overseen the design and building of the Parthenon,
and Praxiteles, whose nude female sculptures were the
rst to be considered artistically respectable. Praxiteles
Aphrodite of Knidos, which survives in copies, was often
referenced to and praised by Pliny the Elder.
Lysistratus is said to have been the rst to use plaster
molds taken from living people to produce lost-wax por- So-called Venus Braschi by
traits, and to have also developed a technique of casting Praxiteles, type of the Knidian Aphrodite, Munich
from existing statues. He came from a family of sculp- Glyptothek.
tors and his brother, Lysippos of Sicyon, produced fteen
hundred statues in his career.[9]
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Statue of
Athena Parthenos (both chryselephantine and executed
by Phidias or under his direction, and considered to be
the greatest of the Classical Sculptures), are lost, although
smaller copies (in other materials) and good descriptions
of both still exist. Their size and magnicence prompted
rivals to seize them in the Byzantine period, and both
were removed to Constantinople, where they were later

The Marathon Youth, 4th

century BCE bronze statue, possibly by Praxiteles,
National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Kritios Boy. Marble, c. 480 BC.

Acropolis Museum, Athens.

Hermes, possibly by Lysippos,

National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

Copy of Polyclitus'
Diadumenos, National Archaeological Museum,
Athens. Terracotta vase in the
3.4 Hellenistic 7

shape of Dionysus' head, ca. 410 BC; on display in

the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens, housed in
the Stoa of Attalus

Pottery vessel,
Aphrodite inside a shell; from Attica, Classical
Greece, discovered in the Phanagoria cemetery, Laocon and His Sons (Late Hellenistic), Vatican Museum
Taman Peninsula (Bosporan Kingdom, southern
Russia), early 4th century BC, Hermitage Museum,
Saint Petersburg.
with the consequent standardisation and (some) lowering
of quality. For these reasons, quite a few more Hellenistic
3.4 Hellenistic statues survive to the present than those of the Classical
Main articles: Hellenistic art and Phidias Alongside the natural shift towards naturalism, there was
a shift in expression of the sculptures as well. Sculptures
The transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic (or began expressing more power and energy during this time
Hellenic) period occurred during the 4th century BCE. period. An easy way to see the shift in expressions dur-
Greek art became increasingly diverse, inuenced by the ing the Hellenistic period would be to compare it to the
cultures of the peoples drawn into the Greek orbit, by sculptures of the Classical period. The classical period
the conquests of Alexander the Great (336 to 323 BCE). had sculptures such as the Charioteer of Delphi express-
In the view of some art historians, this is described as ing humility. The sculptures of the Hellenistic period
a decline in quality and originality; however, individu- however saw greater expressions of power and energy as
als of the time may not have shared this outlook. Many demonstrated in the Jockey of Artemision.[10]
sculptures previously considered classical masterpieces Some of the best known Hellenistic sculptures are the
are now known to be of the Hellenistic age. The technical Winged Victory of Samothrace (2nd or 1st century
ability of the Hellenistic sculptors are clearly in evidence BCE), the statue of Aphrodite from the island of Melos
in such major works as the Winged Victory of Samoth- known as the Venus de Milo (mid-2nd century BCE), the
race, and the Pergamon Altar. New centres of Greek cul- Dying Gaul (about 230 BCE), and the monumental group
ture, particularly in sculpture, developed in Alexandria, Laocon and His Sons (late 1st century BCE). All these
Antioch, Pergamum, and other cities. By the 2nd century statues depict Classical themes, but their treatment is far
BCE, the rising power of Rome had also absorbed much more sensuous and emotional than the austere taste of the
of the Greek traditionand an increasing proportion of Classical period would have allowed or its technical skills
its products as well. permitted. Hellenistic sculpture was also marked by an
During this period, sculpture again experienced a shift to- increase in scale, which culminated in the Colossus of
wards increasing naturalism. Common people, women, Rhodes (late 3rd century), thought to have been roughly
children, animals, and domestic scenes became accept- the same size as the Statue of Liberty. The combined ef-
able subjects for sculpture, which was commissioned by fect of earthquakes and looting have destroyed this as well
wealthy families for the adornment of their homes and as any other very large works of this period that might
gardens. Realistic gures of men and women of all ages have existed.
were produced, and sculptors no longer felt obliged to Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek
depict people as ideals of beauty or physical perfection. culture spread as far as India, as revealed by the exca-
At the same time, new Hellenistic cities springing up in vations of Ai-Khanoum in eastern Afghanistan, and the
Egypt, Syria, and Anatolia required statues depicting the civilization of the Greco-Bactrians and the Indo-Greeks.
gods and heroes of Greece for their temples and public Greco-Buddhist art represented a syncretism between
places. This made sculpture, like pottery, an industry, Greek art and the visual expression of Buddhism. Dis-

coveries made since the end of the 19th century sur-

rounding the (now submerged) ancient Egyptian city of
Heracleum include a 4th-century BCE depiction of Isis.
The depiction is unusually sensual for depictions of the
Egyptian goddess, as well as being uncharacteristically
detailed and feminine, marking a combination of Egyp-
tian and Hellenistic forms around the time of Alexander
the Greats conquest of Egypt. Various Hel-
lenistic sculpture fragments from the National Ar-
chaeological Museum, Athens

Statue of a prince or dynast with- monument of a dying Adonis, polychrome
out crown, traditionnally thought to be a Seleucid terracotta, Etruscan art from Tuscana, 250-100 BC
prince, maybe Attalus II of Pergamon. Bronze,
Greek artwork of the Hellenistic era, 3rd-2nd cen-
turies BC.

Fragment of
a marble relief depicting a Kore, 3rd century BC,
from Panticapaeum, Taurica (Crimea), Bosporan

The Winged Victory

of Samothrace (Hellenistic), The Louvre, Paris

Jockey of
Artemision. Late Hellenistic bronze statue of a Ancient greek terracotta
mounted jockey, National Archaeological Museum, head of a young man, found in Tarent, ca. 300 BC,
Athens. Antikensammlung Berlin.
4.1 Female 9

4.1 Female

Diane of Gabies dressing with a diplax

Female head partially

imitating a vase (lekythos), 325-300 BC.

Pallas over a peplos.

Bronze portrait of an un-
known sitter, with inlaid eyes, Hellenistic period, 1st
century BC, found in Lake Palestra of the Island of 4.2 Male

Buddhist frieze of Gandhara with devotees, Chlamys
holding plantain leaves, in Hellenistic style, inside
Corinthian columns, 1st2nd century CE. Buner,
Swat, Pakistan. Victoria and Albert Museum.

5 Notes
[1] Cook, 74-75

[2] Cook, 74-76

of a woman with her child slave attending to her, c. [3] Cook, 75-76
100 BC (early period of Roman Greece)
[4] Gurewitsch, Matthew (July 2008). True Colors. Smith-
sonian: 6671.

[5] October 2007, Colorizing classic statues returns them to

4 Drapery antiquity: What was really on that Grecian Urn? Harvard
University Gazette.

[6] The term xoanon and the ascriptions are both highly
problematic. A.A. Donohues Xoana and the origins of
Greek sculpture, 1988, details how the term had a variety
of meanings in the ancient world not necessarily to do with
the cult objects

[7] Archived February 27, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.

[8] The debt of archaic Greek sculpture to Egyptian canons

was recognized in Antiquity: see Diodorus Siculus, i.98.5-

[9] Gagarin, 403

[10] Stele, R. Web. 24 November 2013. <http://www.>

6 References
Cook, R.M., Greek Art, Penguin, 1986 (reprint of
1972), ISBN 0140218661

Gagarin, Michael, Elaine Fantham (contributor),

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and
Rome, Volume 1, Oxford University Press, 2010,
ISBN 9780195170726

Stele, R. Web. 24 November 2013. http://www.

7 Bibliography
Andrew Stewart: Greek Sculpture, Yale, 1990.

John Boardman: Greek Sculpture:The Archaic Pe-

riod, 1978.

John Boardman: Greek Sculpture:Classical Period,


John Boardman: Greek Sculpture:The Late Classical

Period, 1995.

R.R.R Smith: Hellenistic Sculpture, 1991.

Jenifer Neils: The Parthenon Frieze, 2006.

8 External links
Classic Greek Sculpture to Late Hellenistic Era, lec-
ture by professor Kenney Mencher, Ohlone College

Sideris A., Aegean Schools of Sculpture in An-

tiquity, Cultural Gate of the Aegean Archipelago,
Athens 2007 (a detailed per period and per island

9 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

9.1 Text
Ancient Greek sculpture Source: Contributors: Menchi, GT-
Bacchus, Wetman, ChrisO~enwiki, Sunray, Alan Liefting, Giftlite, Discospinster, Bender235, Furius, El C, Polylerus, Alansohn, Bobrayner,
Woohookitty, Pol098, WadeSimMiser, Mandarax, BD2412, Rjwilmsi, Husky, Yamamoto Ichiro, Crazycomputers, Bgwhite, Thiseye, See-
goon, Deucalionite, SmackBot, Kimon, HeartofaDog, Athinaios, Gilliam, Hmains, Skizzik, Chris the speller, Colonies Chris, Jeremyb,
MegA, Johanna-Hypatia, Minna Sora no Shita, Martinp23, Neddyseagoon, Iridescent, Shoeofdeath, Bridesmill, Wikipeder, Pascal.Tesson,
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son, JhsBot, Insanity Incarnate, AlleborgoBot, PericlesofAthens, SieBot, Coee, Flyer22 Reborn, Techman224, Prof saxx, ImageRe-
movalBot, Ricardo Frantz, ClueBot, JLROSENB, Ashmedai 119, Pointillist, Excirial, Jotterbot, Theramin, Chocblock, Ktg usa, Avoided,
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