Monday, January 3, 2011

Art of Ancient Greeks

Archaic Period

Kouros dr Tenea - 530-520bc

The Archaic period of Greek history (600-480nc) began in Athens when the statesman Solon codified the privileged position of the wealthy, while at the same time giving jurisdiction to the people (594-591BC). The aristocracy gloried in colossal kouroi (statues of nude youths), erected at Cape Sounion (590-580bc). Emerging from the isolation of the Daedalic Vision. these figures appeared as a perikalles agalma, "an image of great beauty" (for the pleasure of the gods and the contemplation of mortals). In Corinth, one of the Seven Sages, Periander, succeeded Cypselus ( his father) and maintained a court of poets, musicians, and artists. Between 600 and 560bc, he encouraged the production of the middle Corinthian wares, which dominated Western markets. In Athens, the first known master of the black-figure technique was Sophilos. He signed a vivid. epic scene of the games held in honour of Patroclos before Achilles and a crowd of Achaeans in about 580bc. The François Vase, made slightly later by Ergotimos and Kleitias, was commissioned in about 570bc by an Etruscan lord. A second generation of kouroi can be seen in the statue from Volamandra from about 565bc. The way in which the triangular stomach joins with the legs creates an effective sense of harmony. The skin is stretched tautly over the muscles, and the figure's mouth turns up in a smile. During the late Corinthian period (from 560bc), Corinth lost its monopoly on exports to Athens, where, from 561 to 555bc and from 546 to 528bc, the tyrant Pisistratos fostered a policy of economic expansion. Here, the representations of myths began to include the relationship between man, heroes, and gods. Later kouroi showed a more athletic musculature, as in the statue of the youth buried at Anavysos (c.540bc). He stands on a large, stepped plinth inscribed: "Stop and grieve at the tomb of the dead Kroisos, slain by wild Ares in the front rank of battle." The arms, linked to the pectoral muscles, no longer touch the body, while the face reveals a realistically modelled lower jaw and slightly parted lips. From 528 to 510bc, Endoios remained the favourite artist of the sons of Pisistratos. He is credited with having created the pediment on the Acropolis that shows Athena defeating the giants. This was probably a dedication by Hippias to make up for a conspiracy by Aristogeiton and Harmodios that resulted in the death of Hipparchos (514bc). For a century, the kouros was skilfully used by sculptors as a way of investigating the reality of different social and religious circumstances. The subject was portrayed as a bringer of offerings, a dead man. a hero, and even a god, as in the advancing bronze figure of Apollo from Piraeus (c.525bc). The canrving of the female figures (korai) on the Acropolis, employs the use of circular bases to dictate the form of the whole figure. The sun plays on the curved surfaces of the marble, penetrating its crystals, and the light seems to suggest an extra dimension to the stone. During the same period, the exiled Alkmaeonid clan employed the sculptor Antenor to work on the pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. A statue of a goddess there has the same structure as the kore on the Acropolis, which was completed by the artist on his return to Athens after the expulsion of Hippias. Circular bases were soon replaced by rectangular plinths to accommodate the increasingly extroverted gestures of the figures. When Kleisthenes, an Athenian statesman of the Alkmaeonid clan, introduced his democratic reforms between 509 and 507bc, Antenor created a bronze monument in memory of the unsuccessful tyrannicides Harmodios and Aristogeiton.

Attributed to Agelades Tydeos (better known as Bronze A),  from the sea at Riace, southern Italy.
National Museum, Reggio Calabria

The First Realism

In 479bc, the Athenians re-established their territorial security with a victory over the Persians at Plataea. Fragments of statues left in ruins by the Persians were religiously gathered up and buried on the Acropolis. Fire had completely destroyed paintings by the "primitives" which had for so long provided the models for the portrayal of gods and heroes. The resultant need for the Athenians to rethink their institutions combined with their victory, meant that they were able to plan the future of their city with confidence. For the first time. artists depicted their subjects in realistic situations and characterized them according to surrounding events.

The Severe Style

In sculpture, the transition to realism can be seen in the works of Kritios, Nesiotes, and Egia in Athens, and Agelades at Argos. Using dynamic, fluid outlines, Micon and Myron rejected the solidity of the work of Polygnotos and Kalamis, and in painting. Micon developed spacial concepts, depicting the area between figures and landscape, lifelike gestures and movements. and the tangled tumult of battle. In Myron's statue of Ladas at Olympia (460bc), the runner looks as though he is about to leap off his pedestal; his Timanthes (456bc.) raises his arms to his head to fasten his leather cap; and the legs and torso of his Discus Thrower (c.450bc) are long, the body lean and tense, and the muscles taut. The head echoes the oval shape of the Bronze A, one of two bronze warriors found off Riace, in southern Italy. The pose and physique of Myron's colossal statue of Zeus, on Samos, imitate the work of Agelades. Influenced in Athens by the imagery of the theatre, Myron arranged his sculptures like paintings, using the type of layout that culminated in his group Apollo and Marsyas.

Laocoon and His Two Sons Hagesandrus, Polydorus, and Athenodorus ,Ist century BC
Vatican Museums, Rome

Roman Restoration

The arrival of the Romans in in Greece in 167bc signalled a nostalgic reversion by Greek artists to forms of the past. They looked back to the distant days of classical form and more recent Hellenistic works for inspiration. In 166bc. a free port was opened by the Athenians at Delos, an event that led to the economic decline of Rhodes and a crisis for its school of bronze-workers, whose final works included the mournful groups of Scylla and Laocoon. Thanks to commissions from the Roman ruling class, work produced by families of traditional Athenian sculptors was revived. Likenesses of Italic merchants at Delos were placed on statues carved in the old aristocratie style. A small painting on marble from the city of Herculaneum, Girls Playing Knucklebones (derived from a work by Zeuxis and signed by Alexander as copyist) was delicately coloured according to classical rules. At Pergamum, Rhodes, and Antioch, the importance of the space around a sculpture diminished, in deference to the Athenian style, while a Neo-Egyptian style appeared at the court of the Ptolemies, giving visual form to the religious reconciliation foisted on Egypt by their Macedonian invaders. The realistic style used to raise social awareness by earlier generations was exaggerated in the realism of Alexandrine artists. The result verged on the romantic, but was a reminder of and a comment on social injustices. It marked the slide from Utopian ideals to disenchantment, and the beginnings of civilization on a mass scale.

Venus de Milo

The Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous pieces of ancient Greek sculpture. It is believed to depict Aphrodite (called Venus by the Romans), the Greek goddess of love and beauty . It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (80 inches) high, but without its arms and its original plinth. From an inscription on its now-lost plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; it was earlier mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. The statue dates to about 130 BC. Despite this relatively late date, its composition is a mixture of earlier styles from the Classical period of Greek sculpture. It is not known exactly what aspect of Venus the statue originally depicted. It is generally thought to have been a representation of Venus Victrix holding the golden apple presented to her by Paris of Troy (see also the Judgement of Paris). This would also have served as a pun on the name of the island Melos, which means "apple" in the Greek language. A fragment of a forearm and hand with an apple were found near the statue and are thought to be remnants of its arms. After the statue was found, numerous attempts were made to reconstruct its pose, though it was never restored.

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