Ancient Greek Art

The art of the ancient Greeks is typically divided into four periods: Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. Collectively these periods span from roughly 1000 B.C. to 323 B.C. Stylistically these periods grow out of the earlier phase and works often overlap, but each period reflects the eventual culmination of the Greek aesthetic, an artistic identity that is often considered one of the world’s most influential.

The Greeks, like many other ancient artists, did not always practice art for art’s sake alone. Often artistically decorated items had a function in daily life. Vases, plates, jars are some of the most recognizable objects from the Greek repertoire of artistic artifacts. Besides their characteristic styles of pottery, the Greeks also designed metal objects (including figurines), terracotta objects, sculpture, and panel painting—though few of these latter items have survived the march of time. Architecture also features under the umbrella of the Greek aesthetic.

The Geometric period of ancient Greek art occurred during the development of the first Greek city-states and during the time of Homer. While some of the designs on objects like amphorae could certainly be described as geometrical in shape, others featured recognizable characteristics of Greek life like chariots, warriors, weaponry, and local animals like horses. Patterns of this period were angular in nature and people were often depicted by stick figures. Many elements of this period—coloration, for example—would be employed in subsequent periods of Greek art.

The Archaic period, best known for its vase painting and sculpture, witnessed a more narrative style of art. Humans and animals were depicted with more realism than the earlier era and conveyed a more fully-realized story or explained event. Figures of this period, like earlier, were painted black. The Classical period can be traced to the fifth century B.C. This Golden Age witnessed great realism of form as well as narration. Objects not only depicted common people and activities, but they captured scenes in which the Gods were at work or play. Figures were often painted red instead of black and infused with great detail. The Parthenon of Athens was built during this period that also witnessed a flowering of sculpture.

The Hellenistic period is associated with the reign of Alexander the Great. Greek art was spread to new territories and lands where it often mingled with the art it came into contact with. Art was also produced on a massive scale to accommodate the need for such objects in the new Greek cities that were springing up in lands conquered by Alexander and his armies. The art of this period also tends to be more active and depicts heroic scenes like Athena battling a giant. The art of ancient Greece would profoundly influence the art of Rome, and so, have lasting effects on the whole of Western Art.