Rich in tradition and culture, Greek art is perhaps one of the most influential art forms. However, in an effort to keep us from combining every style and artist into one generic name, I've outlined some of the most distinguished periods in Greek art history.
1. Geometric Art
Geometric art in ancient Greece was prominent between 900-700 BCE. It often featured human figures in narrative, and the most prominent similarities among almost all Greek Geometric Art was the presence of triangles, concentric circles, and checkerboard shapes. Human figures were also often highly stylized. A well-known example includes the Terracotta krater, which was made around 750-735 BCE and was used as a grave-marker. This krater was decorated with funerary representations.
2. Orientalizing Art
Orientalizing art in ancient Greece was popular in Greece between 700-600 BCE. Orientalizing art represented the influence of other cultures, such as that of the ancient Near East and Egypt. The influence of the rigid body style sculptures of Egypt is prominent in pieces such as the Lady of Auxxere. But, unlike Egyptian sculptures, the Lady of Auxxere has negative space.
3. Archaic Art
Archaic art was prominent in ancient Greece between 600-480 BC. Archaic sculpture consisted of the “archaic smile” found on the faces of the subjects. It also includes the Kouros, which represented male figures as nude and the Kore, which represented the female figures as draped. During this period, temples began to emerge throughout Greece. These styles of temples included the Doric and Ionic orders, which varied in the fact that the Doric frieze contained a triglyphs and metopes while the Ionic frieze contained a continuous narrative. Also, red figure and black figure vase paintings were prominent. An example of Greek art during the Archaic period includes the Suicide of Ajax, a black figure vase painted around 540 BC by Exekias. In this piece, Ajax has been passed over for promotion and commits suicide due to his humiliation.
4. Early Classical Art
The Early Classical art in ancient Greece can be seen around the time of 480-450 BC. Early Classical art, unlike Archaic art, moves towards a more realistic portrayal of the human body. In stark contrast to Archaic art, the artists and sculptors used their eyes to replicate the movements of the human body. In Archaic art, the body was represented in a strict, fully frontal profile. The Archaic smile is no longer as present in Early Classical Art, also showing the movement towards more realistic portrayals of human form and nature as observed by the artist. An example of Early Classical Art includes the Artemision Bronze, which presents Zeus (or Poseidon), with his arms raised - possibly meant to hold a lightning bolt. This piece was created around 460 BC, and it perfectly depicts a more realistic form of the body in action, rather than focusing on rigid body positioning.
5. High Classical Art
The High Classical period in ancient Greece was prominent around 450-400 BC. During this period, artists continued to focus on more realistic renderings of the human form as the human anatomy in these sculptures becomes more accurate. They achieved the zenith of the “ideal” realistic depiction of the human body as seen in the Doryphoros sculpture of Polykleitos, which was made around 440 BC. This sculpture established the “kanon” (Greek word for law), or ideal mathematical proportions for the human body in art. However, Greek artists soon began to stray from such realistic depictions.
6. Late Classical Art
The Late Classical art period in ancient Greece can be dated to approximately 400-323 BC. During this period, artists broke free from the ideals set by Polykleitos’s Kanon and aimed to represent something exaggerated in the human form. Also, the first female freestanding nude in Greek art was made during this time. In addition, artists began moving towards a more humanistic portrayal of the gods. Most importantly, artists such as Skopa began to incorporate emotions in Late Classical art, which paved the way for Hellenistic art. An example includes the sculpture of the Apollo Belvedere, which not only portrays the god in human form, but also creates a sense of emotion in the depiction of the god’s movements. This piece was created around 350-325 BC.
8. Hellenistic Art
The Hellenistic art era in Greece existed between 323-30 BC. During this time period, sculptors introduced intense emotions, often portraying stories of war and victory. Such dramatized forms strayed away from the Classical period, as artists depicted emotional and energetic shapes through ultra realism. Verism portrayed the ultimate truth of these sculptures, as can be seen in the 2nd century marble sculpture of the Old market woman. This sculpture depicts the old woman in a weary and withered appearance, as realistically as possible. Unlike the previous works of ancient civilizations, Hellenistic artists attempted to convey the true appearance of their subjects in their representations of them.