Ancient Greek sculpture

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Greek art, and sculpture especially, since ancient Greek painting couldn’t survive in time, influenced western art immensely. The Greek sculptors had “a desire to know”, as Aristotle had put it, and it is certain that they followed this throughout. During the Classical period, Greek sculptors focused their energies on the human figure which they tried to depict as naturally as possible. In the Renaissance, the Greek art, and its drive for perfection of the human form, was rediscovered. In the 6th century BCE, one hundred and fifty years before Classical Greek sculpture started developing, Sculptors almost perfected the rendering of the male nude in white marble. However, this perfection was largely superficial, because the figures were lifeless, just perfectly put together.
As the sculptures began to look more like real men, artists began to notice that the advantages of the kouri, products of the rigid Archaic period, had now become disadvantages. The pose, representing neither action nor stillness, made the figure look awkward. When the bronze casters began their studies of the human body in motion, the marble sculptors could only follow by studying figure movement themselves. The Greeks studied the movement of the body, how weight is carried, and how a shift in stance could affect the placement of limbs, torso, and head. After the Persian invasion of Greece in 479-480 BCE there was a brief flowering of arts and philosophical growth. The Greek thinkers were most concerned with issues of ethics and of emotions, and many studied the 'science' behind body language in order to discover more about man's inner thoughts. This study of body language led to a number of theatrical works, mostly tragedies. Τhe sculptors took the study of the human body to great lengths, eventually creating pieces that not only depicted the human form on the outside, but ones that also mirrored the inner self.
Much of Greek art was meant to thank the gods for good fortune, and to hopefully gain favour in their eyes for good times to come. Therefore, many Greek temples were specially built to hold a cult statue. For example, the Erechthieon, located in the Acropolis, was built to commemorate the struggle for the conquest of Athens between Athena and Poseidon. Finally the prize was won by Athena, with her gift to the town of an olive tree.

However, Greek gods were mainly reflections of Greek life itself. Therefore, Greek sculpture tended to humanize myths, depicting a more man-like god, or a god-like man. Most statues were originally created to revere a particular god or goddess. Most of them were of superhuman size and clothed in grandiose garments that have deteriorated over time. Eventually, as the Greek temple began to incorporate elaborate carvings into its structure, sculptors were also called upon to create large reliefs on the pediments, the triangular space between the columns and the roof. The most notable example of religious sculpture was one of the seven wonders of antiquity. The golden statue of Jupiter in Olympia created by the greatest sculptor of all time Phidias, centuries later was taken to Constantinople where it perished in a palace fire. Because religion was so important during the beginning of the Classical period, gods were portrayed in a standard naturalistic form

As time passed by, sculptors were no longer restricted to the rendering of gods and goddesses, and quite often were asked to create large tomb statues to represent the ancestors of a family. These tomb statues, fine examples of which we find in The Keramicos, right under the Acropolis, would show the ancestor in a relaxed pose, often dining in their own home. Successful athletes and thankful families would also have statues of themselves placed in a temple to pay tribute to a god. During this time period, sculptors would only use enough detail to differentiate between the physique of a boxer and a runner, but the portrayal of individual faces was yet to be developed. All these marble statues were painted with encaustic colours, and quite often were true to life. It is reported that in Sicily a young man fell in love with a beautiful colourful Venus.

Finally, in the 5th century BC, portraiture became the trend. Statesmen and generals would have their faces carved on what is called a bust. For the next three centuries, sculptors were trained to map a face in complete detail. It is this perfectionism that attracted Roman interest, and when the Greeks fell to the Romans, Roman sculpture became a continuation of Greek sculpture centuries after the fall of the Greek Empire. Most of the most famous Greek statues were copied by the Roman sculptors. Some of the greatest Greek sculptors besides Phidias, were Praxiteles, Scopas and Lysippus the official sculptor of Alexander the Great.