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Ancient Greek Sculpture


With the help of a local guide, we trace the steady evolution of Greek art through its statues: from stiff Archaic to balanced Golden Age, to jump-off-the-stage Hellenism.

Complete Video Script

[80, National Museum of Archaeology, Athens] We can follow the rise of Greece through the steady evolution of its art, from stiff to balanced, to "jump off the stage." In fact, a good art historian can date ancient Greek statues nearly to the decade just by looking at them.

[81, Niki Vlachou, Athens guide] With a local guide, we're tracking the evolution of Greek sculpture from the early Archaic Age to the Classical era — that's roughly 700 to 400 BC.

[82] Niki: This is all Archaic art, meaning the time of Greek history that they started making statues out of marble that were still very much influenced from the Egyptians. The Archaic statues would have very common characteristics between them — more generic characteristics. The hair would be long and beautifully curled, their faces would have a frozen smile, they would have the almond-shaped eyes — the high eyebrows, and would in general look very much alike.
Rick: It's like they're all cousins — they have the same little grin.
Niki: Yes, they do. And the names were kouros for the boys and kore for the girls. Very generic.
Rick: Just "boy," "girl."
Niki: Just "boy," "girl."
[83] Rick: So they didn't really have a very sophisticated understanding of the body.
Niki: No, the body's looking more oversized. All the parts of the body are there: their shoulders, their knees, and the general characteristics of the body anatomy — but, yes, they were more stiff and steady, and if they could move, they would look like monsters.

[84] So, we move to the Classical times: statues that evolve the same way as knowledge of the human body evolves. And they're able to depict beauty and anatomy in a much better way. From the Archaic times, when the statues were stiff and steady, we pass to more freedom and more balance of the way that the body's depicted, and to the contrapposto way of posing.

[85] Contrapposto is the way of posing the statues we depict that is kind of having the body shaped in the shape of the letter S, with all the weight of the body leaning on the one leg, leaving one shoulder more relaxed, and the body showing more movement.

[86, Artemision Bronze, c. 460 BC, National Museum of Archaeology, Athens] This is a beautiful statue from the Classical times depicting either Zeus or Poseidon. We don't really know since what he was holding has not been found. If it was Poseidon he would be holding his trident. If it was Zeus he'd be holding his thunder bolt.

[87] It's a statue that really shows how confident and strong the Greeks felt right after the end of the war with the Persians. So, through art, they were absolutely showing the way that they felt.

[88] Rick: And it clearly shows a mastery of the body; they understand the anatomy. And what time period was this from?
Niki: This is from the Classical times, specifically from 460 BC.
Rick: So if I was walking through Athens in 460 BC, what would it be like from an art point of view?
Niki: Athens in 460 BC would be like an open-air museum. Walking through the city you would see nothing else but beautiful art. Colorful marble statues, bronze statues, and temples everywhere you would look.