Substantive Education

March 5, 2009

Greek Sculpture in the round.

More information for my Art class.  I’ve had to pick and choose which pieces to include here, so these are representative of the different periods of Greek scupture.  There were so many beautiful and moving sculptures to choose from, each with their own stories.  We covered more in class, but these are the ones you will be tested on.

Kroisos (Kouros)

Kroisos (Kouros)

During the archaic period Greek Sculpture followed a set of rigid guidelines, not all that different from the Egyptians.  The Kouros were life size or larger freegreek-art-41 standing sculptures of nude young men.  They were made from either wood, terra-cotta or white marble and were generally presented mid stride and were brightly painted.  The Kouros have been found in both graveyards and lining the way into a sanctuary.   Some believe that the youths may have been famous athletes, others that the figures were symbolic of fertility and the continuity of the family.

One of the identifying features of these statues is the Archaic smile.  It is a characteristic close lipped smile used to enliven the expressions of the figures.

Unlike earlier statues where the clothing gave clues as to the social class and

Peplos Kore

Peplos Kore

position of the person be honored, the nudity of these statues removes them from a specific time, place, or class.  While similar to the Egyptians these figures are more lifelike presented with greater anatomical accuracy.  Their massive limbs and torsos suggest heroic strength and on the bases of some there were engravings that advised the viewer to stop, remember and emulate the noble qualities.

The corresponding female statues were always shown clothed and were called kore.  It is believed they probably represented deities, priestesses, or nymphs.  Nymphs were young female immortals who waited upon the gods.

This is the Peplos Kore, so named because of the distinctive drape of cloth, usually of wool, that is folded over her bodice and pinned at the shoulders.  This figure once wore a metal crown and earrings and still has traces of the paint that once covered it’s surface.

When the Persians sacked the city of Athens in 480 BC many of the statues were broken and left as debris.  Later the Acropolis was built on top of the rubble.  Later excavations have revealed many of the abandoned statues.  This Kore was one of these forgotten pieces.

The Discus Thrower

The Discus Thrower

During the classical period sculpture changed dramatically.  Although sculptures still used a canon of proportions the sculptures were much more lifelike and had greater individual characteristics.  Faces showed greater emotion and figures were often found in motion.  This is no small feat.  Working with heavy marble it required a great deal of skill and mathematical understanding to provide counterbalances that left these statues standing and not tipping to one side.  The discus thrower is a perfect example of the classic period of Greek sculpture in the round.  Myron was the famous Greek Sculpture of the Discus thrower.

Myron, however, did not do this sculpture in marble, but in bronze.  The Greeks discovered how to do hollow-casting with bronze which allowed a great deal more freedom than marble and soon became the medium of choice.  This choice has left us with few original Greek statues.  It was just to easy and tempting to melt down the statues and reuse the bronze.  Fortunately the Romans often made marble copies of the works before they were melted down.  What has survived of the discus thrower are Roman copies and not the original.

In the discus thrower Myron caught the athlete as he poised to unwind and propel the discus.  While Myron

Riace Warrior

Riace Warrior

was greatly admired for this work it is interesting that he was just as famous in his day for another sculpture that did not survive, a bronze of a cow.

The Riace Warriors are two bronze statues that have survived.  The warriors were found at the bottom of the ocean and meticulous conservators have worked to restore them to their original conditions.  They provide an interesting peek into the Greek mindset.  The body is an idealized, heroic leader/warrior whose youthfulness is belied by his more mature face.  The face is that of an older man who has acquired wisdom and experience.  These advantages of youth and experience are brought together in one work.  The lifelikeness of the statue was enhanced by the addition of eyeballs made of stone and colored glass.  The eyelashes and eyebrows were made of separately cast individual strips of bronze, and the lips and nipples were done in copper.  There is plating along the teeth that suggest they were done in silver.

Aphrodite of Knidos, Praxiteles

Aphrodite of Knidos, Praxiteles

This next figure of Aphrodite was done by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles.  He created the statue for the city of Knidos.  This work is considered seminal because it is the first time we know of that the Greeks did a public statue like this of a woman in the nude.  Although nudity was expected and admired for male statues it had been considered a sign of low character in women.

This piece however won wide acceptance and viewers of the day found the statue to be of such enchanting beauty that it was considered a public model of positive moral values.  The story is told that Aphrodite herself came down to view the statue and upon seeing it exclaimed, “Where did Praxiteles see me naked?”  This was a favorite statue among the Romans and hundreds of copies were made, with more than 50 surviving to today.

The Hellenistic Period in Greek art shows a drastic change as pieces show extreme

Gallic Chieftain killing his wife.

Gallic Chieftain killing his wife.

expressions of pain, stress, anger, or despair.   Not all works during this period were like the three I’ve chosen to include here.  Some combined these elements with the classical elements.  You will notice that the artists is trying elicit a specific emotional reponse from the viewer, this was characteristic of Hellenistic art.  This movement started in Pergamon in Asia Minor.

In this first work we see one of the works done as part of a group commemorating the Greek victory over the Gauls.  The Greeks admired the heroism of the Gauls and sought to arouse the viewers admiration and pity for his subjects.  In this work we have a chieftain killing his wife and himself.  This was originally part of a group of statues on a raised dias that could be viewed from all sides.

Laocoon and His sons

Laocoon and His sons

This next work was inspired by the story of Laocoon.  During the Trojan war, the priest,  Laocoon warned the Trojans not to trust the gift of the Trojan horse, that it was a trick designed to bring the enemy into the city.  The gods who were on the sides of the Greeks during the war wanted to retaliate against Laocoon for his warning.  They sent a sea creature to kill him and his sons as the wondered along the shoreline.

This work was meant to be viewed from the front and many historians believe this is actually an original Greek sculpture and not a Roman copy.  The work shows the anguish of Laocoon as he struggles to free himself and his children.

This last work is the famous Nike, or goddess of victory.  Originally

Nike of Samothrace

Nike of Samothrace

seen descending from the prow of a ship this sculpture shows the goddess as she descends against an ocean breeze.  Her arm which has been lost (although pieces have been recovered) would have had her right arm coming up to cup her mouth as she shouted out the victory.   The original piece was fittingly part of a war memorial.  Feeling the movement and power of the piece viewers are struck by it’s size and beauty.  The wings provide a backward thrust that balances the forward motion of the body.  The image of the body underneath the clothing is clearly seen showing the skill of the artist.



  1. […] immediately recognize the Archaic smile. It is evident that the Etruscans were familiar with the Kouroi of Ancient Greece. However, they didn’t copy the Kouroi, they made it their own. The obvious […]

    Pingback by Etruscan Art « Substantive Education — March 13, 2009 @ 12:16 am | Reply

  2. hi ,i am learn art as subeject this information are more use full for me ,

    Comment by malawa — August 18, 2009 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  3. our country is very poor we dont have mony to get some europen arts books i like to painting arts and learn history of art we dont have not enought fasilites for learn them i will requist u give a some help to me to counitnew my art knowlage
    thank you

    Comment by malawa — August 18, 2009 @ 7:55 am | Reply

  4. Malawa, I’m glad it’s helpful. Soon I will be adding information about art from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. What country do you live in?

    Comment by kbagdanov — August 18, 2009 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  5. You write beautifully about Greek Vases. Am I free to teach from your writing and presentation? I teach high school art in Garland, Texas.

    Comment by dw — September 14, 2009 @ 3:52 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the comments, sure you are welcome to use any of the material.

      Comment by kbagdanov — September 14, 2009 @ 5:00 am | Reply

  6. This is a beautiful presentation (Greek Vases). Can I teach from your presentation?

    Comment by dw — September 14, 2009 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  7. I really enjoyed this article! It helped alot on my paper about Greek Art. THANK YOU!

    Comment by kyler — September 20, 2009 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Kyler, I’m glad it helped.

      Comment by kbagdanov — September 21, 2009 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  8. This is my first time ever taking art class, I found it very hard specially with the art vocabulary but I love the way you describe each scripture it’s like telling a story.

    Comment by laila — January 18, 2010 @ 3:31 am | Reply

    • Thanks Laila, glad it helped. I hope you have fun in your art class.

      Comment by kbagdanov — January 18, 2010 @ 4:44 am | Reply

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