Ancient Greek sculpture evolved significantly since its Archaic period counterpart; artists no longer restricted themselves to depicting idealized figures that epitomized youth like in Classical period sculpture.
This period saw the introduction of more negative themes into sculpture, such as suffering, old age and death. Furthermore, a fascination developed for human muscular systems.
The Early Archaic Period
The Early Archaic Period saw significant change throughout Greece. From politics, economics, international relations, warfare and culture – to city states or polis formation and the establishment of democracy. It was during this time that much was achieved.
During this period, Greece saw an explosion in population and wealth, prompting Greeks to come up with new strategies for how best to distribute this wealth – creating some of the most groundbreaking political experiments ever attempted in antiquity.
Athens implemented an innovation designed to bring about social changes. A new law enabled citizens to vote on laws affecting them – this laid the foundations of early democracy in Greece as well as creating the classics.
One of the most remarkable events during this time was the rise of Sparta, a city-state which developed an obsessively militaristic mindset to conquer its region. Society in Sparta was structured around two principles; success meant mastering two areas of power – war and rhetoric.
Important developments also occurred with the rise of monumental sculpture. Animal and geometric forms began giving way to more lifelike, Egyptian-influenced styles of art that represented both Egypt and the Near East.
Monumental sculpture in Greece consisted of two main categories of monumental work, kouroi (or upright nude males) and human statues. The former featured rigid body posture with idealized body forms as well as the signature “kouros smile.”
This style of sculpture can often be found on tombstones for young men, as well as athletic event trophies. Although they were not entirely eliminated during the Archaic Period, their numbers significantly reduced by the seventh century.
At this time, the earliest surviving vase paintings began becoming more realistic and lifelike, reflecting increased human proportion and anatomy knowledge; moreover, archaic smiles were becoming more frequent on these early vases that served as precursors of red-figure pottery that later became common in Ancient Greece.
The Early Classical Period
The Early Classical Period marked a turning point in ancient Greek sculpture. It marked a new era of realism and rationalist art that eventually saw philosophy shift away from spiritual concerns toward more human concerns.
Sculptural work produced during this period often focused on depictions of human bodies. While Archaic period sculpture depicted idealized figures with idealized figures of beauty and physical perfection, during Early Classical period artists began depicting actual people in realistic poses due to an artist’s discovery that living people exhibit what’s known as “weight shift”, or contraposition when standing in various postures.
These findings were then utilized to re-model statues and pediments so as to appear more realistic. Realism techniques proved particularly important for sculptures with decorative pediments as it helped emphasize figures’ bodies while adding beauty.
One example of this can be seen on the east pediment of Olympia Temple in Greece where pedimental figures adorning its east pediment are depicted with expressionless faces and await chariot races; but one seer expresses horror at foreseeing Oenomaus’ death – something not present in Archaic statues and breaking from Early Classical Severe style statues, thus giving viewers an inkling into foreboding events about to transpire.
Contrasting limbs was another important realism technique, often found in bronze statues and pediments where an artist would use this technique to show one leg more relaxed while the other rigid. This allowed them to accurately portray muscle tendons within figures’ bodies, further increasing realism of pieces.
At this point in history, sculptors’ increased emphasis on realism led them to pay closer attention to details in their drapery and clothing designs, more closely matching real life than stylized patterns. Fabric was often carefully carved and painted for enhanced realism in designs.
Early Classical Period sculpture saw significant advances in its depiction of people more realistically and this trend became the primary distinguishing characteristic of Greek art. This could be explained by their emphasis on humanism and rationalist ideas resulting in more realistic depictions of the human form.
The Late Archaic Period
Late Archaic Greek sculpture was heavily impacted by cultural and political developments during this era of history, most significantly with regard to monumental stone temples appearing. Furthermore, human form began more closely resembling sculpture than ever before during this era.
Early examples of sculpture during the Archaic period were predominantly created from stone, although clay and wood were later utilized as well. Sphinxes and human figures were common forms of artwork during this time period and their colors often represented seasons or special events.
At this period in Greek art history, Greek artists made use of various shapes, but one unique style to them was the kouroi, or athletic male figure statue. While originally based on Egyptian models, over time these statues became increasingly realistic as time progressed.
One Korai from Aphaia Temple at Aegina depicts a more naturalistic body that compares more closely to that of Apollo than other known models, while their facial features also appear more realistic.
This style of sculpture became increasingly popular during the Classical Period. It aimed to recreate human form more naturally.
These statues were often decorated with inscriptions or other ornamental details such as animals, plants or flowers carved onto them.
Another hallmark of this period was the rise of ceramic technology, particularly thick, rough ceramics that often had fiber tempering for strength and could produce multiple colors simultaneously.
During the Late Archaic Period, people began to cultivate an awareness of plant-based foods as sources of nourishment. They harvested and stored surplus fruits, nuts and seeds as an insurance against future need.
The Late Archaic Period can be identified by its transition towards more permanent settlements that were far larger and spread more rapidly throughout their environment. Although foraging was still practiced, settlements grew much larger more quickly within their environment.
The Late Classical Period
The Late Classical Period (480-323 BCE) in ancient Greece saw profound transformations. For the first time ever, Greek sculpture began embracing naturalistic styles and experimented with different poses and proportions.
These sculptures of this period reflected a new way of life that had taken hold in ancient Greece, especially with regards to exact sciences that challenged traditional religious beliefs and instead introduced order and meaning into a person’s life – leading them toward greater enlightenment.
Archaic Greek statues typically depicted rigid vertical figures; by contrast, classical sculptures were three-dimensional snapshots of human motions and made the body an increasingly important subject, enabling sculptors to create dynamic poses with full of energy.
Athletes were transformed from simple everyday figures into full-figured works of art through sculpture; The Nike of Samothrace for instance exudes drama that had not previously been present in Greek sculpture.
Another significant trend during this period was a shift from idealized representations of men and women towards depictions of everyday, ordinary people. Early Archaic Period examples could be found of this trend but by Late Classical Period these figures had become more realistic.
As an excellent example of the artist’s skill at depicting nudity and mortality, consider this Roman reproduction of Hellenistic sculpture of a Gaul in which large and strong muscles indicate his status as an injured warrior who is imminently about to pass away.
This sculpture captures death with stunning realism. The contrast between tensioned and relaxed muscles demonstrates the sensations associated with pain and impending collapse, effectively conveying emotion in its depiction and showing that art could capture both beauty and significance in sculptures that captured moments such as these.