As Greek sculpture progressed toward idealized human forms and higher artistic skill, they also found new ways to convey emotion through figures. Their skills at representing drapery also increased dramatically.
Scholars have examined how sculptors polished stone surfaces to prepare them for painting, then applied color to create depth perception and achieve depth.
Sculpture in the Archaic Period
Archaic sculpture experienced many developments during its Archaic period. First and foremost, human figures began to depict more movement through slight bends of arms to convey muscle tension or lifelike forms of the torso and its organs. One significant development during this era was a rapid improvement in anatomical accuracy from Egyptian-esque statues to more realistic representations of bones and muscles, along with more pronounced “archaic smiles” on faces of figures by their creators.
Noteworthy about this era is its introduction of artistic recognition for sculptors. For the first time ever, individual sculptors were identified by name, with their works described in written sources such as Pliny the Elder’s Natural History. This advancement made possible comparison between different artists such as Phidias, who designed and constructed the Parthenon; and Praxiteles whose nude female sculptures would inspire artists for centuries after them.
Marble was the preferred material for sculpture during the Archaic period, as it was durable, affordable and easy to carve. Due to being soft compared with other stones such as granite or slate, however, more care and attention must be given when handling. As such, smaller statues were usually created out of marble while for larger statues harder stones such as granite were utilized instead.
One of the most significant archaeological finds from this era was a kouros statue from Athens’ Acropolis. This piece has long been believed to be created during Archaic period due to its similarity to statues from this era; moreover, unlike most Archaic kouroi it contains all essential features; therefore the sculptor made sure all necessary parts were present on it.
Metopes were another key aspect of temple decoration during this era, featuring decorative pieces called metopes that could be attached to temple exterior walls as decorative pieces. Metopes from one temple at Selinunte in Sicily depicts Perseus cutting off Medusa’s head!
Sculpture in the Geometric Period
Geometric Period art marked an incredible leap forward in art technique, creating sculptures with more naturalistic and realistic features. This was especially evident in human figures where Geometric sculptors took great care to depict all musculature of their bodies more realistically and were even the first to depict fully standing people with the classical contrapposto posture (weight shifting from leg to leg while standing up), such as seen on female figures found at Dipylon grave (dated 480-476 BC).
As with the Archaic period, no distinction was drawn between secular and sacred sculpture, and male nude figures produced were often meant to represent either gods or high-ranking warriors or politicians. Most statues from this era do not depict people; rather they portray ideals of beauty, piety or honor.
Geometric sculptors also produced clay and bronze figurines besides stone statues; these ranged from crudely formed pieces found at Dipylon Grave to more refined works by Hirschfeld that depict funeral procession as well as burial processions, or ekphora. These may have ranged in quality depending on who made them; some clumsily, while others displayed increasing skill and artistry – for instance a group of five ivory female figurines found there and another depicting an ekphora by Hirschfeld depicted an example is found at Dipylon Grave.
At this period, there was also an increased sensitivity towards depictions of fabric and drapery; many sculptors demonstrated great delicacy when depicting these aspects of their subjects. Like in Archaic Art periods, many artists continued using vibrant hues when depicting figures.
Geometric Period art was heavily influenced by both Minoan and Egyptian styles, yet maintained its own distinct identity. While more detailed human figures dominated, representations of animals and birds became more popular. Gable sculptures decorated stone temples extensively; there was even a fascination for monsters as evidenced by a three-headed dragon found once attached to one such gable at Acropolis.
Sculpture in the Classical Period
Classical Period sculptors took classical Greek art to new heights, producing lifelike statues that captured viewers for centuries and continue to influence artists today. In this era, sculptors achieved mastery over depicting emotion and fluidity within human figures while breaking free of longstanding artistic conventions across many cultures.
Notable differences included an increase in artistic credit given for individual sculptures; previously they had typically been assigned by craftsmen; this marks an unprecedented recognition for each sculptor himself as artists, reflecting its increasing value as art works rather than mere utilitarian decorations or symbols.
As well, during this era the contrapposto pose was introduced, emphasizing muscularity while giving statues a sense of movement by suggesting muscular action that was caught momentarily in time. There was an upsurge in interest regarding Greek ideals of beauty during this era, making beauty ever-more essential in society.
Sculptors made great advances in their technical knowledge and skill with marble sculpture, particularly discus thrower Myron (late 2nd or early 1st century BC) and Nike of Paionios at Olympia (2nd or early 1st century BC). Both pieces display improved knowledge of human anatomy allowing more musculature to be shown while the figures appear more expressive – particularly Nike of Paionios where its figures seem as though they had just snapped in motion momentarily!
Marble was an inherently difficult medium to work with, yet artists of this era managed to master its challenges and produce some of the greatest masterpieces ever seen in world history. Furthermore, these artists were among the first to capture intangible qualities like mood and grace in their sculptures, which continue to inspire artists today.
As Greek culture spread beyond Greece, its sculptures were widely copied. This created a common artistic style during Roman era which ultimately improved upon previous Greek artistic traditions while adding their own innovations.
Sculpture in the Roman Period
Romans had an admiration of Greek sculpture, copying many originals in great numbers and producing numerous copies as copies instead of just painting over originals. Many copies have survived for us today – these demonstrate a distinct departure from rigid archaic figures by showing increasing naturalism in human forms sculpted by artists; especially through increased understanding of anatomy that allowed artists to portray human figures with more lifelike poses by showing musculature more clearly and providing clearer views of skeletal structure; one statue depicting Aphrodite now has pupils and iris sculpted rather than just painted over as was previously done before!
Portraiture and funerary art also expanded more realistically during this period, depicting their subjects in more relaxed poses that weren’t always standing up straight. Hellenistic sculpture also began depicting more varied subjects including Satyrs and Maenads that made use of body language to convey emotion as well as physical power and beauty; classical contrapposto was often utilized for this effect and it increased muscle tone considerably in its subjects – very effective.
Monumental sculptural decoration became an integral component of temples and other public buildings; for instance, the Parthenon was covered in sculpture on its pediments. Architectural sculpture also introduced new types of figures: victorious warriors portrayed alongside triumphal arches depicting an emperor leading an army that conquered and enslaved “barbarians”.
At this period, marble was the material of choice for sculpture as it could be easily carved than porous stone and had an exquisite shimmer when polished. Three types were available – Naxos marble was well known for its fine, bright shine; Parian had rougher, translucent qualities; Athenian was yellow when fresh but quickly changed into its characteristic soft honey hue when aged; Romans pioneered relief sculpture into their buildings.