My favorite art is art from ancient Greece, especially during the Classical and Hellenistic periods. Consequently, I also love Renaissance and Neoclassical art as they are revivals of classical Greek art. I think the reason why I love Greek art so much is that I am so amazed and impressed by the precision and accuracy of the Greek statues. Their naturalism and resemblance to real human form is simply uncanny. For the next little while, I will be blogging about Greek art.
Greek art holds a special place in the history of art. Many Greek cultural values remain tenets of Western civilization. Examples are the exaltation of humanity as a “measure of all things” and the development of democracy, the rule of the people. Several ancient Greeks also made significant contributions in the fields of art, literature, science, philosophy, etc. In fact, ideas from ancient Greece are such an integral part of Western society today that most people are unaware that these concepts originated in ancient Greece, over two and a half millennium ago.
The Greeks, or Hellenes, as they called themselves, seemed to have originated from the mingling of Aegean peoples and Indo-European invaders. The Greeks never formed one single consolidated nation. Instead they grouped into several city-states (“polis”), such as the Dorians and the Ionians. In 776 BCE, the Greeks held their first Olympic Games, where the city-states would come together and compete. Later Greeks would calculate chronology from the first Olympic Games. From the first Olympic Games on, despite the differences and rivalries between various city-states, they all regarded themselves as Greek (or Hellas), distinct and superior to the barbarians around them.
Greek gods differed from the gods of previous civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. The only difference between Greek gods and humans is that the gods were mortal. In fact, it has even been said that the “Greeks made their gods into humans and their humans into gods.” Greek gods had human faults such as jealousy. The perfect human turned into the Greek ideal and the objective of many Greek artists was to depict the ideal, beautiful, and flawless human being.
Although many of the most renowned works of art from ancient Greece come from all over Greece, Athens is the symbol of ancient Greek art (Athens is named after the Greek goddess, Athena). There was great entertainment in Athens in the form of plays and the city-states is home to several famous playwrights such as Aeschyus, Sophocles, and Euripedes. There was also a flourishing of intellect, as philosophers such as Socrates and Plato engaged citizens and formulated the ideal form of government in Republic (respectively). Balancing entertainment and intellect, was physical exercise. “The Athenian aim of achieving a balance of intellectual and physical discipline, an ideal humanistic education, is well expressed in the familiar phrase a sound mind in a sound body.”
*Source: Gardner’s Art Through the Ages