The Art of the Greeks



Lisippos, Crowned Athlete, bronze,
found in the Adriatic Sea

Red-figured situla, scool of Meidias
National Museum, Reggio Calabria,

The Rise of Individualism

The arrivai in Athens from Sicily of the painter Zeuxis was as important as that of the philosopher Gorgias, also from Sicily, who influenced the birth of rhetoric. However, during the Peloponnesian War (431-404bc). Athens was not the only artistic centre. Parrhasios was painting at Ephesos, as was his father Evenor, and Timanthes at Kythnos, in the Cyclades. Although attracted to Athens, these masters preferred to travel through Greece and the surrounding dominions: Zeuxis worked in southern Italy, Ephesos, Macedonia, Olympia, and Samos, and Parrhasios in Lindos, Rhodes, Samos, Corinth, and Delos. Theirs was "art for art's sake", to be appreciated by other experts, and so technically self-assured that its exponents believed they had found perfection - Parrhasios in his mastery of line and Zeuxis in his brilliant chiaroscuro. This boast was founded more on creative freedom than the secrets of the workshop. The climax of classical art amidst the crisis of war, the radicalism of the Athenian generai Alkibiades, and the impatience of the new intellectuals saw the creation of an extrovert painting style. Stating that he would rather paint for the future than for the city, Zeuxis portrayed a range of everyday subjects for a circle of independent art lovers, which suggests that genre painting was popular with individual enthusiasts.
The fall of Athens (404bc) marked the end of art as a means of existential knowledge. The city's artists had lost their gift for seeing nature in terms of the human form. and also lost faith in reproducing reality according to recognized rules: form was no longer governed by a feeling of certainty. Most of the works produced before the death of Alexander the Great in 323bc had highly original creators. who were working in exceptional circumstances. As the dominant role of the city diminished in the arts, and references to democracy grew fewer, artists became more aware of their independence. Following in the steps of Zeuxis, freedom from public directives encouraged them to replace representational objectivity with a personal agenda. The sculptors Euphranor, Silanion, and Lysippos all experimented with their own systems of representing the human body.




The best-known works of the painter Zeuxis (c.455-397bc) include Helen in the sanctuary of Hera Lacinia (Croton), Crowned with Roses, The Centaur, and Pan. Born in Heraclea, Sicily, he taught in Athens, seeking to sever official links with the city so he could practise "art for art's sake" His style is reflected in the ceramics of the Meidias Painter.

Pompei, Zeuxis ?



Among the typoi, or reliefs, that Pliny attributed to Euphranor is a funerary tablet (c.340bc) showing an aged parent who resembles the dismayed ambassadors in his Madness of Odysseos. In a marble in Athens' National Archaeological Museum, the dead are represented by a naked man who faces the viewer, shown in torment as he contemplates the scene. Beside him crouches a young boy, who has fallen asleep weeping, his head cradled in his arms. The dead appear to the boy as a dreamlike vision. Euphranor's bronze of Paris, son of the king Priam and his wife Hecuba, is designed to embody the hero's role as judge of the goddesses, husband of Helen, and the killer of Achilles. Euphranor portrayed the dignity of heroes, and preferred a muscular, physically robust look - he himself referred to his Theseos as beef-ted", as opposed to the richer and more elegant "rose-fed" Theseos of Parrhasios. His painting showed Theseos freed from the Minotaur, and it is known today from a copy completed in the first century BC. His critics often remarked on the comparatively large heads of his figures.

Paris, bronze,
found in the sea at Anticythera

Theseos with the Children Rescued from the Minotaur,
fresco, copy of original by Euphranor from Herculaneum,
first century bc
National Archaeological Museum, Naples




A sculptor and architect from Paros, Scopas (c.395-325bc) was active in Continental Greece, in the Peloponnese, and in Asia Minor. His original works survive in the Mausoleum of Halicarnassos (360-350bc) and his Aphrodite on a Goat, the Pothos, the Meleager, and the Maenad are also known from copies. He was noted for his vigorous and forcefully realistic style.

Probably, these two statues were right above the entrance in the east, between the columns of the Pteron. If this is correct, they must represent Artemisia and Maussolus, and were carved by Scopas.



Whereas the Paithenon frieze, the work of many different artists, was unified by its design, the Amazonomachia on the tomb of Mausolos, begun at Halicarnassos in about 360bc, shows a keen desire by the craftsmen to assert their individual characteristics. The reliefs on the four sides of the tomb were seen as an opportunity to compare the work of the different artists - Timotheos, Skopas, Leochares, and Bryaxis - and to discuss their relative values. Pliny writes that after the death of Artemisia (351bc), who had taken over the building project from Mausolos, "the four men did not stop work until it was finished because they realized it would stand as a monument to their talent and their glory, and the contest between them is still undecided today." The faces of Timotheos' soldiers show a classical composure - the calm determination of the ancient heroes. while the aggressiveness in Skopas' sculptures separates them from aristocratic sensibilities: the naked figures are violent, their mouths halt-opened, their nostrils flared, and their eyes flashing beneath frowning foreheads.

Timotheos, Amazonomachia, from Halicarnassos
British Museum, London



from the Temple of Bassae
British Museum, London



The work of Leochares (c.390-325bc) shows how he maintained a delicate balance in his sculpture between the different contemporary trends. The lightness of his Apollo Belvedere matches the attenuated proportions of the warriors carved by him on the Mausoleum. Because he has not concentrated the tension in one specific limb, the figure's weight is distributed equally between the two legs, while the bending of the left knee fills the whole body with energy. The undulating contours reflect a feeling of life and physical mobility that is enhanced by the formal vibrancy of the modelling, more so than in the work of Phidias. Apollo rises up from some remote depth, a supreme example of parousia ("presence"). It is generally accepted that he was an archer, his left hand grasping the bow from which he has just unleashed an arrow. In the enigmatic language used by Leochares, the god represents a perfect balance between the pitiless archer and the lord of the sun.

Apollo Belvedere
Roman copy from the original by Leochares
museo Pio-Clemento, Vatican City


Attic vase by Naples Painter
Shwing the divinities of Eleusis,
from Piedimonte d'Alife
National Archaeological Museum, Naples

Colossal bronze head of Hephaestion, c.324bc
Prado Museum, Madrid

Philosophy in Art

Hades and Persephone in the Chariot,
detail from the back of a throne.
Tomb of Queen Eurydice, Vergina, Greece

Individual spiritualism was upheld through belief in the "mysteries" which. unaffected by social and political change, promised personal salvation. The paintings of Eleusian mysteries. as seen on Attic pottery, had a metaphysical quality. and seduced initiates with their vision of benevolent beings in the afterlife. At Vergina, decoration on the marble throne of Eurydice, mother of King Philip, shows the sceptre and Persephone's ornaments in gilded relief, a technique also used on contemporary Attic pottery from Panticapaeum (Kerch). The use of gold led to the discovery of what Pliny calls splendor, a reflection that masks the original colour through the intervention of sunlight. Philosophy encouraged people to aspire to abstract thought: Plato urged an escape to a higher awareness and Praxiteles followed his example, returning to ideal models.
His statues give tangible form to qualities that were hidden to the naked eye, and women assumed a definitive role in art for the first time. Phryne, a courtesan and Praxiteles' mistress, was his model for a memorial to the absolute beauty contemplated by the spirit prior to reincarnation. His naked Aphrodite of Knidos, is a fitting representation of the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility; it was described by Pliny as "The finest statue not only of Praxiteles but in the whole world...." Silanion, also within the orbit of the Academy, examined the concept of "divine madness" with his bronze Portrait of Apollodoros, the subject of which was a follower of Socrates and himself a sculptor. Silanion captured the disdain with which Apollodoros, who was popularly called Manikos, smashed his own statues whenever they failed to achieve perfection.
Lysippos, too, explored new aspects of the artistic experience, with the difference that he and other Sikyonian artists did not shrink from physical experience because they were actively involved in new historical developments. From the domination of Thebes (371-323bc). Lysippos took it upon himself to express the experience of living in the midst of incredible change. He interpreted the social upheavals in emotional. ephemeral terms. The era of art as a medium for visual knowledge was brought to an end by the aesthetic philosophy of Aristotle. As the polis grew weaker, communication was transferred to the individual, unleashing the doctrine of expressive freedom preached by the philosopher. Life was portrayed at the "critical moment", represented by Kairos, the deity who Lysippos popularized in sculptural form. As the phenomenal influenced the physical, and reality became fragmented into countless facets, statues reflected the influence of myriad events on the personality and perceptions of the artist.



Pamphilos, a native of Amphipolis on the Macedonian coast and successor to Eupompos as head of the Sikyonian school of painting, encouraged the invitation of his pupil Apelles to Philip II's court. Apelles' Stag Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestiou was painted between 343 and 34()bc, the years when the prince was educated by Aristotle. Hephaestion became a friend of Alexander's during childhood and remained his closest companion. His face can be recognized from a colossal bronze in the Prado Museum. Madrid, a later work commissioned by Alexander. The dominant feature of the painting, reproduced in a mosaic in Pella, Greece, was the balanced relationship between the figures. The careful use of shadows gives a three-dimensional effect to the work, with the different figures on different planes. The foreshortened angle of the dog is contrasted against the flat, solid figures of the heroes, placed either side of the central axis. The feeling of emergent mass and convergent depth, and the illusion of space in the work, are the result of the positioning of regular shapes, as found in the teachings of Pamphilos. The entire group is contained within an ideal circle, and the gap between the hunters and their prey is evoked by the space around and at the centre of the picture. The action of the figures is frozen in suspended gestures, while the rhythm of movement is translated into monumental harmony. The bodies are placed within a mathematical symmetry. A shaft of light from the top left-hand corner illuminates all the figures in the centre but casts no shadows: "artists, when placing many figures together in a painting, distinguish them by means of spaces in such a way that shadows do not fall upon the bodies" (Quintilian). The large, clearly defined layout is matched by the narrow tonal range, in accordance with the use of only four colours, as espoused by Apelles. An effect of realism is created by muted tones and subtle shades, rather than with strong, separate colours.


A painter from Kofophon, Apelles (c.375-305bc) trained at Ephesos and Sikyon. He was court artist to both Philip II and Alexander the Great, and later worked for Ptolemy I and Antigonos. He created the classic Hellenistic style, his compositions and motifs being adopted for contemporary pottery ware and subsequently copied in frescos, mosaics, and on Roman jewellery

The Stag Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestion,
pebble mosaic,
copy after Apelles
Peristyle Houses, Pella, Greece




This mosaic is from one of the peristyle houses erected in Pella, Alexander the Great's native city, after his death. The custom of paving courtyards with pebble decoration dates from the Minoan civilization and continues to this day in the Mediterranean region. Strictly speaking, this work is not a mosaic because the pieces used were not previously cut into
even shapes. However, the technique was frequently used in Greece for the decoration of interiors from classical times up to the third century bc, after which mosaics were produced using uniform, square pieces. This scene, together with the Stag Hum by Alexander and Hephaestion, is from one of ten floors found in private homes in Pella that are decorated with geometrical motifs or paving stones. The Lion Hunt of Alexander and Hephaestion is a copy of an earlier statue group from about 343—340bc. The statue does not easily translate into mosaic: its border cuts through the handle of Alexander's spear, and the two boys and the beast are awkwardly arranged along a system of parallel lines.

The Lion Hunt by Alexander and Hephaestion
pebble mosaic
Archaeological Museum, Pella, Greece

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