Ancient Greek sculpture has a special place in the history of the art, an art which all the peoples of the earth have practiced. Ancient Greek sculpture humanises nature and natural phenomena, even the Gods themselves which, of course, were given personalities by the ancient Greeks. This is the impression given by the figurines of the Mycenaean era, the statuettes and figures of the Geometric Period, and, before then, the Early Helladic and Cycladic figures.
In all these works we see the perfect figure, free of anything superfluous. As well as this simplicity, these works are united by the clear and consistent “architecture” of the figures. The art of the Archaic and Classical Periods is based on the same principals.
Greek sculpture mainly portrayed religious themes and was used exclusively for religious purposes. The Greeks presented these works of art at the great Panhellenic sanctuaries, either to ensure the Gods’ favour before embarking on an endeavour or a contest either on the battlefield or on stage, in music, in literature or art, or to give thanks for a successful outcome. Funerary statues also had a religious character.
The basis for the development of Greek culture was founded in the Orientalizing Period (720-650 BC), so named because of the close connections with the East. This cultured developed in the Archaic Period and came of age in the Classical Period. New horizons opened up for the Greeks of the diaspora and for those in the Greek cities. They adopted the progress made in other countries in all areas of life, including in their thinking and their art, and this gave them the opportunity to invent and to create new compositions.
The first major innovation in sculpture was the appearance of the Colossus sculptures. This was a result of the Greeks learning about the type of monumental sculpture which was established in the East, especially in Egypt.
In the Archaic Period and the Early Archaic Period (650-570 BC), sculpture returned to geometric forms, with strict structure being more important than plastic volume.
In the Middle Archaic Period (570-530 BC) the Greek world, gripped by a thirst for action and knowledge, went through many phases, developing and progressing organically. It can be said that Greeks, by nature, cannot tolerate shapes and forms being depressingly and persistently repeated. From the colossi and the square and other-worldly forms of the early years, sculpture changed and moved closer to human dimensions.
In the Late Archaic Period, the Greeks began to decorate their temples with sculptures. There were sculptures everywhere, usually showing wild beasts and mythical characters. The size of these statues varied according to the size of the temple.
Going on to the Classical Period and the Early Classical Period (500-450 BC), the subjects of the statues longer stood firmly on two feet. The weight of the body was shifted to one side of the statue, usually the left. This variation in the stance between the two sides of the body meant that the position of the other limbs and the rest of the body also changed.
In the High Classical Period (450-420 BC) the rigor and robustness of the early classical figures was succeed by a gentleness, tenderness and maturity.
With the Rich Style (420-390 BC) there was an increased focus on showing the type of clothing that covered the body. The clothing is supple and graceful, and reveals the body underneath, almost as if it were transparent.
The generations of Greeks living in the Late Classic Period (390-323 BC) were somewhat tired after the marvellous work produced by their ancestors. They project this feeling of fatigue onto the world of the Gods and onto their heroes. In this period, heroes and Gods are imagined and represented as resting, lying down, sitting or supporting themselves on something.
The next age is the Hellenistic Period which takes its name from spread of Greek civilization which took hold everywhere that Alexander the Great reached. The Greek way of life and art in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea now spread to the Far East and to India, influencing and changing local artistic styles.
Finally, we come to Greek sculpture in Roman times, when the Romans were influenced by Greek culture and achievements in the sciences and the arts, and adopted Greek culture and lifestyle in Italy. During those years there was a strong trend of rediscovering Greek art, which is more evident in sculpture. This trend gave us exciting creations, works which are characteristic of the new concepts of beauty.