The Evolution of Art in Ancient Greece

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  • 0:08 Art in Ancient Greece
  • 0:49 Evolution of Architecture
  • 2:29 Evolution of Art
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the evolution of art across several periods of Ancient Greek history. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz on painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Art in Ancient Greece

If you've ever been to an art museum, you've seen the impact of Greek art. Ancient Greece was the first major European civilization, lasting from roughly 900 to 31 BC. The artistic achievements of this civilization set the standards for Western art, greatly influencing ideas about beauty, form, style, and the use of art that still impact us today. However, Ancient Greece did not span nearly a millennium without ever changing their artistic styles. Ancient art grew and was refined and altered by hundreds of artists over time, crafting it into a body of work that defined their civilization.

Evolution of Architecture

The first major developments in Greek architecture were during the Archaic Period, roughly 600 to 480 BC. This was the first time that Greek architects learned to make massive temples out of stone, generally using soft white stones like marble or limestone. During the Archaic Period, two orders of Greek architects emerged. First was the Doric Order, with smooth capitals on the tops of each column and decorations in the superstructure that resembled the ends of wooden beams; a nod to earlier temples. After that came the Ionic Order, with capitals that looked like scrolls and thinner columns.

While these styles were defined during the Archaic Period, they were improved upon in the Classical Period, which ran 480 to 323 BC. In this period, architects looked to math and claimed that aesthetic beauty came from ideal geometric ratios. Temples were built to reflect these perfect relationships between parts.

Around 447 BC, construction was started on the Parthenon, a gigantic temple to Athena that was amongst the grandest buildings of Greece and a nearly perfect example of the Doric style. Later in the Classical Period, another architectural order was developed, called the Corinthian Order and defined by capitals designed to look like foliage.

After the Classical Period, architects began challenging these traditions in the Hellenistic Period of 323 to 31 BC. Hellenistic temples did not rely on ideal ratios and also incorporated foreign styles, which architects discovered after Alexander the Great's empire stretched into Asia.

Evolution of Art

In the oldest period of ancient Greece, the era before Greek architecture, most Greek art was in the form of painted vases called 'amphorae'. This was called the Geometric Period of 900 to 600 BC, so called because these vases were covered in geometric designs, and occasionally featured abstract human figures.

By the Archaic period, when architects were first developing temples, vase art grew tremendously, using the red color of clay and black slip to create silhouetted human figures in scenes from history or mythology. This Black Figure style was extremely popular, but was replaced in the later Archaic period by Red Figure style, which used the black slip to create the background and left the figures in the natural color of red clay. Greek vase painting remained popular throughout Greek history, but the styles rarely changed after this.

Greek sculpture was one of the most notable areas of artistic development. Throughout the Geometric Period, the Greeks made miniature statues in bronze, usually only a few inches tall, that depicted humans in abstract form. The first life-size stone statues were developed in the Archaic period. They were stiff and rigid, modeled heavily on ancient Egyptian styles, but had thin smiles, a uniquely Greek trait.

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