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The Six Major Divisions of Ancient Greek Art: 2000 BC to 30 BC

Ancient art and architecture are not only for historians but for people like us who’ve always been interested in periodic art and crafts.

Antique Greece - A collection of decorative design elements - Greek letters of the alphabet, people, a ship, a horse, and decorative Grecian ornaments.

Antique Greece - A collection of decorative design elements - Greek letters of the alphabet, people, a ship, a horse, and decorative Grecian ornaments.

The History of Greek Art

Civilization in Western Europe can be traced to the culture that evolved in the Grecian peninsular and adjoining islands around 2000 BC. The early Greek inhabitants were endowed with an unusually logical and observing mentality, creative instincts, and great ingenuity. They strived to attain perfection in all skills and abilities, attributes evidenced in the great heights the Greeks eventually reached in literature, philosophy, and the fine arts.

6 Main Divisions of Greek Art

There are six main divisions of Greek art. The earliest influences originated from the Orients and the later years reflected a spirited native talent that developed into a unique aesthetic expression of what we now refer to as Grecian art. Although the dates of these periods are subjective, the progression of the following list of the six eras will explain better how the aesthetic expressions of Greek art evolved.

The Primitive Era – Around 2000 to 1000 BC

The primitive era evolved around 1500 BC during the Dorian invasions of the Mycenaean and Cretan civilizations. By the 10th century BC, it was succeeded by the Homeric Era, regarded as the period of the Greek Olympian gods and goddesses. Then came the dark ages, the years of pillage and plunder, the times of terror, and the barbarian wars and invasions that terminated in the Trojan war.

It was a period devoid of the art styles typical of the Mycenaean and Cretan civilizations that flourished in the late Bronze Age. Such art included pottery, fresco, and gold works that skillfully depicted scenes of war, nature, hunting, sea life, and religion.

However, compared to Cretan art, Mycenaean art proved to be more ambitious in terms of size and choice of materials. And with their development of new art forms and styles and a progression towards the abstract, their type of art influenced art forms of the Archaic period.

The Archaic Period – 1000 to 400 BC

The Archaic period in Greek art history was the era of great commerce and trade with Egypt and Italy. It was the period of Greek colonization of the coastal shores of the Aegean sea, Mediterranean sea, and the Black seas. It was during this era that coinage was introduced in Greece. It was also the time that the first Olympic Game was held.

This era was followed by a marked rise in art and beautiful crafts like coins and pottery and the development and perfection of human-form sculptures. During this period, Greek art became less rigid in form and more natural in appearance.

Art and painting progressed from the geometric to depictions of human figures illustrating impressive tales and in sculpture, human bodies and faces were rendered with better attention to scale and structure. And architecturally, the development of the Doric and Ionic orders reflected a growing concern for harmony and proportions.

The Golden Age – 480 to 400 BC

The middle of 5th century B.C. is often referred to as the Golden Age of Greece. They were happy, victorious, and magnificent days in Greece and the steady rise of Athens as a naval power. It was the age of Greek theatres and drama under Euripides, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Sophocles, a time considered the greatest cultural era. It lasted over a hundred years and laid the foundations of Western Civilization.

In art, sculpture, and painting, significant achievements were made in depicting the human body in motion or at rest, fully clad, partially clothed, or starkly naked. Pottery and vase painting exhibited exquisite renderings of the black figure and red-figure techniques of famous vase painters like Kleophrades, Douris, and Makron.

The golden age produced great philosophers like Plato, Aristophanes, and Socrates that “steered philosophy in the direction of morals, logic, and ethics”. And Hippocrates, the great physician, sculptor Phideas and architects Ictinus and Callicrates who designed the Parthenon were all a part of that golden era that was indeed “GOLDEN”.

The Fourth Century – 400 to 336 BC

The 4th Century BC witnessed further growth of the Grecian civilization with a representation that expressed vigor and a sense of permanence, clarity, and harmony. Sentiment and realism replaced idealism and there was an increasing emphasis on perfection. This was the age of Demosthenes, the orator, Hippocrates, the father of medical science, Aristotle, the philosopher, and Praxiteles, the sculptor.

Athenian artist Praxiteles was the most renowned sculptor of the fourth century BC. He was the first sculptor to carve a life-size statue of antiquity, the nude Aphrodite of Knidos. His art broke one of the most dogged principles in Greek art in which female figures had previously been sculpted and draped.

While stone sculptures attributable to Praxiteles are no longer existing, coins engraved with shapes of his famous sculpturesque works of the era still exist in museums today.

The Alexandrian Age – 336 to 323 B.C.

This period was one of expansion of the Greek rule and the propagation of Greek culture through the conquests of Alexander the Great in Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia, and India. Alexander the Great was the king of Macedon, an ancient Greek kingdom. By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires known in history, with domains stretching from Greece to north-western India. He is widely believed to be one of history's greatest military commanders.

There are three main themes expressed in the art created in Macedonia roughly between the reign of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, and Alexander's immediate successors. Depicted as “masculine” subjects, they are of hunting, warfare, and abduction of women and an exploration of the conceptual interconnection of the three. In art, there was a preoccupation with the visual celebration of violence and the ideological similarities between the “enemy, animal, and woman.”

The Hellenistic Age – 323 to 30 BC

Three hundred years of Greek history that spanned from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the rise of Augustus in Rome in 31 BC, are regarded as the Hellenistic years. It was a period of advancement in mathematics and science. It was also an era of realism that merged into sentimentalism and theatricalism.

During this period, art and sculpture became more naturalistic and expressive, depicting extremes of emotion sometimes pushed to the limits. And to achieve life-like aesthetic forms, sculptors skillfully integrated three attributes into their work - “expressive movement, realistic anatomy, and ornate details”. Some of the world's most treasured sculptures, like Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace, date from the Hellenistic Age.

The subjects used for art, portraiture, and sculpture were the commoners. They mainly consisted of women and children, animals, nature, and domestic scenes. Sculptors no longer felt compelled to depict people as ideals of physical perfection. Mosaic art rose to great heights during the Hellenistic period, while its painting was an equally important art. And although pottery art and vase painting declined during the Hellenistic period, many Minor Arts like glass blowing, jewelry making, and metallic art continued to thrive.

Greek vases with inscriptions of the Hellenistic Age.

Greek vases with inscriptions of the Hellenistic Age.

Successor to the Greek Civilization

The successor to the Greek Civilization was the Roman Empire. Rome never strived to achieve the Grecian perfection in their art products but rather copied and adapted many Greek forms and principles. This, fortunately, preserved much of the Greek culture and intellectual arts which, otherwise would have been lost forever.


Elements of Interior Design and Decoration by Sherrill Whiton

The Art of Classical Greece (ca. 480–323 B.C.) | Met Museum

Archaic period | art history | Britannica

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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