From under the ground, on ancient rock and hidden cliff faces, there are hidden traces of our ancient ancestors. The secret wonders that mankind created through the millennia. People have been bestowed with creative minds and the dexterity to draw, so through art, the heroic history of our species is mapped.
Ancient Greek Art: divine and supernatural figures were harmoniously presented in newly perfected, precise proportions. The ability to depict shape and proportion reached its perfection in this age.
When we talk about the ‘ancient world’, we are mostly discussing the world of ancient Greece. The term has not been consistently defined throughout history. According to Latin, “Antique” (meaning ancient) was used in reference to Greek culture by Renaissance Italian anthropologists. By the time people in the West discovered that there were ancient Eastern civilizations predating the Greek civilization, the concept of the ‘ancient world’ already carried a colloquial meaning, Ancient Greece.
The ‘ancient world’ also signifies tribes and civilizations from across Europe, Asia, and Africa that had a long-lasting tradition of cultural and economic exchange with the Greek or Roman empires. The records of ancient arts from these periods are mainly built on the resources of archaeological works and discoveries.
The artistic artifacts and sculptures found from this age feature images of divine beings and supernatural people harmoniously displayed with accuracy, detail, and in newly perfected proportions.
By the 5th and 4th century BC, sculpture reached a new peak of development. The creative works associated with the names of talented artists such as Polygnotus, Myron, and Phidias, were vivid and thoughtful works. The statues of Goddess Athéna and Mariette of Myron, however, went as far as to express the inner feelings of the character. A revolutionary concept at the time.
The composition of artistic reliefs and decorations each had their own beauty and style and were instantly recognizable as belonging to a particular artist. Artists were often architects cum sculptors, masters of many principles and each had their own style, many of which are still imitated today.
The most common architectural works were temples, tombs, and theaters. Buildings such as the Temple of Parthenon, built by the architect Iktinos and the sculptor Phidias from 447 to 432 BC in honor of the Goddess Athena and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built as a tomb for Mausolus in the city of Halicarnassus, epitomize ancient Greek architecture. The Parthenon, which still sits proudly on the Athenian Acropolis, is a great and beautiful building, considered to be one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The tomb of King Mausolus of Caria in the region of Asia Minor was built by Queen Artemisia II for her husband, from 353 BC to 351 BC, using 1200 workers working hard for a period of 17 years. No mean feat, even by today’s standards. The word “mausoleum” stems from the name of the tomb of King Mausolus.
In their last era, the Greeks built up the findings of the previous centuries and popularized their work in Rome. The murals and fragment paintings found in Pompeii are extremely precious relics displaying this exchange of style and design.
Pottery including jars, pots, and saucers was painted by famous artists with creativity and flare. Incredibly, at the same time, craftsmen in Jiangxi in China elevated the ordinary items of life into valuable works of art, following similar principles.
Unfortunately, many great works have fallen into desolation. Many exquisite examples of Greek architecture including their theaters have been destroyed by the passing of time. Only the Epidaurus theater built by the architect and sculptor, Polykleitos, remains in relatively good shape to this day.
When Alexander the Great died, the weakened Greek empire failed to resist the power of the rising Roman Empire. However, despite their military victories over the Greeks, the Romans still regarded the Greeks as the cultural and artistic masters.
The glorious legacy of the classical Greek era was blended with the preexisting art of empirical Italy by the Greek artists serving under Rome, contributing to the flourishing development of Roman art.
Ancient Greek art serving as a guide for future creativity
The art of ancient Greece greatly influenced the culture of many countries around the world, especially in the fields of sculpture and architecture. In the West, the art and design of the Roman Empire primarily followed the styles of Greek art. In the East, the conquests of Alexander the Great ignited mutual exchanges between Greek, Central Asian and Indian cultures throughout the centuries, resulting in Greek-Buddhist art, with a far-reaching influence stretching as far as Japan.
After the Renaissance in Europe, human aesthetics and the high technical standards found in Greek art served as inspiration for European artists. Right up until the 19th century, classical traditions originating from Greece dominated the art of the Western world.
Ancient Roman art: following the glorious traditions of ancient Greece
The Greek influence on Roman art and Roman creations, especially with regards to architecture, is clear to see all across the reaches of the Roman empire. But, the invention of cement and the use of fired bricks and mortar facilitated the construction of large-scale architectural works, beyond that which the world had seen before. A breakthrough was seen in their method of building arcs, arches, and domed roofs.
City planning was arguably the greatest architectural achievement of Rome, a skill they perfected so exactly, few civilizations, even to this day, have managed to better. In addition, the Romans were prolific builders of aqueducts, and triumphal arches such as those in the capital, in Rome. Carved stone pillars to commemorate important events and heroes still stand today such as the triumphal arch of Constantine and the memorial pillar of Trajan. Securing their place as some of the greatest architects and builders in all of human history.
The popularity of Greek statues exerted a profound effect on Roman art, however, due to a difference in aesthetic concepts and the characteristics of the people, Roman sculptors favored reliefs rather than 3D statues and portraiture, returning to full sculpture, not until the Renaissance.
Roman paintings, similarly to the those of the Greek’s, were predominately murals. But the honor of Roman art is in the creation of architecture and portrait busts, these styles played an intermediary role in the transition between ancient art and the later Renaissance.
Greek-Roman culture is the foundation for almost all modern European culture, but its far-reaching influence is global. Greek art is honored today as the original seed of this development. They were the pioneers of capturing the perfect image of the Gods and of mankind and of creating artistic architecture worthy of being deemed art in its own right.
Italy carried on the work of the ancient Greeks, advancing their techniques whilst respecting the styles pioneered by those that came before them. Their acknowledgment of the Greek styles and techniques is what ultimately lead to the birth of the Renaissance, arguably the greatest period of artistic expression ever seen on the planet.
(The cover photo: Parthenon Temple. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)