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Ancient Greek

A small statuette of a horse made of bronze.
Statuette of a Horse, 750/730 BCE. Ancient Greek. Katherine K. Adler, Costa A. Pandaleon Greek Memorial, and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Alexander Classical Endowment, James H. Allan and Christopher D. Allan funds.
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Ancient Greek art spans a period between about 900 and 30 BCE and is divided into four periods: Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. Throughout that period, artists worked with a wide variety of materials including bronze and stone for sculpture; terracotta for vases and figurines; various pigments for painting; and gold, silver, and bronze for coinage. 

In the Geometric period, not only were geometric patterns dominant but so too were abstract figures, especially horses, military, and funerary scenes. A lack of inscriptions can make the interpretation of this iconography difficult. 

Beginning in the 7th century BCE, the Archaic period ushered in an increasingly naturalistic style, especially in depictions of the human form. Influences from Egypt and the Near East can be seen in the appearance of motifs such as the palmette and lotus, along with composite creatures like griffins (bird/lion), sphinxes (human/winged lion), and sirens (bird/woman). Terracotta vases, especially those made in the second half of the sixth century BCE, depict aspects of daily life, funerary rites, warfare, and mythology. Experimentation with new techniques, such as black-figure and red-figure decoration, allowed for a wider range of figures and scenes to be depicted in greater detail. 

The Classical period, often defined by the Greek defeat of the Persians in 479 BCE, ushered in what is now known as the Golden Age of Greece. The city of Athens dominated the flourishing artistic scene, and the building of the Parthenon (the temple erected between 447 and 432 BCE on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece) paved the way for unprecedented achievements in architecture and sculpture. 

The final transition to the Hellenistic period, which lasted from about 323 through 30 BCE, occurred following the death of Alexander the Great, who famously spread Greek culture into the lands of his far-reaching conquest. Gods and heroes, who were previously depicted in two-dimensional scenes on vases or reliefs, were given new life as full-figured works of sculpture.  

Ancient texts and inscriptions provide names of some of the most famous sculptors from Ancient Greece, including PheidiasSkopasPraxiteles, and Lysippos, and vase painters like Exekias and Euphronios. However, as the names of many ancient Greek artists are unknown to us today, modern scholars sometimes give names to artists whose style they can recognize, like the Chicago Painter. Because most Greek statues of the Classical and Hellenistic periods have not survived, Roman versions produced between the 2nd century BCE and the 4th century CE provide the most compelling visual evidence we have about the appearance of the originals.

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