Greek Art 101 - Greek painting, sculpture, pottery

Greek Art evokes different images in different people's minds. Some think of marble statues of naked, muscular men, some think of busts of gods and goddesses, others think of paintings on vases illustrating the heroic deeds of mythological heroes like Hercules, the son of Zeus, and another group thinks of the colorful imagines from the Macedonian era. Neither image is wrong as Greek is a country with a very complex art history. The reason for this is that some regions of Greece like the islands or the regions close to the borders have often been under the reign of a foreign culture. While some regions were influenced by the art of other parts of Europe, other regions were influenced by the Ottoman culture and art.

Ancient Greek sculpture

Greek sculpture is one of the most famous branches of Greek art as many museums all over the world are show-casing one or the other Greek sculpture, the most famous one most likely being the sculpture of Laocoon and his sons which is part of the Vatican museum and thus seen by millions of people every year. That particular sculpture came from the late Hellenistic period which is one of the three main stages of development in Greek sculpture.

It is assumed that Greek had wooden statues a long time ago, but only descriptions and vague reference are left of those as the materials would not have survived for a very long time. Officially, the first period of Greek sculpture is the Archaic era (before 500 BC) in which the people of Greece started to carve statues into stone (inspired by what some travelers had seen in Egypt). The statues were not very realistic when it came to their human proportions. They were usually created for a reason, e.g. for display in a temple, or via commission from a noble and rich person. It was not yet the time for creating art for the sake of art.

After 500 BC, Greek sculpture was in the classical period. The statues of people and gods became more realistic, and often real people were used as models for the statues. The increased skill of the artists also led to an increase in popularity of sculptures. They were more often seen as decorations. A good example of the classical Greek sculpture is the Hermes statue which is on display in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.

During 400 BC, the Hellenistic era began. In addition to gods and famous people, more ordinary people also became themes of sculptures.

Modern Greek sculpture

Modern Greek sculptures varies a lot in quality. There are incredible works of art like the Athena column by Leonidas Drosis, who died in 1882, and the statue of Socrates by the same artist. And then there are of course the not so talented artists as art became more and more accessible to the people as time progressed. Sculptures can be either inspired by the classical or Hellenistic era of Greek sculpture or by something entirely different – which leads to sculptures that have nothing in common with any living being. The modern Greek sculpture scene is quite eclectic and offers something for every taste.

Greek pottery

Greek pottery is not only popular with tourists but also with historians and art lovers. After all, pottery last quite long, which is the only reason why we have some indication on what ancient Greek paintings would look like (as none of those have survived time). The most famous style of Greek pottery is the typical vase with the depiction of stories from myths and history, either in black or red (or rather orange) figures. Pottery like that is still popular in Greece today, mainly because tourists like buying it as a souvenir.

Greek painting

While not many paintings from earlier period survived, it is known that painting in various forms has always been important in Greek culture. The first types of painting in Greece most likely were the so-called panel painting and wall painting. For panel painting, wooden panels that could be carried (various sizes) were painted on with wax. Wall paintings are known throughout the world, and Greece also had their own style of wall paintings. Of both styles there are only very few examples left.

Painting was also used to paint statues and vases though the paint on sculptures has often not made it through time, this is why we always think that the Greek sculptures were just plain white. This is actually not the case. Most statues were elaborately painted, many of them in rather bright colors.

Of course, the closer we get to our modern era, the more art developed. New techniques were discovered or taken from other countries. Paintings were then not only on wooden panels, vases, statues and walls, but also on other mediums like canvases and paper. Century after century art changed all over Europe, and Greece took European influences, and influences from the Ottoman empire and mixed them with its own culture. Of course, modern Greek paintings are often influenced by Greek's position within Europe.