The Art of the Greeks





Herakles Fighting,
from the Esquiline
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome

From 364 to 361bc, Praxiteles was commissioned to decorate the pediments on the Temple of Herakles at Thebes with a scene depicting his 12 labours. The sculptures were soon removed to Rome, however, where they adorned the imperial residences on the Esquiline hill. It was there that the figure of Herakles fighting the mythical queen Hippolyta was unearthed. She was on horseback, but was grabbed by her hair by Herakles' left hand, while his right brandished a bronze club. Herakles' stance is similar to that of a warrior armed with a sword shown attacking an Amazon in a relief on the Temple of Apollo at Bassae (c.400bc). The tree-trunk and plinth of the Herakles, now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome, is modem, but incorporates the ancient outlines beneath each of the feet, which were crossed by bronze clamps. This System was also used by Skopas to attach his figures to the pediments of the temple at Tegea.
The distorted quality of the bust and face reflects the fact that they were originally intended to be viewed from below. The torso, as it is now, is excessively broad and the two halves of the face are unequal, but both features were originally compensated for by foreshortening when the group occupied the pediment of the temple. The sculpture was carved out of a single block of marble from Mount Pentelikon, the material favoured by Athenian artists. The dynamics of the modelling follow the unbroken tension of the limbs and, as usual. Praxiteles has given a sense of immediacy to the actions of the figure. The raw aggression ol Herakles was tempered by later sculptors such as Antisthenes who representd him as meditative and melancholic.





Bust of Hermes,
copy after Praxiteles
Royal Academy of Arts Online Catalogue, London

The sculptor Praxiteles was the greatest Athenian exponent of the "beautiful" style (C.395-326BC); his sculptures are characterized by soft, full contours and deep-set eyes. His father was Kephisodotos, also a sculptor. His statues of Eros (Centocelle version). Phryne and Aphrodite (c.370bc), the Twelve Gods (copy in relief, Ostia); and the group of Latona, Apollo, and Artemis (Dresden version) were carried out for the city of Megara. He acknowledged Dionysos in his Pouring Satyr (366-365BC), and his Draped Aphrodite was found on the island of Kos. The Knidian Aphrodite (364-361bc) was followed by Aphrodite with a Necklace, Resting Satyr (360-350.bc), and Apollo Killing a Lizard(c.350bc). Eros Being Crowned (Chigi-Dresden version. c.343bc) is among the last of his many known works.



Attributed to Praxiteles
Hermes with the Infant Dionysos at Olympia
after marble or bronze original
Royal Academy of Arts Online Catalogue, London




The Aphrodite of Cnidus (Knidos)
by Praxiteles
c.350 BC
The first monumental female nude in classical sculpture


Apollo Sauroctonios (The Lizard-killer) Roman copy after 4th century Greek original
Rome, Vatican Museums



Crouching Aphrodite or so-called "Venus of Doidalsas"
mid 3rd century BC
Louvre, Paris




Medici Aphrodite,
copy after Aphrodite of Knidos marble
Florence, Uffizi



Adaptation of Cridian Aphrodite
350- 340bc
Roman copy, marble
Munich, Glyptothek



Venus de Clerq
after Praxiteles
Roman, Rome, A.D. 175 - 200
Marble with polychromy



Apollodoros was called a "painter of shadows" (skiagraphos) in accordance with a concept that had evolved in the Geometric period. In time, it became clear how apt the term was, for the artist "was the first to discover shading and the thickening of shadows" (Plutarch), This technical skill gave rise to the comment that he was a "painter of appearances". His contemporary Democritos said that it is not the object that strikes the organs of sense - and is thus able to be represented - but an insubstantial image emanating from the atoms of which matter is composed. According to Pliny, Apollodoros was a painter of "illusory appearances". The importance of Apollodoros was fully recognized in the ancient world, and this concept of illusionistic painting was referred to by Plato in opposition to his notion of universal forms. This idea of imitating appearances signalled the birth of painting with a full array of perspective, chromatic, and luministic devices. Centuries later, it was taken up by the Impressionists (" is not the object that must be portrayed but the semblance of the object," Eugene Delacroix).


Lysippos was aware of the "antithetical" System that embodied the Pythagorean theory of contrasts: right and left. rest and movement, straight and curved. light and shade. This can be seen in the ascending spiral of the figure of a runner crowning himself with the Olympic olive branch, which is typical of the rotating movements often portrayed in Lysippos' statues. On the surface of the original, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu. there is an excellent interplay between light and shade. Wax imprints on the inside of the statue reveal that the figure's youthful proportions were altered during its making to convey a sense of courage: the neck was lengthened and the right arm forced aloft. There is a feeling of tautness on the right side of the body, with the right leg bearing the weight, in contrast with the relaxed left side. its leg free and arm resting on a palm frond (now lost). Lysippos' ability to express social and political problems through striking sculptural statements in a way that language was unable to do meant that he was soon working for the dynastic propaganda machine of the Macedonians, producing his Alexander with a Lance. His plinth depicting the stories of Polydamas was intended to support a seated figure, such as the bronze Boxer, now in Rome's national museum. The statue was thought to possess curative powers, and its foot was worn away by the constant touching of devotees. Lysippos' talent and meticulous technique are evident in the fingers that appear to be sheathed in skin so thin that the joints show through. in the fingertips with chiselled nails. On the wrist-bands, the dense series of dots is reminiscent of stitching. Visual immediacy is conveyed by the patches of red bronze damascening on the leg and the right arm — drops of blood that have fallen from the boxer's face as he turns his head — and the loss of the top teeth has deformed his lip. His breath emerges beneath a splayed moustache, and there is a bruise under his eye. created with a separately applied lump of dark alloy. Lysippos was famous for his references to deafness; damage to the ear and poor hearing is implicit in this work, along with a feeling of tiredness, suggested by the abrupt turn of the boxer's head. Centuries later, Goya, himself deaf, recreated the movement of the Boxer in his terrifying image The Giant.


Bronze, from the Baths of Constantne, Rome
Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome



Apoxyomenos (Scraper),
c. 330 B.C. (Roman copy).

Young man by Lysippos

copy from Lysippos



Farnese Herkales
4th C B.C.
marble, Roman copy (1st C B.C.)
Naples, Museo Nazionale

 Burned marble copy of the bronze Herakles
(another copy known as the Herakles Farnese is in Naples)
(courtyard of the National Museum, Athens)





Detail from sarcophagus showing the Labours of Herakles
Palazzo Corsini, Rome

The sense of movement in Lysippos' final works was revived by Michelangelo. whose debt to the Greek sculptor has only recently been recognized. Since the divinities of polytheism have been repeatedly used in Christian imagery. it is hard to identify the original models used by Michelangelo, especially as his desire for originality was matched by a need to conceal his original inspiration because of the risk of censorship. The figure of John the Baptist from his Last Judgement, in the Sistine Chapel, is clearly derived from the Herakles al Rest now in the Pitti Palace, Florence, which bears the inscription "Work of Lysippos". Michelangelo had ambitions to create a monument akin to the huge Zeus of Lysippos described by Pliny. To those who asked whose fbllower lie was. he would reply that his "master" had been the Belvedere Torso (Pio-Clementino collection), although it is unlikely he realized that this torso reproduced a Hellenistic bronze inspired by Lysippos' Meditating Hercules. His reply suggests that he knew of Lysippos' response to the same question, as reported by Cicero, that his "master" was the Doryphoros, another sculptural masterpiece that lay at the root of the "Manneristic" style that preceded the Hellenistic "Baroque" style. Decorations on a sarcophagus showing the Labours of Herakles are similar to a cycle created by Lysippos in bronze at Alizia in 314bc and then taken to Rome; the same likeness of Herakles is constantly repeated in the Last Judgment by Michelangelo. The figure of St Peter repeats the three-dimensionalism of Herakles wrestling with the Cretan bull. which in mm reflects the Apoxyomenos. Most remarkable among the resurrected figures taken up to heaven is the one whose bent knee, twisted torso, and raised arm echo Herakles kneeling over the Arcadian Stag. The ascending nude, hands clasped behind his back and head turned in the opposite direction, combines two other images of Herakles: the hero slaying the Stymphalian Birds, and walking away after the cleaning of the Augean Stables. There are also references to Herakles in the blessed figure raising up two devotees who are clutching a rosary (similar to Herakles bending over the body of Hippolyta). and the mystical crown, which evokes the girdle seized from the Amazon.


Detil from sarcophagus showing the Labours of Herakles
Boboli Gardens, Florence



Following Alexander's death, Lysippos sided with the Greek cities striving for independence. His statue of Chilon at Olympia was a homage to the Achaean League (a confederation of Greek and Achaean cities), and the athlete who tell beneath the walls of Lamia (322bc). At Sikyon, his statue of Praxillas commemorated a literary and musical figure at a time when local glories were celebrated following liberation from Macedonian rule. The twisting of the flautist's body matches that of the Apoxyomenos, in which the projected right arm accentuates the feeling of movement. Following the fall of Sikyon to Kassander, Lysippos returned to the Macedonian fold (317-314bc). His Silenus with the Infant Dionysos matches the Herakles at Rest, while the pose of Hermes, loosening his sandal as Zeus summons him, reappeared in Caravaggio's portrayal of St Matthew turning at the sound of the angel's message. Until the Byzantine Middle Ages, the colossal Herakles at Rest taken from Tarentum to Rome and Constantinople was attributed to Lysippos, the last artist of the classical tradition. In the Satyricon, Petronius quipped that Lysippos starved himself to death while working on the statue.

Hermes Loosening His Sandal (detail), Rome
Ny Carisberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen

Caravaggio, Saint Matthew and the Angel (detail), 1599
San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome





The Archaeological Museum in Taranto (Tarentum in Hellenistic times), Italy, houses a fascinating collection of ancient Greek jewels, both from excavations in Taranto itself and from other sites in the region. Crowns, rings, earrings, and necklaces, worked with extreme delicacy into roses, palmettes, plant volutes, and animal forms, show us how men and women from the fifth to the second century bc adorned themselves.

Pendant earring from Taranto,
fourth century bc
National Archaeological Museum,
Taranto, Itali


The Arrival of Hellenism

In about 324bc, a furious debate on the destiny of art broke out at the Babylonian court of Alexander the Great, which had attracted every sort of artist and craftsman. When the most highly regarded exponents of the Athenian and Sicyonion schools attempted to capture the royal likeness, Stasicrates, a native of Bithynia, described their efforts as "wretched and dishonourable". He declared that man was now capable of putting his own imprint on nature, a reference to a plan to carve the features of Zeus onto Mount Athos, a project that was never carried out. In Macedonia. Alexander's eastern expeditions had expanded the palette of artists, introducing long-lasting and vibrant natural colours: black and ochre, shades of glowing yellow, green from malachite, and bright red from the precious mineral cinnabar. In the decoration of a tomb from Aineia, a fresco inside one stone chest shows the women's quarters of a house. Falling shadow gives a feeling of solidity to the far wall, an illusory boundary for objects hanging or resting on the cornice. In both influence and technique the role of the artist was clearly changing. The three centuries between the death of Alcxander the Great in 323bc and the Battle of Actium (31bc), when Octavian defeated Egypt. home to the last monarchy of Macedonian origin, saw the rise of Hellenistic culture. This term is used equally to refer to artistic developments and political events; its roots lie in the ancient Greek verb hellenizo, which refers to the ability of that culture to impose itself on others. During the complex Hellenistic period, which had several different phases, Greek language and custom were dominant. Up until the battle of Ipsus (323-301bc). the diadochi (direct heirs of Alexander), ensured the survival of the classical tradition. Lysippos, the only one of the great contemporary sculptors to survive at Macedon, was especially important. He created some 1,500 bronzes throughout a huge area, from the Peloponnese to Macedonia, Athens to Acarnania, and as far afield as Magna Graecia; no artist of the time has been recorded as travelling further. His sons and pupils - who helped perpetuate his work - and the pupils of other great masters were the last survivors of a bygone era. Kephisodotos and Timarchos, sons of Praxiteles, worked on the sarcophagus of Abdalonymos, the King of Sidon, a portrait of the dramatist Menander, and a group of the first Epicureans. The sculptor Silanion trained Zeuxiades, who created a likeness of the Athenian statesman Hypericdes. Euphranor's spirit lived on in the painting and bronze sculpture of Sostratos. These tenacious survivors promoted the classical ideal in funerarv stelae, or tablets, the production of which was halted by Demetrios Phalereos, governor of Athens from 317bc to 307bc. Vergina was the site of one of the greatest monuments created by Alexander's successors - the tomb of his son Alexander IV, who reigned until 310bc, when lie and his mother Roxana were killed by Kassander (King of Macedonia, 301-297bc). Inside the tomb, the painted frieze of a chariot race shows a strong Attic influence. The race unfolds on uneven ground against a blue sky; both chariots are fore-shortened in different ways as they overtake each other. A skilful use of shadow increases the sense of depth and long brown brushstrokes on the charioteers' robes give a sense of chiaroscuro.

Altar of Zeus, Pergamum
Staatiche Museen, Berlin

Chariot race,
detail of freze from the tomb of Alexander IV,
Vergina, Greece



fresco, copy after Apelles.
House of the Vettii, Pompeii


King of Macedonia before he was twenty years of age, Alexander the Great (356-323bc) spread Greek culture far beyond its geographical boundaries. Taught by Aristotle, he was a great scholar and helped promote knowledge and learning. Any attempt to glean the true appearance and character of Alexander from contemporary paintings and sculptures is problematic. Busts of the king give a vague impression of his features, but they differ from written reports that are considered to be reliable: these give fuller details about Alexander's facial features.
Lysippos played a decisive role in transforming the Macedonian leader's image from sullen adolescent to sublime hero. His practice of imbuing the composition of his features with a powerful sense of harmony was continued by a number of sculptors wishing to elevate the emperor to superhuman status, including Euphranor, Leochares, and their successors at the Hellenistic courts. It was generally the romantic image of Alexander as explorer of the unknown and exceptional leader and statesman that led to depictions of him as godlike and superhuman.
Painting was the one medium in which this practice gave way to a realistic style. Apelles, for example, was happy to bestow the throne and thunderbolts of Zeus on Alexander, yet did not allow himself to be overly influenced by mythical context in his search for individual truth. In Works discovered at Pompeii. Alexander is depicted as short in stature and with irregular features. Such images were often copied from originals by masters living close to the city. Other portrayals of Alexander that suggest a less than godlike appearance include a fresco based on Action's Wedding of Alexander and Roxana, the mosaic of the Battle of Issus attributed to Philoxenus, and the Marriage of Alexander and Statira as Ares and Aphrodite. In the last, the wife is taller than her husband, who possesses a head with rather heavy features. The full beard, erroneously added in many other depictions of Alexander (such as the Darius Painter vases found in Apulia. southern Italy), is missing here. Such evidence suggests that a documentary realism was of more importance to many artists than the more symbolic. traditional portrayal of nobility.

Marriage of Alexander and Statira as Ares and Aphrodite,
fresco, copy after Aetion.
Antiquarium, Pompeii

Battle of Issus Between Alexander and Darius III,
detail from Apulian vase by the Darius Painter, Ruvo di Puglia
National Archaeological Museum, Naples

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