The Art of the Greeks




Hellenistic Baroque

Independence, as advocated by Lysippos, encouraged every artist to plough his own furrow, to change canons and conventions and to establish a new, relative truth. The real creativity of Hellenistic art lies in representing the world according to the transient effect of the particular moment. Awareness of the distance and difference from the classical period ushered in a time of radical artistic experimentation that ended with the Battle of Pydna ( 300-168bc). In some senses, the Hellenistic "Baroque" era is similar to that of late 20th-centuiy Western societies; both saw a transition from totality to plurality, from coherence to variety. In the late 20th century, sovereign states existed. but shared a style of civilization, just as the inhabitants of the Hellenistic kingdoms followed the collective Greek culture. Aristotle sensed that realism and possibility, the authentic and the fictitious, could ail exist simultaneously. In both Greek and modem cultures, art responded to a vast and sophisticated public, and had to address a variety of events and ideas that went beyond the realms of traditional style. Painting no longer entailed "applying the appropriate colour to each part", as Plato had stated. Shape now emerged from the outlines created by a juxtaposition of minute brushstrokes of different, unmixed colours. Svnthesis occurred in the eye of the beholder - later mirrored in the divisionist technique practised by 20th-century Neo-Impressionists.
The most striking features of the Silenos painted on a tomb from Potidae in Macedonia (c.300bc) are the dishevelled beard that frames the subtly malicious expression of the man's face and the red leather boots.
The lines have a thin, sketchy quality, while the shadow in the pink cloth around his hips is created by means of thicker brushstrokes in the same colour.
 The complexity of Asiatic painting is further revealed in the Tomb of the Judgment, which dates from the reign of Demetrios Poliorcetes (294-288bc). It is the work of Theon of Samos, from the eastern Aegean, who was commissioned by the son of Antigonos I. In another tomb. that of Lison and Kallikles (brothers killed during the battle of Kynoscephalae in 197bc), their weapons adorn the lunettes (semi-circular openings to admit light) of the chamber, enhancing the illusionistic layout. The painter has used impasto and shading, paying close attention to plastic effects, colour contrasts, and the brilliant light, to progress from the stark outline of the metal artifacts to the soft quality of the plumes on the gilded helmet. The kingdoms established in Egypt and Anatolia by the first generation of epigoni, who succeeded the diadochi, competed to outdo each other's monumental projects. Immediately after Lysippos died. his followers moved to Rhodes, taking with them the skills they had developed at Tarentum. Chares of Lindos doubled the height of his master's Zeus with his 32-metre (150-foot) Colossus (304-293bc). This bronze effigy accentuated the movement of the subject in every direction, marking the birth of an art open to the world. a visual translation of an infinite vastness. At the sanctuary of the sun god. there was a sculpture of a worshipper by Boithos in a pose often adopted in the presence of the gods.

Tomb of Lison and Kallikles,
lunette painted with weapons,
Lefkadia, Greece

Epigonos, Ludovisi Gaul,
Roman copy.
Capitoline Museum, Rome



One striking aspect of Hellenistlc art was that of deep introspection. Once under the control of monarchie states, individuals were forced to live in an environment that offered fewer guarantees of democratie idependence. The people's need to defend themselves and give meaning to their existence led on the one hand to philosophical attempts at clarifying the distinction between the private and public personas of individuals, and on the other to a theatrical ambiguity between existence and appearance. Menander's comedies were a source of inspiration for Kalates' small paintings, known from numerous replicas. One of two mosaics at Pompeii signed by Dioscorides of Samos is taken from Kalates' Women at Dinner, a popular subject in Italy; a similar scene occurred m Cistellaria, by the Roman playwright Plautus. In the mosaic. beams of light enter a dining room from the left the old procuress and her prostitute daughter sit next to the young woman who has invited them, with a maid at the side. Chiaroscuro provides a contrast between figures and background, a deceptive suggestion of shadows. and the "shot" effect of the silk in the clothing and cushions.

Mosaic signed by Dioscorides of Samos,
copy after Kalates, Villa di Cicero, Pompeii.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples


Similar to this was Euboulides' ecstatic figure of the Mulier Admirans. Euboulides' signature is scratched on the base of a beaker discovered in the founding pits at the foot of the Acropolis at Rhodes. These pits, with thin brick cladding and efficient drainage channels for the wax, were used to create works up to three metres (nine feet) tall. The statue of Tyche, Good Fortune, by Lysippos" son Eutychides (c.300bc). was commissioned by Seleucus I to symbolize Antioch and was even more complicated than the Meditating Herakles, another colossus from Tarentum.

A local style asserted itself in Pergamum after 282bc. when its ruler Philetaerus, achieved political independence. This was characterized by eccentric shapes. irregular gestures, and figures that had no central anchorage and seemed to embrace the void. Space became a challenge, an opportunity to capture the onlooker. Work produced during the evolutionary period. which elsewhere preceded the liberation of sculpture from the earlier "Mannerist" school, was concentrated at the court of Eumenes I (263-241bc) by exponents of the two main schools of the classical era - the Athenian and the Sikyonian.

Horseman, bronze, Cape Artemision

The sculptors Phyromachos, Niceratos, and Xenocrates were responsible for the rapid maturity of Pergamene sculpture and for creating the "Baroque" style destined to achieve universal and lasting success. Advances in knowledge of anatomy were demonstrated in the powerful modelling of musculature and bones, exemplified by the Artemision Horse, the Artetnision Jockey, and the Fighting Man of Delos. The sculptor Epigonos gave new prominence to the peripheral in his series of statues known as the Dying Gauls (c.235bc), whose figures seem to challenge the boundary between art and life by invading the space occupied by the onlooker. Signatures found on the base of statues in Rhodes distinguish the designers of the base from the modellers, revealing a specialization which encouraged mass production. Barter was replaced by credit and a banking System, which increased the flow of goods, now represented by numerical amounts that everyone understood. Cities were now being planned on a grand scale, and sculptors favoured a style in which figures were set against a deep background, with perspective used to portray distant objects. For the artists of Rhodes, space was inseparable from distance. The background was no longer the city, such as Pergamum, with its porticoed squares, but rocks, caves, water, greenery, and sky. In the Stoic philosophy, morality was the "fruit of a garden" and nymphaeums (grottos, temples, or sanctuaries) became filled with images conducive to meditation, involving punishments meted out by the gods to re-establish the divine equilibrium and symbolic representations of human courage. In Epigonos' disturbingly powerful Torment of Dirce, the subject lies with her head turned away, gazing into the terrifying eye of the bull rearing over her. Sculptural groups became increasingly complicated and less and less linked to everyday life, almost as though they were governed by the most primitive laws of mankind. To understand them, the viewer must recapture the primeval fascination that the artist drew on in order to endow each of his creations with their own strength and impact. The dense fog that Menander tried to pierce with his gaze, the darkness that concealed the flight of Ulysses and Diomedes, the spring welling up at the feet of Dirce, and the ancestral cavern of the Cyclops ail create different excitements and fears in the viewer as he or she contemplates the work. Similarly, the Palladium torn from its shrine, the thyrsus (staff) of Dirce, the hapless bacchant abandoned on the rock; the banquet cup bloodied by the Cyclops and thrown on the ground - each image evokes previously buried emotions and sensations. The marble statue of the Victory in Samothrace and the Altar of Zeus (189-182bc) erected in Pergamum commemorate the victories at Rhodes, Pergamum, and of their Roman allies over Antiochus III of Syria. The giants writhe alongside the steps of the altar in a magnificent frieze depicting a battle between gods and giants.

Epygonos, Dying Gaul,
Roman copy.
Capitoline Museum, Rome


The Victtory of Samothrace.
Musee du Louvre, Paris

Drunkenness of Polyphemus,
fragmentary Roman sculptors Agesander, Athenodoros, and Polidoro
from the Grotto of tiberius at Sperlonga, first century bc.

National Archaeological Museum, Sperlonga, Italy

Torment of Dirce,
fragmentary Roman copy of Rhodian original,
from the Baths of Caracalla, Rome.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples



Barberini Faun,
Roman copy of an original from Pergamum,
Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome.
Glyptothek, Munich


Although this marble statue was once attributed to Myron, by Pliny, it has since become clear that this attribution arose from a confusion over the name of the subject, Maronis. The original definition was: "Maronis, an old Jewish woman, at Smyrna. one of the most famous works". It was made famous in about 250bc by Leonidas of Tarentum, the first man to write of this indulgent personification of an old woman's drunkenness: ''the lover of wine. the wringer of jars, lies here, an old woman. An Attic cup rests on her tomb.
And she moans underground. not for her children, not for her husband whom she left in penury, not for any of this, but because her cup is empty." A century later, Antipater of Sidon returned to the subject: "This is the tomb of the white-haired Maronis, a lover of undiluted wine and always talkative." Her age, her love of drink suggested by the prominence of her throat, her garrulousness expressed by her open mouth, and the jug of undiluted wine are ail recurring features of Roman copies of the Maronis sculpture. The mystical interpretation is that she has forgotten her earthly family in order to embrace god in the guise of wine: the flagon is crowned with ivy, like the infant Dionysos. The wav her head is thrown back gives her the appearance of a maenad (a female member of the orgiastic cult of Dionysos), while her skeletal body reveals how close she is to death. Her ecstatic smile reflects the transcendental jov, the link between physical decay and the flowering of the spirit, and thus death with rebirth: her tomb will be hallowed by the cup of the gods. In the 17th century, the Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini worked on the restoration of a statue of a sleeping satyr known as the Barberini Faun, dating from the second century bc. He went on to recreate the drunken pose of the satyr in his sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.



Roman copy of an Asiatic original,
Via Nomentana, Rome.
Capitoline Museum, Rome

Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
Ecstasy of Saint Theresa,
Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.




Old Fisherman,
Roman copy of an Alexandrian original,
the Esquiline, Rome.
Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome


The Farnese Tazza is one of the largest known pieces of sardonyx. Since ancient times, it has passed from court to court, through the castles of Federico, the treasury of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Farnese collection, and, finally, to the Naples Museum, where it resides today. The tazza (shallow cup) was created for the offerings of Nile water made every year by the Ptolemies at the start of the floods. The brown and white veins of the crystal were incorporated in a fascinating engraving of nature, history, and myth. The cup seems to embody Egypt herself, the unformed crystal mass symbolizing the stability and security of the country. The king is represented as the Pharaohs once were - as a sphinx with a lion's body and a human head adorned with the royal regalia - and the stoutness of Ptolemy VIII ( 145—1 16bc) is in keeping with the majesty of the gods. Lying on the sphinx is the figure of the queen, Cleopatra III. whose diadem crowning her curly hair is typical of Demeter, Greek goddess of fertility. The old seated man, his arm resting on a sycamore trunk, represents the Nile. and two young girls on the opposite side are allegories for the main seasons of agricultural Egypt. At the side flies Wind, while, above, the airy curve of the robe worn by Sky matches the roundness of the sphinx and crowns the microcosm contained within the tazza. At the centre, a young man grips the yoke of a plough: a sack of seed hangs from his arm and his hand grasps a sickle, a compendium of the farming cycle, from ploughing to sowing to harvesting. In Greek mythology, he is Triptolemus (patron of agriculture) but could equally represent the Horus (falcon-god) of Egyptian tradition. Clear symbolism links the ears of wheat of the woman. the cornucopia of the old man. and the plough of the youth. Ail are aligned with each other, indicating that the fortunes of the country depend on the fertility of the Nile and on the work of man. The farmer is the incarnation of the Egyptian people, those rural workers who were favoured by Ptolemy VIII over the citizens of Alexandria.

Allegory of Egypt,
base of the sardonyx cup known as the Farnese Tazza.
National Archaeological Museum, Naples

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