Walking into Greek Art Section of Art Galleries

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Ancient Greek art

Walking into the Greek Art section of art galleries, surrounded by Greek art furnishings and interior designs, accompanied by musical flutes and occasional gong strikes, gives a surrounding atmosphere of entering into a mysterious world. Ancient Greek Art originated from the single-digit B.C. era, but its strong style influences impact decorative art of today. The entire Ancient Greek Art period can be divided into four separate eras: Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic. Greek art pottery and status symbol vase painting are the artworks containing the most noticeable transitions between the eras. Changes leaving one time and entering into the beginning of another were slightly noticeable. All Ancient Greek Art during Geometric and Archaic eras served specific meaningful, sacred purposes, later becoming used for decorative purposes during the Classical era. Pottery art background surfaces original Greek artists painted held liquid and were used as drinking cups. Vase painting originated from designing the drinking vessels with the purpose of honoring worshiped mythological beings. Ancient Greek Art transformed worshiped supernatural beings, gods, goddesses, and other mythological heroes into figures humans can relate to and visualize while capturing the identity of their spirits.

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Archaic to Classical.

Honoring gods or preserving honored mythological figures inspired specialized events in Greek artists’ paintings, sculptures, and architecture. Regular, neutral-colored vases made from clay magically transformed into colorful, skillful pieces of art containing one or more figures or special events of mythological figures. Black-figure paintings were the first artistic attempts of Greeks, originating in archaic and geometric eras. Vessels painted during the archaic time are identifiable by recognizing black shadows outlining a human form against red-colored background vases. Painting reverent gods and heroes on drinking vessels became popular in the late geometric era. Attic Geometric vases were not somewhat of a random happening, something that might be termed a material accident of artistic behavior. For these earliest pictorial themes were not copied from life, but are generic visual symbols for the recumbent animal, the grazing or moving animal, and the walking bird” (Carpenter, 1962, p. 37). Eventually, geometric designs were coordinated with the archaic period. Geometric lines separating black-painted figures circling the entire circumference of the vase gave archaic painted vessels an elaborate, sophisticated, delicate feature, making vases visually appealing and extraordinary. “The shift from black-figure to red-figure technique, which was due (it seems) to the initiative of Attic potters, is very generally taken as a landmark in the history of Greek vase-painting” (Carpenter, 1962, p. 129). The primary visual art tradition leading the Ancient Archaic period into the Classical era is black-figure vase painting reversing with red-figure vase painting. In the Classical era, red figures representing mythological Greek goddesses and gods were painted onto black-covered background vases. Outstanding spiritual artwork supporting Greek art traditions through the ages surviving into today is significant in specific vases and sculptures.

Greek vases.

Greeks elaborated on technically structured shapes and forms, as well as subject content, in their art. Greek art aimed at the perfection of proportion and workmanship in the treatment of old, well-understood, and established motifs. That this is true is not only proven by the standardized shapes of Amphora, Kylix, Kalpis, Hydria, Skyphos, Oinochoe, and Lekythos, but by the accepted forms of temples, theaters, units of decoration, treatment of drapery, grouping of sculpture forms, and even the proportions of the figure” (Hambidge, 1920, p. 44). Many inspiring vase art paintings’ patterns and symbology influencing artists of all types today, ranging from musicians to interior designers, grew in popularity, not declined, with age. Popular vases, such as Amphora and Dinos, identify distinguished Greek vases but refer to symmetry, not subject content. Vases coming from Greek ages have standard sizes, shapes, and are usually identified as red-figured or black-figured. Amphora and Kylix vessels are curvature-shaped, with two circular handles on each side, but the shaped ornaments contain many symbolic paintings by Greek artists. Some contain images of the well-known Goddess Dionysus, Goddess of Wine; some feature warriors and knights fighting with shields and swords. There are no standard images painted onto named vessels. They are distinguished by measurements and shapes. Creators of Greek vase structure established foundations used in their architecture, such as Dinos shaped objects. The basic structure for Dinos is four squares. “This is a monumental piece of pottery, and the theme of the design is worth careful study. The general shape appears repeatedly in both archaic and classic Greek art and is the basic motif in the plan of the Parthenon” (Hambidge, 1920, p. 81). Pyxis was another famous Greek vessel but instead of holding water or oil, it served as a decorative jewelry box. Artists carved mythological gods into the clay or ivory vases, leading into sculpturing.


Greek sculptures are reflections of everything important and extraordinary to that culture. Sculptures were the most popular and meaningful art to the Greeks. Sculptures became refined and detailed from the Archaic to the Classical periods. In the first half of the fifth century, however, the time was ripe for fresh experiments, and so we suddenly find not only a continuation of the quiet, stately stances inherited from archaic art (as illustrated in the Delphi Charioteer, the Hestia Giustiniani, and the Apollo of Olympia), but also gods and warriors in traditional poses of attack and retreat in architectural settings, as well as independent figures in many novel stances” (Richter, 1951, p. 1). Classical sculpture, such as the Delphi Charioteer, represented the earth Goddess and the victory of the Olympic Games. She represented the nation’s power. Characteristics identifying the sculpture as classical include her female form and the detailed carvings in her hair and facial structure. Greek sculptures entering into the Classical period, especially in the beginning of the transition, including Zeus of Olympia and Apollo of Olympia, represented strength, war, and victory. Both Athens and Sparta never admitted or believed in defeat. Both nations fought until they won. Some historians argue that these attitudes are clearly stated in their sculptures.


Today, art is primarily used for decorative and visual appeal. The Greeks viewed artwork as a symbol of their nation’s power, pride, and sacred meanings. During the Archaic period, painted vessels and sculptures were created to honor and worship the mythological gods. Sculptures represented power, permanently capturing the traditions of their Olympic Games. Archaic sculptures were action figures of young nude men, representing those who fought in wars, won games, or worshiped gods. At this time, the meaning behind the art was what was important. The Classical art era brought progressive changes, with art becoming more refined and displays of female figures being created to honor goddesses. Greek art has increased in popularity over the ages, with its forms and patterns being repeated again and again.

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Black vase painting.

Red-figure vase painting.

Zeus at Olympia

Charioteer of Delphi.

Woman bearing offerings.

Black-figure amphora.

Title: Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase

Publisher: Yale University Press

Publication Date: 1920

Page No: 45


Title: Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase

Publisher: Yale University Press

Publication Date: 1920

Page No: 127



Friezes appeared on all Greek architecture.

Symmetry images from Questia Research.


Carpenter, R. (1962). Greek Art: A Study of the Formal Evolution of Style. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=1522801.

Greek Art (2007) is a reference work in The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.) published by Columbia University Press in New York. It was retrieved from the Questia database on March 29, 2008. The link to access the article is http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=112861646.

Hambidge, J. (1920). Dynamic Symmetry: The Greek Vase. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=9461141

(1960). Masterpieces of Greek Art: Text and Color Photography. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=3909511

Richter, G. M. (1951). Three Critical Periods in Greek Sculpture. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from the Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=10490919

Ridder, A. D., and Deonna, W. (1927). Art in Greece.” New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=78337480.

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Walking into Greek Art Section of Art Galleries. (2016, Jun 25). Retrieved from


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