Walking into Greek Art Section of Art Galleries

Ancient Greek Art

            Walking into 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 impacts decorative art of today. The entire Ancient Greek Art period can be divided into four separate eras; Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic. Greek art pottery and status symbol vase painting are the artwork containing most noticeable transitions between the eras. Changes leaving one time 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 Classical era. Pottery art background surfaces original Greek artists painted held liquid, 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 specialized events inspired Greek artist’s paintings, sculptures, and architect. Regular neutral colored vases made from clay magically transformed into colorful skillful pieces of art contained 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 archaic time are identifiable by recognizing black shadows outlining a human form against red colored background vases. Painting reverend respecting gods and heroes on drinking vessels became popular late geometric era. “Attic Geometric vases was 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 were coordinated with archaic period. Geometric designs were simply lines; lines with character, personality and style. 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 Ancient Archaic period into 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 technical 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 painting’s 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 identifies distinguished Greek vases, but refers 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 symbolical paintings by Greek artists. Some contain images of the well known Goddess Dionysus, Goddess of Wine; some features 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, meaningful art to Greeks. Sculptures became refined and detailed from Archaic to 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), and gods and warriors in the traditional poses of attack and retreat in architectural settings, but independent figures in many novel stances (Richter, 1951, p. 1). Classical sculpture, Delphi Charioteer, represented the earth Goddess and victory of the Olympic Games. She represented the nation’s power. Characteristics identifying the sculpture as classical is she is female, and the detailed carvings into the material, noticeable in her hair and facial structure.  Greek sculptures entering into Classical especially in the beginning of the transition, including Zues of Olympia and Apollo of Olympia, represented strength, war, victory. Both Athens and Sparta never admitted or believed in defeat. Both nations fought till they won. Some historians argue these attitudes are clearly stated in their sculptures.


            Today, art is used primarily for decorative, visual appeal. Greeks Viewed artwork as their nations power, pride and sacred meanings. During the Archaic period, painted vessels and sculptures were to honor and worship the mythological gods. Sculptures represented power, permantly capturing traditions of their Olympic Games. Archaic sculptures were action figures of young nude men. The statues represented men who fought in wars, won games, or worshiped gods. At this time, the meaning behind the art is what was important. The Classical art era brought progressive changes. Art became more refined. Displays of female figures were created. Goddesses were honored. Greek art increased in popularity over the ages. It’s forms and patterns will continue to be repeated again and again.

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Black vase paintin

Red figure vase painting

Zues 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 architect

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). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from Questia database: 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 Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=10490919

Ridder, A. D., & 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 https://graduateway.com/ancient-greek-art/