Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 9)

Other than just sadness, triumph was another emotion expressed in Hellenistic sculpture, exemplified in the Nike of Samothrace.  When we last saw Nike, the goddess of victory, she was fixing her sandal, remember?  Well, here she appears much more powerful and terrifying and glorious.  This sculpture was found perched on a hill in Samothrace in 1875.  Imagine coming across this while on a nature hike.
It was sculpted to celebrate a naval victory.  Nike stands on the prow of a ship, overlooking the island of Samothrace.  Wet drapery was a common element in Ancient Greek statues of women; here it's used to relate an image of the goddess standing firm against an oncoming sea wind and sea spray.  Her flowing, wet robes give the sense of movement introduced during the Classical Period.  This is still considered one of the greatest sculptures in history.  Go to the Louvre to see it in person and you will be awed by its grandeur.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 8)

After the Peloponnesian War, the Hellenistic Period, under Philip II and his son and successor, Alexander the Great (who was taught by Aristotle), switched to a new style.  The expression during the Hellenistic Period was emotion and drama.  Violent images make their way onto the art scene in order to stir emotion.  The beautiful example of this is the Dying Gaul.  It is a man from Gaul (France) who has been fatally wounded in battle.  Viewers see lots of pain and drama as the man tries to prop himself up and take his final breaths, perhaps contemplating his life and death.  Some call the style "emo" sculpture because it is intended to stir emotions in the viewer.  You are supposed to feel sorry for this man.
The other tragic Hellenistic figure par excellence is the Seated Boxer.  This is a mature, professional boxer resting after a brutal match.  He perspires with swollen ears, scratches, a broken nose, battered cheeks, and a joyless expression.  It is assumed that, if this pitiful figure has not already been beaten, he will lose the fight.  The viewer sympathizes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 7)

A famous image of the Greek Classical Period is Doryphoros, the Spear Bearer, sculpted by Polyclitus.
Doryphoros's left leg is bent, his toes lightly touching the ground.  He is turned slightly, in a relaxed pose, and his head is shifted to the right.  The image is an icon of athletic strength and prowess.  The Ancient Greeks glorified human strength and athleticism (hence the highly renowned Olympic games).  Man is made into a champion, hero, and god.
The contrapposto pose alone, I think, gave the statues more than just a relaxed, "natural" look; it gave the figures an air of confidence and swagger.  With this new-found freedom from old rigid forms came a sense of pride.  The Riaci Bronze Warriors make for a good example of contrapposto.
These guys were discovered by an Italian man named Stefano Mariotini who was spear fishing on vacation in 1972 when he saw a human arm in the sand (kinda creepy).  They were found off the coast of Riaci, in Southern Italy.  They resemble human beings but are unrealistic.  The legs are too long, and the body is split in half with an exaggerated groove.  Their backs are too tense, and their muscle tension is physically impossible.  They're also missing a tailbone.  The reason for this?  The statues were made to look more than human.  If it was just a statue of a normal human being it would have been too boring.  They exaggerated to enhance the aesthetic experience, and perhaps to enhance their own idea of humanity.  These are, so to speak, "more human than human."  They are god-like.  Why are most Ancient Greek statues nudes (at least those of males)?  It was all a part of the admiration of humanity, of the human body, physique, strength, etc.  This was the Classical Period.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 6)

The Classical Period also saw the addition of other materials to the sculpture, such as this Athena Parthenos, made by the Greek sculptor Phidias.  This is a 42-foot tall statue made of ivory and gold (over one ton of gold, I might add).  The ivory was used for the skin, and the gold for her garments.  Precious stones were put in as eyes, and intricate decorations were drawn out on her helmet.
Another element of Ancient Greek art was the frieze, which was a decorative band running across the upper part of a wall.  The most famous Greek frieze is probably that of the Parthenon.  This brilliant frieze shows 350 people and 125 horses in a religious parade that was for a celebration held in Athens every four years.  In the frieze, horsemen are bunched up in some places, and strong light and shadow patterns weave themselves throughout the long line of figures.  It is an extremely lively work of art, showing incredible amounts of motion among all its figures.
Reliefs were also made during the Classical Period.  Here is a very intriguing relief sculpture from the Temple of Athena Nike (the goddess of victory).  Once again, this is a figure in action, but this is far from a graceful movement.  It is called Nike Adjusting Her Sandal, for that is what she is doing.  In Ancient Greek art, you will notice the deification of humans and the humanization of gods.  Myron's Discuss Thrower is making an extremely graceful, godlike movement showing his agility and strength; this goddess is bending over awkwardly to fix her sandal, hinting at her clumsiness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 5)

The Classical Period is distinguished from the Archaic as artists showed a little more boldness and skill.  The straight, stiff poses were abandoned, and the new figures appeared to move in space.  Myron's Discobulus (Discuss Thrower) doesn't show any more blocky or rigid poses.  It is a life-sized statue of an athlete in action.  The Classical Period wanted perfection in motion.
Sadly, when the Romans took power, the Greeks' bronze works were melted down, and the marble sculptures were also ruined.  The Romans themselves copied much of Greek art.  Few surviving Greek statues today are originals; most are Roman copies.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 4)

Greek sculpture is split into three periods: the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Periods.  The Archaic Period occurs from about 600 to 480B.C., and it features a great number of kouroi.  A kouros was a male youth who may have been either a god or an athlete.  They are free standing sculptures of men in stiff, straight poses.  They are symmetrically balanced, with the arms and legs separated.  Their faces show bulging eyes, a square chin, and a grinning mouth.  Both feet are touching the ground, and the only movement is in the left foot.  The term for this is contrapposto—a pose in which the weight of the body is balanced on one leg while the other is free and relaxed.
Korai (plural of kore) were clothed women, often goddesses, and they have equally stiff poses and bent left arms to signify authority.  Sculptors put simple patterns of lines to distinguish their clothes.  This is the Hera of Samos, sculpted during the Archaic Period.  The straight, repeated vertical lines represent a light, lower garment, and the widely-spaced lines show a heavy garment.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 3)

Greek vase decoration is most prevalently seen during 900-700B.C., and the figures on the vases often appear very geometrical.  Characters are made of triangles and lines, but realism developed over time, and characters became more lifelike.  The theme of Greek vase decorations: storytelling.
Here is the Vase with Ajax and Achilles Playing Morra (dice), painted by Exekias.  It shows two Greek generals playing a board game with which they were so preoccupied that they did not hear the enemy coming.  Exekias put in details to make the scene realistic, such as the generals' equipment, set aside behind each of them, and he painted it to fit the curve of the vase.  By the 6th century B.C. we begin to see artist signatures on pots (the first signed works of art).

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 2)

Greek architecture is one of the staple forms of architecture—arguably the most used style in history.  The earliest Greek temples themselves were made of wood or brick, and then eventually builders turned to limestone and marble.  The architecture was designed to be aesthetically perfect.  The temples were considered to be dwelling places for gods, as Ancient Greek culture centered itself around gods.  They built temples as houses for their many gods (who often looked and acted like humans).  They prayed at these temples and brought offerings for the different gods.  (The Greeks had a lot of gods—remember the "Temple to an Unknown God" in Acts 17?)
There are three Greek orders for temple columns: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
Doric was popular during the 7th century B.C. and featured a plain, simple, basic capital with no base.  Ionic came in the following century and introduced a base.  Its capital was designed as either a folded scroll or curled ram horns.  In the 4th century B.C. came the Corinthian order, which featured an elaborate capital designed as Acanthus leaves.
Construction of the Parthenon began in 447B.C., and it uses Doric columns.
Greek temple architecture had these features: pediment, entablature, columns, and three-tiered (stepped) platform.
The Romans went on to copy much of Greek architecture, along with several other cultures to come.  Early American architecture, like the White House, was heavily influenced by Ancient Greek architecture.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ancient Greece (pt. 1)

Greek history begins around 2,000B.C. (during Egypt's Middle Kingdom).  After several wars and invasions, the Dorians took over the land in 1,100B.C., and towns changed into city-states, divided by their geography.  As city-states grew in size and influence, rivalry developed, but they eventually united in fear of the Persian invaders during the 5th century B.C.  Having successfully protected their land from the Persians, the city-states agreed to combine and form a Delian League in order to prevent more invasions.  Athens was made the head of the Delian League.
The prominent leader of the Greeks, Pericles, used money to restore Athens and encourage a period of economic growth and societal peace.  In 431B.C., the Peloponnesian War against Pericles started, and the following year Pericles died, along with a third of the population of Athens, from a terrible plague.  The Spartans defeated Athens, and a century of conflict followed.  In 338B.C., Greece was conquered by Macedonia.