Introductory art history classes in colleges and universities study ancient Greek art because of its impact on subsequent art movements. While Greek artists such as El Greco gained recognition in later years, it is the art of Greece during the Classical Hellenistic period that is most celebrated in the art world and in academia.
Excavations in some parts of Greece revealed profuse amounts of gold, especially in the ancient city of Mycenae, ruled over by Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War. Sculpture, pottery and jewelry that included assorted items such as vases, goblets, daggers, rings and other artifacts are preserved in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Some of the most striking pieces, however, are death masks. Residents were buried with gold forms on their faces, preserving their facial features. The most famous of these artifacts, the "Mask of Agamemnon" was thought to be that of the famous ruler until modern research disproved that theory.
Greek temples were important in ancient times as evidenced by the numerous ruins that have survived. Temples held statues of revered gods and included sacrificial altars. The most important surviving temple is the Parthenon, built to honor the Greek goddess Athena. It is considered to be the finest example of classical Greek architecture. Throughout history, architects replicated the structure of Greek temples, especially the Parthenon. The city of Nashville's Centennial Park includes a re-creation of the Parthenon, complete with a statue of Athena.
Exquisite marble sculptures in ancient Greece include busts and full-body sculptures. Archaeologists discovered a large trove of marble sculptures during an excavation in the 1800s on the ancient island of Thera. Known today as Santorini, the island is home to some of the richest archaeological finds in history. Examples of Greek sculpture are in museums around the world. The British Museum in London, England, owns one of the largest collections.
The well-known Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos discovered the city of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini and published a book about it in 1939. However, because of World War II, he could not return and begin excavation activity until the late 1960s. A volcanic explosion covered buildings in ash, preserving detailed wall paintings still being studied by archaeologists. Large frescos depict scenes of daily life, naval expeditions and animals.
The painter known as El Greco (the Greek) made a huge impact on the art of the Renaissance. Born in Crete, Domenikos Theotokopoulos migrated first to Italy and eventually settled in Spain. His large-scale paintings of religious themes were characterized by distorted figures and darkness. His most famous painting, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” is a large-scale depiction of the funeral of a nobleman in a church in Toledo, Spain.