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What Are the Different Periods of Greek Art?

Sculptures were a staple of Greek art.
greek god image by Roberto of Tanglewood from Fotolia.com

The artists of Greece have produced some of the world's most famous works of art. Consider the sculptures Venus de Milo and Winged Victory of Samothrace or Greek mosaics. Ranging from 900 B.C. to the first century B.C., Greek art can be broken down into four periods: geometric, archaic, classical and Hellenistic. There were no sharp delineations between the four periods; rather, the artwork naturally progressed into a new era.

Geometric Period

Around 900 B.C., classical Greek culture began forming with the development of the alphabet and political system. During this time, Greek artwork emerged, with the majority being sculptures of some sort. Small bronze figurines were commonly produced. Artists frequently painted scenes on large vessels that focused on funerary rituals, as well as the hero warriors of the day. Geometric images can be hard to interpret, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, because of the lack of inscriptions and identifying attributes.

Archaic Period

At the beginning of the seventh century B.C.—the inception of the Archaic Period—Greek artwork began to change. Instead of the geometric patterns popular in previous centuries, artists began engaging in jewelry-making, metal-working and gem-cutting, influenced by foreign styles of the Near East and Egypt. Additionally, pictoral motifs of animal hunts, griffins, sphinxes and sirens began to appear.

The Archaic Period lasted 200 years, during which time sculptures were still prevalent. During the sixth century B.C., human sculptures became more natural and freestanding, and larger pieces became the norm.

Eventually, artists began depicting the country's myths and customs through their artwork, which led the way to the Classical Period.

Classical Period

The "golden age" of Greek art, the Classical Period was characterized by expression, movement and celebration of humankind. Human anatomy was fully represented in stone or bronze. While bronze sculptures were a major art form during this period, not many still exist.

In addition to sculptures, many works of architecture were completed during the Classical Period, such as the Parthenon of Athens. Within the Parthenon are sculptural representations of mythological figures. The Classical Period lasted from approximately 380 B.C. to 323 B.C.

Hellenistic Period

Beginning in 330 B.C. with the conquests and ultimate death of Alexander the Great, Greek artwork underwent a final transformation into the Hellenistic Period, which lasted until 31 B.C..

Pieces focused on dramatic posing and contrasts of shadows and light. This is best shown in Winged Victory of Samothrace, now stationed in the Louvre in Paris. An even higher degree of naturalism came into play with the works of fourth-century sculptors such as Lysipos and Skopas.

This period of artwork leans toward more violence and intensty, with groups of mythical subjects engaged in violence. An example of this style is the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamum.

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