Thursday, February 10, 2011

Art of Ancient Greece (from 1100 B.C. - 31 B.C.)

Hellenic Greece is the ancient civilization of Hellas in what is encircled mainland Greece with nearby islands in the Aegean Sea, the western coast of Turkey (known as Ionia), southern Italy and Sicily (known as Magna Graecia), and by the late 300s B.C., Egypt, Syria, and other Near Eastern lands.

   Greek art and architecture has lasting influence with its simplicity and reasonableness on the history of Western civilization and art. Greeks stated many of permanent themes, attitudes, and forms of Western culture. Greek artists first established mimesis (imitation of nature) as a main principle for art. The nude human figure in Greek art reflects a belief that "Man is the measure of all things". Another Greek legacy that the West has inherited is architecture. Many of the structural elements, decorative motifs, and building types that were established in Ancient Greece are still used in architecture today.

   The roots of Greek culture lie in Mycenaean culture. Mycenaeans built simple houses of a type that the Greeks continued to build long after. And Mycenaean workshops established a tradition of painted pottery that continued without interruption, though with great changes, into later periods. In short, much of Mycenaean culture carried over into later Greek society.After the collapse of Mycenae around 1100 BC, the Greek cities fell into decline and this was followed by a period of wars and invasions, known as the Dark Ages.

The Dark Ages
(1100 - 750 B.C.)
   This is known as the period between the fall of the Mycenean civilization and the readoption of writing in the eighth or seventh century B.C. After the Trojan Wars the Mycenaeans went through a period of civil war and invasions. Greece entered a period of relative impoverishment, depopulation, and cultural isolation. The art of writing was lost for most of that period. The country was weak and a tribe called the Dorians invaded from the north and spread down the west coast.

   During the Dark Age, Greeks settled Ionia. Artisans in Athens produced an abstract style of painted pottery called protogeometric (meaning "first geometric"). The precision of the painting on this pottery foretell the character of later Greek art. Around 800 B.C., the Hellenic civilization began to arise. The last 2 centuries of the Dark Age, are called the Geometric period. That refers to a primarily abstract style of pottery decoration of the time. The Greeks probably adapted Phoenician alphabet at the same time, (around 800 B.C).

   During most of its ancient history, Greece was a disunited land of scattered city-states, and wars between the city-states probably first occurred by the end of the 8th century B.C. The 8th century also saw Greek expansion into southern Italy and Sicily, where city-states from the Greek mainland established their first colonies.

The Archaic Period
(750-500 B.C.)
   The period from 750 B.C. to 480 B.C. is called the archaic period. After about 750 B.C. ancient Greek artists increasingly came into contact with ideas and styles from outside of Greece. In the seventh and sixth centuries many cities came to be ruled as democracies. The best known of these is the Athenian democracy. Greek colonization of Southern Italy and Sicily begins.
   By 6th century B.C. the Greek world presents a picture in many respects different from that of the Homeric Age. This is the period when monumental stone sculpture, vase painting and other developments began to reflect Greek ideas. Monumental building programs became part of the competition, as each community attempted to establish itself as culturally superior. In this period, kouros and kore statues were created. These stylized figures of young men and maidens express the birth of a specifically Greek artistic obsession - the idealization of the human figure. The art of vase painting reached a level of artistic and technical excellence.
   A threat to Greece developed in the East. Persia expanded into Ionia and to the rim of the Aegean Sea. The Persian Wars, between Persia and Greece, broke out in the early 5th century, and ended in victory for Athens and the Greeks.

The Classical Period
(480-338 B.C.)
   Classical period of ancient Greek history is fixed between 480 B.C., when the Greeks began to come into conflict with the kingdom of Persia to the east and 338 B.C., when Philip II of Macedonia with son Alexander defeated the Greeks.
   Athens established an empire of its own after the Persian Wars, and rivalry between Athens and the city-state of Sparta dominated the history of 5th-century Greece. The period of classical art began in Greece about the middle of the 5th century BC. By that time, many of the problems that faced artists in the early archaic period had been solved.
   Greek sculptors had learned to represent the human body naturally and easily, in action or at rest. They were portraying gods and their best sculptures achieved almost godlike perfection in their calm, ordered beauty.
   The works of the great Greek painters have disappeared completely, and we know only what ancient writers tell us about them. Fortunately we have many examples of Greek vases, preserved in tombs or uncovered by archaeologists in other sites. The decorations on these vases give us some idea of Greek painting. They are examples of the wonderful feeling for form and line that made the Greeks supreme in the field of sculpture.

The Hellenistic Period (338-31 B.C.)
   From 334 to 323 B.C., Alexander the Great extended his father's empire into Asia Minor (now Turkey), Syria, Egypt, Persia, Afghanistan, and as far as India. Hellenic civilization reached the peak of its power during the 5th century BC.
   The usual periodization practiced is to see the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC as distinguishing the Hellenic period from the Hellenistic. This represents the shift from a culture dominated by ethnic Greeks, to a culture dominated by Greek-speakers of whatever ethnicity, and from the political dominance of the city-state to that of larger monarchies.
   The empire of Alexander the Great did not survive his death in 323. After he died, empire was divided into a number of Hellenistic ('Greek-like') kingdoms. In the 2nd century B.C. Rome began to exert its influence. The Hellenistic period ended in 31 B.C., when Rome defeated Egypt, the last of the Hellenistic kingdoms.
   In the Hellenistic art people sought to portray the inner emotions and details of everyday life instead of the heroic beauty. The style changed from godlike serenity to individual emotion and from the dramatic to melodramatic pathos, using dramatic poses and theatrical contrasts of light and shade playing over figures in high reliefs. One characteristic of these sculptures was that they showed extreme expressions of pain, stress, wild anger, fear, and despair. The first Theaters were built in the Hellenistic Period. Corinthian columns began to be more common in this period.


Art of Aegean Bronze Age Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean Art (from cca. 3000 - 1200 B.C.)

Aegean Civilization denotes the Bronze Age civilization that developed in the basin of the Aegean Sea. It had tree major cultures: the Cycladic, the Minoan and the Mycenaean. Aegean art is noticeable for its naturalistic vivid style, originated in Minoan Crete. No much was known about the Aegean civilization until the late 19th century, when archaeological excavations began at the sites of the legendary cities of Troy, Mycenae, Knossos, and other centers of the Bronze Age.

Cycladic culture - Early Bronze Age
(About 3000-2200 B.C.)
   The Cycladic civilization of the Aegean Sea flourished at about the same time as the early Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. That is considered the forerunner of the first truly European civilization - Greece.
   On the mainland their villages have been small independent units, often protected by thick walls. Over time, the buildings on Crete and in the Cyclads became more complex.Cycladic culture developed pottery, often decorated with rectangular, circular, or spiral designs. They also produced silver jewelry. The sculpture produced there was very unique compared to the art being produced by the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. These sculptures, commonly called Cycladic idols, were often used as grave offerings. Characteristic of that sculpture is that all were made of Parian marble, with its geometric, two-dimensional nature, which has a strangely modern familiarity. The Cycladic artists made obvious attempts to represent the human form. Therefore, Cycladic sculpture can safely be called the first truly great sculpture in Greece.

Minoan Culture - Middle Bronze Age
(About 2200-1800 B.C.)
   Newcomers arrived in the Cyclades and on the mainland and caused destruction. For about two centuries civilization was disrupted. New pottery and the introduction of horses at this time indicate that the invaders were of the Indo-European language family.
   Minoan culture developed on Crete, in the 2nd millennium B.C. Impressive buildings, frescoes, vases, and early writing are evidence of that flourishing culture. Great royal palaces built around large courtyards were the focal points of these communities. The Minoan empire appears to have coordinated and defended the bronze-age trade. They maintained a marine empire, trading not only with the Cyclades and the mainland but also with Sicily, Egypt, and cities on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Minoan religion featured a female snake deity, whose worship involved the symbolism of fertility and the lunar and solar cycles.
   Minoan art is unusual for the time. It is naturalistic, quite different from the stiff stereotypes of contemporary art elsewhere. The vibrant colors, smooth lines, and sense of nature make Minoan art a pleasure for eyes even today. Minoan artists broke away from the two-dimensional expression of figure and created three-dimensional figures. The frescoes are art of exceptional beauty and their fluidity makes the figures dynamic. The easy pleasure-loving lifestyle comes across in their art. The Minoan civilization rivaled that of Egypt. From Crete, this style spread to the Aegean. On the Greek mainland it was modified by geometric tendencies.
Minoan palaces: Knossos, Phaestos, Malia, Zakros.

Mycenaean culture - Late Bronze Age
(1600-1200 B.C.)
   It is believed that the Mycenaeans were responsible for the end of the Minoan culture with which they had many ties. This theory is supported by a switch on the island of Crete from the Cretan Linear A Script to the Mycenaean Linear B style script and by changes in ceramics styles and decoration. The styles on painted vases and weapons that depicted hunting and battle scenes are more formal and geometric than those of earlier examples, anticipating the art of classical Greece.
    The architecture and art of Greek mainland was very different from the one of Crete. Mycenae and Tiryns were two major political and economic centers there at the time.
    Cyclopean Architecture is the Mycenaean type of building walls and palaces. Palaces were built as large citadels made of piled up stones, as opposed to the openness of Minoan palaces. The citadel of Mycenae is an Acropolis - a citadel on raised area. The Lion Gate - entrance to the Acropolis of the city of Mycenae is an excellent example of this building practice combined with a corbelled arch - the triangular arch shape that the lions stand within.
    Megaron is the fortress palace of the king at the center of a typical Mycenaean city. This is a characteristic form of Mycenaean palace found at many sites, including Troy. They are very symmetrical and its basic form is a forerunner of later Greek temple forms.
    Tholos tombs are conical chambers with the subterranean burial chambers. The stonework of the tholos is very much influenced by Egyptian masonry techniques. There are 9 at Mycenae. There were found the gold death masks, weapons, and jewelry at the royal burial sites similar to Egyptian practice.
    Mycenaean civilization mysteriously disappeared shortly after 1200 B.C. most likely, to widespread fighting among the Mycenaean Greeks.
    Mycenaean cities: Mycenae, Tiryns, Troy