Classical Art Styles
Utilizing from the text of Janetta Rebold Benton and Robert DiYanni’s Arts & Culture, An Introduction to the Humanities (Prentice Hall, 2012), Smithsonian Learning Labs and other resources, the focus of this collection will be on the classical art styles, particularly in sculpture.
Let's begin this journey with a glimpse of Classical Greece. Greek values included a pursuit of perfection and the love of beauty. Also known for their philosophical impact today, the Greek philosopher Plato's beliefs are reflected in the sculpture of this time. "Plato postulated that ideal Goodness, Truth and Beauty were all One, in the realm of Ideal Forms. Thus all actions can be measured against an ideal, and that ideal standard can be used as a goal toward which human beings might strive. According to Plato, human beings should be less concerned with the material world of impermanence and change and more concerned with the spiritual realm of Perfect Forms." (Benton & DiYanni, Arts & Culture, Prentice Hall, 2012, Pg. 73). Increasingly lifelike, sculpture in the Classical Greek period reflects these ideals.
Changes came about during this time in the function and style of sculpture. The rigid form of years past was replaced with more natural, realistic form. The sculptures/statues began to reflect what the human body can look like at its peak. The technical skills of the sculptors evolved greatly as well, showing the human form in various poses. These poses, which came to be known as the contrapposto pose, included characteristics such as the head slightly turned and a shift in weight onto one leg. Some sculptors also utilized mathematical calculations to achieve these perfectly portioned forms.
The first sculpture to utilize the contrapposto pose was the Kritios Boy (Sculptor Kritios) with his weight slightly shifted to one leg raising one hip causing an "S" curve at the spine. The head was also slightly turned. This piece shows a more natural form and mirrors the Greek's growing knowledge of how bone, muscle, flesh, etc. work together in the anatomy. This was considered the transition from the Archaic to Classical periods. The contrapposto pose achieved a perspective of fluidity in movement and a more relaxed appearance.
Doryphoros or Spear-Bearer, by the sculptor Polykleitos, shows the ideal of perfection better still. It was while working on this statue that Polykleitos created a set of written rules instructing how to sculpt the perfect human form. Each part of the body was taken into consideration allowing the sculpture to be fashioned in perfect proportion. There is also the likes of Discobolus (Discus Thrower) by Myron of Athens. A sculpture reflective of the perfect human form that incorporates the physical stature of the sporting contest that is still known today in the Olympic games. Another great sculptor of this period, Praxiteles, is best known for the Aphrodite of Knidos. Aphrodite is born from the sea and is known as the goddess of love. While common for the male form to be nude, this piece illustrating Aphrodite in the nude, was rare for its time. The art of the female nude became a more prominent theme for the Hellenistic period artists that followed.
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