Art of ancient Greece

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greek pottery
The Greeks decorated pottery with intricate paintings
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Influences of ancient Greek art are alive and well in much of art as we know it

The task at hand is to summarize the art of ancient Greece. Is it possible to squeeze 5,000 years of art history into one article? We'll take a stab at it with an abridged version.

There are myriad genres that define the art of ancient Greece, but four stand out as the most recognized.

1. Architecture

Greek architecture is best divided into the various types of temple styles. During the Classical period, the architecture was primarily made up of temples constructed in the Doric style. However, it was also during this time that the Ionic style was introduced; the Parthenon is a prime example of a Greek structure that incorporates elements of both styles.

Some differences between Doric and Ionic architecture: Ionic columns stand on a small base, whereas Doric columns extended directly to a structure's floor. Doric temples are less elaborate and decorative than Ionic temples. Doric architecture also is comprised of triglyphs and metopes along the architrave (the area on top of the columns), whereas Ionic architecture sheds those elements for a continuous freize that usually contains a long, narrow strip of sculpture. Again, the Parthenon is a good example to use when pointing out the various elements of Greek architecture.

And we can't discuss Greek architecture without mentioning the Corinthian style. The Corinthian is the most modern style of architecture; an example is the Roman Colosseum. The Romans used the Corinthian style more than the Greeks.

2. Paintings

Painting is a well-known form of art of ancient Greece, and written sources note that the Greeks were painting from the Bronze Age through the Roman conquest. However, not many Greek paintings survived the elements (think Pompeii).

The paintings that did survive were found underground, mostly on the walls of tombs. The Minoans (from the Island of Crete) recorded their paintings on palace walls between 1700 and 1400 BC.

3. Pottery

Because so many Greek paintings were lost to volcanoes and earthquakes, we have gleaned much of our knowledge of how and what the Greeks painted from the pictures they created on pottery. The paintings, along with the pottery, evolved over many ages - from the Stone Age to the Dark Age.

During the very early Neolithic period, Greeks started making plain pottery pieces for practical reasons. Over time, they began to decorate the pottery and eventually the paintings became more and more intricate, displaying scenes of men fighting, chariots and wild animals.

4. Sculpture

Greek sculptures survived many of the elements through the ages, and today we have access to a significant number of famous pieces in the three distinct Greek periods: Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic. Greek sculpture was a major influence for the Romans because of its realism.

During the Archaic period, the Greeks were mimicking the Egyptian style of sculpture, mostly with busts in the human form. A famous piece from the Classical era is the "Discus Thrower," or Discobolos, which represents an advancement in the Greek art of sculpture. This advancement continued throughout the Hellenistic period as statues took on more striking and provocative poses. The Nike of Samothrace is a prime example.

The Greeks were a powerful influence on the Romans and the Western world, and traces of the art of ancient Greece are alive and well in much of art as we know it.

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