Greek Sculpture – Part 2

PREHISTORIC SCULPTURE IN GREECE. The objects found in the earliest cities at Hissarlik, in the northern end of the acropolis at Tiryns, in the pre-Phoenician tombs of Cyprus, in several of the Greek islands, and in the twelfth-dynasty city of Kahun in Egypt point to a prehistoric civilization in Greek lands antedating in its origin that at Mykenai by perhaps a thousand years. The fact that five successive cities lie buried at Hissarlik below the level of the city of the Mykenaean type, is indicative of the probable long duration of this primitive civilization. We find that stone implements then predominated, though the use of all the metals, even iron, was not absolutely unknown. Pottery was usually handmade, unpainted, and adorned by scratched designs of the simplest character, such as points, zigzags, and straight lines. Even at this early period, however, there was produced occasionally the rosette and a rude scroll-work suggestive of an imperfect acquaintance with Egyptian art. Among the statuettes, crude as was the modelling, the most common form was that of a nude female, in type not unlike the Babylonian goddess.

MYKENEAN SCULPTURE. The crude prehistoric art was followed by an art represented in the rich finds made at Mykenai. Mykenaean art extended over a period of several centuries (roughly, from 1500–1000 B.C.), and was widely distributed over the ancient world. Its centre was in Argolis, at Mykenai and at Tiryns. But remains of a -similar type have been found in, Lakonia, at Amyklai and at Vapheio; in Attika, at Athens, Spata, and Menidi ; in Boiotia, at Orchomenos ; in the Troad, at Hissarlik; in Karia and Phrygia; in Egypt; in Crete and others of the Greek islands; and in Italy, especially in Sicily. It was a powerful type of art, which in-trenched itself behind strong walls, in well-built palaces and finely decorated tombs. Mykenaean sculpture was not wholly unrelated to that of the preceding type, but was much further developed, and entered into rivalry with the art of Egypt and Assyria. If the prehistoric period be broadly characterized as the stone age of Greek art, the Mykenaean may be called its age of bronze. Metals were now extensively used, and handled with great skill. Gold and silver were fashioned into diadems, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, ornamental plaques, and masks to cover the faces of the dead. Bronze was extensively used for architectural decoration, as well as for implements of warfare or of peace. The high degree of advancement in metal-work of this period may be illustrated by the two gold cups from Vapheio, and by the inlaid bronze poniards from Mykenai. On one of the Vapheio cups are represented wild bulls untamed, in the other the same animals subjugated by man. Taken together, the subjects of these cups reveal a principle of contrast destined to play a long role in Greek art. The careful modelling of the forms of the bulls exhibits a naturalistic spirit and a power of observation superior to that displayed by the Assyrian sculptors. The bronze poniards were evidently inspired by Egyptian example, with figured designs beautifully inlaid—but the forms and adaptation of the subjects to the space are Mykenaean and not Oriental.

Decorative sculpture in stone, as it appeared on the columns of the tomb of Atreus or the alabaster frieze from Tiryns or the ceiling of the tomb at Orchomenos, was a translation into stone of ornamental forms more commonly beaten from metal ; but the lions in high-relief over the gates of Mykenai exhibit a remarkable freedom of treatment which presupposes some experience in sculpture in the round.

Mykenean gems, to which class belong the so-called ” island stones,” reveal an attempt to adapt the composition to the space and a full possession of the technical ability of model-ling upon a minute scale. These gems betray the prevalence of an animal worship in which the worshippers are clad in artificial skins of animals, such as the lion, bull, horse, ass, stag, goat, or hog. Recently Mykenaean inscriptions have been discovered in Crete, showing the use of a pre-Phoenician hieroglyphic and syllabic type of written language.

To whatever department of art we turn, we find that the Greeks of this period absorbed many of the ideas, forms, and methods of Egyptian and Babylonian art, not in servile imitation, but reconstructing and adapting them to new purposes.

THE DARK AGES OF GREEK SCULPTURE. The disappearance of Mykenaean art appears to have been due to the inroads of Hellenic tribes from Thessaly, especially the Dorians and Ionians. The process by which new forms were finally established was a gradual one. In some quarters Mykenaean types continued to be reproduced as late as the sixth century B.C.: in other quarters there appear to have been transitional stages, more or less clearly marked, in which changes occurred and yet the continuity of artistic forms was in large measure preserved. These stages are best followed in the pottery, which enables us to distinguish a geometric style, in which many Mykenaean motives were reproduced in rectilinear or more rigid form. Then followed the so-called Oriental style. Mykenaean motives were assigned an inferior position, and greater prominence was given to rows of animals disposed in parallel or concentric bands. Oriental motives, such as meanders, rosettes, lotus flowers, and various forms of volutes, filled the interspaces. The designs upon metal-work were of a similar character.

It was, however, during this period that Greek mythology was being formulated and Greek poetry was popularizing many legends suitable for representation in sculpture and the arts of design. If we compare the shield of Achilles; as described by Homer (ninth century), with the shield of Herakles, described by Hesiod (seventh century), we see that the former contained generic subjects—the earth, the seasons, a city in time of peace in contrast with a city in time of war, choral dances, and the ocean : whereas the design of the later shield was not only more complex, having a large number of subjects, but more specifically Hellenic, being adorned with scenes taken from the new mythology. The early bronze shields found in Crete, and the incised paieree from Cyprus and Southern Italy, illustrate well the decorative sculpture of this period. Its culmination was exemplified by the famous chest of Kypselos, seen by Pausanias in the Heraion at Olympia, and now assigned to the early years of the sixth century. Mere space-filling ornamentation had disappeared, and figured design of a mythological character was firmly established. The old scheme of parallel bands was preserved, and the design appears to have been arranged partly upon the Doric metopal and partly upon the Ionic frieze principles.

Sculpture in the round made slower progress. This was due to various causes. An imageless worship at first prevailed, and it was by very slow stages that, from rude or geometrically shaped blocks of wood or stone, images of the gods in human shape at length arose. The wooden xoana, with bodies like tree-trunks or square piers, retarded rather than advanced the progress of sculpture. Nor did the Greeks entertain the Egyptian conception of immortality which would lead them to make statues for the dead. Technical difficulties also stood in their way. The art of stone-carving came slowly, and only after considerable progress had been made in softer materials, such as wood and clay. The first stimulus to stone and marble sculpture would seem to have been given by the practice of making votive offerings. Thus, in the seventh century, Nicandra of Naxos dedicated an image, probably of herself, to the goddess Artemis of Delos; and, in the same century, Iphikartides, also a Naxian, made and dedicated an image of himself to Apollo. These two types—the draped female and the nude male—constituted a generic form for statues of gods, heroes, and commonplace individuals. In these statues there was no apparent relationship to the sculpture of the Mykenaean period, but they none the less revealed similar influences from Oriental and especially from Egyptian sources. Both types show a rapid development in the following, or archaic stage of Greek sculpture.

ARCHAIC IONIC AND DORIC SCULPTURE. By the sixth century the progress and individuality of Hellenism made themselves felt. Temples of stone or marble were erected on the coast lines of Asia Minor, in Greece proper, in Magna Grarcia, and Sicily. Under Oriental, especially Egyptian, tutelage, types of architecture were formed, easily distinguished as Doric and Ionic. The AEolians seem to have been possessed of less artistic individuality, and produced no distinctive types either in architecture or sculpture. Sculpture in this century began to lose its Oriental cast and become a national art. Artists were now held in high esteem, and literary traditions concerning their works, as well as a considerable quantity of the monuments themselves, are preserved to us. The art of working in stone and marble was rapidly mastered, and bronze-casting reached a high stage of development.

The migratory nature of the early Hellenic sculptors makes it difficult in all cases to distinguish Ionic from Doric workmanship. Nevertheless, the two classes may be broadly characterized. The Ionians were the earliest in the field. They learned from Egypt the lesson of bronze-casting, and carried it even to Dorian settlements. They also were the first to ascertain the value of marble and to practise the art of marble sculpture. Their work shows a preference for round forms and slender proportions ; for light draperies falling in delicate folds, so as to reveal the figure ; for frieze-like compositions involving organic groups. The draped female type was rapidly developed by the Ionians.

Doric forms were sturdier, of less slender proportions, of more pronounced muscularity, and with heavy draperies falling in massive folds. The Doric compositions were metopal in character, with figures juxtaposed rather than organically grouped. The nude male type was developed chiefly in the Doric schools. Athenian sculpture, the product of artists of all schools, represented a fusion of Ionic and Doric influences.

ARCHAIC IONIC SCULPTURE. Ionic sculpture of this period is well represented by the draped female figures from Delos and the similar series from the Acropolis at Athens. In these figures the arms were no longer drawn close to the body, but were extended, sometimes gently raising the drapery. Uniformity of type was disregarded, and considerable variety prevailed in pose, in the arrangement of the drapery, the hair, and other details. The nude male type began also to show more freedom. The Egyptian pose of the figure, standing with left foot slightly in advance of the right, remained the same; but the proportions became more normal and the arms freer. The colossal statue of the Didymaian Apollo in the old temple of the Branchidai, near Miletos, was of this character. The type is well preserved in the bronze statue found at Piombino, Italy, and now in the Louvre Museum. The early method of forming statues from plates of bronze riveted together was now replaced by the art of moulding, which Theodoros is said to have introduced and with which he doubtless became acquainted during his visit to Egypt. Seated figures, such as the statues which lined the approach to the temple of Apollo, near Miletos, were a common type in Ionian sculpture of the sixth century. A series of these, chronologically arranged, would exhibit the rapid progress made in naturalistic treatment of drapery, and in the observation of the human form. Ionian sculptures in relief, as illustrated in the Harpy tomb from Xanthos, in sarcophagi from Cyprus, and funerary stela from many quarters, show continuous compositions with organic groups and rounded forms covered by transparent drapery. The principal Ionian sculptors of this period were Archermos of Chios, who is credited with having first given wings to marble statues (circa 580 B.C.) ; Boupalos and Athenis, who developed the draped female type (circa 540 B.C.) ; Rhoikos and Theodoros, who introduced improved methods of metal casting (circa 575 B.C.).

ARCHAIC DORIC SCULPTURE. The principal Doric centres of sculptural activity were Argos, Sikyon, AEgina, and the provincial schools of Boiotia, Lakonia, Magna Grecia, and Sicily. The great games, especially those held at Olympia, proved a powerful stimulus to the development of an athletic type of sculpture. The nude figure, in its anatomical structure and pro-portions, was carefully studied, and a greater variety of poses introduced. The principal centres gave thus a new direction to sculpture, especially to workmanship in bronze. Sculpture in the round occupied the principal, and relief the inferior, share of Doric activity. Figures of the gods retained in many cases the old xoanon type at the same time that a revolution in sculptural form was in progress. But even the gods soon submitted to the general transformation, and became more and more like the figures of men. The school of Argos held the leading position in the archaic period, and may now be studied in the sculptures recently found at Delphi. The statues of Kleobis and Biton are heavy in proportion, dating from the earliest years of the sixth century. The metopes of the Treasury of Sikyon, finished about 57o B.C., are more complicated than might have been anticipated, and are suggestive of Ionian influence. Ionian methods of composition are still more evident in the frieze of the Treasury of Siphnos (525—510 B.C.). Here the assembly of the gods may be regarded as a prototype of the eastern frieze of the Parthenon, while the Gigantomachia and the combat of Hektor and Menelaos present more than one motive, which AEginetan and Athenian sculptors carried to a higher stage of development.

In Boiotia the series of statues found at the shrine of the Apollo Ptoos, near Akraiphiai, exhibit a very gradual progress in the direction of more perfect form, but this development was arrested by the more rapid advance of other schools. A similar slow progress is observable in the funerary stela; of Lakonia; so slow, that when the inhabitants of Amyklai wished for a throne for their colossal xoanon of Apollo, they sent for an Ionian sculptor from Magnesia. In like manner, Sicily and Magna Graecia could not wait for the growth of local talent. The metopal sculptures of the oldest temple at Selinous in Sicily exhibit provincial Doric execution of motives which may well have been drawn from an Ionian source.

The acme of archaic Doric sculpture is best illustrated by the pedimental groups from the Athene temple at ,Egina, which date from the early years of the fifth century. Here we see in marble the results reached by a severe training in bronze. This is apparent from the freedom in the attitudes of the figures, which could hardly have been reached if the artists had been trained in so friable a material as marble. It is evident, also, from the general treatment of the surfaces. The composition as a whole is an application of sculpture in the round to architectural purposes. Each figure is a unit by itself, and these units are juxtaposed rather than organically connected. The Greeks upon one side of the pediment correspond, man for man and pose for pose, with the Trojans on the other side. These marble groups were harmonized with the poros stone of the temple by means of color. Some of the accessories were of bronze, others were enlivened by brilliant color, and the whole thrown in strong relief by a blue back-ground.

Prominent among the Doric sculptors of this period were Glaukias and Onatas of AEgina (fl. 490–460 B.C.), Kanachos of Sikyon, Dontas of Sparta, Klearchos of Rhegion, and Ageladas of Argos (circa 520–465 B.C.).

ARCHAIC ATTIC SCULPTURE. Athens drew to herself artists from Ionic and Doric schools, and thus secured both grace and strength. The series of poros stone pedimental sculptures recently found in the Acropolis are remarkable for being in low-relief and containing organic compositions. Relief sculpture became now the typical decoration for Attic pediments, and grouping rather than mere juxtaposition of figures the law of composition.

Important also are the series from the Acropolis of draped female figures, developed from Delian prototypes. Ionic influence prevailed again in funerary stelae such as that of the Discus-thrower, and in reliefs like that of the Apobates mounting to his chariot. It is in the standing male figures that Doric influence is most evident. Antenor’s (fl. 510—480 B.C.) famous group of the Tyrannicides seems to have combined Doric strength and proportions with the Ionic mode of composition. The stele of Aristion (circa 520 B.C.), by Aristokles, shows the same fusion of influences.

EXTANT MONUMENTS. Archaic Greek sculpture may be best studied from the originals in the museums of Athens, Naples, Munich, Berlin, Paris, and London ; and from the collection of casts in Berlin, Dresden, Boston, and New York.