The head of Apollo-Kouros.Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei.
(Apollo-Kouros, 1st century BC to 1st century AD)
The transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic (or Hellenic) period occurred during the 4th century BCE. Greek art became increasingly diverse, influenced by the cultures of the peoples drawn into the Greek orbit, by the conquest’s of Alexander the Great (336 to 323 BCE). In the view of some art historians, this is described as a decline in quality and originality; however, individuals of the time may not have shared this outlook. Many sculptures previously considered classical masterpieces are now known to be of the Hellenistic age. The technical ability of the Hellenistic sculptors are clearly in evidence in such major works as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Pergamon Altar. New centres of Greek culture, particularly in sculpture, developed in Alexandria, Antioch, Pergamum, and other cities. By the 2nd century BCE, the rising power of Rome had also absorbed much of the Greek tradition—and an increasing proportion of its products as well.
During this period, sculpture again experienced a shift towards increasing naturalism. Common people, women, children, animals, and domestic scenes became acceptable subjects for sculpture, which was commissioned by wealthy families for the adornment of their homes and gardens. Realistic figures of men and women of all ages were produced, and sculptors no longer felt obliged to depict people as ideals of beauty or physical perfection. At the same time, new Hellenistic cities springing up in Egypt, Syria, and Anatolia required statues depicting the gods and heroes of Greece for their temples and public places. This made sculpture, like pottery, an industry, with the consequent standardisation and (some) lowering of quality. For these reasons, quite a few more Hellenistic statues survive to the present than those of the Classical period.
Alongside the natural shift towards naturalism, there was a shift in expression of the sculptures as well. Sculptures began expressing more power and energy during this time period. An easy way to see the shift in expressions during the Hellenistic period would be to compare it to the sculptures of the Classical period. The classical period had sculptures such as the Charioteer of Delphi expressing humility. The sculptures of the Hellenistic period however saw greater expressions of power and energy as demonstrated in the Jockey of Artemision.
Some of the best known Hellenistic sculptures are the Winged Victory of Samothrace (2nd or 1st century BCE), the statue of Aphrodite from the island of Melos known as the Venus de Milo (mid-2nd century BCE), the Dying Gaul (about 230 BCE), and the monumental group Laocoön and His Sons (late 1st century BCE). All these statues depict Classical themes, but their treatment is far more sensuous and emotional than the austere taste of the Classical period would have allowed or its technical skills permitted. Hellenistic sculpture was also marked by an increase in scale, which culminated in the Colossus of Rhodes (late 3rd century), thought to have been roughly the same size as the Statue of Liberty. The combined effect of earthquakes and looting have destroyed this as well as any other very large works of this period that might have existed.
Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek culture spread as far as India, as revealed by the excavations of Ai-Khanoum in eastern Afghanistan, and the civilization of the Greco-Bactrians and the Indo-Greeks. Greco-Buddhist art represented a syncretism between Greek art and the visual expression of Buddhism. Discoveries made since the end of the 19th century surrounding the (now submerged) ancient Egyptian city of Heracleum include a 4th-century BCE depiction of Isis. The depiction is unusually sensual for depictions of the Egyptian goddess, as well as being uncharacteristically detailed and feminine, marking a combination of Egyptian and Hellenistic forms around the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt.
Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World
-Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy
March 14 – June 21, 2015
-J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
July 28 – November 1, 2015
-National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
December 6, 2015 – March 20, 2016
This exhibition is curated by Jens Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin of the J. Paul Getty Museum and co-organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi, Florence; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; with the participation of Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Toscana.