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Early Greek Styles
The Archaic Period
During the archaic period (c.660–480 B.C.) sculpture emerged as a principal form of artistic expression. Dating from the beginning of this period are magnificent statues of nude walking youths, the kouroi, which suggest Egyptian prototypes but which are distinctive in stylization and tension of movement (e.g., Kouros, Metropolitan Mus.). Draped female sculptures from the archaic period suggest Middle Eastern influence (e.g., Hera of Samos, Louvre).
Vase painters depicted mythological scenes and, toward the end of the archaic period, many scenes from contemporary life. Outstanding was the Athenian school of black-figured vase painting led by the painter Execias. The appearance of the red-figured style of vase painting (c.525 B.C.) showed increased concern with the rendering of three-dimensional space and naturalistic detail. Euthymides and Euphronius were among the great early masters in this medium. About a generation later masterpieces were produced by the painters Brygos and Duris.
The Early Classical Period
The Golden Age
The height of the classical period, or Golden Age (c.450–400 B.C.), was the time of Pericles and Thucydides, of the great dramatists Sophocles and Euripides, and of the young Socrates. The aesthetic ideal based on the representation of human character as an expression of a divine system embodying a rational ethic and ordered reality was integral to the culture. The sculptor Polykleitos sought to arrive at a rational norm for the structure of the ideal human figure.
The most magnificent original sculptures from this period are those from the temples of the Athenian acropolis. Earliest of these are the Parthenon sculptures including the frieze representing the Panathenaic procession and the pedimental sculptures (see Elgin Marbles). The Parthenon sculptors are anonymous, but Phidias is believed to have drawn up the designs. Somewhat later in date are the sculptures of the Hephaesteum, the Erechtheum, and the Nike Balustrade.
The Late Classical Period
The Hellenistic Period
With the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek art entered its last great phase, the Hellenistic period (see Hellenistic civilization. The importance of Athens gradually declined, and cultural centers rose at Pergamum, Rhodes, and Alexandria. Masterpieces of this period include the Nike (Victory) of Samothrace and Aphrodite of Melos (both: Louvre) and the Pergamum Frieze (Berlin Mus.). Especially charming among the minor arts are terra-cotta figurines from Tanagra. Marked tendencies toward heightening spatial illusionism are revealed in sculpture and, judging from Roman copies, prevailed also in painting (e.g., Odyssey Landscapes, Vatican).
From the 2d cent. B.C. onward copies of former masterpieces of sculpture, which only approximate their prototypes, appear frequently along with vigorous group compositions closely related to the Pergamene school (e.g., Laocoön and His Sons, Vatican). Greek and Roman artists produced these copies of former masterpieces for private patrons or the Roman state, and most of our knowledge of classical Greek art is derived from them. Although the inventive originality of Greek culture declined at this time, its influence remained of paramount importance during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and has continued to be an inspiring force throughout the history of Western culture.
See J. D. and A. B. Beazley, Greek Sculpture and Painting (1965); J. Charbonneaux, Archaic Greek Art (1971); M. Robertson, History of Greek Art (2 vol., 1976); J. J. Pullitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986); G. M. A. Richter, A Handbook of Greek Art (9th ed. 1987); J. Boardman, Greek Art (4th ed., rev. and expanded, 1996); J. H. Oakley, The Greek Vase (2013).