Introduction - Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman

Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman (2016)


I would say that the Parthenon now is probably much more impressive than when it was first made. You feel the spaces much more, and the openings, and the fact that it’s not solid throughout and that the light comes in, makes it into a piece of sculpture and not, as it was before, a building with four external sides. It’s completely spatial now.

The enthusiasm for light and space evoked by the greatest monument of classical antiquity in a great modern sculptor, Henry Moore, expresses much of what has for many seemed to be the principal appeal of Greek culture and art: the expression of a people unsurpassed for their purity of thought, behaviour and design, democrats, philosophers, poets and historians, the true precursors of the modern world and all-time successes in the pursuit of the true and the beautiful, expressing a humanity that anticipated or even surpassed all that Christianity has been able to achieve [3, 4]. The truth about Greek art and antiquity is very different, yet in its way no less marvellous. For about half the time span of this book Greek art was heavily dependent on non-Greek example; thereafter it was a leader. That Athenian democracy should be remembered by the name (Pericles) of the man who effectively ruled the city in the mid-5th century BC says something about how democratic it was; Greeks could be ruthlessly cruel and spent more energy fighting each other than any foreigners; slavery was an essential element - but so it was worldwide at that date, and it seems that slaves, women, the disabled and foreigners were marginally better treated in classical Greece than in most places.

3 The Parthenon today in an unimpeded view not possible to an ancient visitor (compare [5]). Built 447-433 BC to the plans of Ictinus and Callicrates. All the ancient sculpture remaining (after Elgin had taken his Marbles to London), much damaged by pollution in the last hundred years, has been removed and installed in a new Acropolis Museum, incorporating good casts of the pieces in London. The temple itself is being skilfully restored

4 The ruined Parthenon has proved an ideal setting for a romanticized view of ancient Greece. Isadora Duncan danced on the steps, and here a Hungarian dancer, Nikolska, responds to its appeal in 1929

The starry-eyed view of Greece of a century ago was bred by generations of a classical education for western ruling classes, by the undoubted role of classical literature in forming later western literature, by the feeling that Greeks were proto-Christians, and by an almost wholly distorted view of what Greek art amounted to. The brilliance and pervasive quality of its legacy has little to do with its original function and appearance, but it has taken, and is taking, a long time to understand just what these were. The Renaissance rediscovery of classical art led to a variety of Greek revivals in the arts and architecture, culminating in the later 18th and 19th centuries in both fine architecture and rather vapid sculpture and painting. As a result, the architecture of many western buildings of up to fifty years ago was dominated either by a revival of a European Gothic style, or by classical colonnades and mouldings, often both together, while representational art in painting or sculpture (especially for cemeteries and memorials) was determined by a style invented in 5th-century BC Greece, transmitted by Rome and misread by the Renaissance, which was unaware that all classical sculpture was realistically coloured, not the blank white to which we are all by now accustomed. We are thus led to believe that accurate anatomy, form and material are the essentials. The Elgin Marbles are splendid, but they do not look at all as they did in antiquity, quite apart from the fact that they were then viewed from a great distance, not nose to nose. Even much modern art has been determined by the classical styles it has been consciously trying to shake off, and post-modernism still makes deliberate reference to the classical. We are conditioned to, or against, it by our man-made environment, and this does not make it any easier to judge dispassionately. Indeed, there is now a fashionable bias against the ‘classical’, even in scholarship.

We have then to try to understand Greek art in the terms in which it was devised, whatever the functions it may have exercised since antiquity, and however interesting it may be to observe modern reactions to the way it is presented in museums, books and the art market. It is retrievable. Even for Henry Moore who once

thought that the Greek and Renaissance were the enemy, and that one had to throw all that over and start again from the beginning of primitive art. It is only perhaps in the last ten or fifteen years [his 40s] that I began to know how wonderful the Elgin Marbles are.

Even so, we may wonder whether his appreciation of the Elgin Marbles came anywhere close to their function and the intention of their creators, or was just a recognition of other, timeless standards of excellence. There is nothing improper about admiring them for the wrong reasons, but to try to recover the right reasons is a worthwhile exercise.

And for the Parthenon itself - that windswept child of space and beauty - in antiquity only its upper parts were visible from afar. On the Acropolis rock, crowded with statuary, monuments and other buildings [5], long since lost, it was mainly obscured until the visitor was close beside it, dominated by its size and the massive columns receding into the sky. It was bright and colourful, not white and austere, but hardly a temple of light. High above, the realistic statues and reliefs provided a presence of gods, heroes and mortals whose actions reflected on Athens’ glory. The main part of the building behind the columns seemed a massive, solid marble block, floor to ceiling, pierced only by two doors, usually closed, and two windows. Within lay much of Athens’ treasure, and a rich symbol of her goddess’ wealth in her forty-foot-high gold and ivory statue [146]. The whole ensemble said more about power, prestige and patriotism than religion, and although the art and architecture were exquisite by any standards, their intent was far from what we would call artistic.

5 Model restoration of the Athenian Acropolis with the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike in the right foreground, the Parthenon beyond, and the Erechtheion to the left centre. (Toronto)

Empathy with a people long dead and appreciation of their art require a knowledge of their environment, their everyday visual experience, how they dressed, what they ate, how much or little they believed, how they treated each other, what their politicians and generals sought for themselves and their people. The richness of classical literature and monuments makes this a not impossible task, if we allow for the prejudices of intervening years; at any rate, it is worth the attempt, and although we know that each age creates its own view of history, we must hope that we become better able to make due allowances, can identify our prejudices, and avoid judging antiquity in terms of concepts created to help us survive and understand the 21st century and some of its arts.

In dealing with ancient art it is particularly important to try to see or envisage objects as they were intended, to remember that both sculpture and architecture were coloured, that the sculpture had a setting quite unlike that of any modern gallery, that even the most precious objects were for use and never displayed as in a museum showcase. Thus, the two splendid bronze warriors from Riace in South Italy [6] are exhibited several feet apart and almost alone in a large gallery in Reggio Museum where they can be viewed all round and separately. In antiquity they may well have been shoulder to shoulder, with others, and against a wall, and if we add in the mind’s eye their missing spears and shields we have to acknowledge that, as presented, they wholly disguise their artists’ intention. Or the Delphi charioteer [137], who is now the focus of a museum gallery, and not standing in his chariot with a team of no less admirable horses under a Greek sun. Furthermore, the accidents of survival, added to the esteem in which classical art is held, have made us not only tolerant of the fragment, the noseless, the limbless, but ready to accord them aesthetic status as subjects for the artist. This, indeed, they may deserve, but they were never so regarded by any Greek artist.

6 Bronze warriors found in the sea off Riace, near Reggio, S. Italy. To be restored with shields (both), spear (A), sword (B) and helmet (B). Copper inlay on lips and nipples, silver on teeth of A. B’s arms were restored in antiquity. Set side by side against a wall in a Greek sanctuary to commemorate a victory, before being stolen for a Roman setting which they never reached. They are slightly over lifesize. About 460-450 BC. (Reggio)

There are other respects in which the art of ancient Greece had a very different role to that of art today. Until near the end of our period ‘Art for Art’s sake’ was virtually an unknown concept; there was neither a real art market, nor collectors; all art had a function and artists were suppliers of a commodity on a par with shoemakers. Greek had no separate word for art in our sense; only craft (techne). The Muses of antiquity inspired writers, not artists; and the artists of Athens were under the protection of gods (Athena and Hephaistos) whose crafts were essentially practical or technological.

Finally, we must remember that a major part of Greek art, at least until the Hellenistic period and to a large degree thereafter, evoked images of their past - what we call mythology but what was to them history. And, as we shall see, they used their past in a remarkable way to reflect on the present, no less in their art than in their literature.

The principal sources for original works of Greek art are modern Greece and western Turkey (ancient East Greece), and the Greek colonial world of the Black Sea coast, South Italy and Sicily, but many works and artists travelled much farther. For the evidence of copies made in later periods our sources range the whole Roman Empire, and it is from these that we often have to judge important works of sculpture and painting.

The debris of classical antiquity was very conspicuous in classical lands, though always at the mercy of the lime kiln and melting pot or incorporation in new building, until deliberate collecting and the search for more began in 13th-century Italy. There the antiquities were almost wholly of the Roman period, although classical in style. The clay relief bowls (Roman Arretine) and coins were being collected already in the 13th and 14th centuries, while many classical gems and cameos had survived above ground incorporated in mediaeval furniture or bookbindings despite the new Christian settings for the pagan subjects. In the 15th century even Athenian red-figure vase painting was being observed from fragments of the vases imported in the 5th century BC and deposited in Etruscan tombs. Some of the big Italian collections of sculpture were being formed, and not only from finds in Italy, for scholars were beginning to visit Greek lands and both Venetian and Genoese families were trading freely in the Aegean. The young Michelangelo was proud that his work could be mistaken for antique, and later artists like Piranesi ran studios in which incomplete statues, such as the pieces found in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, were repaired and completed.

Some major Greek works had reached Italy even earlier. According to one account the great gilt bronze horses which used to stand over the entrance to St Mark’s, Venice [7], had been taken to the Hippodrome of Constantinople, from Chios in the 5th century AD, and thence to Venice, as part of the Crusader booty, in 1204. Others say they started their career in Rome. In Venice they were threatened with being melted down in the Arsenal, but the poet Petrarch and others recognized their value and beauty: ‘Works of Lysippus himself’, they said, since they were more familiar with the names of Greek artists from texts than they were with true Greek sculpture. The horses demonstrated the brilliant casting techniques of the ancients, to be rediscovered by Donatello. The prizes have not stood undisturbed on St Mark’s - Napoleon took them to Paris in 1798 and mounted them on the Arc du Carrousel in the Tuileries. They were returned in 1815, despite the popular outcry for their retention, but in the First World War they came down again under the threat of Austrian bombardment. Marble lions before Venice Arsenal also came from Greece: one from Piraeus, port of Athens, another a fine Archaic creature from Delos, which was brought in the early 18th century and had to be provided with a new head in contemporary style [8].

7 The four gilt bronze horses from above the entrance to St Mark’s, Venice. Probably from a Late Hellenistic Greek chariot group. These original horses have been removed for safety and been replaced by replicas

8 Marble lion before the Arsenal at Venice. The body is from Delos, of the early 6th century BC; the head is an 18th-century addition

The big Italian collections remain an important source for the study of Greek statuary - in Roman copies - although the cult of the figleaf persists here and there, and the copy of Praxiteles’ Aphrodite in the Vatican only lost the lead drapery swathed decently round her hips in 1932. Similar collections grew in France, where Louis XIV’s sculptor, Girardon, was called upon to perform an early instance of plastic surgery on the Venus of Arles (another Praxitelean copy) to reduce her pose, dress and the contour of her breasts to something nearer contemporary taste. In England the Earl of Arundel [9], much of whose collection is in Oxford, had travelled in Italy and sent agents to Greece and was able to acquire several interesting Greek originals in the early 17th century. One piece from his collection, now recognized as being from the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamum, wandered as far as Worksop, where it was built into the front of a Georgian red-brick house and refused by a firm of masons for breaking into chips before it was recognized and rescued in 1961.

9 The Earl of Arundel (1585-1646) in his sculpture galley at Arundel House, London. Painted by Mytens. The Earl had visited Italy with the architect, Inigo Jones, and sponsored excavations there. Later his agents collected marbles from the Aegean area and his gallery was visited and admired by Rubens. Much of his collection is now in Oxford. Canvas, 2.04 × 1.25 m. (National Portrait Gallery)

But it was the really big finds of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that opened the eyes of western Europe to original Greek art. The sculptures of the Temple of Aphaea at Aegina went to Munich [84, 85]. The Parthenon marbles from Athens were acquired from Lord Elgin for the British Museum in 1816, and despite the condition of exhibition and some strong expression of prejudice, came to be valued at their true worth, and had a profound influence on artists, and on the more popular and scholarly ideas about Greece [143, 144, 145]. C.R. Cockerell explored and drew the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, and its relief sculptures too came to London. When he built the University Galleries at Oxford (now the Ashmolean Museum) in 1845 he recalled the unusual column types of Bassae in the exterior, and at the top of the staircase set a cast of the sculpture frieze from the inner room of the temple, where, with its painted background and in an architectural setting at an appropriate height, though far better lit, it can give some idea of the part such architectural sculpture can play in decoration [10]. Even the Great Exhibition of 1851 paid its tribute to antiquity, although when the historian of Greece, George Finlay, visited it with ‘Athenian’ Penrose, who had studied and elucidated the architectural refinements of the Parthenon itself, he wrote afterwards in his diary, ‘Crystal Palace with Penrose. The frieze of the Parthenon is fearful coloured and the Egyptian figures not only men but lions and sphinxes look as if they were drunk.’ There can be few civic buildings of Victorian Britain that did not have part of the Parthenon frieze somewhere on their walls.

10 The staircase in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with a restored and part-coloured cast of the frieze from the Temple of Apollo at Bassae (see [161]). Designed by C.R. Cockerell, 1845

Greek vases were reliably found in the cemeteries of Etruria and South Italy from the 18th century on. At first called Etruscan, their Greek character was eventually recognized, although the earlier vases of Greece, when they first appeared in Greek lands, were dismissed as Phoenician or Egyptian, so unlike were they to the classical statues and vase paintings. Greek and Roman gems and cameos were being copied freely. The Grand Tour brought many more classical antiquities to the west, especially to Britain, to stock country houses. When marbles could not be afforded, plaster casts were bought instead, and the appreciation of ancient art in facsimile has played, and continues to play, an important part in studies. Coins were easily portable records of mythical figures and ancient portraits. Massive collections of moulds from ancient gems and cameos were assembled in the 18th century from which a selection of types - gods, heroes, emperors - could be made by any collector, rather like Belgian chocolates, and mounted in book form [11] or in cabinets. This manner of study of ancient art in facsimile (photo or cast) is by no means outdated, and indeed essential for direct comparisons to be made between pieces widely dispersed or even lost.

11 A ‘book’ of drawers of casts of ancient gems, published by P.D. Lippert, 1767. (Tübingen, Univ.)

The 19th-century excavations in Greece itself revealed new treasures, of major statuary, such as the Olympia sculptures and the Archaic marbles on the Athenian Acropolis, along with a host of other works on which scholars can now base a reasoned history of the whole development of Greek art. Later excavations have provided both new works of art and fresh evidence for the understanding and dating of works already known. Not all the finds are quite deliberate. Wrecked ships carrying statues, probably intended for Roman palaces or villas, have yielded some of the finest major bronzes of the Classical period. The Roman General Sulla sacked Athens’ port of Piraeus in 86 BC, and seems to have surprised a shipment of statuary which never got away but was burned in its warehouse. The statues were rediscovered in 1959 while a sewer was being dug [122]. The dramatic find of the two bronze warriors from a wreck off Riace in South Italy has revolutionized our knowledge of the styles and techniques of the mid-5th century and taught us the inadequacy of judgments based wholly on surviving marbles. It might well be thought that the major sites likely to yield notable works have by now all been explored and exhausted. This is far from true. In the first place there are the many unexpected finds far from Greece which sometimes offer works unrivalled in Greece itself: I think of the tomb at Vix, little over one hundred miles south-east of Paris, which in 1953 yielded the largest and finest of all Archaic bronze vases yet known [125]. There are new sites in Greece too, such as the royal tombs of Vergina in Macedonia [197-99] where, it may be, we have the burial of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II. Meanwhile, the old sites are far from exhausted and the lower levels of great sites like Delphi and the Heraion on Samos still surprise us with their treasures. At Olympia it was too late by nearly two millennia to rescue the gold and ivory statue of Zeus, made by Phidias, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But in 1954-58 Phidias’ workshop, in which the statue was made, was excavated, with its tools, scraps of ivory, moulds for the glass inlays and matrices on which the golden dress was formed; and in the corner the great artist’s own tea-mug with his name incised on the base, ‘I belong to Phidias’ [12]. These finds may not take us much closer to the great statue, but they teach us a lot about how it was made, as well as offering a rather poignant relic of the greatest of all Classical artists. Before the 5th century BC Greek art was not so different. In many ways the Aegean world had long been a westward extension of the civilizations of the Near East rather than European; not dependent upon them but similarly motivated and differing mainly in the smaller scale and lesser resources upon which power was based. This was partly a function of the relative poverty of the land in essential materials and of its geography, and in no way detracts from the quality of achievement in some periods and places (I think of early Cycladic art and that of the Minoan palaces). There is not that much to differentiate the sculpture and drawing of 8th- to 6th-century Greece from that of Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Egypt either in concept or physical appearance; it was more a matter of scale. But the 5th century introduced to world art the Classical revolution and an idiom which was totally at variance with the way in which man had hitherto desired to create images of himself, his gods and the world of, and even beyond, his experience. It was an idiom based essentially on idealized but realistic presentation of the human figure: a counterfeit of nature but somewhat more as she should be than as she was. The idealization was nothing new since it is almost normal in stylized and unrealistic figures such as the Archaic, but in the 5th century it involved adjustment of realistic anatomy in the interests of perfect symmetry, and suppressing much expression of particulars such as individuality, age, emotion. The realism was new, and for the first time in the history of art the artist shows complete understanding of how the body is constructed, how to express nuances of movement and, even more difficult, repose. Such impersonations or mimicry (mimesis) of the real world perplexed Greek philosophers, especially Plato, who was suspicious of art’s deceits and its inability to express the absolute. Other cultures which seem to have been well capable of such realism, such as Egypt, had deliberately shunned it in favour of measures of stylization that in their way distanced art from life. This was very effective but not what the unusually humanist society of Classical Greece wanted. There was nothing essentially better about their approach, although it did prove, in its essentials, to have a more truly universal appeal than did the arts of other early cultures. This phenomenon is explored briefly in Chapter 8 because it helps us to understand what the differences are, regardless of whether Greek art is still capable of moving us or not. Part of it is explained by the way Greek art could provide a vivid means of recording the present and the past in images, and, however literate the society, images can always communicate more directly than words.

12 Base of an Athenian black cup with graffito of the signature of the sculptor Phidias, found in the studio at Olympia where he made the cult statute of Zeus. (Olympia)

Renaissance scholars knew Greek and Latin texts, Roman art, and Greek art in Roman guise. The texts enabled recognition of subject matter and encouraged attempts to attach names of Greek artists (there were no names of Roman artists of consequence recorded). In the later 18th century the German scholar Winckelmann recognized that there was a problem in accepting an undifferentiated legacy of ‘classical art’ along with uncritical identifications, and attempted a real history of Greek art and definition of the excellence of Greek style of the best period as well as its eventual decline. It was a remarkable achievement given that real Greek art was not available for study except in Roman copy and that he was led to over-emphasize the idealizing tendencies, as did contemporary neo-Classical artists (see Chapter 8). His Apollonian view, extolling the Apollo Belvedere [13] as the epitome of Greek taste, inevitably found its counter in studies which emphasized the darker, Dionysiac, side of Greek culture, a view developed by the philosopher and classicist Nietzsche. Exploration of this balance, or polarity, depending on what you wish to prove, has remained important in later studies and abets the mood of a scientific age that likes to impose patterns of thought and behaviour on the history of man.

13 The Apollo Belvedere, copy of a Greek bronze original of the 4th century BC. Known in Rome by AD 1509 and hailed, wrongly, as a sublime Greek original. It shows the god stepping forward to threaten with his bow. Height 2.24 m. (Vatican)

For the 19th-century connoisseur and scholar knowledge of original Greek sculptures and the ability to recognize the Greek origin of pottery imported to Italy in antiquity helped to redress the balance, if slowly. A major period of organization of material, mainly by German scholars, in the later 19th and early 20th centuries, successfully identified sources and dates for most major classes of surviving Greek art. Knowledge of the date and origin of works is a necessary prerequisite for exploration of their function and quality. The process continues with greater refinement to the present day although such connoisseur-ship is sometimes disparaged by scholars who prefer wider horizons and may have been put off by the rigours of the discipline. Thus, techniques of attribution devised for Italian paintings by Morelli were applied successfully to Greek vase painting, which is in fact a more receptive medium for such techniques, and the styles and careers of many nameless ancient artists were recovered. Recognition of the role of the individual in the history of Greek art then proves to be as important as recognition of the needs and expectations of the society he served.

Art history in the last hundred years has been driven largely by other preoccupations, all of which can be found to have bearing on our understanding of Greek art, though to varying degrees. Many of these have been generated by anthropological, philosophical, psychological and perceptual studies provoked to some degree by the problems of the 20th century, much of whose intellectual life became positively anti-classical in mood or conditioned by new social pressures. Ordinary people learn to live with these; scholars have sometimes found it more difficult to reconcile new approaches with their study of antiquity, and it is possible to be seduced into application of theories which could have had no comparable application in the distant past, and to fail to try to formulate afresh those that might. The most important progress has been through recognition of the fact that Greek art needs to be, and can be, understood on Greek terms, requiring a far fuller understanding of the society for which it was made than can be provided by preconceptions about ancient Greece based solely on conventional interpretations of Greek texts. Thus, the fact that we understand better now the role of Greek myth, or of Greek theatre, also enhances our understanding of Greek art. We have learned to discount the impression given by the realistic appearance of classical art and to recognize how much it depended also on formula, convention and even mathematics. We have learned to understand that the rich subject matter, mythical and genre, that had seemed simply a valuable illustration to texts, had a far greater contemporary significance and conveyed important messages about status, politics and religion. All this brings us much closer to a people whose intellectual achievements (also much disparaged by some today) we have good reason to admire. We are learning the language of Greek art, how it could communicate ideas, its remarkable role in a society more encompassed with figurative art than most in antiquity.

The New Archaeology of the 1960s encouraged a more scientific approach to problems of antiquity. The importance of the work of the scientist, in collaboration with the archaeologist, in elucidating problems of technique, date and origin of materials, cannot be overestimated and these studies have revolutionized some areas of the subject. Elementary statistics too can prove a valuable corrective to obsession with the better-known but perhaps unrepresentative single monuments, but need to be used with the knowledge that we have a tiny percentage of antiquity surviving for study, that most samples are biased and inadequate, and that whole classes of objects are lost forever (most wood and textiles, for example). There is a danger too that formulaic or graphic presentation of material or problems may carry an air of scientific credibility that the evidence cannot sustain. Strangely, even the wisest seem capable of being led into the mistake of thinking that what we have is all there was, or that a single monument of importance to us was also itself influential in antiquity, rather than any of its myriad kin. The Structuralist approaches of anthropologists to the understanding of society and behaviour were illuminating, even in the study of art, but in some hands acquired the status of a faith that was deemed to overrule contrary evidence. Womens’ studies encourage us to think about what contribution might have been made by women, especially indirectly to crafts they did not normally practise themselves in the home. Could their role have been as notable as was Sappho’s in the history of literature? They were also the prime customers for some products, and customers to some degree always determine what is made for them. No less than men they were confronted with the messages of major public art, although their restricted role in society probably meant that their point of view was seldom much regarded, and their reactions may have been profoundly different. It seems possible that resentment over this restricted role, from antiquity to the present day, may colour interpretation of antiquity. A developed historical sense is required, and generally most extreme or uncompromising modern attitudes to the past prove to be wrong, though seldom entirely unrewarding.

One last problem in the study of Greek art is that of copies and forgeries. Ancient copies of earlier, famous works, are often our only evidence for the appearance of masterpieces, yet expertise with ancient descriptions and Roman copies, whatever its intrinsic merit, can bring us but little closer to the originals, and in a brief history such as this, these studies can be largely ignored in favour of the many original works surviving. The neo-Classical copyist or forger can seldom deceive us - but the modern one can, and so hard does he press on the heels of the scientist that it is better now to ignore any work which has no pedigree and exhibits any peculiarities of style, plausible or not. It is sometimes hard to decide who is working faster - the forger or the illicit excavator. Neither deserve continuing success but the many genuine and important works which appear from nowhere must be taken into consideration by any serious student. Yet even in this area a measure of censorship of scholarship is being practised by those who rightly disapprove of a practice that no one can effectively control. The scholar who ‘sits on’ important finds without publishing them, while denying access to others, is hardly more tolerable than the grave robber.

The perplexity with which scholars faced the evidence of those works of Greek art which are earlier than the Classical has already been remarked. Certainly, a Geometric vase is as different as it can be from a red-figure one, and there is little in 7th-century sculpture to suggest that within two centuries Greek artists were to carve statuary of the quality and appearance that we admire on the Parthenon. In a way this is the most remarkable lesson of any history of Greek art: its rapid development from strict geometry admitting hardly any figure decoration, to full realism of anatomy and expression. Perhaps this was the result of continual dissatisfaction, an unease which the Egyptians, for instance, never felt with an idiom that served them successfully for millennia. In Greece we shall see how the early geometry broke before the influence of foreign arts, and how the Greek artists absorbed these alien techniques and forms to weld them into an art in which the best formal qualities of a native tradition remained dominant. And then, at about the time of the Persian Wars in the early 5th century, a break with Archaic conventions heralded the Classical revolution, achieving that unparalleled blend of realism and the ideal which we recognize as the hallmark of the classical, centred on representation of the human body. In the Hellenistic period, following the short but brilliant and influential career of Alexander the Great, new functions for art and an almost baroque tendency begin to break down classical standards until all is resolved into the more nostalgic, or self-conscious and, in all but architecture, repetitive styles of the Roman Empire. These were to be the inspiration for new arts, generally far from Rome itself, but they were the modern world’s first introduction to Greek art.

In these chapters the theme is one of change and development with some emphasis on the less well-known arts which are too readily forgotten, and special emphasis on original works rather than copies. Histories of art tend to be written around the few stock masterpieces. It is well to realize how much more there is and the fullness of the evidence. In choosing the pictures no conscious effort has been made to include all the old favourites, any more than to deliberately seek out the unknown. So this is less a handbook than an attempt to explain Greek art, with as full description and illustration as space permits.