Classical Sculpture and Architecture - Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman

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

Chapter 4. Classical Sculpture and Architecture

The Persian Wars left Athens devastated, her temples burnt and monuments overthrown by the invader, and although she soon won back prosperity and an ascendancy over part of the Greek world, which she had earned by her stand against the barbarian, the city had, for a while, no time or money to lavish on monumental art rather than armaments. There was, moreover, an agreement (the Oath of Plataea) to leave ruins unrepaired as a memorial of the invasion, though this would be annulled once the Persian was finally repelled from all Greek soil.

For the first fruits of the break with Archaic conventions in art which had already occurred before the Persian Wars we have to look elsewhere. The great national sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, unscathed by Persian attack, is the natural place to look for examples of the new, incipient Classical style, and the accidents of survival have preserved here many fine works of the generation after the Battle of Salamis. After a flood in late antiquity, which covered the site with a deep layer of sand, Olympia was barely visited, rarely robbed and for a long time lost. From beneath the sand and from a rough, late fortification wall has been recovered the greater part of the sculpture from the Temple of Zeus, and enough of its architecture to admit almost certain restoration on paper.


The temple was in the Doric order, and the largest completed in mainland Greece (over twenty-seven metres long) before the Parthenon, which is some three metres longer. The coarse local limestone of which it is built is covered with stucco, but fine Parian marble was brought in for the roof-tiles and sculptures. The exterior had sculptural embellishment only for the acroteria on the roof and in the pediments - the metopes were left bare [131]. In the pediment over the main entrance in the east the line up of contestants and chariots before the fateful race between Pelops and Oenomaos is shown. Zeus himself towers in the centre, and the corners are filled by reclining figures. This is a static but impressive composition, only fraught with deeper meaning for those who knew the history of the sanctuary, of broken oaths and relentless punishment by Zeus of impious families. The other pediment has Apollo at the centre [132], in control but not physically involved in the wedding brawl between the Lapiths of Thessaly and the drunken centaurs who tried to carry off the bride and women. Here all is action, like the earlier pedimental compositions of fights, and the message of divine authority lies in the Apollo, symbolizing the Rule of Law.

131 Restored drawing of the east end of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. 450s BC

132 Detail of Apollo from the centre of the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. (Olympia)

Passing through the outer ring of columns and looking up over the inner porches the visitor saw at either end six sculptured metopes. These showed the Labours of Heracles, starting with his triumph over the lion, ending with the local episode of his breaching the walls of the stables of Augeas, to flood and cleanse them. His patron Athena is shown helping him on four of them, and both he and she seem to mature as they progress [133]. Within the main hall (cella) a central nave was formed by two tiers of superimposed Doric columns on either side, and filling the end was Phidias’ great gold and ivory statue of Zeus himself, seated, with a figure of Victory on his outstretched right hand. The statue, which was said to have ‘added something to accepted religion’ (Quintilian), towered to the roof. It was eventually taken to Constantinople and burnt in a palace fire in AD 475. All that we can know of it is gleaned from later reduced copies or free adaptations, and from some of the clay moulds on which drapery was formed, which were excavated in recent years in Phidias’ workshop at Olympia (see [12]). The marble statuary on the temple was in position by 456 BC, but the cult statue was supplied some twenty years later.

133 Metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Heracles bears the weight of the heavens, with Athena’s assistance, for Atlas, who is bringing him the apples of the Hesperides. Height 156 m. (Olympia)

It is naturally the style of the pediments and metopes at Olympia that occupy our attention, and can give the measure of how far the arts had progressed since the Archaic period. Set high on a building, sculpture of this sort is most effective if carved in fairly simple and bold planes. But at Olympia, as on the Parthenon where the work is far more detailed, much of the subtlety of the sculpture was lost at the height at which it was displayed. Here there is considerable individuality in the treatment of bodies and features. Heracles’ expression reflects his feelings in the face of his various labours, and in the fights pain and bestiality are vividly portrayed. This is novel, but has no immediate following, as we shall see.

The male figures stand in the new, easy pose, with one leg relaxed and the weight of the body lightly shifted onto the other; a pose which marks them off so clearly from the Archaic. Nude bodies of all ages are strongly and accurately modelled and seem able to convey mood no less effectively than do the heads [134]. A clay group of Zeus and Ganymede at Olympia shows the new style well [135], the heads still slightly Archaic, especially in the treatment of hair, but the features cast in a new mould. Another Zeus (or Poseidon) is the fine bronze from the wreck off Cape Artemisium [136], more than lifesize, and certainly the most vigorous surviving example of Early Classical statuary. This is nearer in date to the Olympia sculptures and shows an advance in the freer treatment of hair and build. Full-size bronze statues and groups must have been far more common at this time, and parts of others have survived. The famous charioteer from a group at Delphi is an obvious example [137], and now we can add the remarkable bronze warriors from Riace [6] which outdo even the charioteer and the Artemisium Zeus for their presence and quality. This is the best of Greek sculpture of the period, and we have so little of it!

134 The seer from the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. A well observed study of an ageing body and mental distress. (Olympia)

135 Clay group of Zeus carrying off Ganymede to be his cup-bearer in Olympus. The boy holds a cock, a common love-gift. The bright colours are well preserved in the fired clay. About 470 BC. Half lifesize. (Olympia)

136 Detail of bronze figure from the Artemisium wreck; more probably a Zeus with a thunderbolt than Poseidon with a trident. The brows and lips were inlaid in copper and the eyes inset. About 460 BC. Just over lifesize. (Athens)

137 Bronze charioteer from Delphi. He stood in a four-horse chariot led by a groom. The group was dedicated by Polyzalos, tyrant of Gela in Sicily, celebrating a victory in the Games of either 478 or 474 BC. The eyes are inlaid with glass and stone, copper for the lips, silver for the headband pattern. Height 1.8 m. (Delphi)


The gaudy pleated chiton in which the Archaic korai were dressed is generally replaced now by the heavier peplos, which leaves the arms bare and has a heavy, straight overfall to the waist [79]. The change in fashion also offered a style of dress which seems more in keeping with the new spirit and has helped characterize the Early Classical in Greece as the Severe Style. The simple broad folds hang naturally and acknowledge realistically the shape of the body beneath. The peplos figures sometimes seem heavy and dull. There is little to show for the style in Athens [138] where there are no carved tombstones of this date to display the new dignity which would have suited them so well, but we may look for examples on tombstones from the Greek islands [139]. Here the narrow type of stele with a palmette finial, which had been invented in the islands of East Greece and had been copied by Athens in the 6th century, was still being made. The islands, a source of fine statuary marble even after the resources of Athens’ Mount Pentelikon had been realized and exploited, always had important studios, and the sanctuary island of Delos in their midst attracted rich offerings. East Greece, too, despite the even more imminent and continuing Persian threat, still had an active sculptural tradition, more often now turned to the service of their Persian-dominated neighbours in Lydia, Lycia or Caria. It was East Greek masons whom the Persians had taken to work on their homeland palaces. Works of the Classical period in Asia Minor attest a regionalism, indeed a form of delayed archaism, generated by the past history of the Graecizing arts of Lydia, Lycia and Phrygia, and by Persian taste, which tended to favour the Archaic over the Classical. It became influential far to the east. There is a similar degree of ‘sub-archaism’ to be detected also among the western Greeks. For the pure Classical, we must stay with Athens.

138 Votive relief from the Athenian Acropolis showing Athena reading a decree or list of citizens fallen in battle, whence the pensive pose. Her peplos has a long belted overfall in the Athenian manner. About 470 BC. Height 48 cm. (Acr. 1707)

139 Gravestone of a girl from one of the Greek islands, probably Paros. The lid of the box she holds is on the floor. Her loose peplos is open all down the side. About 450 BC. Height 1.39 m. (Berlin 1482)

By the middle of the 5th century Athens was secure in her position at the head of a large tribute-paying confederacy which she had created to defend Greek liberty against the Persians. The treasury of the confederacy was transferred to Athens itself in 454 BC and the statesman Pericles set aside part of the revenue for a programme of rebuilding which was to make the city the show-place of Greece. The construction of temples and public buildings on the Acropolis citadel, in the lower town and in the Attic countryside went on despite expensive wars in which Athens was not always victorious. By the end of the century she had been severely defeated by Sparta, but the visitor to Athens then would have seen the city at its architectural best.

The Acropolis, ravaged by the Persians, was completely replanned. Approaching from the west the visitor was faced by a monumental entrance way, in the Doric order, but with tall Ionic columns flanking the central passageway [140]. The Classical approach is still the one in use, beside an outer gateway and monument of the Roman period. There is no sculpture here but we can already appreciate the exquisite finish of the masonry, the fine joints, the precision of every moulding which is never merely mechanical, and the way in which the qualities of white, now colourless, marble, be it a flat surface or carved in gentle curves and sharp ridges, are exploited.

140 The Propylaea to the Acropolis at Athens. An Ionic column from the centre passageway can be seen centre right; the rest is Doric. Built to the plans of Mnesicles, 437-432 BC. Width of front 18.5 m

Within the entrance stood the colossal bronze Athena Promachos, a work of Phidias but wholly lost to us. The crowning glory of the citadel - the Temple of Athena Parthenos (the Maiden) or the Parthenon, as it is better known - was not revealed in its full height so quickly to the ancient visitor as it is today, but had to be approached through a second gate and court [5]. The temple exterior, wholly of the Doric order, displays the same precision in the carving and fitting of all its parts as does all Greek architecture of the Classical period. Moreover, it reveals refinements of design which subtly correct the rather static matchbox effect of Doric temple architecture. The eight columns of the front, instead of the more usual six, give it an unfamiliar breadth and dignity. The refinements of detail had been practised on many other buildings; a crude early example is the entasis of Archaic column shafts [67]. The same feature, much refined, appears on the Parthenon, while the whole platform from which the columns rise sinks in a gentle curve away to the corners; the columns lean slightly in, the upper works slightly out [141]. These are refinements that can be measured and with care observed by the naked eye. It is only when we look at buildings in which they were not applied, or were applied less skilfully, that we can appreciate the effect their absence might have had on the Parthenon’s forest of columns and heavy upper works. The satisfying effect of the building depends as much as anything on the regularity of the proportions (essentially 4:9) applied to everything from overall plan to detail of mouldings.

141 Drawing by J.J. Coulton expressing in exaggerated form the optical refinements in the design of a Doric temple of the Classical period

The pediments, most of whose few surviving figures are in London, illustrated important moments in Athens’ myth-history - the birth of the goddess Athena attended by the other gods, and the dispute between Athena and Poseidon for patronage of the city [142]. The massive figures from these pediments tell us how far the sculptors had progressed in their attitude to the figure and dress in the years since the Olympia pediments, but they are the latest of the carving on the building, of the 430s [143]. The restless swirl of massed cloth is shown by deep-cut folds which catch the shadows. The material now has a volume, almost a life of its own, but at the same time the forms of the body beneath are clearly understood and as firmly expressed. The totally relaxed poses of the reclining and seated figures show a new confidence, lacking in the Olympia sculptures. The figures are carved wholly in the round, and finished as carefully at the back (never seen once they were in position on the building) as at the front. This is not a feature of all Greek pediments, but here the gift to the goddess required perfection. The few remaining heads are badly battered, and for an idea of the way heads were treated by this school of artists we must turn to the work in relief on the temple - the metopes and frieze.

142 Reconstruction in Basel of the west front of the Parthenon, with the pediment showing the struggle between Athena and Poseidon, missing figures plausibly restored

143 Group of three goddesses attending the Birth of Athena on the east pediment of the Parthenon. About 435 BC. (London)

The carved metopes, earlier than the pediments, stood all round the outside of the temple, not just over the inner porches, as at Olympia. There are simple groups of struggling figures - gods and giants, Lapiths and centaurs [144], Greeks and Amazons, with scenes of Greeks and Trojans at the Sack of Troy. Some groups are poorly planned and others seem to burst the frame of the metope. The best are tautly composed and set neatly in the field. All carried covert messages of Athenian success over the barbarian.

144 A metope from the south side of the Parthenon with a centaur struggling with a Lapith. Notice the almost Archaic mask-like treatment of the centaur’s face. About 440 BC. Height of metope 1.2 m. (London)

The frieze was set in the same place as the carved metopes at Olympia, that is inside the outer colonnade, but running continuously over the end porches and along both long sides, some 160 metres in all. Its subject is the preparation for a Panathenaic procession in honour of the goddess, in itself an unusual, mortal, subject for the decoration of a temple. It shows the progress of preparations in the town, with the horsemen moving through the streets [145], headed by burghers and attendants leading animals for sacrifice or carrying offerings, received by an assembly of the Olympian gods and Athens’ own tribal heroes. The starting-point was at one corner (the south-west), the culmination at the centre east, over the main door, with a small group showing the ceremony of the handing over of the goddess’ sacred peplos. The reception of the mortal procession by the whole family of the Olympian gods, who dominate all themes at the front of the building, in its way heroized the mortal Athenian cavalcade which forms the greater part of the frieze - those citizens, it may be, who had won their immortality on the battlefield of Marathon. With the pediments so poorly preserved we have to turn to the frieze to judge the Parthenon’s art at its best. The set, Classical features are calm and thoughtful, passionless. The artists, who had now little interest in portraying the emotions in features, only rarely admitted nuances of expression or age. The idealized mortal is near-divine, self-sufficient and above ordinary passions.

145 From the Parthenon frieze, west side. Horsemen preparing for the Panathenaic procession. About 440 BC. Height 1.03 m. (London)

Within the temple stood Phidias’ masterpiece, the forty-foot-high gold and ivory statue of the goddess. This was the first of these colossal chryselephantine figures and the master was to add a seated Zeus in the same or similar technique in the already standing temple at Olympia, to be hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Flesh parts were ivory, the dress gold (or at Olympia perhaps gilt glass) with inlays of coloured glass. We can get some idea of the figure from reduced copies or details reproduced in other media [193]. Even the shield, with Greeks fighting Amazons (probably gilt reliefs on silver) can be plausibly restored [279, 280]. We cannot, however, readily recapture the effect of such a figure in a comparatively dark interior, lit only from the front door and two windows, with reflected light from a shallow pool before it [146]. It relied wholly on sheer size and sumptuousness. Artistic subtlety tends to get lost in colossal realistic figures: think of the Statue of Liberty or oriental Buddhas, and contrast Egyptian sculpture or Henry Moore. But the detail of the Parthenos was clearly exquisite.

146 A reconstruction model in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, of the Athena Parthenos within the Parthenon

While the Parthenon style certainly represents an advance on the Olympia sculptures, it is not perhaps the advance we might have expected. At Olympia realism of body and dress was nearly mastered but there was a deliberate move also towards the particular, towards the less than ideal in features or body. In Athens the old Archaic anonymity and idealism prevailed but now allied to a total command of anatomical realism, slightly adjusted in favour of the perfect. In its way this was more in the older tradition, and Olympia was anticipating by a century any new move towards depiction of the particular. It was this new ideal realism that embodied the Classical revolution and set the standard for the future, but it was incapable of improvement on its own terms and either the ideal or the real had to be modified.

The Parthenon style depended wholly on large modelled figures which could be copied in marble (as, in other circumstances, they might have been cast in bronze). Phidias may have determined the design for all the sculptured decoration and supplied models for much of it, but the actual carving must have been in the hands of other masons, some of them notable artists, for there is outstanding work among the various hands which can be distinguished but not named.

The procession shown in the Parthenon frieze did not in fact have as its object the great gold and ivory Athena which was its cult statue. The old and more sacred figure of Athena had been kept in an older temple, opposite the Parthenon, and this building too was replaced in the new plan by a strangely beautiful, asymmetrical shrine we know as the Erechtheion [147]. Its Ionic order, the fine floral carving on the column necks and walls, and the carved external frieze served as a foil to the austerity of the Doric Parthenon only fifty metres away. Its most unorthodox feature was the veranda-like porch, inaccessible from outside, whose flat roof was supported by six statues of women - the Caryatids (one in London [148]). These figures perform their functions as pillars with some grace. Their peploi hang close to the body but the flow of the material is broken by the lively, deep-cut folds, in bold contrast to the Early Classical peplos figures, and the straight folds covering the leg which is braced to take the weight recall the flutes of the column we would normally expect in this position.

147 The Ionic north porch of the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis. The holes which fastened the white marble frieze figures to the darker backing marble can be seen below the roof. The capitals and door have been much copied. Built between 421 and 405 BC

148 A Caryatid from the south porch of the Erechtheion. The figure is in London, the best preserved. Those left on the building have now been removed from the polluting atmosphere of Athens to the new museum. About 410 BC. (London 1816,0610.128)

The Ionic order of the Erechtheion offers more contrast with the Ionic of the Archaic period, than does the Doric Parthenon with its predecessors. In the capitals concave channels in the volutes were now the rule where earlier, but for rare and primitive exceptions, they were plump convex. In the Erechtheion capitals there are even double channels, and the usual egg-and-dart between the volutes has a cable pattern above and a floral band (as in Archaic Samos) below. There had been some variety in the bases too, the Erechtheion having a type developed in Attica. The shafts have twenty-four flutes, with flat ridges between, against the Doric twenty with sharp ridges; and the Ionic column as a whole retains its tall slim proportions against the squat Doric, which made it a natural choice for positions where the mass of a Doric colonnade could have looked unbearably heavy. All the carved mouldings of these buildings were painted, some with coloured glass inlays also, and it now seems that even the flat wall surfaces were toned down with a colour wash to reduce the glare of direct sunlight. Add the realistic colouring of the figure sculpture and the difference between what we see today in Athens and in museums and what was seen in antiquity becomes almost impossible to conceive.

A visitor to the Acropolis would have done well to save for the end his inspection of the little Temple of Athena Nike, on the bastion overlooking the entrance. It was a small Ionic building, erected over what had become the traditional position for this shrine, a mirror in miniature of the more elaborate Ionic of the Erechtheion. A low stone balustrade surrounded the sanctuary, and the relief carving upon it offers perfect examples of the statuary style typical of the end of the 5th century, successor to the rather heavy Classical idealism of the Parthenon. Figures of Victory are shown in a frieze leading animals to sacrifice and erecting trophies, attended by Athenas [149]. The thin material of their dress is pressed so close to the body that some are virtually nude studies, an effect anticipated in the Parthenon pediments [143], the transparency and swirl of the drapery lending emphasis to the form of the body, and not either concealing it or having a mass and movement of its own apart from the body beneath. The treatment of dress and of the human body, especially of women, has come a long way during the 5th century.

149 Figures of Athena and a Victory (Nike) from the balustrade round the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis of Athens. About 410 BC. Height 87 cm. (Acr.)

Down in the city of Athens and in the countryside (at Sunium, Rhamnus, Acharnae and Thoricus) there were other buildings of the Periclean programme. In Athens the Hephaisteion (often still called the Theseum) stands still well preserved overlooking the agora (market place), a smaller, less subtle and earlier building than the Parthenon. On it, too, there were friezes within the outer colonnade, but only at each end and not all round, as on the Parthenon. One end showed the now familiar fight of centaurs and Lapiths. The view in our picture [150] is from the angle at which all such carved decoration was seen in the colonnades, as in the Parthenon or at Olympia (for the metopes). It hardly does justice to the proportion and detail of the figures, and the lighting, here facilitated by the absence of the roof, would have been wholly from the light reflected from the marble surfaces around: barely adequate by any standards.

150 The west end of the Hephaisteion in Athens, looking up between the columns to the frieze over the back porch. About 430 BC

Athens now built monumental public buildings [273] as well as her temples - law courts, council-halls and the stoa colonnades which provided offices, shops or shelter for the passer-by and which were to become an important feature of other Greek market places.


Phidias was not the only name associated with the Classical revolution in sculpture. Polyclitus of Argos was no less famous in antiquity, and better remembered for his attempt to canonize the new style in a book and statue (which he called the Canon), known to us only in copies (on which more below [171]). He is best known for his athlete figures, stockier in proportions than the Phidian, but no less ideally realistic. Because we turn to Athens as the yardstick for the excellence and good preservation of its marbles, we should not forget other flourishing sculptural schools in the Greek world.

After much of the work on Athens’ public projects was done the sculptors turned again to the carving of relief tombstones, generally with two-figure groups of a seated woman with her maid or child, or a husband bidding his wife farewell. The unruffled dignity of the Classical convention is perhaps seen at its best on these reliefs [151] and they challenge extreme views about the depressed role of women in Classical Athens. Something of the same quality is apparent in a type of statue in the round, of a mourning woman, which first became popular before the middle of the 5th century [153]. The pose was employed for the figure of Penelope, grieving over her lost Odysseus, and came to be adopted for mortal mourners. Votive reliefs portray deities, occasionally mythological scenes, rarely the worshipper himself [152]. A different class of relief appears at the head of inscribed decrees on some of which the personifications of states (their patron deities) seal with a handshake the treaties inscribed below them.

151 Gravestone of Ampharete from Athens. She holds a pet bird and a baby. The epitaph says this is for Ampharete and her grandchild. About 410 BC. Height 1.2 m. (Athens, Ker.)

152 Votive relief from near Athens. The hero Echelos abducts Basile. The other side shows a river-god and nymphs and is inscribed with a dedication to Hermes and the nymphs. The relief would have stood on a tall pillar. About 410 BC. Height 75 cm. (Athens 1783)

153 Fragmentary statue of a mourning woman - the so-called Penelope type - right arm on knee and hand to cheek, as can be judged from copies. This is an original, found at Persepolis, brought as loot or a gift from Greece to the Persian king. About 450 BC. Height 85 cm. (Teheran)

Other 5th-century sculptural groups had been taken to Rome in antiquity, from unknown buildings in Greece. The children of Niobe, struck down by Apollo and Artemis, were the subject of one such pediment [154]; an Amazonomachy, another. The Niobid girl I show is a good example of the sympathetic treatment of adolescent form which can be remarked at Olympia. But there is nothing sensual in this treatment, and the sculptor remained less interested in the female figure than the male. Man was the measure of all things to the Greeks, and the artist’s aim was to portray him at his idealized best, indistinguishable from the gods whom he conceived in man’s likeness. The heroic nudity of the gods, warriors and mortals shown by artists was a natural expression of the Greeks’ open admiration for the perfectly developed male body, and would not have seemed so strange in a society where athletes regularly trained naked and in public, and where clothing for men seems often to have been minimal. The idealization of the female nude in sculpture presents a rather odd contrast with the explicitly detailed male, and it took a long time for the female features to progress beyond the Classical mask. The use of colour on statuary heightened the realistically naked effect and we hear of the association of distinguished painters and sculptors. Later it may have become less common, and the loss of colour through time and burial determined the Renaissance artist’s colourless view of the Classical nude.

154 A daughter of Niobe, falling, struck in the back by an arrow for which she gropes. From a pedimental group taken from Greece to Rome. About 430 BC. Height 1.49 m. (Rome, Terme 72274)

Perhaps we make too much of what gets called the Greek cult of the nude, which reflects rather the popular and uncritical attitude of a hundred years ago to anything classical, and was encouraged by the Renaissance’s often far less healthy preoccupation with the same theme, and its more sensual aspects. But after the 5th century the full sensual appeal of white marble was exploited, as we shall see, and our appreciation of realistic or semi-realistic representations of naked bodies is inevitably conditioned by this appeal. How far is the modern response to and appreciation of Classical statuary determined by the sex of the connoisseur or scholar? It is notable that every new medium for realistic art seems also to generate immediate exploitation for erotic purposes - the camera, movies, polaroid, video, the internet: Classical realism was no exception and the appeal of Classical figures, male and female, for both men and women, remains potent.


The 4th century was a troubled time for the Greek world. Athens struggled to regain her supremacy, while new powers and leagues arose to challenge her position and that of Sparta: first the Thebans, then the Macedonians, and it was the Macedonian Alexander who, from 336 until his death in 323 BC, completely changed the course and climate of Greek life and political thought. In the arts this century saw important innovations and experiment, although still rigidly within the framework of the 5th-century Classical tradition. The ethos of Phidian and Polyclitan sculpture still pervaded the more sober studies, like those of senior divinities. In sculpture greater attention was paid to figures in the round, and a final break made with the earlier one-view figures in compositions which positively invite the spectator to move round them by the twist of the body, by contrasted directions of gaze and gesture, or by a pose which from no one position offered a fully satisfactory view of all important features. All this lends a sort of controlled restlessness, which only broke out into near-Baroque abandon in the succeeding period. Dress was treated with greater skill and virtuosity. The transparent drapery which leaves the body beneath almost naked remained popular and could only have been achieved through the modelling technique employed to make the originals, for copying in marble or casting in bronze.

In the treatment of the naked body it seemed that all anatomical problems had been solved and attention could be paid to the quality and texture of flesh and muscle [155]. This leads for the first time to a deliberate sensuality in the rendering of women. At the end of the 5th century Aphrodite could be shown in closely clinging drapery. Now she is naked, and so successful was Praxiteles in his cult statue of the goddess at Cnidus that (in later times) the marble was exhibited under peep-show conditions and was even the object of indecent assault. (My illustration below [173] shows a Roman copy, and [65] a 19th-century version.) Certainly a new dexterity in the carving and finishing of white marble contributed to this effect. We can judge it from the Hermes at Olympia [156], almost certainly a close later copy of the original from Praxiteles’ hand, waxed and polished by generations of temple attendants. The relaxed languor of the figure just stops short of effeminacy to our eyes. The athlete statues of the day present new proportions - heavier bodies, smaller heads - an adjustment from the Polyclitan canon which is associated with the name of Lysippus. In the treatment of the heads themselves there is the same softening and relaxing of the set Classical features which can be observed in the carving of the bodies, but the conventions of the ideal Phidian head were not forgotten. For deities or figures at rest the convention is a satisfying one [157]. Its unreality when applied to figures in violent action or under emotional stress was at last acknowledged.

155 Bronze statue of a boy retrieved from a wreck off Marathon. The eyes are inset limestone, with glass pupils; the nipples inlaid in copper. About 330 BC. Height 1.3 m. (Athens 15118)

156 Hermes holds the infant Dionysus, after an original work of about 340 BC by Praxiteles, which stood just inside the Temple of Hera at Olympia. Height 2.15 m. (Olympia)

157 Seated figure, perhaps a cult statue, from the sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Cnidus. The head was made in a separate piece of finer marble. About 330 BC. Height 1.47 m. (London 1859,1226.26)

An intensity of expression was realized by sinking the eyes deep below the forehead, and even the more placid figures take on a serious and thoughtful air - a trait perhaps wrongly attributed to the influence of Scopas. This treatment applied to the usual two-figure groups on Athenian grave reliefs heightens and charges the atmosphere, and for the first time we have studies in grief, conveyed by features as well as pose and gesture. The figures are cut nearly in the round on some of these monuments, and the deep shadows behind them, together with the more restless, turning postures, enhanced the effect of both spatial and emotional depth [158].

158 Gravestone from near the River Ilissos, Athens. An athlete with his sorrowing father. A sleepy slave boy and his dog attend. About 330 BC. Height 1.68 m. (Athens 869)


It was a short step from this to the representation of the particular in both identity and emotion, and in an age of great names - generals and emperors - experience gained in portrayal of specific emotions was readily transferred to the problems of individual portraiture. At first most of the subjects chosen were the great men of the past, artists and politicians. As there can rarely have been any contemporary portraits of them, other than written descriptions, the heads were more like characterizations of personality in the light of what was known of temperament and achievements. Greek portraits were of the whole figure, though we know them best from later copies where the head or bust alone is rendered. This almost idealized portraiture remained a feature of Greek work. It tried to express ethos at the expense of realism, where Roman portraiture (or rather, portraiture for Romans, since Greek artists were still normally the executants) sought this end through the equally effective means of sheer realism.

On the fringes of the Greek world portraiture of contemporaries was admitted even before Alexander the Great’s appointment of a Court Artist for this work (Lysippus). On the great Mausoleum (see below) the features of a Carian prince [159] combine portraiture with a degree of ethnic appraisal.

159 Statue of a Carian noble (the so-called Mausolus) from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The non-hellenic features and wild hair are a good ethnic characterization by a Greek sculptor working for Carians. About 350 BC. Nearly twice lifesize. (London 1857,1220.232)


With the eclipse of Athens and shift of power in Greece we have to look elsewhere for architectural practice which relies less and less on the Athenian tradition. At Bassae, near Phigaleia, hidden in the mountains of Arcadia, stood a Doric Temple of Apollo said to have been designed by the architect of the Parthenon himself, Ictinus. Although intact to just below its roof it was lost to the Western world until 1765. Provincial in position and workmanship, it incorporated dramatic new features: a side door to the cella with the cult statue facing it, Ionic capitals of unique pattern with high swinging volutes for the engaged columns within and a single example of a new type of capital, the Corinthian [160]. This has small volutes at each corner and a girdle of acanthus leaves beneath. It was more versatile than the Ionic capital, offering the same aspect from all sides, and it served the same type of column and other mouldings, but not until the Roman period did it become really popular. The addition of the acanthus marks the beginning of a new range of Greek floral decoration, widely applied in all media and at all scales. This temple, too, though Doric, had a frieze, here running round the top of the wall inside the cella. The stockier, more athletic figures of Greeks and Amazons [161], Lapiths and centaurs, are in marked contrast to the Classical Athenian style, but betray characteristics which had long been the hallmark of sculpture in southern Greece. The dress has the clinging quality we observed at Athens towards the end of the 5th century.

160 Restored drawing (by F. Krischen) of the interior of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae. The Ionic columns are engaged on the side walls and at the end stands a Corinthian column, opposite a side door (invisible here). About 400 BC

161 Frieze from the interior of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae. Greeks fight Amazons. About 400 BC. Height 63 cm. (London 1815,1020.21)

Other sanctuaries, especially in south Greece, attracted new temple building, but the most spectacular and influential new structure was not made for a Greek at all. East Greek artists had long been employed by their neighbours to design and build decorated tomb monuments. In Lycia (southwest Asia Minor) they begin in the 6th century, and they culminate with the so-called Nereid Monument at Xanthos, like a Greek temple on a high base, replete with relief sculpture (now in London). But the greatest was the tomb made for the Carian King Mausolus, at Halicarnassus [162]. It gave its name to all mausolea, a massive structure with a high pyramidal roof, adorned with massive figures [159] and friezes in the round, as well as more conventional friezes, which are the best preserved. These display the artists’ confidence in all variety of poses for men, women and animals, and a rendering of flying drapery which is used to help to bind the whole composition and not merely to enhance individual figures [163]. It was alleged that the most famous sculptors of homeland Greece had been employed, and the work is certainly of prime quality, unlike the East Greek styles which the Greeks’ neighbours also commissioned. This use of Greek sculptors by the rulers of the semi-independent eastern kingdoms within the Persian Empire, is a new trait of some importance in the 4th century.

162 Reconstruction drawing (by G. Waywell and S. Bird) of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

163 Frieze from the Mausoleum. Greeks fight Amazons. The anatomical expression of male and female vigour is carefully observed. About 350 BC. Height 89 cm. (London 1014)


Monumental tomb architecture was still unknown in Greece itself but there was a growing variety of other monumental buildings, both temples and public buildings. Theatres regularly received elaborated entrance passages. The stage buildings were given architectural façades, usually functional, for stage front and scenery, but nothing yet to rival those of the Roman period. Eventually a raised stage was added [164]. Tiers of carved marble seats replaced the bare slopes of the hillside which in earlier theatres overlooked the flat dancing-floor - orchestra. Colonnades and façades were bound still by the Classical orders, but increasing use was made of the Corinthian capital, and interesting new ground-plans developed. There had been few circular and apsidal temples in Greece before the Tholos at Delphi, but here the canonic Doric order of the outer colonnade was answered by slim Corinthian columns engaged on the interior of the walls. Yet another circular building offered an example of the new style in subsidiary decoration - the plump and pithy Archaic florals translated by now into writhing hothouse shrubs at the sanctuary of the healing god Asclepius, at Epidaurus, where we have the Classic statement of what a Corinthian capital should be [165]. Among other monumental buildings we find now council-houses and music-halls, stoa-shops and hotels. The city-states were becoming better and better equipped with public buildings to serve their citizens, while private architecture remained unpretentious. The houses in 4th-century Olynthus in north Greece provided modest if rather crowded accommodation for acomfortable middle class, with uniform terrace-style houses, the courtyards all facing the southern sun, and the odd one affording a mosaic floor. But the day of the palace and luxurious private house was not far off - when new public buildings in old Greece were as often as not the gifts of princes overseas.

164 Reconstruction drawing of the theatre at Priene in its Hellenistic form, with a raised stage and panels between the engaged columns for setting stage scenery. The theatre seated more than five thousand

165 A Corinthian capital from Epidaurus, evidently a model prepared by the architect for masons carving capitals to be installed on the Tholos. About 350 BC. Height 66 cm. (Epidaurus)


Most of the Greek cities in Sicily and South Italy were founded in the later 8th and 7th centuries BC. They quickly grew rich and powerful. In the early 5th century they successfully resisted the power of Carthage, and they were soon being courted by the cities of mainland Greece for their support in internal disputes. Their rulers and tyrants made great show in Greece, with their victories in the Olympic chariot-races [137], and no mortal prince of that day could have wished for more.

The outward signs of the wealth of the Western cities are the temples they built at home, and the pavilions and presents they dedicated at the major sanctuaries of the Greek homeland. Their architecture was predominantly Doric but it admitted Ionic details, and sometimes even Ionic columns. In the wide spacing of porches and colonnades (pseudo-dipteral) some of the temples seem to be deliberately planned in emulation of the great temples built in East Greece. Much of the most impressive architecture with sculpture is Archaic (as at Paestum and Selinus), continuing into the 5th century, with less of note later [166].

166 Metope from Temple C at Selinus in Sicily. Athena supports Perseus who is cutting off Medusa’s head. She holds to her side her child, Pegasus. About 530-510 BC. Height 1.47 m. (Palermo)

The Western Greeks lacked a ready supply of fine white marble, such as was available in the Greek islands and Attica, and major works in marble should probably be regarded as immigrant, at least in terms of their sculptors. [167] can for its quality match anything of its date in Greece itself. The architecture is largely of limestone, stuccoed over. More attention was paid to major sculpture in clay. Both in reliefs and on larger figures made of poorer stone or wood finer marble pieces are sometimes inset for women’s flesh [168] - the acrolithic technique, not unknown in Greece itself. There is record in ancient writings of Greek artists emigrating to the Western colonies and there are distinguished works made locally rather than imported. The style of the certainly local studios is generally conservative and often lacks the delicacy of treatment which we observe in Greece, but there was considerable vigour in narrative on Archaic buildings. The Archaic conventions of dress and features died hard and the Severe Style of the first half of the 5th century lingered on. The full Classical style is less well represented. There were more profound contributions and achievements in other arts, which were to prove influential in Italy.

167 Marble statue of a youth from the Phoenician town Motya in Sicily. Certainly a Greek work, probably a charioteer looted from a Greek city in Sicily. About 460 BC. Height 1.81 m. (Motya)

168 Cult statue of a Demeter from Morgantina, Sicily. Her face and flesh are white marble, the rest limestone - ‘acrolithic’. Late 5th century BC. Height 2.37 m. (Aidone, Siciliy; formerly Malibu, Getty but repatriated)


The account of Classical sculpture given above is based primarily on preserved original works and the evidence of date given by style, context or inscription. Few statues have survived which either carry their artist’s signature or can be identified from any ancient author who names the artist and describes the subject. But we know the names of the great men whose work set new standards for their contemporaries from the writings of scholars, encyclopaedists and travellers of the Roman period. They often describe the most famous and influential works, and it has sometimes proved possible to recognize surviving copies of these statues, which had been made for Roman patrons and others while the original still stood. Comparing copies of the same statue, and on rare occasions comparing copies with originals ([169], see [298]), we find that many were probably very accurate, lacking only the artist’s touch in the final carving of details and features, and sometimes adapted in pose or expression by the copyist. Another difference, recognized in marble copies of bronzes, is the addition of struts and supports (such as tree-trunks) which were unnecessary to a bronze original.

169 Marble copy of the bronze group of the Tyrannicides by Critios and Nesiotes which was set up in Athens in the 470s to commemorate the slaying of the tyrant Hipparchus in 514. Height 1.95 m. (Naples G 103/4)

We are thus able to associate with names and schools some of the innovations observed in the surviving series of originals. This is the main, perhaps the only value of the copies, and for this purpose some are illustrated here. But it would be wrong to dwell too earnestly on details of carving which may be far from their models, commonly of bronze.

It is comforting, however, to attach names to periods and styles, and to individual works. From the copies of Myron’s Discobolus [170] and his group of Athena and Marsyas we can see that he contributed much to the development of the full Classical style after the comparative severities of Olympia and other work created just after the Persian Wars. Phidias’ guiding hand may be read in surviving statuary from the Parthenon, but in copies of other statues by him we may judge better his personal style and glimpse a shadow of the majesty of his most impressive lost works, the great gold and ivory cult statues. Polyclitus’ new canon of proportions and model for stocky athleticism is preserved in copies of his Canon (the Doryphorus) [171]. Another story, about a competition between famous artists at Ephesus, has encouraged scholars to dispute the attribution of differing copies of wounded Amazons [172] to Phidias, Polyclitus, Cresilas or Phradmon, but might easily have been simply a guide’s tale. Alcamenes’ Aphrodite in the Gardens may have been one of the earliest statues to wear the exaggeratedly transparent drapery. What we think to see of Praxiteles’ style in the surviving Hermes at Olympia [156] is confirmed by the other statues attributed to him and of which copies exist [174]. His naked Aphrodite for Cnidus was copied time and again [173], but it is hard to see beyond the copies what it was about their original which made it so famous, apart from its suggestive near-nudity. Scopas’ style seems to have been more vigorous and work from his hand may be preserved in fragments from the Temple at Tegea of which he was the architect. In copies of Lysippus’ statues we have the new canons of proportion for the human body [175], and his creation of a new personality for famous heroes [176]. We can also judge how much Alexander’s favourite artist did to break with the one-view frontality of most Classical statuary. We learn too that Lysippus and his brother were the first to use casts from life in their studio, an interesting reflection on what has been remarked already about the importance to major statuary of modelled originals. These are all names and facts which lend life to a subject which seems beset with anonymity, but they are the trappings only, and our conception of Classical statuary must be gained from what has survived, with or without an artist’s name, and not from the copies. Yet Greek sculpture is still often taught with reference primarily to ancient texts and Roman copies, and it is not surprising that many people remain unaware of its quality until they are faced by original works, and until the postcard views of the copyists’ gods, heroes and women have been set aside.

170 Marble copy of a bronze discus-thrower, the work of Myron. Identified from the description by the writer Lucian. The original was of about 450 BC. Height 1.55 m. (Rome, Terme 126371)

171 Marble copy of the bronze Doryphorus (spear-bearer), the work of Polyclitus of about 440 BC, in which he embodied his Canon for the male body. The tree trunk is the copyist’s addition. Height 2.12 m. (Naples)

172 Marble copy of a bronze wounded Amazon, made in the 430s as one of a group of three to stand at Ephesus. She uses a broken rein as a belt. Height 2.04 m. (New York 32.11.4)

173 Marble copy of the marble statue of the Aphrodite made for Cnidus by Praxiteles in about 350 BC. She is shown surprised at her bath. Height 2.05 m. (Vatican)

174 A Roman bronze copy of Praxiteles’ Dancing Satyr (4th century BC), found in the sea off the coast of Sicily. There are numerous complete copies in marble and bronze of the whole figure. (Mazara del Vallo)

175 Marble copy of the bronze Apoxyomenos made by Lysippus about 330 BC. The athlete is scraping the oil from his forearm with a strigil. The supports for leg and arm were required by the copyist in marble; the fig leaf, by later prudery. Height 2.05 m. (Vatican)

176 Marble copy of the bronze Heracles (Farnese) made by Lysippus about 325 BC. Weary from his last labour, he holds behind his back the Apples of the Hesperides, which will guarantee him immortality and renewed youth. Height 3.17 m. (Naples 6001)