Greek Art

The Greeks decided very early on that the human form was the most important subject for artistic works. Seeing their gods as having human form, though there was little difference between the Gods and the people in art—the Greeks saw the human body as sacred.


MarbleUSGOVNatural marble

Bronze votive shieldBronze shield found at Delphi in Greece, circa late 8th century BC

Both marble and bronze are easy to form and very workable; as in most ancient cultures there were no doubt also traditions of sculpture in wood about which we know very little, other than acrolithic sculptures, usually large, with the head and exposed flesh parts in marble but the clothed parts in wood.

Many copies of the Roman period are marble versions of works originally in bronze.

NAMABG-Aphaia Trojan Archer 3

Despite appearing white today, Greek sculptures were originally painted

Chryselephantine sculptures, used for temple cult images and luxury works, used gold, most often in leaf form and ivory for all or parts (faces and hands) of the figure, and probably gems and other materials, but were much less common, and only fragments have survived.



Greece, 6th Century BC - Archaic Head of a Sphinx - 1928.858 - Cleveland Museum of Art
Greece, 6th Century BC – Archaic Head of a Sphinx Cleveland Museum of Art


Family group on a grave marker from Athens

The Classical period saw a revolution of Greek sculpture, sometimes associated by historians with the popular culture surrounding the introduction of democracy. The Classical period saw changes in the style and function of sculpture, along with a dramatic increase in the technical skill of Greek sculptors in depicting realistic human forms. Poses also became more natural.

From about 500 BC, Greek statues began increasingly to depict real people, as opposed to vague interpretations of myth.

Castings of classical Greek sculpture in the Pushkin Museum 02 by shakko
Castings of classical Greek sculpture in the Pushkin Museum

The Classical Period also saw an increase in the use of statues and sculptures as decorations of buildings.


NAMA Jockey Artémision
Jockey of Artemision, late Hellenistic bronze statue

The transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic period occurred during the 4th century BC.

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 were commissioned by wealthy families for the decoration of their homes and gardens.

Fragment of a marble relief depicting a Kore, 3rd century BC, from Panticapaeum, Taurica (Crimea) (12853680765)
Fragment of a marble relief depicting a Kore 3rd century BC.
Realistic figures of men and women of all ages were produced, and sculptors no longer felt that they had to sculpt people 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.

Replica of Euthydikos Kore. c. 490 BCE – Original in National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Ethiopian’ heads ca. 520–510 BC.
Greek marble vessel used for storing oil


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