Late Classical Greek Sculpture (c.400-323 BCE)
Till the end of the High Classical style the development of Greek sculpture had been mainly uniform. Afterwards, because of the success of that style, even leading masters tended to look back to it - and its exemplary works, such as the Parthenon - as a sort of standard, repeating its formulas in varying degree, and making equally selective use of the innovations of their contemporaries. Since also there are few usefully dated originals or copies either, the history of the Late Classical style has not yet been worked out in convincing detail and historians disagree widely on the chronology and assessment of important pieces.
In general it looks as if the High Classical tradition in Greek art remained dominant till the 370s BCE, sometimes fairly pure and sometimes in a mannered exaggeration, but later new trends asserted themselves more insistently. These trends were not ubiquitous nor were they all combined in anyone work, but on the whole their direction was towards a closer imitation of nature in flesh, facial expression, drapery and pose, though the requirements of ideal art were not forgotten. The end of the Late Classical style is usually put at the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, but the most significant changes may have occurred some thirty or forty years earlier and perhaps the conventional periods of Greek sculpture ought to be revised.
By the end of the fourth century, so Pliny says, some sculptors were taking plaster casts from human models, but advances in superficial anatomy had of course been appearing earlier. The Aberdeen head, which should not be much later than 350 BCE, is an admirable example of a successful new type. The face has become rounder and the flesh is more delicately and credibly modelled, so much so that one might expect the cheeks to quiver if the statue was shaken; the eyes are more deep-set, the lower eyelid merges imperceptibly into the cheek, and the brow above is padded comfortably with fat. The lips are slightly parted and the hair is tousled and more deeply carved. The effect, though still ideal, is softer and more sensuous than that of any fifth-century face, and the expression suggests an intensity of feeling that High Classical sculptors would have thought embarrassing. The Marathon Boy is also softly modelled, though - partly because of its material - less palpably than the Aberdeen head, but here the treatment of the body can be studied. While the linear definition of the parts is still clear, the transitions between them are smoother and more fluid. Yet in other figures of this period the modelling of bodily forms keeps an old-fashioned emphatic firmness. For a movement away from naturalism there is the Apoxyomenos, or the grave relief from Rhamnus, where a new canon of proportions makes the head noticeably smaller, one eighth instead of one seventh of the total height of the figure: the aim like that of the Berlin painter more than a century earlier was greater elegance.
Drapery in the early fourth century continued much in the High Classical manner or even more so. Again new formulas had become established before 350 BCE, though they did not completely replace the old. A favourite system is a series of strong folds radiating from the armpit or the hip, and this may be combined with a bunching of material around the waist, sometimes so emphatically that the figure seems composed in three sections. As a result the dress, even when closely swathed, often becomes more or less independent of the body, concealing it instead of combining to produce a unified effect. Another novelty is a higher girdle, which like the smaller head has an effect of elegance. For natural detail there is more use of casually interrupted folds and some of crumpling, and occasionally to show his virtuosity a sculptor even recorded the made in a garment by folding it up. But at least in major works the new masters did not lose sight of the general composition and they still found use for the devices inherited from the High Classical style.
It is much the same with the poses. Alongside High Classical survivals there are new developments from the old types. So the standing figure may be more indolently relaxed, with the median line making a stronger double curve. Sometimes it is so far displaced that - at least for optical equilibrium - it needs a pillar or other support to lean on. Or the figure may stand stably upright, but the feet are placed to give an effect of shifting movement instead of stable poise. The arms too are often extended more loosely and the head turned further to the side. Such modifications of stance and gesture sometimes contravene the principles of the four-square construction of a statue and before the end of the fourth century some sculptors appear to have been planning deliberately for more than the four cardinal views, if still with very limited success.
In studies of Late Classical sculpture three masters are usually picked out for special attention. Skopas, whose activity began before 350 BCE, is supposed to have invented the new intensity of facial expression, though the evidence is not decisive. Of Praxiteles we know more, since copies of several of his works have been identified convincingly. He was sculpting around the middle of the century, especially in stone (marble), and had a taste for soft modelling, more appropriate to that material than to bronze, and for indolent poses which were designed for frontal (or posterior) viewing. He also sanctified the female nude as a subject for free-standing statuary and so became for later antiquity the most celebrated of all sculptors. His type of female face with triangular forehead remains standard in later Greek and Roman ideal sculpture. Lysippus, whose long working life had begun by the 360s BCE and lasted for at least fifty years, has been credited with all sorts of inventions. The supposed copies of his works are not so impressive or illuminating, except that the Apoxyomenos shows the new canon of proportions attributed to him by Pliny, and represents an early stage in the creation of the omnifacial statue - that is, the statue which offers a satisfactory view at any angle.
In the carving of marble, two labour-saving advances were made. The running drill was coming into use by the 370s and soon established itself for hollowing folds and sometimes - at first discreetly - for cutting a channel round figures in relief, so outlining them more sharply against their background. Furthermore, about the middle of the century, some sculptors took to leaving the rasp marks on the drapery of, both statues and reliefs and so obtained a quite novel contrast in the texture of surfaces. But this practice never became common.
For the colouring of marble our direct
evidence comes from reliefs and may not be altogether valid for free-standing
statues. On friezes of the Mausoleum, carved in the 350s, the background
was blue and male flesh brownish red, all in the High Classical tradition.
On the other hand the Mourning Women sarcophagus from Sidon, of
much the same date, had the background unpainted, and on a big Athenian
relief of a Negro and a horse, which should not be much later, the horse
as well as the background seems to have been left in the natural colour
of the marble. In these works, which were not architectural, there may
well be more influence of pictorial art, where a white ground was still
usual enough. The background is again unpainted on the so-called Alexander
sarcophagus, also from the royal vaults of Sidon and dated around 320
BCE. Here, the male flesh is only lightly tinted and animals too are tinted
or left unpainted, drapery is in flat colour - violet and red in various
tones, yellow and some blue - but high lights are added in white on the
pupils of eyes and the curved reflecting surfaces of shields. Something
of this sort might be expected on free-standing statues too, if Pliny
is right in his statement that Praxiteles had several of his marble
statues coloured by Nicias, one of the great exponents of Classical
As has been said, there are not many useful fixed dates for Late Classical sculpture. The gravestone of Dexileos at Athens should not be long after 394 BCE, when Dexileos was killed. Tbe 'Irene and Plutus' (or 'Peace and Wealth') of Cephisodotus, if rightly identified in copies, may have been made soon after 375 BCE, when the cult of Peace is said to have been recognized officially in Athens. It is anyhow a statue still High Classical in pose and drapery. Of the sculptures of the Temple of Asklepios at Epidaurus, which also are largely High Classical in style, inscriptions tell us that the work was completed in under five years, but not which those years were: still its architect also worked. on the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built probably in the years round 353 BCE, when Mausolus died. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was burnt down in 356 BCE, and so the carved column bases of its successor must be later, though perhaps by no more than five or ten years. The Daochus group at Delphi was pretty certainly put up between 339 BCE and 334 BCE, when the donor held office there. The Alexander sarcophagus was beyond reasonable doubt made for himself by King Abdalonymus of Sidon, who had been appointed by Alexander in 332 BCE and presumably died not long after 313 BCE. Other closely dated monuments, particularly the reliefs on slabs recording Athenian decrees, are not of a quality or character to allow reliable comparisons; nor are there helpful contexts from excavation.
Of original Late Classical works, most are again reliefs - architectural, on gravestones or votive, though the two last categories are mostly poor in quality. A few fragments from pediments survive along with a number of fairly complete free-standing statues (some of them made for architectural settings) and also several good heads. Copies from Roman art are numerous, but not altogether representative. Athletic statues in particular are comparatively few, presumably because the later purchasers of copies preferred High Classical versions of the type. There are also four or five good originals in bronze.
Standing male nudes differ widely. The Hennes of the column base from Ephesus, which can hardly be earlier than 350 BCE, follows such High Classical models as the Doryphorus both in pose and in structure of the body, though the face is softer. The Marathon Boy, usually dated about 340 BCE, is more progressive. It is an original bronze four feet three inches high, which was fished up from an ancient wreck off Marathon, and is designed with an emphatically frontal view, but the modelling is softer and the pose is more sinuous, so that the figure's centre of gravity falls near the slack right foot and its balance appears to be only momentary. The lateral sway is even more pronounced in other works of the time and often the figure has to have a support to lean on, a device occasionally used by High Classical masters, though more discreetly. This type of pose, so copies show, was exploited by Praxiteles and may have been his invention, but others used it too. What the Marathon Boy was represented as doing can only be guessed. Originally some object, at which he was looking, was secured by a pin to his left palm, but the position of the right arm and of its fingers should also have some active intention.
The Apoxyomenos, or man scraping himself, is a mediocre marble copy, almost six feet nine inches high, of a presumably bronze statue of about 330 BCE and perhaps by Lysippus. The dullness of the detail, which shows especially in the expression of the face, may be the fault of the copyist, but primarily the Apoxyomenos seems to be an exercise in composing a statue that is no longer dependent on the four cardinal elevations - front, two sides and back. This is done by extending both arms in a direction noticeably different from that of the trunk, so that it is not immediately obvious which front view is intended as the principal one. To modern spectators the pose may seem purposeless and contrived; but originally the left hand held a strigil, a sort of long thin scoop of bronze with which athletes scraped themselves clean after exercise, and the Apoxyomenos is using it on his right arm. This is an obviously momentary, though balanced, pose and the position of the feet is in harmony. In its proportions the Apoxyomenos follows the new system, attributed to Lysippus, of smaller head and longer legs, so making the figure appear more elegant; and indeed, if one looks separately at the Doryphorus and the Apoxyomenos - or casts of them - the usual impression is that the Apoxyomenos is the taller, though by measurement - excluding the plinth - their height is almost exactly the same.
Sinuous poses are much rarer for standing statues of draped goddesses and women, perhaps because they would have disturbed the effects desired in drapery or from a prejudice against indolent attitudes in women. Generally the progressive Late Classical sculptors were more interested in the drapery than the body. Among minor works some small statues of 'Bears' (or young girls) from Brauron are curious as precocious essays in sentimentality. Draped male statues too usually stand erect, some - like the famous 'portrait' of Sophocles - with more than a suggestion of posturing. Still, to the Greeks it was an essential sign of good breeding to wear their untailored dress with correct formality and Sophocles, though a poet, was a gentleman.
From the era of Early Classical Greek sculpture onwards, reliefs and figurines had occasionally represented the female nude, but it was not accepted as a subject for full-size statues till about the middle of the fourth century. Perhaps the first and certainly the most famous example was Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos, which Pliny, a knowledgeable if insensitive judge, described as the greatest statue in the world.
The original, which is known through copies, was of marble, about six feet nine inches high, and designed to be seen only from the front and the back. The goddess stands upright and quite naked, with thighs together and the slack left leg slightly turned out. The left arm is dropping her clothing onto a water jar, the head is turned to the left, and the right hand is brought across in front of the pudenda - a gesture that from repetition now seems prudish or banal, though here there is no hint of elf-consciousness. Unfortunately the numerous copies are too poor to show the quality of the treatment of surface detail, which must have given the original most of its sensuous effect. The Knidian Aphrodite fixed the sculptural canon for the Greek female nude, with mature figure and, to the anatomist, startlingly immature breasts - in these particulars following earlier Greek tradition - but there was more variation in the pose. An early example was the half-naked figure, where the drapery has slipped down almost to the groin; this allowed contrast of texture and perhaps freer movement of the legs without offence to current standards of decency. The Leconfield head comes from one of these naked or half-naked figures. It is life size, of Parian marble, and probably an original - even, some claim, a late work of Praxiteles himself. Certainly the grave, calm expression, which avoids both the sensual and the sentimental, is characteristic of that master. So too, though not peculiarly, are the soft modelling and the impressionistic treatment of the hair.
In seated statues, which are more frequent than before, the tendency is to make the pose more casual, by stretching one leg further forward and tucking the other further back or raising it to nurse the knee: the Dionysus on the Derveni krater (bowl), with his leg on his consort's lap, illustrates the new mobility, though with an abandon not yet tolerated in statuary. There are also figures tilted forwrard in running or attack, and Maenads and other ,dancers caught in more ecstatic movement. Groups, though still rare, are more compactly planned; a god balancing an infant on one arm is not much more than a single figure with an adjunct, but in such works as Leda protecting the Swan, or Ganymede Carried off by the Eagle, the two components are fully complementary. These last two subjects (appropriately still under life size) exude a new, mildly erotic flavour, as does Eros (or Cupid) who is now coming to be represented as a child rather than a youth - another sign that a more trivial taste was beginning to find expression in a major art.
Portraiture at last established itself as a distinct branch of sculpture. In the Archaic period kouroi and grave reliefs, as their inscriptions show, had often represented particular individuals, but without any pretence of reproducing the individual particularities of their appearance, and Early and High Classical 'portrait' statues were still stock ideal types. Though since the range of types was greater, some generic characterization was possible. So Pericles appears as a calmly confident soldier, mature enough to wear a beard, and the poet Anacreon is a robust old gentleman, accompanying himself on the lyre - appropriate but impersonal embodiments of their public reputations. This was not because Greek artists of that time were unable to produce a likeness or at least plausibly individual features, but perhaps there was a feeling that to exhibit in public the facsimile of a living man might be dangerous arrogance, and anyhow the tradition of ideal art was pervasive. For the same reason - that they were standard ideal types - Greek portrait statues remained full-length, although sculptors and their clients were used to the representation of heads without bodies, as for instance on herms. It was left to the Romans to establish the bust as a normal vehicle of portraiture, a sensible reform when it had become difficult to provide a suitable body for a head which stressed the ravages of age or disease.
During the fourth century, as portraits
multiplied, the idealized likeness began to compete with the ideal type.
But though ancient writers mention sculptors who aimed at strict imitation
of nature or emphasized ugly features, most were concerned more with characterization,
and for athletic statues and grave reliefs impersonality was still regular.
By the accidents of Roman taste we have a disproportionately large number
of copies from portraits of celebrities of philosophy and literature,
some living when the original was made but others long dead; and since
there is no obvious difference in credibility between the two classes,
it seems that characterization was usually more important than fidelity
to physical appearance. The portraits of the great Attic tragedians -
Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides - convincingly
incarnate the characters we may deduce from their writings and the anecdotes
that survive about them. But since the last of the trio died in 406 BCE
and the statues were not made till the 330s, this only shows that the
sculptors made the same deductions as we do. Statues of philosophers were
usually seated, as if engaged in teaching, but political figures preferred
to stand - a more heroic posture - and usually required a more ideal treatment.
So the various heads of Alexander have in common an intensity of expression
and a wildness in the hair, presumably demanded by the sitter, but otherwise
conform less to a single physical pattern than to the particular sculptor's
ideal style. A life-size original bronze head from Olympia, recognizable
by the cauliflower ears as a boxer's, can serve as an example of Late
Classical portraiture. Compared with the Aberdeen head, which should be
of much the same date - not much after the middle of the century - it
is evident that ideal beauty has been replaced by attentive ferocity and
the features have become appropriately coarser. Note, as one example,
how the eyebrow makes a sharp angle with the nose instead of passing into
it in a continuous curve. Some art historians think that this boxer's
head comes from a statue of Satyros by Silanion and it is possible,
since Silanion was famous for thoroughgoing characterization: how like
Satyros it was we have no means of knowing.
Pedimental sculpture and architectural reliefs show in their composition no advance on their High Classical predecessors. In style they follow the various major trends of their time and their quality is often excellent.
Grave reliefs in the fourth century supported a flourishing industry, at least in Athens. There, some inferior craftsmen specialized in this line of work, though occasionally a leading master might accept a commission. The normal shape for these gravestones was an upright oblong, framed by antae and a low pediment, and the subjects were mostly stock - the lady of the house with a slave woman in attendance, the deceased and members of the family in poses of farewell, or relatives gazing intently at each other. The trend was towards deeper framing and figures more fully in the round, so that they appear like statues in a little porch, though those in the background are sometimes added in incongruously low relief. This neglect of artistic propriety, judged by ideal standards, appears also in increasingly blatant displays of emotion and naturalistic representation of drapery, especially where the workmanship was of lower quality. Here at last, with sculptors of weak principles, private customers were able to assert their personal tastes, but even so there was no attempt at portraiture. The Attic series ended abruptly between 311 BCE and 307 BCE, when a sumptuary law prohibited such expensive monuments.
Votive reliefs too are mostly from Attica, where they were usually made in specialist workshops according to special conventions. The subjects range from the dedicator with his family being received by his divine patrons, at least half as tall again as ordinary mortals, to Pan and other rustic presences manifesting themselves on a rocky hillside. Generally, though, the landscape and architectural elements - such as rocks, trees and shrines - are still no more than required to give the setting of the subject. Votive reliefs were at their best in the late fifth and early fourth centuries, but their style soon became feeble, sometimes resorting to Archaistic details, and at Athens they had become rare by 300 BCE: by then perhaps dedicators thought pictures better value for their money.
The novelties of the Late Classical style were welcomed in the Greek cities of South Italy, where the local workshops tended to provincial exaggerations. They penetrated also Etruscan art, whether by direct contact with Greece or through South Italian intermediaries, but there the influence was only sporadic. In Lycia, Greek sculptors were even more active than before, still working to suit their patrons' aberrant tastes, and in Phoenicia the demand for truly Greek work increased. Carthage too, the Phoenician colony which dominated much of the western Mediterranean, began to imitate Greek sculpture more assiduously, though the local craftsmen, some of them presumably immigrant Greeks, were provincial in style and often compromising. From there, or perhaps more directly, the natives of Spain learnt a little of the art of sculpture.
Much of the Late Classical tradition was continued by Hellenistic sculptors and, though the Classicizing school of later Hellenistic preferred fifth century models, the copyists were not so discriminating. Indeed in the Roman period, Praxiteles was the most admired of all ancient sculptors. In modern times, no important original became known till the nineteenth century and, though copies were fairly common, they did not make much impression on Renaissance and later artists and connoisseurs. The chief exception is the Apollo Belvedere, a marble copy of fine but hard quality from an original of perhaps around 330 BCE. This statue was found at the end of the fifteenth century and exhibited in Rome, where for three hundred years it ranked as a supreme masterpiece, which painters and even sculptors continually used as a model. Then the revelation of the Elgin marbles dimmed its reputation and in this century it has been either despised or ignored. Even so, though there is now original sculpture of the fourth century with which to compare it, the Apollo Belvedere is more than an accomplished exhibition of ideal elegance, if one can forget one's own or others' prejudices.
of Ancient Greece (Introduction)
For the origins of three-dimensional
visual art, see: Sculpture History.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART and CLASSICAL ANTIQUITIES