Art History: Female Figures in Ancient Greek Sculpture

The ancient Greeks were one of the oldest civilizations in the world. It thrived more than 4,000 years ago. The years between 2000 B.C. and 146 B.C. were the years of the Ancient Greece Empire’s prosperity. Greek culture, ideas, religion, and art were spreading all over the world day by day. Ancient Greek sculpture deserves attention because of its uniqueness and richness. Greeks had a wonderful opportunity to use different kinds of marble, bronze, stones, and wood. There were several periods in ancient Greek sculpture, and each of them had its own characteristics. The most known periods were Archaic (650 – 480 BCE), Classical (480 – 431 BCE), Late Classical (404 – 323 BCE), and Hellenistic (323 BCE – 1st century AD).

The development of female figures in ancient Greek sculpture was noticeable during those times; each period added something new; the influence of other countries and their cultures was reflected in almost each piece of work, and female sculptures were one of the brightest examples.

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Ancient Greek sculpture was characterized by numerous works of nude women. However, it does not mean that Greek men had a kind of disrespect to their women. Ancient Greek women were portrayed rather respectfully. If nudity is considered to be a sign of sex or predilection for sex, it is necessary to admit that ancient Greek sculptors used males as sex objects oftener than they used females. Most of the sculptors in Ancient Greece were men, and the role of women was to inspire their men. Men used women as models for their sculptures to present the images of real women, real life, with its advantages and disadvantages.

The Archaic period started in 650 BCE and lasted until 480 BCE, and it was one of the earliest periods in ancient Greek art. The ancient Greek sculptures of the Archaic period had lots in common to those of Egypt sculptures. Egypt influence reflected on both male and female sculptures. “During this period of intense creativity, the great traditions of monumental stone sculpture and temple architecture appeared.” (Davies 159) Female figures of the Archaic period were usually called ‘kore’ (maiden). The peculiar features of the figures of that time were draped clothes and read hair. One of the brightest examples of archaic sculptures was Draped Female (created in about 530 B.C. Special attention was paid to female haircuts – new hairstyles were elaborated for each sculpture. After 550 BCE, stone was changed into bronze; such changes allowed sculptors to play with light and impress the viewer. Women nudity was one of the most brilliant devices, which were used to underline the realism.

The Classical period in ancient Greek sculpture presented the most exciting pieces of art. In spite of the fact that the Persians Wars blew up the economical and other spheres of the Empire, Greek found out new technologies and methods to improve the situation. The classical Greek style was characterized unbelievable freedom of movements and feelings. Greek sculptures represented people’s life with its speed, changes, and emotions. Even if female Greek sculptures could not move, the artists, as magicians, made people believe that at the beginning, that sculpture moved, and now it was frozen, for those, who observed it. Women’s nudity was not forgotten as well. In order to help own husbands, women spend days and nights posing. Such idea to present moving people raised ancient Greek sculpture once again and proved that talented people can save their country and its traditions even by means of art. “The sculptures of the classical period show an obsession with the human figure and with drapery.” (Hellander et al. 71)

The Late Classical period in the ancient Greek sculpture was known as a period of artistic decline. The Peloponnesian War was the major reason of why Greece lost its supremacy. The influence of Christianity made lots sculptors create less naked sculptures (and it was the key of all Greece sculptures ever). During the Late Classical period, the large components of all sculptures were portrait statues. Sculptors paid more attention to people’s features. It was a novelty for those times. After people paid attention only to female’s bodies, naked bodies, such changes turned out to be rather significant. It became more popular to present males’ portraits. Lots of sculptures were devoted to men, who defended the Empire. The image of women was almost forgotten.

In 336 BCE, it was Alexander, who saved the Empire and spread the influence of Greece all over the world again. The Hellenistic period started in 323 B.C. and lasted until the end of the first century of A.D. It was a kind of revival of Greek sculpture. This period is usually compared with the Classical one. Greeks again started portrayed young women and created nude figures using marble and bronze. They had a chance to appeal to the lower preferences of their masters. This is why, the Hellenistic period was also known by its ugly, comical, and sensual themes. The major purpose of art was to represent the world as it was during that concrete period of time. One of the brightest examples of the sculptures from the Hellenistic period is The Venus de Milo, a representation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.

The role of women is crucial indeed. It does not matter whether we regard a woman as a wife, friend, mother, or muse. Without women, this world would be dull and boring. Even in sculpture, women play a very important role. Specially, it concerns Ancient Greece, to be more exact, the ancient Greek sculpture. Greek sculptors got used to create male figures to underline their power and significance for the country. However, the role of female figures still remain considerable. Each period of ancient Greek sculpture created certain limitations and added something new. The material for sculptures changed as well. First, it was wood and stone, with time, Greek sculptors started to use marble and bronze. Such changes provided people with the opportunities to enjoy colours and lights for lots of years.

Works Cited

Davies, P. J. E., Denny, W. B., Hofrichter, F. F., Jacons, J. F., Roberts, A. M., and Simon, D. L. Jason’s History of Art: The Western Tradition. Prentice Hall, 2006.

Hellander, P., Armstrong, K., Clark, M., Deliso, C., Hannigan, D., and Kiriakopoulos, V. Greece. Lonely Planet, 2008.

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