The different periods of Greek sculpture are the Greek Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic styles each represent different ideals. These are:
This period is best represented by the Kouros, which was derived and had evolved from Egyptian sculpture. The typical Kouros sculptures show these features: rigidity, one foot forward posture, proper hair depiction, bilateral symmetry (both on left and right side), and its frontality or being block-like. The sculptures differed from the Egyptian because they were nude, there was a notable no webbing between the arms and body, and the anatomical detail was greatly emphasized. The Archaic Kouros was the result of the athletic ideal through mathematical formula (1:8) which was more idealistic than realistic.
During Classical period, change in sculpture took form in the use of contrapposto. Contrapposto is an Italian word meaning “counterpoise”. This refers to an analytical sculptural technique wherein the artist demonstrates the natural counterbalance of the body by bending of the hips in one direction and the legs in another direction. During this period, the most significant change in sculpture that was apparent was the counterbalance, or s-curve of the body. One foot was put forward and the weight distribution was more naturalistic. Aside form contrapposto, other prominent changes that were depicted during Classical sculpture were: head turned on different plain from body which looked aloof. It represents reason controlled. Hair treatment was less formal. Archaic sculpture carved “stone into body”, while Classical carved a “body out of stone”. The aim of classical sculpture was to show a perfect balance and harmony through art. This was in consonance with the prevalent Greek philosophy during the period.
The first Greek statue to display contrapposto is the popular Kritios Boy. It helped made contrapposto a crucial element of Greek sculptural technique. The Canon of the Doryphoros (“spear-bearer”) is a perfect example of contrapposto which exhibited extraordinarily dynamic and sophisticated contrapposto in a cross-balance of rigid and loose limbs.
The Classical period featured modifications in both the style and function of sculpture. Poses appeared more naturalistic as depicted by Charioteer of Delphi sculpture. The technical skill of Greek sculptors in depicting the human form in a different poses was enhanced. About 500 BC statues began to represent real people. The statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton set up in Athens to commemorate the overthrow of the tyranny were reputed to be the very first public monuments to actual people.
The Hellenistic Period
The shift from the Classical to the Hellenistic period happened during the 4th century. The Hellenistic period occurred after the Peloponnesian War. It introduced the depiction of a new reality in Greek sculpture. The sculpture was no longer confined to the idealistic. An important piece during this period is “The Boxer” where it shows the boxer’s bleeding knuckles after the fight. Ideal beauty is no longer of paramount importance.
The essential characteristic during this period was that sculptures became more and more naturalistic. Common people, women, children, animals and domestic scenes became the popular subjects for sculpture. These sculptures were especially made for wealthy families used as ornamentation of their homes and gardens. The sculptures depict realistic portraits of men and women of all ages. Sculptors find it unnecessary to depict people as ideals of physical perfection.
With the advent of The Hellenistic Period, there was a noticeable explosion on the new dramatic portrayal of art in sculpture. The previous period, Classical, had paved the way for the flourishing of art during the Hellenistic period. Among the notable pieces of sculpture during this period were the Laocoön and His Sons, The Old Market Woman and At The Altar of Pergamon.
The sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons” showed extreme struggle through the body language and facial expressions of the piece. It depicted the struggles of the subjects. One can sense an overriding need to escape in the sculptures. The intensity is awe-inspiring upon first glance. The idealized male torso is shown in Laocoön, despite his insurmountable situation.
The Old Market Woman, also of the Hellenistic period, shows drama and heart wrenching artistic expression. She looks a bit mad. The facial expression is distorted. But we see that her knees are those of a young woman. They are wrinkle-free, slender, and fine-looking; which does not seem to conform to the age of the rest of her body. Such idealization is considered an essential part of art, despite being a naturalistic depiction.
And, finally, At The Altar of Pergamon, offers a number of representation of Greek life and myth. The figures shown seem to emerge from the ground, lending the temple a fuller portrayal of life. The classic idealization of the figure is depicted in a number of things such things as snakes, lapiths and centaurs, which represents Greek life and myth, both naturalistically and idealistically.