Player, 2000 BCE,
9 in. tall.
is one of the most ancient and also one of the most permanent forms of
art. Nearly all cultures throughout the ages have left us sculptural
art history to study and learn from today, but the five hundred years of
Greek culture that flourished along the coast of the Aegean Sea is of particular
interest. Never in any other era has the art form evolved and developed
as rapidly and as beautifully as was seen in ancient Greece. The
first Greek sculptors carved small statuettes like the one pictured on
the left. This Cycladic work was produced sometime around 2000 BCE,
by a neighboring culture to Greece (possibly the original inhabitants of
Greece themselves). The abstract form of the work is representative
of a widespread trend towards naturalization displayed in art as it developed
from its more primitive forms (like the prehistoric cave paintings).
This trend culminates in Classical Greek works, where sculptors such as
Polycleitus and Lysippos mastered the ideal form of the human body.
Following small stone sculpture came the
era of monumental marble sculpture. In ancient Greece, the prosperous
city of Athens served as the sculptural hub of the small nation state.
There, the art form was nurtured by the wealthy city as it progressed through
its different stylistic periods. Monumental sculptures produced by
Athens were made possible by this influx of monetary support that the Greeks
devoted to sculpture. Few other cultures have ever enabled the large
scale production of sculpture, mainly because they simply did not appreciate
sculpture as the Greeks did. This lack of demand made it impractical
for many sculptors to devote all their time to carving just one sculpture
each year (it took the average Greek sculptor about one year to finish
one work in marble). The method for casting bronze sculptures catalyzed
the Greek sculptural revolution; thanks to the versatility of the new medium
which was both stronger and lighter.
Today, over two thousand years later, art
historians are continuing to piece together this ancient past with the
few remnants we have left. Centuries of war and the various rulers
of the land have resulted in the neglect and destruction of many of the
Greeks culture's greatest works. The Roman Empire was one of the
few respectful nations that did not smash the sculptural works, as many
nations did to the art of a nation they have defeated in war, and instead
preserved and copied the sculpture of the Greeks, incorporating it into
their own culture. Thus much of our modern knowledge of Greek sculpture
has been reaped from these inferior Roman copies. One notable difference
between Greek originals and Roman copies is that the originals are always
freestanding (no special supports are needed to make them stand other than
the statue's two feet) whereas Roman copies almost always rely on a post
to hold them up. For this, and many other reasons, most art historians
rank the Classical period of ancient Greece right along with the Renaissance
as the greatest periods of all art, each producing more art and more evolution
than has ever been seen at any other time.