Classical Greek Art Portraiture by: Melanie Lumpkin
As time passed the Greek artists continued to move toward realism. The idea of individualized portraiture also continued to develop. This was not only a result of the artists testing out new ideas, but also from the culture of the Greeks. The Greeks believed that the soul left a man when he died and hovered and that these spirits had only memory of their old life (Hinks, 10). So when doing funerary art portraits, the men, although realistic, were idealized. However, A new concept of the soul began to be developed. Previously it was thought that a person was his body, but due to many of the philosophies of Socrates, the concept of a soul being who the person really was began to develop. With this thought the artists began trying to put more emotion into the art so that the persons soul could be depicted (Hinks, 18). Thus the portraits began to gain even more personality.
The portraits were still somewhat idealized, though. This was due in part to the nature of the portraits. The wars with Persia had finally ended and war heroes and political leaders were given a great amount of attention. These men were idolized, and it was of these men that most portraits were done. They were put up in public places and in sanctuaries and tombs to be seen by all (Richter, 15). Many portraits were done of great men of the past, and these were also idealized because the artists did not truly know what they looked like, and they merely tried to portray the personalities of those men (Boardman, 136).
Thinking of the time also contributed to the idealistic portraits, such as Plato’s philosophies that dealt with the idea of human perfection. He thought that there was a perfect form of beauty and good in the human body. The artists then tried to create this form. These portraits were typical of the High Classical Period, 450 to 430 BC. The Greeks also had many gods which were human in form, but with perfect bodies. This form also seeped into their portraits where they idealized the men to be almost god-like. These gods were mythical and the people of the time idolized them and tried to be like them. Thus, this idealism was also conveyed in the portraits of the people (Chow). Athletics were also a large part of society, where the human body was idealized with its muscular fitness. Artists especially tried to depict the body in their portraits. The artist would study the whole personality of the person posing and all this would be taken into account when sculpting (Richter, 15). To get the full idea of a portrait the whole body of the sculpture must be looked at, as the artist took great care to represent personality in all of the body. This aspect of the portraits was something that truly set Greek art apart from previous portrait art. This was the beginning of the Late Classical period, 430 - 323 BC (Chow).
From viewing the early images of the kouros and the later one of Mausolus, it becomes clear how much Greek portrait art advanced from its beginnings, both in realism and in its ability to express personality. The artists became better and more experimental. Portrait art went from stiff, lifeless sculptures to ones that looked as if they were going to move any minute. They showed feeling, emotion, and the personality of the sitter, which was expressed through the whole body of the sculpture. The more realistic artists along with the contribution of philosophy of the time lead to this beautiful portrait art. As time passed, the Greeks would continue to grow in realism, creating masterful portraits.
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