Greek Classical Period

In art, the Classical period is divided into shorter periods, which are marked by corresponding political events and social developments. These periods are the following:

  • The Early Classical Period or the so-called "Severe Style" (480-450 BC)
  • The Mature Classical period (450-425 BC)
  • The period of the "Rich Style" (425-380 BC)
  • The Late Classical period (380-323 BC)

One might say that the Greek spirit, which had witnessed its childhood during the Geometric period and its adolescence during the Archaic period, eventually found maturity during the Classical period, 480-330 BC. After the triumphant victories of united Greece against the Persian Empire, the Greek morale was strengthened and the faith in the national conscience, the religion, the traditions and the common roots between all Greeks was cemented, and so was the faith in the value and power of the human spirit. After the Persian Wars, the Greeks were again intoxicated with major projects and achievements. Athens blossomed into a fully-fledged cultural and spiritual centre of the Greek world surrounded by a great number of cities that competed with each other.

It was there that the greatest artists, architects, philosophers and poets converged. Inspired and guided by Pericles, grandiose building programs were developed on the Acropolis, with the Parthenon (447-432 BC) being undoubtedly the masterpiece of Greek architecture.

Whatever was conquered during the Archaic Period in terms of art would then be refined during the Classical Period and would be elevated towards new horizons, while new artistic achievements would open up new perspectives. Thus, in sculpture, the smile and the stillness of the archaic rigid Kouros would be replaced by expressions, similar to that of the Kritios or Kritian Boy, 480 BC. The expression of the Kritios Boy is more austere, conscious, spiritual, and its muscles are rounded, while the weight is displaced on one leg and the axes of the torso are bent naturally. A new conception of the human figure was born, free from foreign standards and influences. The human form was idealised, the classic beauty was emphasised, while the sculptors of that time sought to portray the relationship between spirit and matter according to the dominant Classical Standard.

This spirituality and form idealization would culminate in the works of Phidias and later, in the 4th century, the works of Praxiteles, who would seek beauty to such an extent that he would eventually deprive his Gods of their divine majesty, and would equate it with a kind of human elegance, grace and naturalness. Apart from these two great sculptors who devoted themselves to religious sculpture, some others like Myron and Polykleitos were preoccupied with athletic sculpture. The "Diadoumenos" (Diadem-Bearer) and the "Discovolos" (Discus Thrower) created by the former, as well as the "Diadoumenos and Doryphoros" (Diadem-Bearer and Spear-Bearer) created by the latter are sculptures characterised by mathematically determined proportions and harmony in terms of movement and rendering of the athletic body. The harmonious stretching out of the body parts on an imaginary plane, reminiscent of a relief, was violated by Lysippus in the 4th century. The arms of his sculpture "Apoxyomenos" (Scraper, 4th century) are extended to the front towards the third dimension in an attempt to conquer space.

Lysippus also abandoned idealisation, in order to deal with a new kind, the portrait, depicting certain individuals of his time, especially Alexander the Great. Scopas also proposed new ideas. His sculptures featured passionate facial expressions that impress with their deeply sunken eyes, violent and explosive body movements, and muscular contraction, departing thereby from the serene, sober forms of Phidias and Praxiteles, from the classical canon of proportion and idealisation.

The architecture witnessed new glory during the Classical Period. The temples on the Acropolis are the most typical examples. The rhythms  evolved into their final classical form and especially the Doric column which became thinner, with its echinus occupying less volume. The Corinthian capital of Callimachus made its appearance, which would be glorified mostly during the Roman times. Apart from the temples, markets, colonnades and theatres, gyms and other private buildings started being constructed from stone and marble to meet the requirements of a high standard of living.

In terms of pottery, the red-figure technique was almost exclusively used, since black-figure pottery was considered outdated. Dionysian themes and scenes from daily life became increasingly popular, while compositions proliferated. Potters, such as "the Achilles Painter", "the Penthesilea Painter", Midias, and many others praise the triumph of man through their multifigural compositions on vessels and white one-handled jugs (lekythos).

Pottery reached new heights of technical perfection during this time. The movement became so sensitive that one would think that a gentle breeze wandered over the brilliantly designed and complex folds of the gossamer drapery covering the well-articulated body of the beautiful female figures. It also became possible to render difficult stances on a larger and more inclusive scale, and this was not limited to figures, but extended to seats, daybeds, homes, tables, etc.

Nevertheless, it was the painting of the Classical period that was mostly admired and was often imitated in pottery. Unfortunately, no samples have survived. There are, however, texts preserved that document the admirable painters of the Classical Period