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Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods

Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods

Author: Ian McConnell

Identify key characteristics of art from the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods.

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Exploring the art and politics of the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods in Greece.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about art of the late Classical and Hellenistic periods.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's lesson objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the political context that coincided with the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, and describe some important stylistic characteristics of the late Classical and Hellenistic artwork.

There are no key terms today. The big idea for today is that the art of the late Classical and Hellenistic periods saw changes in the artistic style from idealized and composed to more dramatic and sensual. There are required artworks today, which will be listed in purple.

The late Classical and Hellenistic periods extended from 400 BC to around 30 BC, from the time of the Peloponnesian War to the conquering of Greece by Rome. And we are still looking at ancient Greece. And here's Athens, as a reference.

So the Golden Age of Athens was rather short-lived. Soon after the completion of the Parthenon, Pericles died from the plague. And Athens found itself at odds with Sparta.

Now, the Peloponnesian War was fought among warring Greek city-states with Athens and its allies pitted against Sparta and its allies. There's an image of a Spartan warrior on the right. Athens eventually lost the battle in 404 BC. And the toll the battle took on Athens, in addition of the plague, caused Athens to enter a period of decline.

So the Classical period corresponds to this period of decline as well as a shift in artistic style. And the artist, Praxiteles, shook up the Grecian world in 350 BC with the first known depiction of a female nude in history-- or, at least, the first depiction of a nude female in the art of Greece. It's called the "Aphrodite of Knidos". And the image shown on the right is a Roman copy of the original.

Now, male nudes were quite common and more than acceptable, while the female nude was actually seen as low-class. Now, this sculpture depicts the goddess Aphrodite emerging from, or entering, a bath. And this is a shift from what we've seen before in a much more sensual depiction of the female form. The overall posture seems even more relaxed than the traditional contrapposto pose.

Speaking of relaxed pose-- this sculpture of the god, Hermes, with the infant god, Dionysus, shows a much more exaggerated representation of the contrapposto pose-- so much so that Hermes actually has to support himself by leaning on the tree stump. Now, the figure, while idealized, is less athletic in his build than what we see in works such as the Doryphoros by Polykleitos. It's a much more youthful appearance.

And the subject matter, as well, is changing. It's now depicting more intimate and relaxed depictions of these characters at their leisure. This sculpture was originally attributed to the artist, Praxiteles, due to its stylistic qualities. But it's now believed that this may, in fact, be a Roman reproduction of an earlier work by Praxiteles. And reproductions are actually quite common.

The artist, Lysippos, who is not pictured, was important in his depictions of athletes and great warriors in more naturalistic poses. And he's considered a key artist in transitioning from the late Classical to Hellenistic style where we see more dramatic sculptural poses such as this example of Nike of Samothrace. Now, there's a real sense of movement in sculpture like this, which is intensified by the dramatic folds of the cloth, the contrasting light and dark areas, and the figure jutting forward as the wings extend backwards. And it's this lack of restraint that we see as a common design element in Hellenistic art.

The "Aphrodite of Milos"-- or "Venus de Milo", as it's commonly known-- is an interesting work of art in its apparent combination of stylistic elements. At first glance, it calls forth the central nude depictions of late Classical artists like Praxiteles. But the way the cloth is rendered is characteristic of the Hellenistic period in its dramatic folds and in the way it seems to almost be slipping off her body.

The Gauls, or Celts, were a tribe of people who originally settled in the central regions of Europe. And it wasn't until they were constantly pushed further and further out of Europe that they settled into the regions we associate with them today, such as Great Britain and Ireland. Now they, like all non-Greeks were considered barbarians.

But what's interesting about this image is not just in its naturalistic depiction of the dying man but in the dignified manner of the depiction of his death. It seems to suggest a level of respect on the part of the artist for his bravery, even in defeat. This is a Roman copy of an original bronze.

The idea of a noble death is also seen in this sculpture of the Gallic chieftain killing himself and his wife. Now, an image like this, in its time, would be looked upon with a certain degree of nobility in how the chieftain would rather see his wife dead than sold into slavery. And he would rather take his own life than surrender. An image like this seems to imply a level of admiration for these barbarians, as the Greeks would call them. But also, it extols the ability of the Greeks in their conquest of these noble warriors.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's see how we did. Now that we've seen the lesson, are we able to identify and define today's key terms? Can we describe the political context that coincided with the late Classical and Hellenistic periods? Can we describe some important stylistic characteristics of the late Classical and Hellenistic artwork? And the big idea for today is that the art of the late Classical and Hellenistic periods saw changes in the artistic style from idealized and composed to more dramatic and sensual.

And that's it. I appreciate you joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods"

Key Terms

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Image of Aphrodite of Knidos, Public Domain, Image of Aphrodite of Milos, Photo by Shawn Lipowski, Creative Commons, Image of Nike of Samothrace, Public Domain, Image of Hermes and Infant Dionysus, Creative Commons,,_at_Olimpia,_front.jpg Image of Dying Gaul, Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist, Creative Commons, Image of Gallic Chieftain Killing HImself and His Wife, Public Domain,; Image of Spartan Creative Commons