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The Human Figure in Greek Sculpture

The Human Figure in Greek Sculpture

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will focus on the evolving idealism of the human figure in Greek sculpture.

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Tutorial

Exploring how the human figure is portrayed in Greek sculpture.

Video Transcription

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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 the human figure in Greek sculpture.

As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin. Today's objectives or the things we're going to learn today are listed below. By the end the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, discuss the types of Greek sculptures and the formal similarities to Egyptians sculpture, compare and contrast the differences between male and female sculptures in Greece, and discuss how Greek sculpture evolved from an archaic style to a style that idealized the form of the human body.

Key terms always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Kouros-- an archaic Greek sculptural image of a young athletic man, usually nude, standing with one foot in front of the other. Kore is an archaic Greek sculpture of a young woman wearing loose ropes. Naturalism-- in a work of art, the quality of appearing lifelike and natural. Peplos-- a robe or shawl worn by women in ancient Greece.

Key terms continued. First key term is contrapposto-- a naturalistic pose in which the human figure places most of the weight on one foot, resting the other foot and creating a slight tilt the pelvis. Canon of Polykleitos-- a system of ideal proportions for the human figure seen in the Doryphorus by Polykleitos, in which the size of the head was one eighth of the total height of the figure. And archaic smile-- the stiff unnaturalistic facial expression seen in many archaic Kouros and Kore figures.

Big idea for today is that early Greek sculpture was highly influenced by Egyptian techniques and conventions. Later Greek sculpture reflected an idealization of the human form. And this lesson does have required artwork, which is in purple.

So we'll be looking at sculpture from the Archaic and Classical periods today, in the years covering 600 to 400 BC. The area we'll be referring to is Ancient Greece, with Athens shown here as a reference. Right there.

So our first image is a dedicated statue that was found in a rubbish heap in the Acropolis in Athens, probably placed there when the Persians sacked Athens during the Greco-Persian wars. It's called the Calf Bearer. And it dates from around 570 BC. It's made of marble.

And it's an example of what's referred to as the archaic style. It depicts a man carrying a sacrificial calf. The archaic style borrowed a number of artistic conventions from the Egyptians, in particular the stiff posture and sense of constriction.

Now, notice the unusually erect posture and the way the arms are fused to the body, as opposed to cut away from. It was also highly stylized in the features on the head like the hair, like we see in Egyptian statues, as well as the archaic smile, which is the odd-looking smile that we see on many of these statues.

Now, one of the things as instantly noticeable is that men tend to be nudes and women are clothed. Now the clothing was typically peplos, which is a type of draped gown, or a kiton, which is a tailored or sewn piece of clothing. Now, this particular statue called the Peplos of Kore-- kore means "woman"-- is thought to be representation of the goddess Artemis or Athena and, like the previous statue, it's rather stiff in its appearance, but there are attempts at naturalism, such as the feminine curvature of its physical features. And again the archaic smile.

Now, this is a life-sized statue-- it's about 5 feet 4 inches tall-- called the Kore from the Acropolis, which was found like the Calf Bearer in a state of disrepair at the Acropolis in Athens. Still considered archaic, but it's much more realistic in natural depiction, compared to the Peplos Kore. Now, of particular interest is the attention to detail in how the clothing is rendered. The natural depiction in the draping of cloth is evident, but it's less refined in the realism of the wet drapery technique used by the artist Thaddeus many years later.

Now the Krition Boy is attributed to the artist Kritios. And it's an example of transition from the archaic style to the classical style of Greek art. The change in style seems to have coincided with the end of the Greco-Persian wars. And notice that the smile has disappeared, and it's become a more generic-looking face. Now, the body is remarkably more realistic in its depiction and it's modeled in what's called a contrapposto stance, where the body weight appears to shift to one side of the body.

Now, speaking of shift, the shift to more idealized representation of the human form correlates with the Grecian notion of the perfection of the human form, particularly in regards to the warriors, heroes, and athlete of that time. Now this sculpture of the Riace Warrior is also made of cast bronze. Bronze casting techniques were very refined by this point in time. And they allowed artists a greater degree of freedom in the way they could pose their models because of the inherent strength of bronze. Now, again, we still see this stylized hair, like we saw before, the idealized body, and that contrapposto stance.

Now, I would argue that the Doryphoros sculpture by the artist Polykleitos is the consummate depiction of the classical Greek human ideal. It was made in 440 BC. It's marble. Now, the original was not marble. The original was bronze. And this is a marble copy, Roman copy.

One of the ways that you can tell, one of the things that stands out is notice the additional support-- the tree trunk in the lower left-hand corner and the little piece that connects the arm to the leg. These were support pieces that were not uncommon in Roman art.

Now, like I said, I feel it's a consummate depiction of a classical Greece human ideal. And it's a sculpture that really didn't see its match in my opinion until the Renaissance sculpture of David by Michelangelo. But again, that's just my personal opinion. But it's a really perfectly rendered depiction of weight distribution and a classical example of contrapposto.

Now, the musculature, while it's idealized, it's really striking ion how organic it appears. The statue was the masterpiece of the artist Polykleitos and an example used by Polykleitos to illustrate his canon, which was essentially the quantification of beauty into a set of measurable and applicable laws. And I'll show you an example of part of this canon in just a moment.

But before I do, let me take a moment to really break down the application of contrapposto. And I've superimposed an armature in both of these sculptures the Spear-Bearer or Doryphorus on the left and Michelangelo's David on the right, which is about 2000 years older, by the way. A contrapposto is a way of modeling a figure in order to give it a sense of natural posture, as well as a sense of movement. It's almost as if the sculpture has captured the model in transition, kind of froze it in time.

Now, returning to the topic of the canon of Polykleitos, classical Greek art and architecture used the human body as a model, in that the whole is a harmonious collection of parts that are proportional to each other. Now, for example, Polykleitos used a rule of heads, as opposed to the Egyptian rule of fists in determining the height of his figures. He felt that the ideal proportion for the height to head ratio was 8 to 1, or that the figure was eight heads tall. Head in his view was probably more like the face from the hairline to the jaw.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's see how we did. We met our objectives. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms?

Are you able to discuss the types of Greek sculptures and the formal similarities to Egyptian sculpture? Can you compare and contrast the differences between male and female sculptures in Greece? And can you discuss how Greek sculpture evolved from an archaic style to style that idealized the form of the human body? Big idea for today is that early Greek sculpture was highly influenced by Egyptian techniques and conventions. Later Greek sculpture reflected an idealization of the human form.

And there you go. Thank you for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Citations

Image of Calf-Bearer (Moschophoros), Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ACMA_Moschophoros.jpg Image of Peplos Kore, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ACMA_679_Kore_1.JPG Image of Kore from Acropolis, Creative Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:015MA_Kore.jpg Image of Krition Boy, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:009MA_Kritios.jpg Image of Riace Warriors, Public Domain, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reggio_calabria_museo_nazionale_bronzi_di_riace.jpg Image of Doryphoros, Polykleitos, Creative Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Doryphoros_MAN_Napoli_Inv6011-2.jpg; Image of David Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:David_von_Michelangelo.jpg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Archaic Smile

    The stiff, unnaturalistic facial expression seen in many Archaic Kouros and Kore figures.

  • Canon of Polykleitos

    A system of ideal proportions for the human figure, seen in the Doryphorus by Polykleitos, in which the size of the head was 1/8 of the total height of the figure.

  • Contrapposto

    A naturalistic pose in which the human figure places most of the weight on one foot, resting the other foot and creating a slight tilt in the pelvis.

  • Peplos

    A robe or shawl worn by women in ancient Greece.

  • Naturalism

    In a work of art, the quality of appearing lifelike and natural.

  • Kore

    An archaic Greek sculpture of a young woman wearing loose robes.

  • Kouros

    An archaic Greek sculptural image of a young athletic man, usually nude, standing with one foot in front of the other.