The most famous works of Greek sculpture focus on the human body. The Greeks were obsessed with the human body, which is why the vast majority of ancient Greek art depicts idealized, nude human figures. The best of Greek sculpture not only shows perfect human forms but exemplifies the era in which it was made.
The Archaic Period
The earliest freestanding sculptures are called kouroi -- life-size or larger figures made of terra cotta, wood or white marble. The kouros in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the definitive example of the male type of these statues: completely nude, with a highly stylized body and the so-called archaic smile, striding forward.
The Early- and Mid-Classical Period
The "Kritios Boy" is a famous example of the development toward greater realism in Greek art. The figure has the stylized expression of a kouros, but with a naturalistic stance -- called contrapposto -- and less stylized muscles. The Riace Bronzes, from around 450 B.C., are famous because most bronze sculptures were melted down by conquering armies. A celebrated sculptor named Myron is famous for the "Discus Thrower," which is an excellent example of how Greek sculptors depicted movement and athleticism.
The Late Classical Period
The Late Classical Period in sculpture is dominated by Praxiteles, who was arguably the most famous Greek sculptor of all time. His most influential sculpture is "Aphrodite of Knidos," from around 350 B.C., the earliest known monumental female nude in Greek art. In "Hermes and the Infant Dionysus," Praxiteles created a sense of emotional intimacy between two figures, something not previously seen. The trend of combining emotion and movement with idealized human form continued and can be seen in the Elgin Marbles, whose scenes once graced the Pantheon.
A defining example of Hellenistic sculpture, and the expansion of the Greek empire, is the "Dying Gaul." With his twisting body and pain-filled expression, the subject of this sculpture was meant to inspire pity for a noble foe. "Laocoon and His Sons" is another perfect example of the drama and movement found in Hellenistic art -- everything on the statue is twisting, including Laocoon's hair. Finally, the Venus de Milo may be the most famous Greek sculpture of all time. An evolution of Praxiteles' Aphrodite, the Venus de Milo blends classical tradition with a Hellenistic spiraling movement in the torso. Her lost arms give her an air of mystery.
- Art History; Marilyn Stokstad
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Statue of a Kouros
- Perseus Digital Library: Kritios Boy
- Smarthistory: Sculpture from the Parthenon's East Pediment
- University of Chicago: Aphrodite of Cnidus
- University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology: Hermes and the Infant Dionysos
- Khan Academy: Hellenistic Dying Gaul
- Vatican Museums: Laocoön
- Musee du Louvre: Aphrodite, Known as the "Venus de Milo"
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