The ancient Greeks and the Romans: art

WARNING: this post is full of ancient dongs, so if you don’t like seeing those, then maybe don’t read it.

Considering I wrote about ancient Egyptian and ancient Greek art, I figured I would write about Greek and Roman art as well.

I can already hear a few people saying “but Rachel, isn’t Greek art the same as Roman art?” IT IS NOT. I REPEAT, IT IS NOT THE SAME.

The Romans were HUGE copycats, yes, but they did more than just copy Greek bronze statues in marble. Those old wrinkled senator busts didn’t make themselves, after all.

Anyway, if you’ve read my post in which I compare ancient Egyptian and Greek art, then you might remember these guys: kouroi.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor kouroi

Kouros is ancient Greek for ‘young man’ (kouroi is plural). These statues were most likely inspired by Egyptian statues, since they have the same stance etc.

Greeks were very competitive (agon = competition, which is how Classicists refer to it), so they tried to perfect their kouroi:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor kouroi

See how these guys went from creepy, smiling, static youngsters to less-creepy, non-smiling and more realistic-looking youngsters? While the Greeks didn’t have centered politics of any sort (ancient Greece was devided in city states, or poleis), they did come together to ‘celebrate their Greekness’ and to share their ideas, their religion, their culture etc.

The best and most obvious development in ancient Greek statues – in my opinion – is the contraposto:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor kouros vs contrapost

As you can see, the Greeks went from using perfectly symmetrical straight lines to using diagonals and an s to create more movement in their statues.

By the way: most of the statues we have left from ancient Greece are Roman marble copies of Greek bronze statues like these:

Gerelateerde afbeelding

These guys probably held a spear before, but lost it somewhere in antiquity.

Something you might have noticed about Greek statues is how they all seem to have the same ideal bodies and faces. Greeks were all about idealizing, especially when making statues of their deities. Can’t picture Zeus as an old wrinkly man, after all! (Unless you liked being killed by a lightning bolt)

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor greek statue zeus

This guy was either Zeus throwing his lightning bolt or Poseidon throwing his trident. But since he lost his projectile, we’re not entirely sure. (At least he still has his dingdong. Many statues would envy him)

Something else I explained in my previous post is that the Greeks pictured their men with tiny dingdongs because this was seen as chaste, while big erected dongs were seen as humorous. If you want to see humorous erections, then I won’t stop you from googling them.

Classicist and art historians divide ancient art in three categories: archaic (which means ‘old’), classic and hellenistic (hèllas = Greece). The first two were seen in Greek times, the third in Roman times.

Time to show Roman statues, then:

Gerelateerde afbeelding

Oh look, it’s Emperor Augustus! Something I didn’t mention yet is that statues used to be painted in lively colors (same goes for temples. I feel sorry for the people who thought they were always white…)

Let’s zoom in on Augustus’ face, shall we?

Gerelateerde afbeelding


Kidding. See how his face is less idealised and more realistic than those of Greek statues? That’s because of Etruscan influences. Take a look at these Etruscan Sarcophagi:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor etruscan sarcophagiAfbeeldingsresultaat voor etruscan sarcophagi

Their faces are very realistic. And when the Romans saw this they were like ‘hey, we can do this too!’

And so, they did:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor roman bustesGerelateerde afbeeldingAfbeeldingsresultaat voor roman bustes

Nero (last picture) is looking hella fine with his beard and double chin as always!

Anyway, the Romans weren’t big fans of the Greeks at first. They were a chaotic bunch and at the time of the Romans, they were constantly fighting for power. Guess that happens when your politics aren’t centralized.

Eventually, the Romans saw what the Greeks created and thought that it looked kind of cool and they wanted to try it as well. I’m glad they did this, because that’s why we have so many marble copies of Greek statues today.

Gerelateerde afbeeldingAfbeeldingsresultaat voor roman copiesAfbeeldingsresultaat voor roman copies

You might be wondering: but how can you tell these are copies and not originals? Well, besides dear old google telling me, you can see in the last picture that the guy’s hand is connected to his thigh, and his foot is connected to the ground with an extra piece of marble. This is so it wouldn’t fall off and it kept standing.

Bronze statues didn’t need these connections: they stood on their own.

Romans were a great fan of the contraposto (can’t blame them), but eventually, they wanted more. That’s how hellenistic art came into being: the Romans started experimenting and created statues so realistic you felt like they would jump to life… along with statues which were so elaborate you didn’t know where to look:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor hellenistic statuesAfbeeldingsresultaat voor hellenistic statuesAfbeeldingsresultaat voor hellenistic statuesAfbeeldingsresultaat voor hellenistic statue venus

From left to right and top to bottom: Laocoon and his sons being killed by a sea serpent (for some reason the boys look like miniature men), the dying Gaul (poor guy), Apollo being smug and Venus telling the god Pan to keep his hands off her (look at the slipper, haha)

Some of these statues look very real, others (Laocoon) are quite chaotic. But that’s hellenistic times for you! It’s the time of Alexander the Great, who conquered most ancient Mediterranean world and made the the Greco-Roman culture spread like wildfire:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor hermanubis

I’ve showed Hermanubis (Hermes and Anubis) in my other post, but he’s a great example of Egyptian and Greco-Roman art mixing together.

It wasn’t just art, though. The Isis cult spread very far, from Egypt to Macedonia to Rome to even Gaul (I wrote an essay with a friend about Isis and Holy Mary once):

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor greek isisGerelateerde afbeelding

That’s it for statues. Onto paintings!

As stated in my previous post, the Greeks didn’t really paint their walls, unless you count the Minoans and the Myceneans, although we usually don’t call these people Greeks. But let’s share their artwork anyway:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor greek wall paintings

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor greek wall paintings

Women were depicted with white skin from not seeing much of the sun due to staying inside most of the time, men had redish/tanned skin from working outside on the fields and such.

As for Romans, their paintings were most likely inspired by Etruscan murals. (The Etruscans lived in what we now know as Tuscany; hence the name)

Roman murals:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor roman murals

Etruscan mural:

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor etruscan mural

As you can see, the Romans didn’t do the whole white-face tanned-face thing:

Gerelateerde afbeelding

Something VERY Greek is ceramics, painting on vases:

Gerelateerde afbeeldingAfbeeldingsresultaat voor greek vasesAfbeeldingsresultaat voor greek vases

Other ancient civilizations LOVED these vases and bought the heck out of them (and tried to copy them). As you can see above, these paintings evolved from flat and unmoving to less flat and with more movement.

And that’s it for Greek and Roman art! Perhaps next time I’ll talk about architecture 🙂






One comment

  1. Not gonna lie, you had me at ancient Greeks and Romans, double had me at art, but there was no way I wasn’t going to click after reading “ancient dongs”. A+ post. But seriously, A+ post. This is fascinating!

    Not the dongs, the art.

    But also the dongs.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s