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AP Art History: Ancient Greece: Part 3


Welcome back to the Accessible Art History blog! This week’s post is another addition to our AP Art History series. We are finally wrapping up the images from Ancient Greece with four, magnificent sculptures. I can’t wait to share them with you, so to learn more, keep on reading!

#36 - Grave Stele of Hegeso

The first image of this post is the Grave Stele of Hegeso. Dating from ca. 410 – ca. 400 BCE, it is considered one of the finest Attic grave stelae (marker or monument) from this period of Ancient Greece. The main feature of this piece is a relief sculpture of two figures. One of them, the deceased woman Hegeso, is seated. In her left hand, she holds an open pyxis. This style of container was commonly used by women of Ancient Greece to hold cosmetics. Her left hand once held jewelry, but it was painted on the marble and has since been lost to history. We can tell that she was a wealthy woman, both from her fancy dress and her elaborate hairstyle. Standing in contrast to Hegeso is the other figure. She is an unnamed maidservant presenting her mistress with the pyxis.

One of the main features of this piece is how we start to see a shift from the highly idealized work of the classical period, for example the Parthenon friezes, to a more naturalistic or emotional work. Although they are not overtly shown, there are hints. Firstly, is the elaborate draping of Hegeso’s robes. The folds are neatly and drape elegantly around her body. Secondly, there is just the barest hint of emotion. Hegeso’s head tilts down, sad at her own demise. But, her back is straight and she remains calm.

Finally, this stele represents the increasing role of women in Ancient Greek society. Due to her wealth and the size/complexity of the stele, we can assume that she was of higher class and power.

#37 - Winged Nike of Samothrace

The next image on this list is not only one of my personal favorites, but one of the most famous statues from Ancient Greece! This is the Winged Nike of Samothrace. She gets her name from the island of Samothrace, where she was discovered in 1863. Uncovered by amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau, he took her back to his home country of France. The Winged Nike has been on display at the Louvre since 1866.

Although she is missing her head, there is no doubt about Nike’s pride as she strides forward. Her dress is damp, indicating that she was meant to celebrate a naval victory. It clings to her body and is almost invisible as we can see the outlines of her breasts and belly button! The bottom of her dress whips back, the viewer imagining that she can move forward in a fierce wind!

As I just mentioned, the Winged Nike was made to commemorate a Naval victory. This is further reinforced by the second part of this statue. It is a large, marble, ship’s bow (or front of the ship). This combination allows us to imagine the winged goddess leading the soldiers to victory.

The Winged Nike is a prime example of Hellenistic style art. Dating from around 190 B.C.E., this sculpture oozes emotion and drama. Her confidence and beauty is captivating and that keeps the viewer engaged. This is what the Hellenistic style is known for!

#38 - Great Altar of Zeus and Athena at Pergamon

The Pergamon Altar is a monumental altar built by King Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BCE. It is most famous for its stunning relief sculptures showing the war between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy and the life of Telephus, legendary founder of the city of Pergamon and son of the hero Heracles.

This altar is another prime example of Hellenistic art! The drama, heightened emotion, and exaggerated movements pull the viewer in, making them want to know the rest of the story. The most famous panels feature two famous gods, Athena and Zeus. They lead the charge against the giants. As this is an altar to them, they are clearly winning against the giants. The gods are shown as powerful, strong fighters. The giants are large, but clearly being dominated by the gods.

Fascinatingly, this myth of the Gigantomachy is used to allude to the Pergomian victory of neighboring Macedonia. The armor of the giants bear a striking resemblance to Macedonian armor. So, visitors to the altar, coming to worship and present offerings, would have seen their gods beating their enemies. This would have been incredibly powerful!

The Pergamon Altar was discovered by Carl Humann in the 19th century. Like the Elgin marbles we discussed in the last video, the Pergamon Altar was taken to a different country due to instability in the Greek government. He shipped the altar piece by piece back to Germany and reassembled it. Today, there is an entire museum called the Pergamon Museum that was built to house it. Once again, this ignites the discussion of repatriating antiquities to their original home countries.

#41 - Seated Boxer

The Seated Boxer, also known as the Boxer at Rest, is a rare surviving example of a Greek Bronze. As the name suggests, it shows a sitting nude boxer at rest, still wearing his himantes or leather hand wraps. Many dates have been suggested for this piece, from 330 BCE - 50 BCE. However, that does place it squarely in the Hellenistic period.

One of the things that make this work so remarkable is its level of emotional depth. The boxer isn’t involved in a heroic battle. He is weary and battered, having just finished a fight. His face is scarred and bleeding, he has cauliflower ears, and his mouth appears to be slightly swollen as if he has lost a tooth. This level of realism and pain are a far step away from the heroic deeds of other works from Greek art. Instead, they show every man, someone doing something common and how they would appear in everyday life.


Well, that’s a wrap on Ancient Greece! However, we aren’t quite done with Unit 2 yet! Keep an eye out from the final section of this unit when I discuss Ancient Rome!


Gardner’s Art through the Ages by Fred S. Kleiner

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