How did the Greeks learn how to carve statues?
The ancient Greeks learned the art of sculpture from the Egyptians. Initially, they worked in the Egyptian style, creating figures that copied their rigid poses and forward-facing gaze. The distinctive classical Greek aesthetic emerged over centuries and celebrated freedom of movement, idealised proportions and a sense of harmony and balance.
Adonis Says Goodbye to Venus Before the Hunt, Angelo Bertini, after Giovanni Tognolli, after Antonio Canova, 1793 - 1838
What materials did the ancient Greeks use to make statues?
Ancient Greek sculptors worked using limestone, marble, bronze, wood, terracotta and a combination of gold and ivory known as chryselephantine. Most of the statues that survive today are made of marble, but some bronze statues remain, such as Artemision Bronze, on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. This magnificent statue measures over 2 meters tall and is likely of Zeus, or Posideon. It was found in 1926 by fishermen in Euboea, Greece, at the scene of an ancient shipwreck.
The Artemision Bronze (National Archaeological Museum of Athens)
photo by Jebulon
What did statues look like in ancient Greece?
You may think that Greek statues are designed to be unadorned and monochromatic, as we see them presented in museums and galleries today, but this is far from what the ancient Greeks conceptualised. Statues were fully painted and decorated with life-like accessories, such as hair and eyelashes made of a metal such as copper. Looking at an ancient Greek statue today, you may wonder why it doesn't have any carved eye details, but at the time, eyes would be painted or created using ivory and glass stones. Clothing was painted using bright colours and decorated with patterns. Some statues still bear fragments of the ancient pigments, allowing today's audiences to enjoy an authentic reproduction of the original work. Once painted, it was ready to be adorned with relevant accessories, like swords and shields for a soldier's statue or a victor's wreath for an athlete.
Reconstruction of grave statue, photo by Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez.
Further reading: Gods In Colour
Interested in learning more?
This book features an extensive range of etchings and engravings. It depicts statues of prominent subjects including Bacchus, Minerva, Hercules, Venus, Apollo, Medusa, Plato, Julius Caesar, emperors, empresses, gladiators, athletes, heroes, and much more.
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