Guide: Greek Statues

July 6th 2023 in Explore
Guide: Greek Statues

Greek Statues

The tradition of Ancient Greek sculptors lives on today. Visitors from all over the world come to pay respect to the precise forms and mastery of the materials used by the original sculptors - often seemingly immovable hunks of marble and metal. Here are some of the most well-known works by notable Ancient Greek sculptors that you should be familiar with.

The Peplos Kore

‘The Peplos Kore,’ c. 530 BC. These classic forms are widespread in Greek history and remain essential to understanding Greek sculpture. Kore and Kourai were modest, human-like figures that wore tranquil, transcendent smiles and carried hats or vases.

During burial rites, the statues were put over tombstones and offered as sacrifices during religious rituals. The ornateness and decorativeness of a statue represented the social standing of the person who offered it.

Visiting the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens helps to understand the rich diversity of the statues. The Peplos Kore, a lady who stands out for the precision and realism of the sculpture, is a striking feature among many. She was initially known as ‘Peplos Kore’ because archaeologists thought she was wearing a minimalist peplos garment. However, subsequent investigation has revealed that she is the only one dressed in this manner, implying that the figure is a goddess.

Discus Thrower

Discus Thrower by Myron is an amazing classical-era statue depicting a man throwing a discus. The original bronze statue was lost, but reproductions of the sculpture still exist, most notably in the National Roman Museum in Rome.

Myron portrayed the athlete in action, his body contorted, and muscles stretched to their utmost. The Athenian sculptor represented the transience and mastery of sports, depicting how a true athlete can perfect his art and do the impossible in a fraction of a second. The entire sculpture depicts a moment of tension, the anticipation before the discus is released. Myron was regarded as one of the earliest sculptors working at the time to create such lifelike renderings in bronze and marble; this piece demonstrates his exceptional talent.

The Parthenon Frieze

‘The Parthenon Frieze,’ Phidias, c. 443-437 BC The Acropolis is home to many of the most impressive and prominent Ancient Greek sculptures, and visitors will discover that many of these designs are credited to the Ancient Greek sculptor Phidias. During Pericles’ rule (495-429 BC), Athens had years of artistic creativity, and the city’s cultural scene prospered. Pericles loved Phidias as a sculptor, and he was commissioned to build the Parthenon on the Acropolis and countless other works across the city.

Among his many outstanding works is the Parthenon Frieze, an intricate portrayal of the Great Panathenaia - a great festival honouring the goddess Athena. The Frieze comprises 115 blocks, each telling a different story from the festival, making it a true narrative masterpiece carved into marble.

Varvakeion Athena

Phidias’ ‘Varvakeion Athena,’ 438 BC (reproduction AD 200-250) - The monumental statue of Athena in the National Archaeological Museum is awe-inspiring. This rendition, regarded as the most faithful reproduction of Phidias’ original sculpture, produced in 438 BC, was created between AD 200 and 250 and is thought to be around 12 times smaller than the original.

In the piece, Athena is clad in typical Attica Peplos attire and wears a crown ornamented with three crests. She holds Nike, the goddess of speed and power, in her palm, while her shield depicts King Erichthonius, who, according to Greek mythology, was born from the soil and ruled by Athena. This towering sculpture is nearly unsurpassed as a monument to Athena’s might. One can only imagine the awe and adoration that the much larger original would have elicited.

Spear Bearer

‘Doryphoros (Spear Bearer)’, Polykleitos, c. 450-440 BC, is another masterpiece of classical Greek design. The Ancient Greeks sought the idea of perfection in the human body through mathematically precise proportions. The renowned sculptor set out to study the concept of perfection by creating the most accurate representation of the human body, with each part perfectly proportioned to the others. The end product is a mesmerisingly realistic representation of the male body that paved the way for subsequent Ancient Greek sculptors to follow.

Indeed, Polykleitos is said to have referred to the sculpture as The Canon, an appeal for the work to serve as a pattern against which others may compare their proportions and precision of approach. Although the original brass version was destroyed, a marble copy made by the Romans and discovered in Pompeii in good condition still survives today.

The Diadoumenos

Polykleitos’ ‘The Diadoumenos,’ 430 BC, another well-known Polykleitos sculpture, sees the sculptor pay homage to mathematical precision in creating genuine human figures. The original sculpture depicts an athlete with a ribbon in his hair, implying success and honouring the male form’s ability. The magnificence of this masterpiece captivated the Romans, who reputedly had the original sculpture replicated in marble 25 times.

Pythokritos, c. 220-185 BC, ‘Winged Victory of Samothrace’, is an example of Hellenistic design and continues to elicit intense emotions from visitors to the Louvre.

The figure is made of Paros marble, and the platform she stands on is Rhodes marble. The Winged Victory of Samothrace fizzes with energy as her clothes pull and fold about the body as if she were at the helm of a ship or in mid-flight. The clothing’ powerful drape suggests they are reacting to an external force, such as wind, symbolising energy and a sense of triumph. Pythokritos’ work has also been acknowledged as an early example of a sculpture utilised to express greater concepts of justice, retribution, and peace.