An illustrated survey of the history of Western art examines the societies, values, and ideals that shaped the development of painting, sculpture, and architecture, from ancient Greece to the present
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Bruce Cole is Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at Indiana University. A former Fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, he is the author of many highly acclaimed books on art history, among them Italian Art 1250-1550: The Relation of Renaissance Art to Life and Society, and Masaccio and the Art of Early Renaissance Florence.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE ART OF GREECE
In 1972 two great bronze warriors [pp. 4-5] were pulled from the sea off the Italian town of Riace. When they were first displayed in Florence, the large crowds who came to see them were filled with wonder and admiration. Although the life-size figures were created over two and a half millennia ago, these unexpected gifts from the ancient past spoke in a language still understood: the warriors possessed a godlike strength, yet they were also human. They come from the very dawn of the history of Western art. They are Greeks fashioned by Greeks, paradigms of the civilization that produced them.
The civilization of the ancient Greeks, whose city-states dominated the islands and coast of the Aegean Sea, is the fountainhead of Western culture. Before the Romans annexed Greece and sacked Athens in 86 B.C., the Greeks had established the disciplines of history, philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, poetry, drama, music, and aesthetics. The images of human perfection the Greeks left behind in clay, metal, stone, and paint have remained touchstones for all subsequent Western art.
The ancestors of the Greeks lived in the valleys of a limestone mountain range rising from the Aegean Sea. In addition to farming and hunting, they fished, sailed, and explored; and, inevitably, they warred. Cultures rose and fell in relatively rapid succession (in contrast to the stable empire existing in Egypt), until the people now described as the ancient Greeks emerged about 1000 B.C. These were a people who blended history and myth, who delighted in the discovery of scientific principles but who rejected dogma. Discourse, study, investigation, cogitation, and debate were important in their lives, as were wars, athletics, games, and contests. They were trained to use both their bodies and their minds. Winners of their athletic competitions were commemorated not only in sculptures like the Riace warriors, but in poetry as well. Indeed, great Greek poets like Pindar are now known largely through their odes to victorious competitors in the Olympic games. Pride, courage, strength, resourcefulness, honesty, and virtue made up the Greek ideal of manhood and were given expression in Greek art and philosophy.
During the five centuries before the Riace warriors were created, Greece had developed a seminal civilization. By 776 B.C. the Greeks had founded the Olympic games, which, revived in the nineteenth century, continue today as the world's most celebrated athletic competition. By the middle of the eighth century, they had set down in writing the Iliad and the Odyssey, the repositories of their myths and their history. Homer's epic poems were a fundamental inspiration for Greek art. During the eighth century Greek city-states (poleis) gained sufficient wealth to support thriving pottery industries. Athens manufactured huge funerary vases with stylized geometric decoration; other city-states, such as Corinth, produced their own indigenous styles, and the foundations were laid that transformed pottery making into a fine art. In this period the Greeks also began to experiment with monumental sculpture. The rigid, static kouroi (figures of nude young males) that marked graves or stood near temples were early experiments with the human figure during the course of Greek civilization.
Aristocratic patrons supported this early phase of Greek art. But by the end of the sixth century Athens had introduced democracy, spawning a dynamic balance of power among individual citizens. That democratic spirit and a temporary cessation of rivalry among the Greek city-states saved Greece from the Persian invasions of 490 B.C. and again in 479 B.C. Led by Pericles (C. 495-429 B.C.), Athens emerged as the dominant power among the city-states and entered its fabled golden age.
Pericles built Athens into the cultural and intellectual center of Greece. His lifetime inaugurated the classical phase of Greek art, which lasted until the Macedonians became the rulers of Greece about 338 B.C. The classical ideal had both aesthetic and political implications. As democracy balanced the needs of the individual with those of the group, classical art balanced interest in individual, natural, specific features with generalities, ideas, and norms, straining neither in one direction nor the other.
From 480 to 323 B.C., Greece achieved a high point of civilization. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle laid the cornerstones of Western philosophy. Herodotus chronicled the Persian wars and helped establish the discipline of history. Aeschylus and Sophocles refined Greek tragedy. All cultivated an outlook on life that was humanistic, antiauthoritarian, questioning, and undogmatic. They searched for ideals while recognizing human limitations and the importance of the individual.
The warriors from Riace reflect many of the same principles. Produced after roughly five hundred years of experimentation with the human form in Greece, they demonstrate the perfection achieved during the fifth century B.C., when reality and ideality reached a state of equilibrium. Perfectly proportioned according to an aesthetic standard, these warriors exhibit the ideal male body, with each part a measured and harmonious component of the whole, evoking the Greek reliance on measurement in the context of art. As Plato said, "If there are arts, there is a standard of measure, and if there is a standard of measure, there are arts; but if either is wanting, there is neither."
Here, then, is yet another basic aspect of Greek art: the Greeks thought about what they created in aesthetic terms; they had serious debates about what constituted art. Though many earlier civilizations produced objects that are now considered art, most previous cultures had not discussed them aesthetically (or there are no records). Objects were produced to have a specific function. A sculpture might represent a deity, mark a tomb, or serve as a votive offering. Pottery, though it might be embellished, was meant to hold oil or wine.
Undeniably, Greek art had similar functions. In fact, the Riace warriors may have been part of a larger group of figures, commissioned by the Athenians and dedicated to the sanctuary at Delphi to commemorate their victory at Marathon. But such functional roles did not prevent the Athenians from imbuing their creations with aesthetic ideals. Such purely aesthetic notions demonstrate a highly sophisticated culture, a culture that created and collected objects as art and that used art for self-expression and social understanding. Greeks asked themselves fundamental questions about their origins, about their destiny, about morality and government; and they used art in their quest. The search for beauty motivated their creativity, as did the traditional reasons for making art objects. Greek philosophers took notions of beauty just as seriously as other fundamental philosophical issues. Plato's Republic states: "The man who has been properly nurtured in this area will be keenly aware of things which have been neglected, things not beautifully made by art or nature. He will rightly resent them, he will praise beautiful things, rejoice in them, receive them into his soul, be nurtured by them and become both good and beautiful in character."
"Beautifully made by art or nature." This is another key to appreciating the contributions of Greek civilization. Many earlier cultures, the Egyptian in particular, had produced a static art, built on formulas passed down from one generation to another. The early Greeks learned from their Egyptian counterparts, but they also began to incorporate visual and later emotional experience into their art.
With this fundamental innovation -- looking at and refining nature -- the Greeks set into motion a process that would change with each generation and would reflect new interpretations of the world and of humanity. From their art, then, much can be learned of the Greeks' philosophic and aesthetic beliefs. A monument such as the Parthenon [pp. 2-3] is more than a beautiful remnant of a lost past. It is, instead, the physical embodiment of the ideals, hopes, and realities of ancient Greek society, which remain embedded in modern Western civilization.
The Parthenon rises on the Acropolis, the sacred outcropping dominating Athens. An icon in the history of architecture, the Parthenon was built as a temple and dedicated to the virgin goddess Athena Parthenos, daughter of Zeus and the patron and protector of Athens.
Although building the Parthenon took only about fifteen years (447-432 B.C.), an exceptionally short time, it involved hundreds of workmen from all over Greece. One of the most ambitious building projects of the ancient world, the construction of the Parthenon, with its teams of builders and artists' workshops and the huge expenditure in both gold and labor, can be compared to the rising of the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages, built with the tithes and energy of the faithful.
Time and man have treated the Parthenon harshly. This pure white marble structure was transformed into a Christian church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the thirteenth century and then into a Moslem mosque about 1458. Its ultimate degradation occurred in the seventeenth century, when the conquering Turks used it as a powder magazine, subsequently exploded by Venetian artillery. In addition, throughout its history its sculpture has been pillaged.
Although the Parthenon is called a temple, its function was very different from modern sacred architecture. Today's places of worship enclose the faithful and create a holy sanctuary. The Greeks worshiped differently: their altars were in the open air, and their religious rites were performed outside. In the walled rooms behind the row of columns, Greek temples enclosed large cult statues and treasuries in which gifts and offerings to the gods and goddesses were safeguarded.
Consequently, Greek temples are not closed structures but open ones; their space is delineated by a screen of columns articulating their boundaries while exposing, through the spa...
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Book Description Summit Books, 1989. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0671670077
Book Description Summit Books, 1989. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110671670077
Book Description Summit Books, 1989. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0671670077
Book Description Summit Books. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0671670077 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.0250363