Classical Sculpture - Ancient Greece answers questions

Classical Sculpture

Discobolos (the Discus Thrower)
(This is a Roman copy; the Greek one didn't last)

The Severe style didn't last very long, and by about 460 BC Greek sculptors moved on to the Classical style. Greek sculptors began to experiment with honoring the gods by showing the beauty and grace of the human body, especially the bodies of young, athletic men (They still didn't carve women's bodies without their clothes).

The sculptors also became more interested in the three-dimensionality of sculpture: people being able to see a piece from all different sides, and not just from the front.

a woman folding a cloth with a girl
The center of the Parthenon frieze:
a woman and a girl fold a cloth

One of the most famous sculptors of the Classical period was Phidias (FI-dee-ass). His most famous work does not survive: it was a great gold and ivory (chryselephantine) statue of Zeus for the temple of Zeus at Olympia, made about 440 BC.

bottom of cup inscribed phidias mi in greek
Phidias' wine cup, with
his name carved on the bottom

(But archaeologists did find Phidias' own wine-cup, in his workshop at Olympia!) Phidias also was responsible for the sculptures on the Parthenon, though he could not have carved all of them himself because there are too many.

Doryphoros; Vatican museum, Rome

The figures on the Parthenon represent human perfection. The people (and the gods) are shown serene, calm, peaceful, in control of their emotions and their bodies, like dancers or as in Tai-Chi. People, to Phidias, and to other Greeks of this time, are wonderful creations of the gods, beautiful, strong, intelligent, and rational. Phidias is still carving women with their clothes on, but the clothes are practically transparent, and Greek sculptors were plainly beginning to think about taking them off.

clothed woman without a head
Demeter, on the pediment of the Parthenon

Another Greek sculptor of the classical period was Polycleitos (polly-KLY-tos), who carved the famous Doryphoros, meaning spear-carrier. As with most Greek statues, this statue is lost, and only a later Roman version of it survives. By about 340 BC, sculptors were moving into a new style of art we call the Hellenistic.

Learn by doing: making a Greek discus
More about Hellenistic sculpture

Bibliography and further reading about Classical Greek sculpture:

Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period, a Handbook, by John Boardman (1985). The standard text for introductory college classes.

The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction, by William R. Biers (1996). Biers writes very clearly and has a lot of good pictures.

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002) This has a lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

More about Hellenistic sculpture
Ancient Greece home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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