Classical Greek sculpture – ancient Greece

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

Classical Greek 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.

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

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

The sculptor Phidias

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.

Phidias' wine cup, with his name carved on the bottom

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

Doryphoros; Vatican museum, Rome

Parthenon sculpture

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.

Demeter, on the pediment of the Parthenon

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
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By |2018-04-22T11:35:38+00:00July 5th, 2017|Art, Greeks|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Classical Greek sculpture – ancient Greece. Study Guides, July 5, 2017. Web. December 14, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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