A Comparison of Classical and Hellenistic Age Sculptures

 The Hellenic Age is still remembered as an important epoch in the history of Europe and Western Asia. It began in 323 BC after Alexander the Great’s sudden death and came to an end in 31 BC with the emergence of the mighty Roman Empire. Markedly, this period saw the spread of Greco-Hellenic culture in areas that had been conquered by Alexander the Great during his relentless campaign of territorial expansion. He viewed the spread of Hellenic culture as an essential part of this agenda for it was through such influence that he would manage to hold together these loose confederations.

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After Alexander the Great’s incursion into the Achaemenid Empire, an opportunity emerged for the spread of Hellenic culture and art in the new kingdoms that were established (Evans 67). Widespread liberation for the parameters that could be used by Greek sculptors now became a reality. A comparison of the similarities and differences in sculpting witnessed during this period is therefore necessary to fully appreciate the true nature of art during this period.  The Porch of Maidens from the classical period and the Nike of Samothrace from the Hellenic Age will also be explored as part of this analytical endeavor.

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            A remarkable similarity between the classical sculptures and those crafted in the Hellenic Age was the use of medium-polished white marble. Sculptors from both periods in history made sure that had to access to the best sites producing this metaphoric rock due to its fundamental nature in the creation process. While relatively soft, marble is natural to work with and can be crafted in numerous styles. Relative isotropy also contributes to sculptures shelf life since the material used is durable and resistant to any form of shattering. In addition to this, artists choose this particular rock due to its calcite deposits that displayed a low refractory index (Evans).  Marble sculptures permitted a certain level of light to pass through it, resulting in a waxy appearance. Human sculptures, therefore, developed a realistic look that was highly appreciated during this period. In addition to this, marble was commonly used since it was ideal for decorative works. Finer grains made it possible to craft minute details that ultimately displayed the skill and expertise of a practitioner. Though rare, heavy and expensive, sculptors from the Classical and Hellenic Age still went out of their way to source since they were aware of its durability and resistance to the elements, for posterity.

            The Hellenistic Age was characterized by an overall shifty from Classical standards of fastidiousness and worship of gods to a focus on the imperfections that were inherent in every human being. Classical ideals were constructed on perfectionism that was adored by political elites who were fixated on a warped idea of reality. Sculptors in Hellenistic society were aware of this anomaly and sought to change the narrative profoundly. Their illustrations now featured the authenticity of life in its purest form and the emotional struggles that subjects had to contend with (Stewart). Classical sculptors were known to dedicate a great deal of time in creating massive structures that were commonly assigned to the gods. Their primary aim was to emphasize divinity and the ephemeral as evident in The Porch of Maidens. Hellenistic sculptures such as the Nike of Samothrace express a general avoidance of the divine and opt to focus on human qualities. Although both displayed human anatomy, Hellenistic art was more detailed and even resulted in sculptures that depicted individuals in motion. Emotions could, thus, be easily presented as opposed to mechanical representations.

            The death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C was a major political event that also affected sculptors and their work. Alexander’s ambitions for territorial expansion had seen him conquer much of the known world which was now placed under Macedonian rule. Greek culture and art were disseminated to subjugated peoples in an attempt to foster unity in diversity. However, Alexander’s sudden death soon revealed significant problems that the empire had to grapple with, chief among them being the sheer size of the territory.  Diadochoi, Alexander’s skilled general and successor, soon divided these lands into individual realms headed by local rulers (Thonemann 54). Hellenic kingship soon followed with royal families actively supporting sculptors and their works. Banquet halls became typical with many of the elites choosing to throw lavish parties and commissioning various sculptures. Moreover, the territorial expansion made it possible for sculptors to interact with individuals from different cultures and enrich their knowledge of the world. These improvements were evident in their sculptures that now incorporated an assortment of subject matters to express a particular idea. Unorthodox representations featuring children and the elderly now became all too common that also depicted the diversity present in the Hellenistic people. These traditions were slowly accepted into the mainstream and soon became a hallmark of Hellenistic sculpting.  

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In conclusion, the Hellenic Age was an era of numerous changes that now included an evolution on of sculpting practices. Classical art forms had applied a superficial approach while Hellenic sculptors focused on expressing human emotions through art. These changes are still present in contemporary art forms that seek to ape depictions from the past.

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