Ancient Greek Art:
A Three-Minute Course

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These are not just little tips and techniques, but a full course of learning how to see, think, and draw like an artist.

Ancient Greek Art, from Praxiteles to Polykleitos, has marked the history of Western art, which swings between taking it for its ideal or rejecting it altogether - but it still remains the reference.

But what does the term mean?

In reality, there were several periods to the history of early Greek art, extending from about 2500 BC to the third to first century BC - a veeeeeery long stretch of time.

Polykleitos' "Doryphorus", a demonstration of ideal proportions that marked art history

There are very broadly three big periods of early Greek art, if we don't bother going back as far as the Greek Bronze Age and if we don't get too fussy about details.

We've got:

1. Archaic (very very old);

2. Classical (very old);

3. Hellenistic (old).

The Archaic Period
(800-480 BC)

An Archaic Greek kouros

This period of Ancient Greek art immediately follows the Greek Bronze Age. The principal representative of Archaic statuary would be the kouros, a free-standing life-size marble figure of a youth. They may represent Apollo or be commemorative statues.

The Classical Period
(510-323 BC)

The Classical period consists of about two centuries in which there was such a flowering of Greek literature, science, philosophy, politics and art that it had a profound impact not only on the Romans; it also laid the very foundations of Western civilization.

This is when Polykleitos established his canon of ideal proportions, and when Praxiteles created delicate statues depicting frozen moments of movement.

" Aphrodite of Cnidus", a Roman copy of Praxiteles' statue

The Hellenistic Period
(323-32 BC)

The "Winged Victory of Samothrace" (photo: Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Most of the great pieces of Greek statuary we think of actually date from the Hellenistic period: Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, the Laocoön.

This is when statues were created to be viewed "in the round", with much work put into supply drapery, seemingly transparent folds of thin fabric, set off by real movement to the pose.

Try Your Hand...

Below are several PDF images of Ancient Greek art for your to download and practice copying from.  The copy of early Greek statuary has been an essential part of classical art education for centuries - most of the eminent master artists we admire today have done exactly this, so you will be in good company!

You can begin by printing out the piece you like.  Set your piece of drawing paper over it and hold it flat against a window to trace the statue's outline.

Now let's get to work.  As you look at the image, squint, which will flatten out the many different tones and make it easier for you to just see where the lights and darks are.  Holding your pencil almost horizontal to the paper, making light sweeping little strokes, gradually shade in where you see darks and leave the paper bare where you see lights.  Add more shading to darken.  Use a kneaded eraser to lift off the graphite or charcoal if you go too far.

Want to take a quick look at how to use kneaded erasers this way?  Take a look at the Drawing Supplies and Equipment page.

1. The Laocoön Group (around 25. BC) is attributed to three different sculptors from the island of Rhodes. Depicting the strangling by a giant snake of the Trojan priest Loacoön and his two sons, this statue is considered to be one of the most representative of the beauty of Hellenistic art.

2. Winged Victory of Samothrace (200-190 BC) is considered one of the great masterpieces of Ancient Greek art, due to the fine detail of the drapery. It depicts Nike, goddess of victory, at the precise moment where she is alighting at the bow of the ship to lead the soldiers onward.

3. This bust of Alexander the Great (around 200-100 BC, © photo British Museum) is a fine marble depiction of the Macedonian leader. Although the place of conception of this piece of art is unknown, it is usually believed to come from the city of Alexandria, in Egypt.

4. The Discus Thrower (460-450 BC), is attributed to the Athenien sculptor Myron; indeed, the original remains unfound and what we have today is based on Roman copies of the Greek original. This statue is most representative of Classical sculpture, as it depicts magnificently the moment where the athlete is about to throw the disc, his muscles rippling.

5. The Doryphorus (around 440 BC, photo Naples national Archaeological museum) was created by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos, and has been famous since Antiquity as the artist's demonstration of his "canon" of perfect human proportions. The Doryphoros has served as an example of ideal beauty for centuries.

6. The Venus de Milo (around 130-110 BC), is a Greek statue of the late Hellenistic period and one of the iconic pieces of Ancient Greek Art. Famous for its missing arms, it was wrongly attributed to Praxiteles before finally being attributed to the sculptor Alexandros of Antioch.

7. The Artemision bronze (around 470-440 BC, © photo Ricardo André Frantz) is a Greek statue that still raises debate: does it represent Zeus, god of thunder as he is about to strike with a thunderbolt, or Poseidon, sea god, as this statue was found in the region of the Mediterranean?

8. The Barberini Faun (around 300-200 BC, Glyptothek Munich, detail) represents the sleep of a semi-human creature (this is attested by the tail that is coming out of his back). The artist is unknown, although some believe it to have been made by sculptors from the Pergamene school.

9. The Wounded Galatian Soldier (around 100 BC, © photo National Archaeological Museum, Athens), is a late Hellenistic artwork of the Pergamenian school, depicting a fighting Gallatian warrior, although his kneeling posture seems to show he is already badly wounded. This statue follows the victory of Attalus I of Pergamon over the Celtic Galatians in 237 BC.

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Ancient Greek art...

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