The Palace of Knossos, a Minoan mud brick and timber structure on a shallow stone foundation, featuring a central courtyard, was constructed on an acropolis. It was a place for rulers to reside, shrines for religious ceremonies to be worshipped, the industrial production of objects, and administrative duties. Ample hallways, stairways, chambers, and light wells supplemented the ambitiously built structure. There were plenty of columns to mark he four awe inspiring entrance passages.
Four wings, oriented in a north-south direction, surrounded the central courtyard. The east wing featured the residential spaces, a workshop, and a shrine, while the west wing was complete with more shrines, a throne room, storerooms, and a banquet hall. The north wing included a theater area. The south wing featured a separate paved courtyard west of the palace. Inside the Palace of Knossos, plastered walls were painted with color washes. The walls were also decorated with frescos, many of which depicted religious ceremonies.
The Minoans were a people who enjoyed life. Many wine jars were found and it can be noted that women commonly bore their breasts. Long hair and makeup were popular and many festivals and events were held at the 1400 room palace. Nothing was fortified. These people had a love of art, color, and leisure, as depicted in many of the frescos at Knossos.
Minoan art occasionally featured geometric and repetitive forms on walls, floors, and ceilings, but more common were figurative and landscape elements. Often seen were both local and foreign flowers and plants. It is important to mention that no narrative style has been noted and there are no hieroglyphics to decipher the images at Knossos.
An example of a Minoan fresco at Knossos is the Bull Jumping mural, about 24 1.2 in height. One person holds the horns of a bull while another jumps over the animal. This may have been a sporting event, as bulls were an important image, ad may have been sacrificed. Figures in these Minoan works are much more animated than typical Egyptian examples.
A face of a bull with guilded horns, about 12 tall, was found at Knossos. Created from steatite with shell, rock crystal, and red jasper, a white, chalky substance was rubbed into carvings on it to give the illusion of texture and detail. Water or some other liquid could be poured from into the back and out of the bulls mouth.
Unlike the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Citadel of Mycenae was heavily fortified and featured many entrances. Its famous gate, The Lion Gate, is known for its keystone depicting two of the animal. Though the columns appear Minoan in style, this is a Mycenaean innovation featuring the first example of monumental sculpture in Greek art. This post and lintel limestone entrance is over 96 tall.
Also Mycenaean, the Beehive Tomb at the Treasury of Atreus, complete with corbelling, and post and lintel entranceway, and a long walkway. The Treasury of Atreus is a well preserved tholos tomb with a round, corbelled interior roof, cushioned capital columns, and a small chamber. This monument was once highly decorated with paint and sculpture, though this can no longer be seen.
A mask, once thought to depict the face of Agamemnon, though now a disproved theory, was found at the royal tombs of Mycenae. It is the likeness of a man and was used as a burial mask with a less stylized beard and mustache.
Mycenae was full of war and turmoil. A vase, c.1300-100 bc, was dubbed The Warrior Vase for its scene of women bidding farewell to the warrior men. Such a solemn feel seems to typify these times. Other signs of unrest include dagger blades with gold and silver inlay on bronze, representing various animal scenes and people carrying shields, found at Mycenae.
Compared with Mycenae, Knossos appears to be a much more peaceful and artistic society. While both civilizations produced great art, the Knossos versions are more focused on peace and happiness, worship and love, while the examples found at the Citadel of Mycenae are not nearly as pleasant and unassuming.
An example of a Geometric style vase is a terra cotta one from the Dipylon Cemetery, c.750 bc. At 42 5/8 tall, this massive sized vase is meant to hold offerings. As per this period, the vase was used as a grave marker, keeping a detailed record of funerary rituals for an important person. The body of the dead was placed on the side of a high platform at the center of the top register of the vase. Male and female figures stand on each side of the body, gesturing in anguish. Chariots and foot soldiers form a procession. Abstract forms represent the human figures in full frontal or profile views, with no attempt at three dimensional form. The carefully arranged elements induce strong emotions nonetheless. Complex decoration, flat patterns, and outline shapes are typical from this period, as are the triangular torsos, rectangular arms, small waists, and long legs.
Orientalized vases differ from earlier vases in their use of narrative story telling, particularly in mythical themes. A ceramic wide-mouthed pitcher, known as an olpe, from Corinth, c.600 bc, at 11 1/2 tall, is painted in the black figure style of decoration. There are dark shapes on a pale background. The details are incised and the design enhanced with touches of white and red-purple gloss. In this vase, mythical creatures are silhouetted against stylized rosettes. The Orientalized style is generally a much smaller scale than previously seen in geometric pieces. The compositions are more open with larger motifs, many drawn from the Near East, hence the term Orientalized. Both real and imaginary animals were depicted, with a focus on mythical fantasy; very different from the pattern-like style of geometric vase painting.
Rapidly developing arts and trends flourished during the Archaic period. The freestanding sculpture and meticulously beautiful painted vases provide an opportunity for awe at the developments of this time period, c.600-480 bc. It was around this time that vase painters began to sign their work.
Lifesize and larger freestanding marble figure sculpture had developed. Both male and female forms were constructed, generally in marble. Kouroi and Korai were probably not portraits of people, but instead a representation of a deity that the person commissioning the piece identified with. Unlike Egyptian figural sculpture, the ancient Greeks cut away at the stone to generate completely self supporting artwork. Figures have notable athletic quality, features are prominent but not detailed, long hair, and the most noted feature is the archaic smile. This smile is a closed mouth expression of happiness, though it may seem a melancholy smile. Men were always sculpted nude, though women were usually clothed.
Archaic vase painting seems to have adopted a more geometric style, featuring narrow bands and smaller figures at first. Unlike the earlier period, however, the bands are fewer and smaller. At time wore on, though, there were fewer bands and decorations, and figure sizes increased to feature one scene register per vase. On a signed amphora by the vase painter, Exekias, The Suicide of Ajax is presented in black figure style. This is an example of the influence of mythical themes on artwork. The story is taken from tales of the Trojan War. In this, and in other examples of archaic vase painting, artists used the shape of the vase to express the image, creating a harmony between art and function. Another archaic vase, also of Ajax, this time with Achilles, is also a black figure style vessel with a Homeric theme. An early example of perspective, there is a formal posture among the men, an archaic smile, and the incision technique, where the artist etched over the glaze.
The Kritios Boy, c.480 bc, is a marble sculpture representative of the transition from archaic to classical styles. The Greeks were beginning to understand the muscles of the body. Unlike previous freestanding figure sculpture, this one shows the head turned at a slight angle; the posture is much less tense. This figure appears more natural and relaxed as compared with the archaic kouros figures of the sixth century, as well as less triangular in torso shape. The hair is shorter as well. What is less relaxed, however, is the expression. The Kriotios Boys face is more stern than before, where the archaic smile displayed a neutral positivity on kouros figures. The eyes on the Kritios figure were inlaid with bronze and there are more teeth. Also new to these kind of sculpture was the contrapposto stance, shifting the weight to allow the body to appear to stand more naturally.
Both the Kritios Boy and the Kouros figure were created from sculpted marble in the subtractive process of carving away to generate a form. The Riace Warrior was one of two bronze sculptures paired together, from c.450 bc. Statue B is highly detailed using the additive approach of lost-wax hollow-casting in bronze, different from the past sculptures in marble. A clay core is created to form the object, in this process, and then waxed. Details were molded into the wax and then another thin layer of clay was added. The piece was fired, leaving the wax to melt away, and a clay shell to be created. Molten bronze was poured into the gap between the clay layers and allowed to cool and harden. The clay was then removed, leaving a very sturdy bronze sculpture. The only issue with this method was than the mold could not be reused. When this technique was refined, marble became a less popular medium. Sculpture in bronze, such as the Riace Warrior, are more solid and deflects light better than marble. Larger figures could be made in separate parts and fused together. The method of used bronze for figure sculpture was a technique really refined by the ancient Greeks, and definitely out shadows many of the archaic marble works.
The Parthenon was completed structurally in 438 bc, designed by architects Kallikrates and Iktinos. The outside of the structure resembles a Doric temple. The peristyle of columns are set up with eight viewable from the front and back, and seventeen viewable from either side. These columns rest on a three level platform. To avoid an appearance of curvature from a distance, the architects designed the Parthenon with a slightly upward curved stylobate and entablature by entasis. The columns also have a swelling and lean inward just a bit from the bottom to the top. At each corner, the columns were placed closer together. All these optical refinements give the Parthenon a less boxy structural feel with instead, a stronger sculptural appeal. It is interesting to note that all these plans were carried out to make the Parthenon more appealing at a distance, however, those people who were lucky enough to be able to visit, and enter, had a difficult time viewing much of the wonderful sculpture. The frieze, for example, is located forty feet overhead, and because of the way it is set in the interior wall of the inner temple chamber, it is nearly impossible to see much of anything at all.
The cella is enclosed in the temple, with an easterly opening. There is another space inside with an opening to the west. The entablature on both sides of the temple contains the frieze scene of the Panathenaic Festival.
The sculpture decorating the Parthenon was completed in 432 bc by Pheidias. The pediments, depicting different Athena-related themes, were a sculpture-in-the-round, set in the cornice and secured with pins. The east pediment is a representation of the birth of athena, located above the cella entrance. The central figures are Zeus giving birth to adult-sized Athena with armor. Apollo and Selene are each located on either corner. The west pediment depicts a contest that Athena won against Poseidon for control of Athens. This one is set over the entrance to the acropolis.
The Ionic frieze on the north size of the Parthenon represents the Panathenaic Festival, held each year to honor Athena. Women carried a wool peplos to the sanctuary to cover a wooden statue of Athena. In the frieze, there are horse riders and young men walking, all in good physical shape. As in many of the other sculpture of this time, it seems an ideal portrait to lookup to as example, not necessarily as things actually were. This frieze contains key elements of Classical Greek form. Athletic nudity or partial nudity, figures which turn to the front, side, and back equally, controlled movements, and restless horses are some of these elements. Structurally, this frieze is not proportioned correctly and the perspective is incorrect, but this was a planned method to show intense movement and liveliness.
First to be carved in the mid-440s bc, were the mythologically symbolic metopes. The Doric frieze included 92 metope reliefs, with fourteen on each end and thirty-two along each side. Various battles are represented by a Centaur against a Lapith, a god against a Giant, and a Greek against either a Trojan or an Amazon.
The original statue of Athena Parthenos, c.440 bc, no longer exists, though reproductions do. These reproductions were generated with information found about the original, along with information known about how Athena was considered to be. The original statue used approximately 2500 pounds of gold, making it what may have been very controversial for Pheidias. Athena was depicted as a warrior with her helmet and visor, which displayed winged horses. The Nike figures stands in Athenas outstretched hand. The shield rests at her side, a sign that war is over, but Athena is still prepared and protective of her city. Athena was the goddess of Athens, but it is still unsure which came first. This statue of the greatly revered Athena stood in her temple to be both revered and to protect her city and its people.
The shield that rests by Athena is highly decorated and given its immense size, the work that went into this project is unimaginable. The inside part shows the gods against the giants, depicted the giants storming Mount Olympus. The amazons are sculpted on the outside of the shield. Even Athenas sandals have figurative sculpture, this time of Lapiths and Centaurs fighting. Along the base of the statue, golden images of Pandora and witnesses to her birth contrast strongly against a white background.
There is so much information available architecturally and symbolically on the Parthenon that it is hard to form a concise short description of important points, however, it is because of this knowledge, that scholars have been able to really understand Greek art and architecture.