Hellenism in art

Hellenism in art

Hellenism in art
Hellenism in Greek art

Hellenism in art – the era of widespread worldwide Greek cultural traditions

Hellenism is a long period in the history of Mediterranean art, during which Greek cultural traditions were widely spread over vast territories. The era of Hellenism in art lasted about 300 years (from the end of the 4th to the end of the 1st century BC), and the main reason for its appearance was the conquest of a significant part of the Asian continent by Alexander the Great as a result of military campaigns.

Hellenism can rightfully be called a period of mass admiration for the ideas of the classical ancient Greek civilization. This was the time of the undivided domination of Hellenistic cultural values ​​in the numerous states formed after the death of the great conqueror, headed by his military leaders – the diadochi.

Hellenism in art
Tanager figurines

Chronology of Hellenism

Hellenism can be chronologically divided into three main periods: Early (323 – mid-3rd century BC); High (mid-III – mid-II centuries BC); Late (mid-2nd century – 30 BC).

Early Hellenism in the conditions of the formation of large monarchical powers was characterized by the predominance of the traditions of classical ancient Greek art. In the era of High Hellenism, the states ruled by the diadochi reached the peak of their power. This is reflected in art through the dominance of dramatic artistic images and the emergence of a large number of monumental works.

Hellenism in art
Nile statue

The era of Late Hellenism was marked by numerous crisis situations and the gradual seizure of the territories conquered by Alexander the Great by Rome. Economic stagnation and mass impoverishment of people became the main reasons for the decline in all spheres of life, including in the visual arts.

Hellenism in art
Pergamon altar, reconstruction. Pergamon Museum, Berlin.

Features of the visual arts of the Hellenistic era

The era of Hellenism affected all types of fine arts known at that time.

The influence of ancient Greek culture can be clearly seen in the works of: architecture; sculptures; painting; mosaics; ceramic, jewelry and arts and crafts.

An important distinguishing feature of the architecture of the Hellenistic era was the emergence of huge urban complexes, temples, theaters, parks and other places of entertainment and recreation. A unique example of the architectural art of that time is the “Altar of Zeus in Pergamum”, which is now in the Berlin Museum.

Ancient Roman (so-called Mantuan) vessel made of sardonyx, approx. A.D. 54
Ancient Roman (so-called Mantuan) vessel made of sardonyx, approx. A.D. 54

The sculpture of the Hellenistic period has become more naturalistic and expressive in comparison with the classical examples of ancient Greek sculptors. Artistic images are distinguished not only by magnificent anatomical realism, but also by the skillful embodiment of the emotions of the heroes in stone. In addition to traditional single sculptures, craftsmen also often created multi-figured compositions. The greatest sculptural masterpiece of that era was the 32-meter statue of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the 7 unique wonders of the world.

Alexander the Great on a fragment of an ancient Roman mosaic from Pompeii
Alexander the Great on a fragment of an ancient Roman mosaic from Pompeii

Unfortunately, the picturesque objects of Hellenistic art have hardly survived to this day. Most of the paintings of ancient artists have not stood the test of time, with the exception of the so-called “Fayum portraits” recently discovered on the territory of modern Egypt. These works of art are written on boards using the encaustic technique or with tempera paints, they are single images of the head and shoulders of people of different ages and gender in front. According to historians, such portraits were attached to the mummies of the deceased representatives of the local nobility and covered the face of the deceased.

“Nika of Samothrace”, II century. BC.

The original fresco paintings of the walls, created by the Hellenistic masters of painting, have survived quite a bit. Although such works adorned the interiors of not only majestic temples, but also the homes of many wealthy residents of Greek cities.

The Hellenistic masters achieved significant success in the art of mosaic. They used river pebbles, baked clay and pieces of glass as the main materials for the creation of their works. Artists decorated the walls and floors of palaces with mosaic panels on mythological, everyday and animalistic themes.

Pottery has also been a popular material for art and everyday life. The artists of that time honorably continued the traditions of their ancestors, they created original painted vases with a relief surface, inlaid with various materials. The miniature figurines made of baked clay, which were used for funeral and decorative purposes, are also of great interest to connoisseurs of beauty.

Cameo occupies a special place in the jewelry art of the Hellenistic era. It was at that time that the technique of making jewelry by carving a relief image on precious or semi-precious stones became widespread. Most often, jewelers created unique pieces of onyx or agate. The most famous example of this art is considered to be the “Gongaza Cameo”, made of three-layer sardonyx in the 3rd century BC.

The masters of the Hellenistic period also made an enormous contribution to the development of the decorative and applied arts of the peoples of the Mediterranean. It was at that time that the glass blowing technology was invented, used for the production of various dishes. For the manufacture of massive vessels (craters), bronze alloys were often used, and techniques for stone carving and embossing were developed.

Hellenism left a bright mark on world culture and gave descendants many unique masterpieces of art. The works of ancient masters today adorn the expositions of the best museums in the world and are regularly exhibited for sale at prestigious art auctions.