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Greece And The Human Body

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Artwork in Ancient Greece brought about new changes and a new reflection of not only how art should be represented, but also how the human form should be in its peak physical condition. Not only did it influence the artists of future generations, but also changed drastically from the founding, to falling of the Grecian Empire. This essay will compare and contrast the differences of the body’s representation throughout this period, and the similarities of the art from them to today.

Many of the earlier Greek figures, vases, and artwork representing humans are almost always large exaggerations of the body, as evident in the Mantiklos Apollo statuette that was created from ca. 700-680BCE. This was created in Early Greece, and was most likely an offering to the Greek gods. Unlike our bodies, the statuette has, according to the textbook, “[A] stylized triangular torso”, an “unnaturally elongated neck”, and a triangular face with unusually large eyes, nothing like how we look today. In addition to these interesting body formations, the thighs were almost as large as the shoulder span, and even though this may be evident in people today, our chests aren’t like an upside-down triangle. Another similar sculpture is the Herakles and Nessos sculpture, which was created ca. 750-730BCE. This statuette “depicts a hero (Herakles) and a centaur (Nessos)” and shows the two battling. This is another example of how early Greek statues exaggerated the human body, as both subjects have similar body proportions to the Mantiklos Apollo statue, and the centaur’s body has an entirely different figure, unlike a full bodied horse (which may have been the inspiration behind centaurs). Both examples are great representations of Greek Geometric Art, which also usually include a penis protruding from the figure to distinguish the male and female figures, and breasts as lines underneath their armpits for women.

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In later Greek artworks, human figures drastically changed to become more realistic, such as the Kouros sculpture created ca. 600BCE. This is one of the earliest Greek examples of life-size statues, and had a funerary function. Unlike the other statues, this one is more similar to how the human body is and isn’t as geometric, but more smooth and defining. In addition to this statue, there is also the later Kouros statue for Kroisos, a young man who died in battle. Both were displayed over graves in cities in and near Athens. This statue is even more natural looking then the first Kouros statue, as the abs are more defined, and the face more realistic. The Kouroi (plural) were also used as offerings in sanctuaries, and can be employed in a variety of different contexts. Another notable detail is that the statues are more “liberated” meaning that the bodies were actually in motion, not just there. Both have their right leg forward, as if they are about to walk off the pedestal and towards the viewer, and are also smiling, giving a sense that the statues are living people.

Most of the statues in later Greek eras are the most similar to statues made today of the human body. Some examples include the sleeping satyr statue, Hermes and infant Dionysos, Aphrodite of Knidos, and others that all can be seen as the most similar to actual humans. From the abs and muscles of the statues, to the simplistic faces, the only thing that isn’t like a human is the solid marble and other stones used to produce these magnificent statues. While of course some of the scenarios in a few of the statues are only fictional, many of them are of mundane subjects, such as the old market women who was probably just buying food, and the Roman copy of Demosthenes, who is only standing and looking into the distance.

It’s easy to see how realistic these statues are, no doubt since most are of what you see almost everywhere you turn: people. However, it obviously wasn’t an easy task to create these masterpieces though, especially the ones depicting certain historical characters and events, since no one had a picture or anything to base their statues off of. And though unfortunate that a lot more statues may have been destroyed by wars and other events, what we now have really provides a sort of “map” to Ancient Greece, and provide an insight to what was considered “beauty”.

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