Greek art: The Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic Period

With the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek art entered its last great phase, the Hellenistic period (see Hellenistic civilization. The importance of Athens gradually declined, and cultural centers rose at Pergamum, Rhodes, and Alexandria. Masterpieces of this period include the Nike (Victory) of Samothrace and Aphrodite of Melos (both: Louvre) and the Pergamum Frieze (Berlin Mus.). Especially charming among the minor arts are terra-cotta figurines from Tanagra. Marked tendencies toward heightening spatial illusionism are revealed in sculpture and, judging from Roman copies, prevailed also in painting (e.g., Odyssey Landscapes, Vatican).

From the 2d cent. b.c. onward copies of former masterpieces of sculpture, which only approximate their prototypes, appear frequently along with vigorous group compositions closely related to the Pergamene school (e.g., Laocoön and His Sons, Vatican). Greek and Roman artists produced these copies of former masterpieces for private patrons or the Roman state, and most of our knowledge of classical Greek art is derived from them. Although the inventive originality of Greek culture declined at this time, its influence remained of paramount importance during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and has continued to be an inspiring force throughout the history of Western culture.

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