The art of ancient Greece

Thanks to the final victory of the Greeks over the Persians, the strengthening of national pride and identity, a thirty-year truce between the two most important Greek city-states Athens and Sparta, a stable and favourable democratic, economic and social background was created, as the basis for sweeping development of culture and art. Hellenic art, although developed in a relatively small area and in a short period, now known as the Golden Age (V and IV century BC) which coincided with The Rule of Pericles, produced some of the most important sculptors, artists, architectural work of its time, at the same time laying the foundations of the modern European culture and art.

The tendency towards freedom, rationalism and beautiful, found its expression in their art. Free from the constraints of religion, the afterlife, the glorification of the ruler and his power, Greek architecture become democratic-intended for common people. Through the architecture of their temples and their sculptural decorations, the Greeks clearly expressed their aspiration for beauty and the achievement of its ideals. Their temples built in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian style were created through the strict observance of the principle of symmetry, harmony and proportion. By observing nature and analyzing it, they came to the ideal proportion, the golden ratio, which is the basis of all their works.

About lifestyle, the organization of houses, furniture and utensils of the ancient Greeks, not much of archaeological evidence has been saved. What we know about it, we know mostly based on preserved texts, relief and painted vases.

The Ancient Greek houses were built of wood and mud brick, and had a flat wooden ceiling which was a typical architectural element of the time. By its shape some of them were structured around Megaron – the original retangular residence, while others were typical terrestrial or multi-level homes of oriental type organized around a central courtyard. From the street, there were two entrances. One led directly to the workshop, shop or barn, while the other led into the house. A narrow corridor led into the central courtyard surrounded by columns around which the following rooms were organized: andron – room intended for men, located at the very entrance to the house, dining room, living area, storage room, bedrooms, and the gynaeceum for the use of women.Toiletry rooms did not exist.

Behind the humble and simple facades of the houses that belonged to wealthier people, hid were the beautiful, and for that time, richly furnished interiors.

The floors in the houses were mostly made of rammed earth and wood, but there were floors of terrazzo or mosaic with a rich geometric or figural decoration. The walls in modest or minor premises were simply painted, while the more luxurious interiors were lined with marble or painted, so that the presented architectural elements gave the illusion of deepened space, and denied the wall as a fence. The ceilings were always flat, wooden, coffered  or coated  with painted stucco decoration.

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There wasnot much furniture, and based on reliefs, vases and some preserved furniture, we know that those were mainly benches, chairs, tables, beds and chests. In making furniture, the Ancient Greeks often used the technique of turning, veneering, and marquetry. They used exotic wood, precious metals, as well as ivory, tortoiseshell, alabaster. One of the most typical types of chair, Klismos, stands out for its comfort, but also beauty and finesse. That is a chair with richly upholstered and decorated seat, which has fine and elegant, in both directions arched supports and backrest. It is a quite common motif in the ancient reliefs and paintings.

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One of the pieces of furniture to which a great deal of attention was paid in the way of making and decorating, which tells us about its great importance, is the chest. Wooden box, made in the construction of frames with infill, was used for the disposal and storage of things. Chests were veneered and richly decorated with details of ivory, gold plated ornamnets.

The interiors of the then houses, were completed with sculptures, busts on pedestals, pictures on the walls, and various oil lamps, candelabras, vases of various shapes and purposes.

The characteristic part of every Ancient Greek house was the dining room. In smaller homes, this was a common area, which would, only from time to time, be turned into exclusively male or female premises for the purposes of social gathering. In larger and wealthier homes, it existed as a distinct and separate room. Its typical appearance and organization of space, was conditioned by the acceptance of the Eastern tradition of eating in the lying down position, which has been preserved by the Greeks. Basic furniture in these rooms were beds arranged around the perimeter of the room and low tables. Beds had raised decorated headboard and woolen mattresses covered in fabrics and decorative pillows.

Such a room, with the same purpose, was later seen with The Romans, who after they conquered Greece, accepted their lifestyle, art, religion.

More broadly, that acceptance, imitation and use of ancient elements, first in the Roman Empire, and after its fall, in the period of Romanesque, Renaissance, Neoclassicism, is an important feature of European culture and art. The Ancient Greek art, guided by strict principles and aesthetics, taking into account the comfort, convenience, quality or the beauty of creation has remained close to the man, his mind and needs.

 Author:

Miljan Torma