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Sculpture in the Hellenistic Period


Hellenization came after the reign of Alexander the Great, and lasted just a couple of centuries. Alexander the Great had basically conquered all of the world--as the Greeks knew it. His reign brought about the realization of the individual in the Greek culture. Thus art, architecture and cultural identification experienced an alteration.

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To illustrate some of these changes we can make a comparison between the Hellenistic period and the Archaic Age (800-479 BC) by studying the sculptures. The Archaic sculpture New York Kouros (ca. 615-590 BC) is one of the common statues dating from about the beginning of the sixth century BC. It was found standing over a grave in Attica, Greece. This statue is very stiff, symmetric, and not very expressive. Similar to the Egyptian style of sculpting the arms are held beside the body and the fists are clenched with the thumb pointed forward.

Aphrodite of Melos
Aphrodite of Melos
In contrast, Hellenistic sculptures were more realistic and natural. The Hellenistic realism expressed temporary emotional conditions, pain and suffering. The sculptors did emphasize religious and moral values, but took it further in a sense that the secular viewpoint became more important. Moreover, they were also concerned with scenes witnessed in daily life. The sculptures portrayed inner character, feelings and experiences. The underlying trend of this period was an attraction towards eroticism, violence, but above all to provide a truthfulness.

The Hellenistic sculptures adapted many of the Hellenic basic forms and ideas in their work. For instance, Polykleitos' Doryphoros (spear-bearer) is an example of the Hellenic principles of contrapposto (the placement of the figure) and proportion. Hellenistic sculptures also show an admiration of female beauty. This is shown in the statue of Aphrodite of Melos (ca. 160-150 BC). On the one hand, this sculpture expresses many of the characteristics of the classical Hellenic style. However, the sensuality of the body is a clear example of the Hellenistic way of conveying emotions.


Hadas, Moses, Hellenistic Culture: Fusion and Defusion, (New York; Columbia University Press, 1959).

Tarn, Sir William, Hellenistic Civilization, (London; Edward Arnold and Co., 1953).

Pollitt, J. J., Art in the Hellenistic Age, (New York; Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Matthews, Roy T, F. DeWitt Platt, Western Humanities. (Mountain View, CA; Mayfield Publishing Co., 1995).

Edited by: Turid Tangen
Researched by: Erika L. Witowski
Written by: SoJeong Kim
October 25, 1996

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