Hellenic Art

The Beauty of the Raw and Imperfect

Laocoön and His Sons
“Laocoon and His Sons” by flashcurd is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Hellenic period saw art emerge which went deep into details to capture subjects in the height of a highly emotional or action packed moment. Faces would often be tainted by a perfectly sculpted intensity. Artists from this era were not interested in the perfect beauty of the classical period, but the raw extreme emotions of the imperfect.

Dying Gaul
“Dying Gaul (Gallic Trumpeter)” by MCAD Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0

There are many diagonal lines, in contrast to the the vertical lines of the classical and pre-classical art. Vertical lines convey a sense of achievement, authority, or power. On the other hand, diagonal lines show action, struggle, the fight, the suffering, the raw moment of the extreme. Nothing sits still in these Hellenic works, and it is understandable why. The idealized world of the Greek city-states was collapsing, the dynamic Macedonian Empire marched East lead by the ambitious young emperor and commander Alexander the Great. This was a time of change, cultural diffusion and clash, war, and adventure. A time of ceaseless campaigns of conquest. After Alexander’s death came even more turbulence. Civil war, succession crisis, rebellions, a time of strong ambitious individuals drawing borders in blood, dicing the land for all its worth. This is a period which saw the rise of Rome, a squabbling republic. The betrayal of the Triumvirate, the crimson ides of march, fall of the Persian Empire, rise of a foreign dynasty in Egypt, the children of Sikandar (Alexander’s name in India) bringing new hunger to the conflicts of Northern India. This is a time of action, suffering, strife, the perfections of past shattered by cruel reality.

Thus, the art of this period is riveting. Humans caught in the raw moment of struggle, action, an extreme, imperfection. The world around these artists was shifting dynamically, it was not the idealists dream, it was chaos incarnate. Thus, the art represented this imperfect world; its beauty timeless. Faces scratched and scarred. Bodies exhausted, bloodied, injured, and pillaged. Emotions flaring in the extremes. There were statues of the dying in their final moment, of the mourning, of the suffering of the human condition.

Boxer at Rest
“Boxer of Quirinal, Greek Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a sitting nude boxer at rest, 100–50 BC, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome” by Following Hadrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Struggle is the greatest story, action is the greatest art; thus, the Hellenic period occupies a special place. A period of time when rocks were turned into tragedy, stones struggling and striving to survive on Shakespeare's stage. What a time it was, when the ancient made the Earth cry.

Close up of the face of the Borghese Gladiator
“The fighting warrior, known as the ‘Borghese Gladiator’, it is a Hellenistic life-size marble sculpture actually portraying a swordsman, created at Ephesus about 100 BCE, found in Anzio (ancient Antium), Louvre Museum” by Following Hadrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Rishabh Choudhari

Rishabh Choudhari

Information Systems Operation Management Student, George Mason University | New Essays Every Week