The art of any culture goes a long way in representing not only the culture’s aesthetic values, but also its way of life and higher ideals. In classical Greece, order, symmetry, ancient humanism, and the Golden Mean were adhered to in every aspect of life, as well reflected in its art. Centuries later, Rome borrowed many of the Hellenic and Hellenistic ideals from Greece, and infused its own kind of Roman heroism and rationale. In the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one can witness the similarities and differences between the two cultures by observing the many pieces of art on display from each.
From sculptures done in both Ancient Greece and Rome, the evolution of the art form can clearly be seen, as early Greek sculptures relied on the strict rationalism and athletic heroism of the age and the later Roman sculptures displayed more fluidity and the high virtues of the Republic. In both Greece and Rome, sculpting was considered a highly respected art form. While paintings, murals, and other art forms may have been lost to history, along with architecture, sculptures most often stood the test of time, save for the instances of being destroyed by prudish Christian imperialists.
The strength of these sculptures has allowed museums like the Met to retain many fine examples of Greco-Roman sculpting, and a common theme in both is the continued exploration of the human form. Some early examples of this took place in the form of the Kouros, or youth. In the Met, a “Marble statue of a kouros (youth)” shows the qualities of the Greek Archaic period, which took place between 700-480 BCE. The sculpture itself dates from 590-580 BCE and is carved from marble and considered part of the Attic school of sculpting (Anonymous, 590-580 BCE).
In early Hellenic Greece, the figure of a kouros was a common and popular subject for sculptors and represents the archaic sculpture type of youthful athlete, victorious in the games, moving towards the temple to dedicate himself. Like the later archaistic period, Greek Archaic figures stand with legs unbent and occasionally with one leg forward. The shoulders and hips are level and the head faces directly forward (Hemingway, 2008). The Kouros in the Met is close to actual human size, nude, and the face is stoic and suggests little emotion or movement.
The advancing left foot provides the only suggestion of movement in the otherwise rigid posture. The anatomy of the torso is severely formal and close to the block of stone from which it was carved. The wide shoulders and long arms attached to the sides provide a rectangular framework. The long vertical line from the neck to the navel divides the chest, while the diamond shaped abdomen is defined by the bottom of the symmetrical rib cage and pelvic bones.
The symmetry of the sculpture is indicative of the formalized geometrical conventions of this period (Fleming, 1995, p. 42). Centuries later, when Rome would come to dominate the Mediterranean, Greek sculpture would greatly influence Roman art. Another sculpture of a young man during Roman times also resides in the Met, though it shows several differences from the Greek Kouros. Unlike the marble sculpture, this young man is done in bronze. The “Bronze statue of an aristocratic boy” was finished in the Augustan period, between 27 BCE and 14 CE.
According to Hemingway (2008), retrospective styles continued to flourish under the emperor Augustus, who wished his empire to emulate and surpass the achievements of the golden age of Classical Greece, and wealthy Romans filled their villa courtyards and gardens with fountains, sculpture, and monumental vases which were decorated with motifs drawn from the Greek art produced some 500 years earlier (Hemingway, 2008). The Roman sculpture is slightly smaller in stature than the Greek sculpture, though it could be from the damage incurred on the legs.
Unlike the Greek Kouros, the boy in the Roman sculpture is draped in cloth around his waist and has one arm lifted in a gesture. The emphasis on static symmetry is greatly diminished in favour of movement. The face is more emotive and the body shows greater detail (Anonymous, 27 BCE-14 CE). The nature of the youth’s portrayal is also different, as the athletic and heroic Kouros has become a wealthy and learned young man, which displays Roman zeal for Greek rationalism. Even though the two sculptures are separated by a half millennium, it shows that Greek and Roman sculpture are carved from the same stone, or bronze as it were.
Anonymous. (590-580 BCE). Marble statue of a kouros (youth) [Sculpture]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from http://www. metmuseum. org/works_of_art/collection_database/greek_and_roman_art/Marble_statue_of_a_kouros_youth_Fletcher_Fund/ViewObject_enlarge. aspx? depNm=greek_and_roman_art&Title=Marble_statue_of_a_kouros_youth_Fletcher_Fund&pID=1&kWd=&OID=130013862&vW=1&Pg=2&St=5&StOd=1&vT=2&RID=12 Anonymous. (27 BCE-14 CE). Bronze statue of an aristocratic boy [Sculpture]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Retrieved April 5, 2008, from http://www.metmuseum. org/works_of_art/collection_database/greek_and_roman_art/Bronze_statue_of_an_aristocratic_boy_Rogers_Fund/ViewObject_enlarge. aspx? depNm=greek_and_roman_art&Title=Bronze_statue_of_an_aristocratic_boy_Rogers_Fund&pID=1&kWd=&OID=130009369&vW=0&Pg=7&St=5&StOd=1&vT=2&RID=40 Fleming, W. (1995). Arts & Ideas. 9th Ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. Hemingway, C. (July 2007). Retrospective Styles in Greek and Roman Sculpture. In Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from http://www. metmuseum. org/toah/hd/grsc/hd_grsc. htm
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