Lesson 4: Ancient Greek Art 

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What You Will Learn:

  • Explore All Art Movements and Periods

    You will learn about all the leading art movements and periods, such as primitive art, ancient Greek art, the Renaissance, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modernism, and contemporary art. There is also a lot of attention to non-Western art, such as Islamic Art, Hindu Art, Chinese Art, Oceanic Art and African Art, and the globalization of the art world.

  • All Famous Artists and Their Masterpieces

    The course covers important artists like Sultan Muhammad, Fan Kuan, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Utagawa Hiroshige, Vincent van Gogh, Ilya Repin, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Banksy and many more, and discusses their most influential works.

  • Art Theory and Criticism

    You will learn how to analyze and interpret artworks, including the principles of design, color theory, and the context in which art is created and viewed.

  • Cultural and Historical Context

    Our courses also focus on the study of the cultural, social, political, and economic contexts in which artworks are created.

  • Various Media and Techniques

    You will explore different art forms and techniques, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, and digital art.

Introduction to this course:


The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.

                             Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 BC)

Art, philosophy, democracy, and heroes are the key themes as we look back through the remnants of history at the long period of ancient Greek culture. It’s important to note that there was no unified Greek nation; rather, the region consisted of numerous more or less independent city-states or polises that vied for power. However, there was a common civilization and, therefore, a shared art history. Additionally, there was rivalry among the city-states; each one wanted to showcase its temples and other artistic expressions, which stimulated the development of art.
Ancient Greek art tells us the story of the lives of the ancient Greeks. It is an art that had its roots in ancient Egyptian art and, in turn, formed the basis for our own culture and artistic expressions. In terms of stylistic periods, most art historians divide ancient Greek art into the Minoan, Mycenaean, Geometric, Archaic, Classical, and finally, the Hellenistic period. Unfortunately, not much of ancient Greek painting has been preserved. Nonetheless, there are exceptions that provide insight into this painting, such as the wall paintings in Knossos (on the Greek island of Crete) and the frescoes of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (modern-day Greek island of Santorini). The Minoan paintings in Thera were only discovered in 1967.

The Boxers of Thera from the Minoan civilization. This wall painting from around 1700 BCE was found in the archaeological site of Akrotiri (Thera) on the Greek island of Santorini, part of the Cyclades island group. The work has been extensively restored, as we can see from the original reassembled fragments and the later painted parts by restorers. The feet are painted from the side in a manner that reminds us of the Egyptians. The heads of the young boxers are shaved except for two long locks at the back and two shorter ones above the forehead. The boy standing on the left is adorned with jewelry, including a necklace and two bracelets, one on his arm and the other on his ankle. This indicates his higher social status compared to his opponent.
Location: This image of the Boxers of Akrotiri (Thera) is now housed in the National Archaeological Museum on Patission Street in the Greek capital of Athens. © Ronnie Rokebrand.
Image: The Boxers of Thera from the Minoan civilization. This wall painting from around 1700 BC was found in the archaeological site of Akrotiri (Thera) on the Greek island of Santorini, part of the Cyclades island group. The work has been extensively restored, as we can see from the original reassembled fragments and the later painted parts by restorers. The feet are painted from the side in a manner that reminds us of the Egyptians. The heads of the young boxers are shaved except for two long locks at the back and two shorter ones above the forehead. The boy standing on the left is adorned with jewelry, including a necklace and two bracelets, one on his arm and the other on his ankle. This indicates his higher social status compared to his opponent.
Location: This image of the Boxers of Akrotiri (Thera) is now housed in the National Archaeological Museum on Patission Street in the Greek capital of Athens. © Ronnie Rokebrand.

Art in the Minoan Civilization

In ancient Greece, approximately in the period from 3000 to 1000 BCE, three civilizations emerged in what we now call Greece. All of these cultures left behind artworks. They developed on the Cyclades island group, on the island of Crete, and on the Peloponnese, the mainland of Greece. From the civilization on the Cyclades, fertility figurines, some marble figures of women and men, and magnificent paintings have been discovered.

Hoofd van een Cycladisch beeld. Gebeeldhouwde neus, mond en oren. Geschilderde ogen en rode verticale strepen op de rechterwang. Pariaans marmer; gevonden op Amorgos. Vroege Cycladische II-periode (Keros-Syros cultuur) 2800-2300 voor Chr.
Image: Head of a Cycladic sculpture. Noticeable are the sculpted nose, mouth, and ears. We see this design in almost all found Cycladic figurines from this period. The head has painted eyes and red vertical stripes on the right cheek. The sculpture is made of Parian marble and was found on the island of Amorgos. It dates back to the period from 2800 to 2300 BC, from the so-called Early Cycladic II period (Keros-Syros culture).
Location: This image of a Cycladic female portrait is in the National Archaeological Museum, located on Patission Street in the Greek capital Athens. © Ronnie Rokebrand.

The same was true on the island of Crete. Here, during the period from 2000 to 1300 BCE, a civilization developed that revealed itself as a peaceful society with excellent organization. This civilization was called the Minoan culture, named after the legendary King Minos of Crete. They were not the only ones in the world who made their mark during this period. It was a time when other significant civilizations also emerged and left behind artworks, including in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), Canaan (the area now comprising Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon), and the Indus Valley (modern-day Pakistan). It is noteworthy that they developed the not yet fully deciphered script Linear A here, a script that probably formed the basis of the Greek alphabet through the so-called Linear B. 
The Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, the palace of the mythical King Minos, is famous. However, Minoan palaces have also been found in other parts of Crete, such as the Palace of Malia, the Palace of Kato Zakros, the Palace of Hagia Triada, and the Palace of Phaistos. Their influence extended beyond Crete, as seen in the artifacts found on the island of Santorini, including the beautiful and vivid paintings depicting everyday life in the town of Akrotiri (Thera) from the period 1700 to 1530 BCE.

De visser is een beroemd fresco uit Akrotiri op het eiland Thera, het huidige SantoriniImage: This fresco of the Fisherman was found in the ancient city of Akrotiri on the Aegean island of Thera, now called Santorini. It is unclear whether this is an image of a fisherman or a young man offering fish as part of a religious ceremony. The painting dates back to around 1700 BCE.
Location: Since 2015, this fresco of the Fisherman has been on display at the Prehistoric Museum of Thera in Fira on the island of Santorini. Previously, it was housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. © Ronnie Rokebrand.

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