Spending the days of summer under the scorching Aegean sun, a book on Greek mythology in hands, warm sand underneath your feet and ahead nothing but the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. Gazing out on the quiet endless waters, the mind wanders off to mythical tales of ancient Greece.
In ancient Greece, myths and stories were told amongst men to teach and explain the nature of the world and its origins. Historians believe that these stories were carried through the provinces by Minoan and Mycenaean singers starting around 1700 BC. Asking for the causality, the “why” of things, people came up with an extensive range of stories that became part of the religion of ancient Greece. As part of this network of tales, gods played a central role. With time, the stories got more and more complex, adding characters such as half-gods, titans etc., which were then linked by blood, love or hate for each other.
Beyond its central importance during the height of Greek civilization, ancient Greek mythology had a fundamental impact on arts throughout times. From sculpting, performing arts to literature, rules of the so-called “Greek school” have influenced artists at all times. Think of Michelangelo’s David, created during the Renaissance, thousands of years after the Greek empire. A god-like beau, crafted from finest Carrara marble according to ancient Greek ideals. Re-discovering Greek ideals, so-called Hellenism, occurred throughout the times.
When speaking about ancient Greek art, white statues of bearded, muscular men and beautiful women in the nude come to our mind. Usually, these statues represent gods of ancient tales in a certain scene of the tale and were a key component of Greek art.
Artists of that time used mainly two materials to create their sculptures, bronze and limestone. Bronze was preferred for its hardness and precious appearance, but often too expensive to afford for the clients of the artists. (Remember that the profession of artist was not born at this time. Sculptors, painters etc. were craftsmen who worked upon request of wealthy individuals and families). Often, when owners of bronze artwork faced financial difficulties, they would melt the bronze in order to sell it, hence a lot of original, nowadays priceless, artworks have been melted and sold off.
Another popular material was limestone, as it is easy to shape due to the stone’s soft nature. Unfortunately, its softness also made it extremely porous and works, especially those displayed outside, would not last for long without substantial damage.
With time, artists preferred working with marble as it was a workable stone, which remained strong at the same time and was less pricy than bronze. The Greek statues we see nowadays are piercingly white, which has not always been the case. Originally, when created, artists would brightly color their work, which over thousands of years faded out and led mankind to the wrong assumption that Greek statues were white.
Nudity, the adoration of well-toned, muscular human bodies, was a key and open subject of ancient Greek society. Think of the very first Olympic games, where contestants (only men at that time) would perform naked for the public to show their strength. Reflected in the arts of those days, the sculptor Praxiteles created the first female nude statue of the goddess Aphrodite at Cnidus.
The original statue was lost but sculptors were fortunate to be able to recreate the statue, based on its countless copies made during the subsequent periods, especially in the Roman empire. Until the present day, the statue is an inspiration to artists. Its’ realistic and energetic appearance is often considered the ideal version of female beauty. Given its popularity, the statue it is often dubbed “the mother of a million nudes”.
Another highly celebrated nude is the statue of Aphrodite, or in Roman history known as the Venus of Milo. Sculpted by an unknown artist, the sculpture is currently displayed at Paris’ Musée du Louvre. Despite her name, it is not entirely clear whether this ancient beauty truly depicts Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. As the arms of the sculpture are missing, there are no clues on the context who she really represents. Theories include that this is Amphitrite, the Grecian sea goddess, or a prostitute, favored by the customer who commissioned this artwork 100 before Christ. When discovered in 1820 by a farmer, he found fragments of arms and hands, which were then not included in the reassembly of the statue due to their rougher appearance. Later lost, the mystery around the identity remains.
Until today, people are fascinated by Greek tales and ideals of Greek aesthetics are found are throughout contemporary architecture, literature and even our favorite TV-series. Think of Netflix recent series “Troy”, taking inspiration from Homer’s work “Iliad” and “Odyssey” on the Trojan wars.
If you love the timelessness, purity and simplicity of ancient Greek statues, take a look at MYKU’s Carrara Marble and Howlite timepiece editions here.