Of the artistic enterprises sponsored by Alexander the Great, such as
the numerous portraits of the great conqueror by Lysippus, no direct
evidence survives. In fact, we know very little of the development of
Greek sculpture as a whole during the first hundred years of the
Hellenistic era. Even after that, we have few fixed points of reference.
Only a small fraction of the large number of works at our disposal can
be securely identified as to date and place of origin. Moreover, Greek
sculpture was now being produced throughout such a vast territory that
the interplay of local and international currents must have formed a
complex pattern, of which we can trace only some isolated strands.
Hellenistic sculpture nevertheless possesses a markedly different
character from that of the Classical era. It has a more pronounced
realism and expressiveness, as well as a greater variety of drapery and
pose, which is often marked by extreme torsion. This willingness to
experiment should be seen as a valid, even necessary, attempt to extend
the subject matter and dynamic range of Greek art in accordance with a
new temperament and outlook.
B.C. to celebrate his victories over the Celts, who kept raiding the
Greek states until Attalus forced them to settle down. The bronze
statues commemorating the Celts' defeat were reproduced in marble for
the Romans, who may have had a special interest in them because of their
own troubles with Celtic tribes in northwestern Europe. A number of
these copies have survived, including the famous Dying Trumpeter
which presumably replicates a statue by Epigonos of Pergamum mentioned
The more human conception that characterizes the age is represented by
the bronze groups dedicated by Attalus I of Pergamum (a city in
northwestern Asia Minor) between about
The sculptor must have known the Celts well, for the ethnic type is
carefully rendered in the facial structure and in the bristly shock of
hair. The torque around the neck is another characteristically Celtic
feature. Otherwise, he shares the heroic nudity of Greek warriors, such
as those on the Aegina pediments (see fig.
163). If his agony seems
infinitely more realistic in comparison, it still has considerable
dignity and pathos. Clearly, the Celts were not considered unworthy
foes. "They knew how to die, barbarians though they were," is the idea
conveyed by the statue. Yet we also sense something else, an animal
quality that had never before been part of Greek images of men. Death,
as we witness it here, is a very concrete physical process. No longer
able to move his legs, the Trumpeter puts all his waning strength
into his arms, as if to prevent some tremendous invisible weight from
crushing him against the ground.
211. EPIGONOS OF PERGAMUM
(?) Dying Trumpeter. Roman copy after a
bronze original of ń. 230-220
Marble, lifesize. Museo Capitolino, Rome
In different ways, Praxiteles, Skopas, and Lysippos had already
taken bold steps in redefining the nature of Greek statuary. Their
distinctive styles continued to influence sculptors throughout the
Hellenistic period. The undressing of Aphrodite, for example, became the
norm, but Hellenistic sculptors went beyond Praxiteles and openly
explored the eroticism of the nude female form.
The famous Venus de Milo is a larger-than-life-size marble
statue of Aphrodite found on Melos together with its inscribed base (now
lost) signed by the sculptor, Alexandros of Antioch-on-the-Meander. In
this statue, the goddess of love is more modestly draped than the
Aphrodite of Knidos but more overtly sexual. Her left hand
(separately preserved) holds the apple Paris awarded her when he judged
her as the most beautiful goddess of all. Her right hand may have
lightly grasped the edge of her drapery near the left hip in a
halfhearted attempt to keep it from slipping farther down her body.
The sculptor intentionally designed the work to tease the spectator. By
so doing he imbued his partially draped Aphrodite with a sexuality that
is not present in Praxiteles' entirely nude image of the goddess.
Alexandros of Antioch-on-the-Meander, Aphrodite (Venus de
from Melos, Greece, c. 150-125 BCE. Louvre, Paris
The Aphrodite of Knidos was directly quoted in an even more
playful and irreverent statue of the goddess found on Delos.
Here, Aphrodite resists the lecherous advances of the
semihuman, semigoat Pan, the Greek god of the woods. She
defends herself with one of her sandals, while her loyal son
Eros flies in to grab one of Pan's horns in an attempt to
protect his mother from an unspeakable fate.
One may wonder about the taste of Dionysios of Berytos
(Beirut), who paid to have this statue erected in a
businessmen's clubhouse— especially since both Aphrodite and
Eros are portrayed as almost laughing—but such groups were
commonplace in Hellenistic times. The combination of
eroticism and parody of earlier Greek masterpieces was
apparently irresistible. These Hellenistic groups are a far
cry from the solemn depictions of the deities of Mount
Olympus produced during Classical times.
Also different from earlier periods is the way Eros was
represented. In the Hellenistic age he was shown as the
pudgy infant Cupid as portrayed in innumerable later
artworks, whereas in earlier Greek art he was depicted as an
adolescent. In the history of art, babies are all too
frequently rendered as miniature adults — often with adult
personalities to match their mature bodies. Hellenistic
sculptors knew how to reproduce the soft forms of infants
and how to portray the spirit of young children in memorable
Aphrodite, Eros and
Pan, from Delos,
Greece, c. 100 BCE. National Archaeological
which is probably a very fine Hellenistic
original of the late third century B.C., albeit heavily restored by
Bernini. A drunken satyr
is sprawled on a rock, asleep in the heavy-breathing, unquiet manner of
the inebriated. He is obviously dreaming, and the convulsive gesture of
the right arm and the troubled expression of the face betray the
passionate, disturbing nature of his dream. Here again we witness a
partial uncoupling of body and mind, no less persuasive than in the
A similar exploration of uncontrolled bodily responses may be seen in
the Barberim Faun (fig.
212. Barberim Faun. Greek
original (?) of c. 220
B.C. Marble, over-lifesize.
Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich
213. The west front of the
Great Pergamum Altar (restored). Pergamonmuseum. Staatliche Museen,
214. Plan of the Great Pergamum
Altar (after J. Schrammen)
Eumenes II, the son and successor of Attalus I, had a mighty altar
erected on a hill above the city to commemorate the victory of Rome and
her allies over Antiochus the Great of Syria that gave him much of the
Seleucid empire eight years earlier. A large part of the sculptural
decoration has been recovered by excavation, and the entire west front
of the altar, with its monumental flight of stairs leading to the
entrance, has been reconstructed in Berlin (fig.
213). It is an impressive
structure indeed. The altar proper occupies the center of a rectangular
court surrounded by an Ionic colonnade, which rises on a tall base about
100 feet square (fig.
Great Pergamum Altar. Pergamonmuseum. Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Some two decades later, we find a second sculptural style flourishing at
Map of Pergamon Acropolis (1882), from Die Ergebnisse
der Ausgrabung zu Pergamon 1880-1881,
University of Heidelberg.
Altar structures of such great size seem to have been an Ionian
tradition since Archaic times, but the Pergamum Altar is the most
elaborate of all, as well as the only one of which considerable portions
have survived. Its boldest feature is the great frieze covering the
base, 400 feet long and
over 7 feet tall. The huge
figures, cut to such a depth that they seem almost detached from the
background, have the scale and weight of pedimental statues, but freed
from the confining triangular frame and transported to a frieze—a
unique compound of two separate traditions that represents a thundering
climax in the development of Greek architectural sculpture (fig.
and Alcyoneus, from the east side of the Great Frieze of the Altar
of Zeus at Pergamum.
ń. 180 B.C. Marble, height 7'6"
(2.3 m). Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen,
The carving of the frieze, though not very subtle in detail, has
tremendous dramatic force. The heavy, muscular bodies rush at each
other, and the high relief creates strong accents of light and dark,
while the beating wings and windblown garments are almost overwhelming
in their dynamism. A writhing movement pervades the entire design, down
to the last lock of hair, linking the victors and the vanquished in a
single continuous rhythm. This sense of unity disciplines the physical
and emotional violence of the struggle and keeps it—but
just barely—from exploding
its architectural frame. Indeed, the action spills out onto the stairs,
where several figures are locked in mortal combat.
The subject, the battle of the gods and giants, is a traditional one
for Ionic friezes. (We saw it before on the Siphnian Treasury, fig.
Pergamum, however, it has a novel significance. It promotes Pergamum as
a new Athens—the patron
goddess of both cities was Athena, who figures prominently in the great
frieze. Moreover, it almost surely incorporates a sophisticated
cosmological program whose meaning, however, remains under dispute.
Finally, the victory of the gods is meant to symbolize Eumenes' own
victories. Such a translation of history into mythology had been an
established device in Greek art for a long time.
But to place Eumenes in analogy with the gods
themselves implies an exaltation of the ruler that is Oriental rather
than Greek in origin. After the time of Mausolus, who may have been the
first to introduce it on Greek soil, the idea of divine kingship had
been adopted by Alexander the Great and the lesser sovereigns who
divided his realm, including the rulers of Pergamum.
Hecate fights against Klytios (left); Artemis against Otos (right)
Rhea/Cybele riding on a lion, Andrasteia (?)
Left to right: Nereus, Doris, a giant, Oceanus
The three Moirae club Agrios and Thoas to death
King Teuthras finds Auge stranded on the shore, panel 10
Telephus receives weapons from Auge, panels 16 and 17
The Argives welcome Telephos, panels 36 and 38
Telephos threatens to kill Orestes, panel 42.
NIKE OF SAMOTHRACE.
Equally dramatic in its impact is another great victory monument of the
early second century B.C., the Nike of Samothrace (fig.
216), which perhaps
commemorates the naval victory in 190
B.C. over Antiochus the Great by Eudamos of Rhodes. The
style is Rhodian, and the statue may well have been carved by the
island's leading sculptor, Pythokritos. The goddess has just descended
to the prow of a ship.
216. PYTHOKRITOS OF RHODES
(?). Nike of Samothrace. ń
200-190 B.C. Marble, height 8' (2.4 m).
Musee du Louvre, Paris
Her great wings spread wide, she is still partly airborne by the
powerful head wind against which she advances. The invisible force of
onrushing air here becomes a tangible reality. It not only balances the
forward movement of the figure but also shapes every fold of the
wonderfully animated drapery. As a result, there is an active
the statue and the space that envelops it, such as we have never seen
before. By comparison, all earlier examples of active drapery seem
inert. This is true even of the three goddesses from the Parthenon,
whose wet drapery responds not to the atmosphere around it but to an
inner impulse independent of all motion. Nor shall we see its like again
for a long time to come. The Nike of Samothrace deserves all of
her fame as the greatest masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture.
years ago, the most admired work of Hellenistic
statuary had been a group showing the death of Laocoon and his two sons
It was found in Rome in 1506
and made a tremendous impression on Michelangelo and
many others. The history of its fame is like that of the Apollo
Belvedere. The two were treated as complementary, the Apollo
exemplifying harmonious beauty, the Laocoon sublime tragedy. (Laocoon
was the priest punished by the gods for telling the Trojans not to admit
the Greeks' wooden horse into the city, but his warning went unheeded,
which led to their defeat.) Today we tend to find the pathos of the
group somewhat calculated and rhetorical, and its meticulous surface
finish strikes us as a display of virtuoso technique.
Until the Nike was discovered over
217. The Laocoon Group.
Perhaps by AGESANDER, ATHENODORUS, and POLYDORUS OF RHODES
(present state, former restorations removed).
1st century B.C.. Marble, height 71
Vatican Museums, Rome
In style, including the relief like spread of the three figures, it
clearly descends from the Pergamum frieze, although its dynamism has
become rather self-conscious. It was long accepted as a Greek original
and identified with a group by Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydorus of
Rhodes that the Roman writer Pliny mentions in the palace of the emperor
Titus; they, we now know, were skilled copyists active just before or
after the birth of Christ. The subject must have held a special meaning
for the Romans. Laocoon's fate forewarned Aeneas of the fall of Troy,
prompting him to flee in time. Since Aeneas was believed to have come to
Italy and to have been the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the death of
Laocoon could be viewed as the first link in a chain of events that
ultimately led to the founding of Rome.
Individual likenesses were inconceivable in Classical art,
which sought a timeless ideal. Portraiture first arose as an
important branch of Greek sculpture only in the mid-fourth
century and continued to flourish in Hellenistic times. Its
achievements, however, are known to us only indirectly, for
the most part through Roman copies. One of the few originals
is the extraordinarily vivid bronze head from Delos, a work
of the early first century B.C. (fig.
218). It was
not made as a bust but rather, in accordance with Greek
custom, as part of a full-length statue. The identity of the
sitter is unknown, but whoever he was, we get an intensely
private view of him that captures the personality of the
The distant stare of the "Mausolus" (fig.
has been replaced by a troubled look. The fluid modeling of
the somewhat flabby features, the uncertain, plaintive
mouth, the unhappy eyes under furrowed brows reveal an
individual beset by doubts and anxieties, an extremely
human, unheroic personality. There are echoes of noble
pathos in these features, but it is a pathos translated into
psychological terms of unparalleled immediacy. People of
such inner turmoil had certainly existed earlier in the
Greek world, just as they do today. Yet it is significant
that their complex character could be conveyed in art only
when Greek independence was about to come to an end,
culturally as well as politically.
218. Portrait Head,
ń. 80 B.C. Bronze, height
National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Before we leave Hellenistic sculpture, we must cast at least
a passing glance at another aspect of it, represented by the
enchanting bronze statuette of a veiled dancer (fig.
She introduces us to the wide variety of small-scale works
produced for private ownership, which comprise a special
category unto themselves. They are often called Tanagra
figures, after the site where many have been found. Such
pieces were collected in much the same way as painted vases
had been in earlier times. Like vase paintings, they show a
range of subject matter far broader than that of monumental
sculpture. Besides the familiar mythological themes, we
encounter a wealth of everyday subjects: beggars, street
entertainers, peasants, young ladies of fashion.
The grotesque, the humorous, the picturesque—qualities
that rarely enter into Greek monumental art—play
a conspicuous role here. Most of these figurines are routine
decorative pieces mass-produced in clay or bronze. But at
their best, as in our example, they have an imaginative
freedom rarely matched on a larger scale. The bold spiral
twist of the veiled dancer, reinforced by the diagonal folds
of the drapery, creates a multiplicity of interesting views
that practically forces the beholder to turn the statuette
in his hands. No less extraordinary is the rich interplay of
concave and convex forms, the intriguing contrast between
the compact silhouette of the figure and the mobility of the
219. (right) Veiled Dancer,
ń 200 B.C.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York. Bequest of Walter Ń Baker,
According to the Roman writer Pliny, Philoxenus
of Eretria at the end of the fourth century painted the victory of
Alexander the Great over Darius at Issus. The same subject—or,
at any rate, another battle of Alexander's war against the Persians—is
shown in an exceptionally large and technically accomplished floor
mosaic from a Pompeian house of about 100
B.C. Figure 220
illustrates the center and right half, with
Darius and the fleeing Persians, and the badly damaged left-hand
portion, with the figure of Alexander. While there is no special reason
to link this mosaic with Pliny's account (several others are recorded),
we can hardly doubt that it is a copy—and
an astonishingly proficient one—of
a Hellenistic painting from the late fourth century B.C. The crowding,
the air of frantic excitement, the powerfully modeled and foreshortened
forms, the precise cast shadows make even the great frieze of Pergamum
seem restrained in comparison. The scene is far more complicated and
dramatic than any other work of Greek art from the period. And for the
first time it shows something that actually happened, without the
symbolic overtones of Herakles Strangling the Nemean Lion or the
Lapith and Centaur (figs. 146
In character and even in appearance, it is close to
Roman reliefs commemorating specific historic events (see figs.
We can get some idea of what Greek wall painting looked like from Roman
copies and imitations, although their relation is extremely problematic
The Battle of lssus or Battle of
Alexander and the Persians.
Mosaic copy from Pompeii. 100 B.C., of
a Hellenistic painting.
8'11" x 16'9 1/2" (2.7 x 5.1
m). Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples