- The Emergence of the Classical Style in Greek Sculpture
New handbooks on Greek sculpture—and there are many—should stress, since older handbooks have not, that oversubtlety in explaining the transition from archaic to classical style should be avoided and due weight instead given to the role of technique. Archaic Greek carving techniques depend on pattern, as sketched on the sides of blocks, very broadly in the Egyptian manner, lending an overall conformity of figures in both scale and detail, whereas classical style is the result of building up figures, as on armatures for making models for casting in bronze or for copying into stone—working from the inside out, as it were, rather than from the outside in. This change occasioned greater, even total realism, to the point of casting from life, an art form unparalleled elsewhere in the history of world art, and one at first stereotyped only to the degree that certain observed natural postures became the models for figures and groups otherwise very different in character and identity. A second point that new handbooks should emphasize is that virtually all major sculpture and much minor, everywhere—not just in Greece—was colored and that time, not choice, has left them for us mainly bereft of color, bequeathing to Renaissance and neoclassical historians of art (and from them to us) a false view of the classical. Neer’s new handbook plays down the color element, yet it is crucial, given especially that his main intent is to see the sculptures through the eyes of the Greeks—via their writings—which he does very thoroughly. Taking color into account is important, since a quick look at the Aphrodite of Cnidus in the fourth century BC would not have told the viewer that she was not flesh and blood. Both layman and scholar are finding it difficult to accept that we cannot really see or judge these works as they appeared to the eyes of antiquity.
Sir John Boardman is Lincoln Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology emeritus at Oxford University and a fellow of the British Academy, which awarded him the Kenyon Medal in 1995. Editor of the Oxford History of Classical Art, his other books include The Diffusion of Classical Art in Antiquity; The Greeks Overseas; The History of Greek Vases; and The Relief Plaques of Eastern Eurasia and China: The “Ordos Bronzes,” Peter the Great’s Treasure, and Their Kin. He received the inaugural Onassis International Prize for Humanities in 2009.