Aegean Schools of Sculpture in Antiquity

1. Introduction

Ancient Greek sculpture in the Aegean is indubitably connected with the existence of marble quarries in many islands, but it is also the result of a more complicated sociocultural phenomenon. The societies in the Early Archaic Aegean intergrated influences from Egypt, the Near East, Asia Minor and Crete, combined them with their rituals and burial customs, the rising position of the individual in the world, and they contributed in a decisive way to the birth of monumental Greek sculpture. Although in the following periods (Classical and Hellenistic) the important political and artistic centres were to be found elsewhere, the islands of the Aegean did not cease to benefit from their preferential place, in the heart of the Greek world and on the crossroad of the commercial and artistic exchanges.

1.1. Schools and styles

The study of sculpture in the Aegean throughout Antiquity is under certain conventions and aknowledgements that should not be ignored. When we talk about ‘schools’ of sculpture we do not mean strictly structured circles with a specific curriculum, as one might imagine drawing parallels to the Renaissance and Modern art history. In certain cases we refer to independent workshops, or to a tradition which is delivered from generation to generation. Distinctions are often subtle (e.g. between Samos and Miletus), or the precise localisation of the workshops is impossible (island reliefs in Macedonia and Thrace). In many cases, a convergence of different stylistic trends is observed and a filtration of influences. The sculptures, as well as the sculptors, travelled, less in the Arhaic period, more in a later date. The place of finding is not always related to their origin, since the works produced by the Aegean workshops reached as votives the great Panhellenic sanctuaries (Delos, Delphi, Olympia), far away from the location of their manufacture or the birthplace of their creator. Chemical and petrographic analyses have lately contributed in more correct attribution of the origin of the marble, but they cannot answer questions about form and style. In addition, numerous and important new finds, as well as new studies on works known from the past, modify or correct our knowledge about the regional workshops (Archaic Gorgo in Paros, Daedalic Kore from Thera and Despotiko, Classical grave stele in Rhodes, etc).

1.2. Types of sculptures

It should be mentioned that when we refer to sculpture (not only in the Aegean but also generally) we mean a pleiad of works, belonging to various types and for different functions. These are mainly marble freestanding statues and reliefs, which could have been cult images, votives or gravestones, as well as architectural sculpture (acroteria, pedimental sculpture, metopes, frieze). The statues in bronze were rarely preserved. Sometimes, our knowledge about the sculpture of a region, a period or a tendency is so meagre that archaeologists turn to its reflections on other, better known, arts. Comparison with small bronze statuettes and terracotta figurines, representations in jewellery, vases and coins, as well as with the scarce wood and ivory finds often prove to be particularly enlightening.

1.3. Materials

A considerable number of marble quarries were known from Antiquity in the Aegean. However, not all the varieties of marble were appropriate for sculpture and most of them were used only in architecture. Ancient Greeks most appreciated white marble in sculpture, perhaps due to its suitability for decoration with colours. The best white marble was the so-called lychnitis ofParos, of fine-grained crystaline structure. Moreover, another variety of inferior quality marble came from the same island, also used for sculptures. The Parian quarries must have been exploited circa 600 BC along with those in Ephesus.

On Naxos, white marble was also extracted and the quarries there appear to be the first which operated in the Aegean region during the Archaic period, just before the middle of the 7th century BC, contemporary to those on Samos. Nevertheless, the marble of Samos, despite being fine-grained, it is run through by thin grey veins, thus being unsuitable for sculptures. There is no marble in Rhodes, only a variety of crystaline limestone, which was used in the Hellenistic period for the prow of the boat where the Nike of Samothrace stands.

From the 4th century BC onwards the marble of Thasos began to spread as well, while marbles from the coast of Asia Minor and the islands off the shores came later into use, from Proconnesus to Halicarnassus. However, the Parian marble was exported more in all periods (from Archaic up to Roman) and reached as far as Macedonia, South Italy and North Africa.

It is generally observed that monumental sculpture was rapidly developed in the Archaic period on the islands with quarries (Naxos, Paros, Samos) and lack of development on other islands with no quarries (Rhodes). The development of sculpture has been correlated with the absence of marble on Rhodes, particularly in the Hellenistic years. The evidence for bronze sculpture is rather poor. Copper from Euboea, Cyprus and perhaps Asia Minor, and tin from distant regions, such as Iberia and Wales, were the raw materials during all periods. Nevertheless, metals can be melted and mixed into new alloy, thus making it impossible to be certain about the results from their analyses.

2. Daedalic sculpture

The term ‘Daedalic’ is ascribed to the sculpture of the 7th century BC, the freestanding statues of male and female frontal figures in particular. Men are nude and usually wear a broad belt. Women wear a belted long garment. In both cases the bodies are flat and very stylised. The facial features (eyes, nose, mouth) are disproportionally bigger than the forehead and the cheeks. The origins of that style are traced in Crete, although it was spread to most Dorian regions. The most important Daedalic piece in the Aegean so far was found at Delos and it is a kore, the so-called Nicandra. In 2000 a kore was discovered on the island of Despotiko and in 2001 another one in the cemetery at ancient Thera. The latter is preserved in better condition and is of 2.3 metres height. All three are considered to be works of the Naxian school and a recent study underlined the differences from the Cretan parallels. Their distinctive characteristic is their coiffure, with four braids falling down on the right and left of the head, over the chest. They are dated from the third quarter up to the middle of the 7th century BC. There is a degree of correlation, although they are not entirely Daedalic, with the female figures which support the large marble bowl known as perirranterion (sprinkling vessel). One has been found on Samos and one on Rhodes, but the analyses show that the marble is Laconian. In the second half of the 7th century BC the Daedalic style appeared in small-scale art of the islands, that is in Rhodian jewellery and terracotta figurines from Thera and Despotiko.

3. Sculpture in the 6th century BC

3.1. Naxos

The finds from Naxos itself, Delos and Delphi prove that the Naxian School retained its dynamic for a long part of the 6th century BC. Kouroi from Naxos and Delos, as well as the colossal Apollo of the Naxian at Delos (height 8.5 metres) still have the rigidity and stylised anatomy which characterises Daedalic sculpture. Another Naxian dedication at Delos was a row of 16 lions in the Egyptian manner (circa 600 BC). Despite the deterioration on their surface - (recently the originals were replaced by casts and are kept in the museum of Delos) - the naturalistic rendering of the feline and the lively pose are most striking. Far less satisfying is the Naxian sphinx at Delphi (circa 570 BC). The mythological monster, which originally stood on a 10.2 m. high column, fails to combine the naturalism of the female face with the formulaic and linear style of the body. Finally, two of the earliest in date korai of the Acropolis (circa 550 BC) owe to Naxos not only their marble, but also many of their stylistic features. The decline of the Naxian school has occasionally been related to tyrant Lygdamis taking over on Naxos circa 540 BC. However, the finds themselves attest that sculpture continued, albeit to a lesser extent, up to the beginning of the 5th century BC. Finally, certain kouroi from Ptoon in Boeotia are related to the Naxian school, either being works of Naxian sculptors or bearing influences.

3.2. Paros

Paros developed a distinctive Archaic school of sculpture already from about 580 BC, although it reached its peak in the third quarter of the 6th century, while the rival Naxos receded. Kouroi and korai of Paros have been found not only on the island itself, but also at Delos, Delphi, Orchomenos, Thasos and Cyrene. Certain scholars believe that the Parian school was initially under Samian influence, but quite early unique characteristics were developed. Kouroi are more muscular than the Naxian, with barrel chest and the emphasis on the vertical axes of the body. Korai wear chiton and himation, which is often in decorative fashion, as in the case of the colossal Artemis and a seated goddess (beginning of the 5th century but still of Archaic style). Six figures from a group of ‘gods assembly’ found at Delos and dated to the end of the 6th century BC are also attributed to the Parian school. Parian influences, more or less direct, are recognised in sculptures from Rhodes, Samos, Sicily, even in certain korai from Attica. In addition, Aristion, whose magnificent statue of Phrasikleia was discovered at Merenda in Attica and is dated to the middle of the 6th century BC, came from Paros.

From the architectural sculptures of Paros we know an acroterion in the form of Gorgo (mid-6th century), and two reliefs, one depicting a scene from a symposium (the earliest of the kind) and one with a representation of a lion devouring a bull (circa 500 BC). It is believed that they were parts of the Archaic heroon of the poet Archilochus.

3.3. Samos

The Samian school of sculpture had already made its appearance before the end of the 7th century BC, but very little is known about the works of the first quarter of the 6th century. The earliest of the Samian pieces have not been found on Samos: the upper part of a bronze sphyrelaton (hammered) winged female statue at Olympia and a marble female figure at Renti in Attica (580 -570 BC). The most characteristic types are the korai, dressed in chiton, himation and epiblema, the male statues with himation and kouroi. Korai have a columnal bottom part and detailed, although decorative, drapery of their garment. The heads of the male statues are abnormally swollen at the top and back part of the skull. Their hair is simple, with parallel locks which begin from the low forehead and fall down the back. Two votive groups (syntagmata) from Heraion, known with the names of their dedicator and sculptor –Cheramyes and Geneleos respectively -, illustrate these peculiarities. Among the kouroi of the mid-6th century, two colossal pieces are exceptional: a head is kept in Istanbul (preserved height 70 cm.) while another, almost entire, was discovered in parts in the 1980’s and its initial height was 5.5 metres. In 2005 a Samian kouros of fine mastery was revealed at Despotiko, dated in the same period. The Samian kouroi are definitely more fleshy than the Naxian, but without the effort to emphasise their physique, as it is the case on Paros, and less muscular indeed than the kouroi from Peloponnese. It is believed that they illustrate the opulence of Ionian aristocracy, where the gymnasium was not the centre of life for the youth. The study of the small-scale bronze and terracotta figurines of the island has also greatly contributed in understanding the Samian sculpture and the close relations with the sculpture of neighbouring Miletus. Large-scale bronze sculpture, all vanished today, appears to have been of great tradition on Samos, since, according to the sources, the Samians architects and sculptors Theodoros and Rhoikos were the first to have brought the technique of hollow-cast bronze statues from Egypt to Greece in around the middle of the 6th century BC.

3.4. Chios

A school of sculpture seems to have been developed on Chios since the middle of the 6th century BC. This is confirmed by the ancient literary sources, which mention the sculptors Mikkiades and Archermos (father and son). A Nike from Delos (circa 550 BC) has been attributed to Archermos. However, the discoveries on Chios are poor: few torsos of kouroi and korai, one of which bears an elaborate fashion of the chiton folds. The same drapery appears on two statues of Nike and a kore from the Acropolis (520-510 BC), which, taking into consideration the fact that their marble was from an island and an inscription recording Archermos as well, led to the conclusion that they were works of the Chian school. They are distinctive for the wavy line of the coiffure above the forehead, the prominent cheekbones and full lips. These features chatacterise two caryatids of the same period from Delphi as well. One belongs to the Sifnian treasury and the other to the once called Cnidian. Due to lack of parallels for a certain comparison, most scholars attribute them to Chios.

3.5. Other islands

Only few sculptures of the Archaic period have been revealed on most of the other Aegean islands, sometimes with local peculiarities, but usually with intense influences of one of the important Aegean schools of sculpture.

From Milos comes a well-preserved kouros with obvious Naxian influences (circa 550 BC). Four torsos from male statues derive from Thera; they are destroyed to a large extent, probably Naxian and they fall somewhere between the transition from Daedalic type to kouros (circa 600 BC).

A kouros from Anafi, which is housed in the British Museum, a kouros head and a Hermaic stele from Sifnos are under the Parian influence. A relief depicting a symposium scene, dated circa 500 BC originated from Kos. Two torsos and three heads of kouroi from Kamiros on Rhodes reveal Samian impact (550-520 BC).

From Andros derives a Naxian kouros of 550-540 BC, a Parian kore and a composition of the mythical winged horse Pegasus with his rider, Bellerophon. It was the acroterion of a temple and is dated between the end of the 6th century and the beginning of the 5th century BC.

Limnos is not known for large-scale sculpture. Nevertheless, few big terracotta figurines of Sirens reveal, on the faces and hair, a style completely different than what is known in the rest of the Aegean. It appears that this peculiarity is connected with the special relation that Archaic Limnos maintained with the Etruscans.

It should be mentioned that half of the much discussed frieze of the Sifnian treasury at Delphi (north and east side, 530-525 BC) is the work of an island workshop. The Gigantomachy scene which decorates it, is considered the most important architectural sculpture of the Archaic period, although there is a debate whether the artists were Parians or Chians.

4. Classical sculpture

4.1. Paros

The school of Paros gained an even more predominent presence with the beginning of the Classical sculpture, especially with the reliefs in the severe style (480-450 BC). Their characteristic was the rendering of depth and details in very low relief. Three grave stelae of exceptional quality depicting young girls who wear the peplos –two from Paros and one from Macedonia –appear to have derived from the same workshop (460-440 BC). Their figures are the forerunners of the korai on the Parthenon frieze. Another relief from Ikaria (circa 460 BC) remains enigmatic as for its function and inscription. However, it is certain that it was the work of a Parian sculptor. A rare relief from Milos is also attributed to the Parian workshop; it is circular and bears a female head in profile. Finally, a series of stelae with anthemion, which were called ‘Samian’, have recently been attributed to Paros. Some magnificent examples of that type, apart from the island itself, come from Samos, Tigani, Amorgos and Kalymnos.

The brilliance of the Parian reliefs expanded all over the Aegean and works influenced either directly or indirectly are found from Thasos and Mesembria of Thrace to Nisyros and Xanthos of Lycia.

The production of freestanding sculptures followed the same pattern, although the finds are scant. The most important is a headless Nike that looks ready to fly (470-460 BC). The drapery of her peplos and the movement of her body find their equivalent at the small bronze female statuette with an incensory on her head found at Delphi. It is the only piece of small-scale bronze sculpture which can be recognized as Parian (460-450 BC).

On the Heroon at Xanthos in Asia Minor a female figure, which follows the Parian models, is present. Moreover, it appears that one of the two teams who worked on the sculptures of the temple of Zeus in Olympia came from Paros. Finally, two early Classical pediment complexes, which were later transported to Rome (Amazonomachy and Niobe), appear to have originated in the Aegean region.

In the second half of the 5th century the radiance of the Parthenon was so great, that local schools lost their unique style. In addition, the best Parian sculptors, like Agorakritos, worked in Athens following Attic models. Nevertheless, the tradition of the island was preserved and offered to the Greek art another famous sculptor of the late Classical period, namely Skopas.

4.2. The other islands

On the other islands the influences of Paros are still obvious until the end of the 5th century BC, the time when they were almost everywhere replaced by Attic influences.

A female head in severe style (470 BC) comes from Rhodes, as well as an important relief, the stele of Krito and Timarista (circa 410 BC), with a farewell scene between a mother and her daughter. It is a local work of art, which combines in an excellent way the Parian tradition with the achievements of Attic sculpture. Another parallel is a part of a stele with a young man in front of a woman from Samos (circa 420 BC).

A complex of Vorreas abducting the Athenian princess Oreithyia is dated in the end of the 5th century BC. It was the central acroterion of the temple of the Athenians at Delos. Moreover, a Roman copy of Apollo Lykeios by Praxiteles was found at Delos, while the statue known as Hermes of Andros is also a copy of an original by the great Athenian sculptor.

Other interesting examples of the 4th century BC are a grave stele from Tinos and a torso of Poseidon from Syros, influenced by the school of Lysippos, a statue of a man with himation from Kos (known as Hippocrates) and a votive relief from Mytilini with a representation of a divine couple in funerary dinner. Grave stelae in relief or with anthemion of Attic origin or inspiration appear on most islands during the 4th century.

5. Hellenistic sculpture

5.1. Rhodes

Rhodes in the Hellenistic period became the great centre of sculpture in the Aegean. Even though it is difficult to be considered as ‘school’ in the sense of a unified style, some of the most important sculptures of the period after Alexander up to Augustus (end of the 4th cent. BC – beginning of the 1st cent. AD) have been attributed to it.

One of the most famous works that was found on Rhodes and belongs to the tradition of Lysippos is the ‘Praying Boy’ of Berlin. It is the statue of a naked youth, propably Ganymedes or an athlete crowning himself. It is dated circa 300 BC and his arms, from the beginning of the upper arms to the hands, are a recent arbitrary restoration.

Chares, the coppersmith of Colossus of Rhodes, which was created in the same period, was also an apprentice of Lysippos. In addition, the numerous kilns for casting bronze, which were discovered around the ancient city of Rhodes, are dated towards the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 3rd century BC. A Rhodian find and creation as well is also a bronze sleeping Eros in New York (second half of the 2nd century BC).

Among the marble sculptures, the most distinctive are a head of god Helios (250-160 BC), a characteristic example of the Hellenistic baroque, and certain miniature copies of familiar works: Asclepius, Zeus of Pergamon, the bathing Aphrodite of Doidalsas, and certain nymphs.

The emblematic Nike of Samothrace has been attributed to the Rhodian school, not only due to the Rhodian stone on its base, but also to the dynamism of the sculpture. It appears to have been dedicated circa 190 BC on the occasion of a naval victory of the Rhodians in the war against Antiochus III.

Among the large and crowded groups of sculpture, it is worth mentioning the punishment of Dirke by Zethus and Amphion, which according to the sources was created by the sculptors Apollonios and Tauriskos. It is known from a Roman copy with a lot of arbitrary restorations and rather insufficient to draw any conclusions on the Rhodian sculpture of the period.

The group of Laokoon and his sons in Vatican is more famous. It is signed by the Rhodians Hagesandros, Polydoros and Athenodoros. The same sculptors had created the scenographic installation of sculptures from Sperlonga, to the south of Rome, which portrays Odysseus and his companions in the episodes of Scylla and Polyphemus, . Both groups were considered for many years to be copies of the 3rd or 2nd century BC, made in the period of Caesar. However, recent research tends to regard them original works made in the years between Caesar and Tiberius (40 BC - 25 AD).

5.2. Milos

Two Hellenistic statues originated from Milos: the Poseidon in the National Archaeological Museum and the Aphrodite in Louvre. Aphrodite, who is actually more likely to be Amphitrite, has been acclaimed as universal symbol of beauty. It is the work of an unknown artist from Antioch on the Maeander in Asia Minor and is dated roughly in the end of the 2nd century BC, like Poseidon. Although it succesfully combines elements of the Classical period with tendencies and technical solutions of the 2nd century BC, it represents at the same time the fragmentary perception and impetuous idealisation of ancient art in the modern period.

5.3. Delos

The sculpture of Delos, mainly the works of the 1st century BC, underline the transition from Hellenistic to Roman principles. Few of them, such as Aphrodite with Pan (end of 2nd century BC) continue the quest of the Rhodian genre within the frame of Hellenistic rococo. Other sculptures, such as the honorary and votive statues of dignitaries, prepare for the arrival of the Roman portrait, as they combine familiar plastic types of athletes and philosophers with pictorial heads of advanced realism. This is the period when the mass production of copies of famous Greek sculptures begins for the Roman aristocracy, for example Diadoumenos of Polykleitos, which was found in a residence at Delos.

5.4. Kos

Kos has yielded a rich line of statues of the 3rd and 2ndcentury BC from sanctuaries and residences. The best examples are two statues of Demeter and Kore, a relief of a young athlete, a seated Hermes with a ram, a base of a table with reformation of the type of Marsyas and certain statues of women who wear the characteristic delicate Koan esthes (veil) over a discernable thicker fabric.

6. Synopsis

The golden period of the Aegean sculpture, as well as of the Aegean society, was the Archaic. The schools of Naxos, Samos, Chios and Paros dominated, gleaming all over the entire Greek world. These schools contributed directly not only to the birth, but also to the initial formation of the Greek monumental sculpture. In the early Classical period Paros, where the best quality of marble was abundant, was found in the avant-garde and influenced important centres like Athens and Olympia. In the beginning of the 4th century Athens had no rivals in sculpture and the Athenian models spread all over the Aegean and even farther. In the Hellenistic period, Rhodes, naval and prosperous, gained fame in sculpture, having Pergamon as the only significant competitor. Rhodes expanded the repertoire and mastered not only the sentimental intensity and expression in the sculptures, but also the elegant variation of the genre. In Delos, where commercial transactions took place and the Greek and Roman element coexisted, appeared the last gleam of Aegean sculpture, before copies, uniformity and poor performance prevailed.