6 Ancient Greek Sculptors

Copy of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos.
Copy of Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Knidos. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

These six sculptors (Myron, Phidias, Polyclitus, Praxiteles, Scopas, and Lysippus) are among the most famous artists in ancient Greece. Most of their work has been lost except as it survives in Roman and later copies.

Art during the Archaic Period was stylized but became more realistic during the Classical Period. The late— Classical Period sculpture was three dimensional, made to be viewed from all sides. These and other artists helped move Greek art— from Classic Idealism to Hellenistic Realism, blending in softer elements and emotive expressions. 

The two most commonly cited sources for information about Greek and Roman artists are the first century CE writer and scientist Pliny the Elder (who died watching Pompeii erupt) and the second century CE travel writer Pausanias.

Myron of Eleutherae

5th C. BCE.—Early Classical Period

An older contemporary of Phidias and Polyclitus, and, like them, also a pupil of Ageladas, Myron of Eleutherae (480–440 BCE) worked chiefly in bronze. Myron is known for his Discobolus (discus-thrower) which had careful proportions and rhythm.

Pliny the Elder argued that Myron's most famous sculpture was that of a bronze heifer, supposedly so lifelike it could be mistaken for a real cow. The cow was placed at the Athenian Acropolis between 420–417 BCE, then moved to the Temple of Peace at Rome and then the Forum Taurii in Constantinople. This cow was on view for nearly a thousand years—the Greek scholar Procopius reported that he saw it in the 6th century CE. It was the subject of no less than 36 Greek and Roman epigrams, some of which claimed that the sculpture could be mistaken for a cow by calves and bulls, or that it actually was a real cow, attached to a stone base.

Myron can be approximately dated to the Olympiads of the victors whose statues he crafted (Lycinus, in 448, Timanthes in 456, and Ladas, probably 476).

Phidias of Athens

c. 493–430 BCE—High Classical Period

Phidias (spelled Pheidias or Phydias), the son of Charmides, was a 5th century BCE sculptor known for his ability to sculpt in nearly anything, including stone, bronze, silver, gold, wood, marble, ivory, and chryselephantine. Among his most famous works is the nearly 40-foot tall statue of Athena, made of chryselephantine with plates of ivory upon a core of wood or stone for the flesh and solid gold drapery and ornaments. A statue of Zeus at Olympia was made of ivory and gold and was ranked among one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The Athenian statesman Pericles commissioned several works from Phidias, including sculptures to celebrate the Greek victory at the Battle of Marathon. Phidias is among the sculptors associated with the early use of the "Golden Ratio," the Greek representation of which is the letter Phi after Phidias.

Phidias the accused of trying to embezzle gold but proved his innocence. He was charged with impiety, however, and sent to prison where, according to Plutarch, he died.

Polyclitus of Argos

5th C. BCE—High Classical Period

Polyclitus (Polycleitus or Polykleitos) created a gold and ivory statue of Hera for the goddess's temple at Argos. Strabo called it the most beautiful rendering of Hera he'd ever seen, and it was considered by most ancient writers as one of the most beautiful works of all Greek art. All his other sculptures were in bronze.

Polyclitus is also known for his Doryphorus statue (Spear-bearer), which illustrated his book named canon (kanon), a theoretical work on ideal mathematical proportions for human body parts and on the balance between tension and movement, known as symmetry. He sculpted Astragalizontes (Boys Playing at Knuckle Bones) which had a place of honor in the atrium of the Emperor Titus

Praxiteles of Athens

c. 400–330 BCE—Late Classical Period

Praxiteles was the son of the sculptor Cephisodotus the Elder, and a younger contemporary of Scopas. He sculpted a great variety of men and gods, both male and female; and he is said to have been the first to sculpt the human female form in a life-sized statue. Praxiteles primarily used marble from the famous quarries of Paros, but he also used bronze. Two examples of Praxiteles' work are Aphrodite of Knidos (Cnidos) and Hermes with the Infant Dionysus.

One of his works that reflects the change in Late Classical Period Greek art is his sculpture of the god Eros with a sad expression, taking his lead, or so some scholars have said, from a then-fashionable depiction of love as suffering in Athens, and the growing popularity of the expression of feelings in general by painters and sculptors throughout the period.

Scopas of Paros

4th C. BCE—Late Classical Period

Scopas was an architect of the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, which used all three of the orders (Doric and Corinthian, on the outside and Ionic inside), in Arcadia. Later Scopas made sculptures for Arcadia, which were described by Pausanias.

Scopas also worked on the bas-reliefs that decorated the frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Caria. Scopas may have made one of the sculptured columns on the temple of Artemis at Ephesus after its fire in 356. Scopas made a sculpture of a maenad in a Bacchic frenzy of which a copy survives.

Lysippus of Sicyon

4th C. BCE—Late Classical Period

A metalworker, Lysippus taught himself sculpture by studying nature and Polyclitus' canon. Lysippus' work is characterized by lifelike naturalism and slender proportions. It has been described as impressionistic. Lysippus was the official sculptor to Alexander the Great.

It is said about Lysippus that "while others had made men as they were, he had made them as they appeared to the eye." Lysippus is thought not to have had formal artistic training but was a prolific sculptor creating sculptures from tabletop size to colossus.

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