The Classical period (5th - 4th century BC)

Photo of Cast of 'Kritian boy'

In the early 5th century Greek artists began consciously to attempt to render human and animal forms realistically. This entailed careful observation of the model as well as understanding the mechanics of anatomy - how a body adjusts to a pose which is not stiffly frontal but with the weight shifted to one side of the body, and how a body behaves in violent motion. The successors to the archaic kouroi, mainly athlete figures, are thus regularly shown 'at ease', one leg relaxed, with a complementary shift in the shoulders, and the whole emphasized by contrasts of rigid and relaxed in limbs.

Photo of Cast of Olympia metope
  • Metope from the temple of Zeus, Olympia. Athena and Heracles recover the apples from Atlas. About 460 BC Cast No.A069
Photo of Cast of head of seer
  • Head of a seer from the east pediment of the temple of Zeus, Olympia. About 460 BC
    Cast No.A050

The new style is best expressed in the Parthenon marbles of about 450-435 BC but there was a preceding style of some importance - the Early Classical, sometimes called the Severe Style, which is exemplified in the sculptures for the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. Here the figures are mainly lifelike but drapery forms are plainer (a change from the archaic Ionian chiton to the more austere peplos for women), and there are deliberate attempts at depiction of emotion in faces and of different ages in rendering of bodies.

Photo of Cast of Dionysos
  • Reclining figure of Dionysos from the east pediment of the Parthenon. About 430 BC
    Cast No. A091
Photo of Cast of Dione and Aphrodite
  • Reclining figures of Dione and Aphrodite from the east pediment of the Parthenon. About 430 BC
    Cast No. A094
Photo of Cast of 'Dresden Zeus'
  • The 'Dresden Zeus'. Copy of a statue of about 440 BC
    Cast No. C049

These innovations were foresworn by Pheidias, in his design for the Parthenon, and replaced by a more idealized realism in which body forms were often more regular than in life, and heads, except for monsters like centaurs, seem passionless, calm. Dress, after the austerity of the Early Classical becomes dramatically realistic. But the Parthenon is the fullest expression of what is sometimes called the High Classical. It is in this period and style too that, in the following hundred years, many of the basic types for the Greek gods were devised, and these remained influential throughout antiquity.

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