Characteristics of Art During the Hellenistic Period

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The beauty of Greek and ancient Roman art is you can find answers to an array of questions regarding their mysterious and fascinating past. During the Hellenistic period, there was a clear shift to realism from idealism in their sculptures. This sculpture pushed the standards, since no other artist represented realism during the previous period. Artists quickly became intrigued with the concept of childhood and old age. This is greatly illustrated in the Greek statue of the old market woman. In this paper, I will research the old market woman, the story behind it, the significance of it, and touch on the shift from idealism to realism.

This sculpture is said to have been created by Julio-Claudian around the second century, and the sculpture we can see today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a Roman copy of a Hellenistic bronze sculpture. The beauty of the sculpture lies within the impeccable detail and the emotion shown through the marble exterior. During the Hellenistic Greek period, artists began to shift from capturing outer beauty to inner beauty within their art. Also, in this period, artists became attentive to the accurate representation of childhood, old age, and even physical deformity. Artists at the time only focused on what is beautiful and pleasing to the human eye. The reason this sculpture is so significant is due to the fact that the artist took a more realistic approach which started the trend of realism in Hellenistic art. It was an impressive approach to people since there was an opportunity to learn more about the structure and its background instead of what is seen. The Old Market Woman shows off major characteristics that help piece together the story of a woman’s life.

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The old woman seems to be bent, leaning on one leg, and appears to be weak. She is dressed in white cloth that is immaculately draped over her body; which loosely hugs the body and still highlights the human form underneath. The artist is clearly Greek because of his instinct to include fine lines and beautiful forms on the realistic sculpture. The old woman is also seen carrying a basket of what could be fruits and vegetables representing her role in society and highlighting the religious themes. Here we see the fruits and vegetables as an offering to a God. At first glance, your eyes are drawn to the crown of vines on top of her head, which signifies the festival that was occurring at the time. It is concluded that the woman was attending the festival of Dionysos, which was put together to celebrate the God of Wine. The crown on top of her head was typical wear for someone who attends the festival. It could be inferred that the old woman was bent, not because of her age, but because the artist was trying to depict her pushing her way through the crowd of market people. Her breasts are slightly exposed because of her loose garment and her face shows signs of old age with sunken cheeks, and defined lines around her mouth. The unknown artist was trying to display his view of everyday human life. He strayed away from the beauty, symmetry, and smoothness of typical models displaying a woman with sunken in features which captures a sense of realism.

The artist wanted to obtain a matter of representation that conveys an everyday way of life. Instead of showing victories or triumph in their art, the artist was trying to achieve a story behind their work. Their main goal was to be able to focus on the beauty within, rather than just the exterior beauty. Many sculptures created before were to praise someone of higher power, however this sculpture is a realistic representation of life back then. The Hellenistic era takes a more pure and practical approach, while other eras show people portrayed as perfect human beings with little to no imperfections. Realism gives us a chance to see what is meant to be seen, which attracts viewers. Through the classical greek era, men are appealing to the eye, yet no one seems to wonder about the story behind it.

Between 334 and 323 B.C. Alexander the Great and his empires conquered a multitude of lands, which overall merged a ton of cultures and their arts. New ideas were coming into play and Greek art was being exposed to an array of new exotic influence. Hellenistic art rose during a time of love for history. People were getting access to books, and museums which led to them becoming intrigued with past cultures and their artistic styles. There became a widened range of sculptures being created. There were multiple representations of unorthodox figures, deformed figures, children and the elderly. The Romans became the most intrigued by Greek art, decorating their towns in Greek sculptures. The Romans became the center for Hellenistic art production, hence the copy of the old market woman found in Rome in 1907. Sculptors pursued a sense of naturalism, which was an artistic interest dating back to the Archaic period. In order to get such a lifelike expression, sculptors integrated three characteristics: Expressive Movement, Realistic Anatomy and Ornate Details. Ornate Detail is immense attention to detail, which is why sculptors enjoyed using a fabric look on figures. The appearance of fabric outlines the inferred movement, and contours the body beautifully. Archaic Greek figures were very stoic and rigid. However, during this period, sculptors were inspired by the real human figure and practiced Realistic Anatomy when creating art. Change can clearly be seen with the old market woman where she is seen imperfect, in distress and undeniably realistic. Research suggests the elderly woman was created to capture the life of everyday people, who didn’t perpetuate beauty like classical Greek sculptures, and was different from the rest. Expressive Movement is the sculptors intention to create realism by insinuating motion. The old market woman is hunched over, carrying a basket, and her body is positioned in such a way that shows she is in motion.

The old market woman was depicted by many to be just an old, poor woman who was peddling her goods. However, when you learn the history behind the sculpture you learn that she was a votive statue dedicated to Dionysus. There were festivals set up for Dionysus and sculptures were exchanged with gods for divine favors. There is such a distinct uniqueness with the old market woman solely because it is not what the Greeks considered beauty. She represents a change in Greek art towards realism, where the much feared and mocked old person is painted in such a beautiful light.

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