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Ten Stunning Masterpieces of Ancient Greek Art

masterpieces ancient greek art
The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Credit: Xin Sy /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

There are countless masterpieces of ancient Greek art scattered in museums around the world, serving as a reminder that Greece is the cradle of Western Civilization.

These are works of unparalleled beauty, precious monuments of the world’s rich heritage that still mesmerize viewers and will continue to do so in the generations to come.

The Pergamon Altar: an ancient Greek masterpiece in Asia Minor

ancient greek art masterpieces
Gigantomachy Frieze on the Pergamon Altar. Credit: Miguel Hermoso Cuesta /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Created about 150 BC on the Acropolis — the highest point — of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor, the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon, near modern-day Izmir, Turkey, is a masterpiece of ancient Greek art from the Hellenistic period.

The monumental structure, which is over 35 meters (115 feet) wide and 33 meters deep, was created during the reign of Greek King Eumenes II.

Ancient greek art masterpieces
The Pergamon Altar in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Credit: Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The altar is adorned with a stunning relief featuring the battle between the Olympian Gods and the Giants, or the Gigantomachy.

Today, the great work of Hellenistic art is kept at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

The Mask of Agamemnon, Legendary King of Mycenae

The Mask of Agamemnon. Credit: Xuan Che /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The golden Mask of Agamemnon was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann during his excavations at Mycenae in Greece.

It was found covering the face of a body in a burial shaft, and due to the splendor of the glittering gold mask, it is thought to have belonged to the legendary king Agamemnon.

Many believed that mask provides a glimpse at the face of the Greek leader, who fought during the Trojan War, as mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, and who tradition says was buried at Mycenae.

However, analysis of the mask has shown that it actually dates to about 1550–1500 BC — some 300 years before Agamemnon. The mask is displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Some scholars believe that the mask had been extensively altered during the 19th century, as it differs greatly in style from other masks of the period.

Most telling is the thick beard and styled mustache, which is not found in ancient Greek art and suspiciously resembles fashionable facial hair in the 19th century.

The Venus de Milo embodied beauty itself in ancient Greek art

Greek art
The Venus de Milo. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Public domain

Exhibited at the Louvre Museum, the Venus de Milo, or Aphrodite of Milos, is known around the world for her beauty.

The marble sculpture, likely created by Alexandros of Antioch during the late 2nd century BC, is admired for its artistry and delicate details, especially in the hair, fabric, and gorgeous facial features.

The masterpiece of ancient Greek art features a nearly nude, larger-than-life female figure standing an impressive 6 feet, 8 inches tall.

She is traditionally believed to represent Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and many scholars argue that the statue embodies ancient Greek ideals of beauty.

The work was unearthed on the island of Milos in the 19th century by a farmer when he was plowing his field.

Winged Victory of Samothrace still stuns viewers today

The Winged Victory of Samothrace. Credit: Lyokoï88/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Also displayed at the Louvre Museum, the Winged Victory, or the Nike of Samothrace, stands at the top of the great museum’s large set of stairs, amazing visitors who find themselves in her imposing presence.

In antiquity, the Winged Victory was placed in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on the island of Samothrace.

According to historians, the sculpture was an offer by the people of Rhodes to the island in commemoration of a naval victory in the early second century BC.

The active, kinetic aspect of the ancient Greek masterpiece, along with its perfectly sculpted wings, make it an impressive work of art that still mesmerizes the public to this day.

The monument was unearthed in 1863 on the island of Samothrace in the northwest Aegean. It was discovered by Charles Champoiseau, French Vice-Consul to Adrianople (Edirne), Turkey.

The Parthenon Marbles, the most controversial masterpiece of Ancient Greek Art

Parthenon Marbles
The Parthenon Marbles at the British Museum. Credit: Public Domain

Generally known as either the Parthenon Marbles, Parthenon Sculptures, or the Elgin Marbles, the statues that comprise the rich metope, or frieze, of the Parthenon.

Of the 97 surviving stones of the Parthenon Frieze, 56 are at the British Museum in London, taken there in the beginning of the 19th century by Lord Elgin.

Their presence there and the refusal of the museum to return then to their place of origin so they may “rejoin” the rest of the still-standing Parthenon is the cause of an ongoing row between Greece and the British Museum.

The South Metopes in the British Museum show the battle between Centaurs and Lapiths at the marriage feast of Peirithoos.

The remaining sculptures are displayed at the new Acropolis Museum in Athens.

The Siren Vase

Siren vase
Odysseus and the Sirens, eponymous vase of the Siren Painter, c. 480–470 BC (British Museum). Credit: Jastrow / Public Domain

The Siren Vase is one of the more well-known Ancient Greek masterpieces in the world.

The vase, which is attributed to the anonymous “Siren Painter,” depicts the sirens who try to seduce Odysseus on his long return journey to Ithaca.

In a unique image, the legendary hero is shown tied to the mast of his ship so that he cannot react to the irresistible song of the mythical female creatures.

The Siren Vase, which is thought to have been created sometime between 480 BC and 470 BC, is part of the British Museum’s permanent collection.

The Fallen Warrior of Aphaia

ancient greek art masterpiece
The Fallen Warrior of the Temple of Aphaia. Credit: Nefasdicere/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.5

The Fallen Warrior from the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina was sculpted in 510 BC.

It depicts a warrior who has been badly injured in battle but refuses to surrender, using his shield to prop up his wounded body.

The size of the sculpture is over life-size, contributing to the awe-inspiring effect it has on viewers.

It is currently on display at the Glyptothek of Munich, since it was discovered in the 20th century by the German Archaeological School on Aegina.

ancient greek art masterpiece
The Temple of Aphaia on the Greek island of Aegina. Credit: /Wikimedia Commons/

The figure is part of a vast sculptural program originally arranged on the impressive Aphaia temple on the Greek island of Aegina, which was built around 600 BC.

Dedicated to Aphaia, the goddess of the hunt, who was worshiped exclusively at the site, the temple has yielded incredible finds for archeologists with its rich sculptural decoration.

Hermes and the Infant Dionysus by Praxiteles

Hermes and the infant Dionysus. Credit: Dwaisman /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, or the Hermes of Praxiteles, was discovered in 1877 in the ruins of the Temple of Hera, in Olympia, Greece.

Today, the awe-inspiring sculpture is displayed at Olympia’s magnificent Archaeological Museum.

The statue is attributed to Praxiteles and dated to the 4th century BC, based on a remark by the 2nd century Greek traveler Pausanias, although this is hotly contested by experts.

The sculpture, renowned for is beautiful depiction of the human form, is considered one of Praxiteles’ masterpieces.

It shows the Greek god Hermes holding Dionysus, the god of wine and theater, as an infant, which is a rare image in ancient Greek art.

The Artemision Poseidon

Zeus Poseidon
The Artemision Poseidon, or is it Zeus? Credit: user:Tetraktys/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Poseidon of Artemision, the imposing full-figure bronze statue of a god, received its name from its place of discovery — Cape Artemision on Evia.

Despite its name, many archaeologists now believe that the sculpture actually depicts Zeus, not Poseidon.

The imposing figure stands at 2.09 meters (6.85 feet) tall, and tradition says that it depicts Poseidon holding a trident.

For others, though, the figure clearly appears to show Zeus ready to throw a thunderbolt.

Its maker, clearly a master at his art, is unknown, but archaeologists place his work around 460 BC, based on its style.

The breathtakingly beautiful bronze figure is currently on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

The Riace Bronze Warriors

Ancient Greek masterpieces art
Statue A of the Riace bronzes. Credit: Luca Galli /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The Riace Warriors, or Riace Bronzes, are two life-size Greek bronze statues of nude, bearded warriors.

The statues were discovered in an amazing underwater find by Stefano Mariottini in the Mediterranean Sea just off the coast of Riace Marina, Italy, on August 16, 1972.

The statues are currently housed in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in the Italian city of Reggio Calabria.

masterpieces greek art
Statue B. Credit: Effems /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The statues, which are commonly referred to as “Statue A” and “Statue B,” were originally cast using the lost-wax technique.

Bronze figures from ancient Greece are incredibly rare, as many works of art were melted down for their bronze over the many centuries that have intervened, so that it could be reused to make weapons or coins.

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