The Greeks were the first to take human representation in art to another level. They were the ones who created ideal proportions and contrapposto, which later played a key role in Renaissance art. The reason behind this new progression was mainly because of the Greeks’ paganistic religion; in essence, the Greeks wanted to find an ideal and beautiful human form (which included nudity).
There were three periods of development for the Greeks in art: Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic.
Archaic: 600 to 480 BCE
During this time, the Greeks were heavily influenced by the proportions of Egyptian art. For instance, looking at the Kouros sculpture below you can see that the form is very rigid. The arms are on it’s sides with his hands in fist form and thumbs coming out. Even looking at this, you can see the almond shaped eyes, hair that goes back, a torso that’s slightly smaller than the chest, and the left foot in front. Compare this sculpture to the sculpture of King Menkaura and queen.
Classical: 480 – 323 BCE
During a time of Greek success and power, Polykleitos of Argos decided that he would come up with a proportion for art (that was reproducible) and it would create a sense of harmony. With this era, there came the concept of contrapposto which aligned the left leg to right arm and right leg to left arm, making the figure appear more realistic. Also, during this period figures began to look more real. Their torso and chest were more accurately aligned, the eyes went from almond shaped to circular, the height became more accurate, and there was a universally general face for most sculptures. Everything appeared more symmetrical and aligned. This period was the height of Greek art and the canon of proportions. This era was most influential on Roman art and later Western art.
Hellenistic: 323 to around 30 BCE
This is the last Greek period before the Romans took over. Personally, I think this one is one of the most interesting periods. Since the Greeks have found their ideal proportions in the Classical period, they decided to shift a bit from this. In this period, they took their proportions even further. They mainly highlighted intensity and expression, and they further their previous proportions. For instance, the Dying Gaul is very individualistic and intense. His body isn’t as ideal and you can see he is in pain.
Image from Pinterest