The Hellenistic Period

Hello everyone! This week I wanted to discuss one of my favorite periods of art, the Hellenistic period. This period emerged after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and lasted up until the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Although Rome became the center of where Hellenistic art was produced, this style was inspired by the classical Greek artists, and explores the individual representation through strong expressions and emotions.

One artist of this style composed the statue, Dying Gaul, 220 BCE. Found on the grounds of the Palazzo Ludovisi in the 17th century, this is a Roman copy of an original. It is composed of marble, which was polished to a high gloss point to make the statue appear shiny. This statue is meant to act as a monument to depict the Greek victory of the Gaul. It is the Pergamon’s victory over the Gaul at the Sanctuary of Athena at Pergamon.

There is a real sense of defeat in this statue, yet it is a noble representation. The Gaul was a worthy opponent to the Greeks, which caused the artist to give justice to the Gaul warrior. There are powerful emotions on the warriors face. There is real pain and emotion outlined the in facial expression of the warrior. This man is being depicted just moments before his death, yet from his body structure you can see he was once strong. He is becoming to weak he is unable to hold himself up. The artist is able to describe a narrative within his work. From the detailed face with a mustache and long hair, which was meant to mark this man as barbaric. The torc around his neck signifies a marker of high rank. The viewer is able to walk around the work and see from all angles what the artists was trying to convey in this piece.

Another statue that was meant to be shown along with the Dying Gaul, is Gaul Chief Killing Himself and His Wife. This work was composed in 220 BCE and is also a Roman copy of an original. It was found along with the Dying Gaul, on the grounds of the Palazzo Ludovisi during the 17th century. These works were meant to be shown together in Pergamon, which was an important capital in the Hellenistic Period. This is where Greek culture spread from Egypt to India. Being that both works are Roman marble copies, they both depict what once were bronze originals. Together both statues act as a monument to memorialize a victory of the Pergamon kingdom over Gaul. Many memorials tend to depict the victor in a triumphantly way, but here in the Dying Gaul, is a sympathetic portrait of the defeated Gaul.

The Gaul Chief Killing Himself and His Wife, is a monument that depicts a Chief who has just killed his wife, who is also about to commit suicide. This Chief is killing himself and his wife to evade being captured and tortured by the Pergamon’s. This statue expresses an intense narrative, of love, life and death. The body is the wife is going limp, yet the husband refuses to let go of her. The husband is a Gaul, which can be seen in the facial details by his mustache and thick wavy hair. He is holding a sword to his lower neck, his head turned away from the viewer, as though he is ashamed. The Gaul is ashamed that this is how he and his wife mist die. The Gaul cannot face defeat and the the tortures that lie ahead for his wife and himself.

The narrative behind each composition, evokes a different type of emotion. The Dying Gaul evokes sympathy and empathy, while the Gaul Chief Killing Himself and His Wife depicts an intense dramatic scene during its rising action and climax. I was able to appreciate both works for overall tone and narrative. The artist included individual characteristics on each figure, which allows for a better understanding of the narrative of each statue. The Hellenistic period allowed for artists to depict characters in a more dramatic and operatic way. This can be seen in facial expressions, body language and narrative.

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