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Humanities LibreTexts

5.1: Overview

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  • During this period, art moved beyond the immense structures erected for a king or priest or decorated pottery. Art became aesthetically enjoyable by many, not just pragmatically serviceable. Classical Greece constructed temples throughout their territory following similar design, made from marble and painted in bright colors for all the observe. Greek sculptors studied anatomy, creating natural-looking figures, and in by the Hellenistic period, they made exquisite, realistic sculptures. Much of Roman art was based on copies of Greek art using both bronze and marble for their sculptures while adding more realism; wrinkles, scars, or other imperfections. Wall paintings and mosaics became a common form of detailed art.

    Although the Romans controlled a majority of the area around the Mediterranean and parts of North Africa, the Sahara Desert provided a barrier to the rest of Africa. African cultures used the natural resources found in abundance for their artwork. However, the warm, humid weather created an environment that caused much of their artwork to deteriorate, making it difficult to find in many of the regions; clay figures are one of the exceptions. In Asian countries, images were made reflecting their love of nature and morality based on prescribed methods for poetry, music, painting, or sculpture. In the Western Hemisphere, cultures created art based on transformed figures, lines blurred between the human and world of nature using metals, stone, jade, and clay, all adorned with bright colors.

    Some civilizations were long-lasting, others have almost disappeared, however, they left a record of their civilizations through surviving sculptural elements. Depending on natural resources available, each culture used a variety of materials to create large and small sculptures, and some sculptures were practical and usable while others were merely decorative. Sculptures made of marble or stone came from quarries in nearby mountains, the raw marble or stone cut out by stonemasons, and transported to the site where the figure would emerge under the guidance of the stone carver. Other sculptures found were formed from the abundant clay found in alluvial plains used the clay to build up layers to form an image or made from metals like gold shaped into representative figures. Terracotta was a common material used for sculptures since it was plentiful for most civilizations. The Terracotta Warriors and the Nok statues were both constructed from terracotta found near the burial sites.

    During this period, art began to flourish, and the scale and proportion of the work and its relationship to 'normal' proportion became important. The terra cotta warriors and horses are almost precisely in proportion to a normal-sized person, giving the illusion of an 8,000-person army. If some of the warriors were half the size of the other warriors, it would look out of proportion to the viewer and would not have the impact of similar-sized statues. Even the horses and carriages were life-sized, which gave them an appearance to be waiting for the warriors to engage them on the battlefield.

    Each culture developed processes they used to effectively and efficiently create artwork, whether it was modeling, carving, or casting.

    Modeling process: Modeling clay is similar to kneading dough for bread; the strength in one's hands and arms can model the clay into any shape over time. The wetter the clay, the easier it is to shape; however, it is also very fragile, and the right consistency is crucial if the statue is to maintain its desired form. The Nok hand-modeled their very complex figures, firing them in a hot kiln making the statue durable.

    Carving process: The clay used for the terracotta warriors was yellow earth clay, abundant in China. Its adhesive quality and plasticity made the clay perfect for the life-size warriors. The basic construction of a Warrior included three main parts: the legs, the body, and the head. Many details carved into the uniforms and faces give the illusion of a vast army with no two alike.

    Metal casting process: A model in clay formed to represent precisely the shape the artist is to cast, then a thin coat of wax is poured over the clay covering the entire piece. The next step involves a plaster covering over the wax to enclose the wax. The wax mold is heated, and the wax melts out, leaving a perfect replica of the clay piece. Melted bronze is poured into the mold and then cooled into a perfect bronze piece, as seen in an intricate Hellenistic statue or a Yayoi bell.

    Marble process: The Greeks preferred marble as their stone for carving, a workable stone. Usually, the towering columns or statues were made in several pieces, attaching separately carved parts like arms with dowels. The sculptor worked first with larger tools making broad strokes and refined the tools to different sized chisels and drills, finishing with emery powder. The Greeks seldom polished their statues; instead, they painted them with bright colors that have long faded.

    In this chapter, The Transition of Art, the sculptures created in seven cultures are examined.



    Time Frame

    Starting Location

    Roman Empire

    27 BCE – 393 CE


    Classic and Hellenistic Greece

    510 BCE – 31 BCE



    700 BCE – 300 BCE


    Qin Dynasty

    221 BCE - 206 BCE


    Yayoi Period

    300 BCE – 300 CE



    100 BCE – 800 CE



    100 CE – 800 CE


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