Effect Of The Peloponnesian War On Greek Art
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Published: Thu, 11 May 2017
In this lecture the topic of Greek art and the Peloponnesian War will be discussed. The Peloponnesian War lasting from 432-400 BC did have an effect on Greek art, and for that reason, it should be referred to by separating and marking a major break in the history of Greek art. The division should portray where the war changed Classical art and how it shifted away from the Classical ‘standard’ or ‘ideal.’ One must also understand that although there is a break in style and composition from the Classical ideal, it never completely vanishes, nor does it ever completely perpetuate through history. This lecture will talk about what the Classical ideal means, what was the Peloponnesian War; it will focus on the art of sculpture, and then briefly touch upon later works of art that followed the Fourth Century to get a better understanding of why the Classical form continues to be part of Greek history and even contemporary history.
Perhaps the best way to examine how there exist a break between the High Classical 450 to 430 BC and the Late Classical 430 to 400 BC periods, the time of the Peloponnesian War, is to clarify what constitutes the Classical ideal style in sculpture. Then, one can examine how the later periods moved away from this ideal.
The development of the Classical style originated from as early as the end of the Archaic period, however, the basis for the “ideal form” was not fashioned until the period of High Classical art and architecture. Made famous by Pericles, the elected leader of the Athenian military until his death in 429 BC, the Parthenon became the symbol of Athens and High Classical art. Pericles’ plan for the Parthenon was to propagate unity of the Greek Empire and to have Athens as its leader and demonstrate the power that came with winning the war against the Persians. The message spread was clear; the Parthenon was built to remember Athenian victory over the uncivilized Persians and as a symbol for self-confidence and admiration. In Greek Art and Archaeology John Pedley describes Pericles’ views:
The exceptional character of the democracy was at the bottom of Perikles’ belief in Athens, according to Thucydides, who has him speak in the following terms: “We are a democracy in which a citizen is advanced as a reward of merit; a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we love the beautiful; we cultivate the mind; Athens is the school of Hellas.” For Perikles, the Parthenon may have stood as an emblem of the democracy and as an instrument for the education of Greece.
It is this attitude and way of thinking, as well as the physical forms of the architecture of the Parthenon that brought about the idea of the perfect model. Polycleitos of Argos is considered responsible for the construction of the “standard form” in sculpture. He is famous for his Canon, which illustrates the forms of symmetria, or commensurability, through actual proportions and set measures for the human body in sculpture. Although, much of the Canon is lost and none of his bronze sculptures survive there is still evidence in numerous Roman copies of his work. The most popular copies are those of the Doryphoros  or the “spear bearer”. The structure of the Doryphoros is what makes is unique compare to earlier sculptures, like the Kritios Boy. The form of Polycleitos’ work shows what might have been written in his Canon; a “walking stance,” distant stare, and contrapposto composition all aligned by symmetria. According to Pedley, the “walking stance” is categorized as such because of the way one leg is raised, thus the weight of the body goes to the other leg as if about to step forward. The expression on the face is still “distant” and “relaxed”, like those figures found in the Parthenon. The contrapposto, formed by raising the hip with the leg bearing the weight and slightly skewing the shoulders, creates a balance between “tense forms and relaxed one.” The balance of the body as well as the detail of the “bone and muscle, sinew and vein, and hair and flesh” help create the “ideal” shape of the human body. It all works with the proper application of proportionality created by Polycleitos, which strives for an element of perfection. This is the structure and composition one must keep in mind when thinking of the Classical ideal.
Some may say that in examining works of art from the start of Classical ideal to the beginning of the Fourth Century, which is from the time of the Parthenon all the way to 400 BC, there is continuity in style and form. However, if one reads about the war that lasted for thirty years between Athens and Sparta one might begin to see the design and construction of a new form of art in relevance with what was happening between the periods of 430-400 BC. Therefore, it would be better to break down the classical period into separate parts, thus having a split between High Classical period 480-450 BC and the Fourth Century, called the Late Classical period when the Peloponnesian War occurred.
Donald Kagan in his book The Peloponnesian War, talks about the conflicts and battles prior, during and after the war. The war between Athens and Sparta started from conflicts between cities and alliances. For many years prior Athens and Sparta had been rivals, but neither wished to go to war with each other, for different reasons. Sparta was afraid that if they left their land to fight at Athens other major states, like Argos, and their helot subordinates would attack their weakened city and form a rebellion against them. And self-confident Athens just had won the war against the Persians, and thus wanted no more quarrels. Nonetheless, their reluctance did not stop either of the states from forming alliances. The Peloponnesian League, or the Spartan Alliance, was majorly formed by Sparta, Elis, Megara, and Mantinea and sometimes Thebes and Corinth. The Athenian alliance is modernly called the Delian League, formed by the region of Attica and surrounding islands; though some regions maintained autonomous. Nevertheless, these allies soon became the great Greek Empire with Athens as its leader and Sparta did not like this.
Prior to the outbreak of the major war in 432 BC there were shorter yet significant conflicts and battles with different states from both leagues. For example, when Magara and Corinth went to war the Spartans denied Magara’s request for help against Corinth, and instead asked Athens for help. Athens knowing that an alliance with Magara would be a great advantage agreed to help. However, that decision created hostility from Corinth against Athens, which will play a greater role in future conflicts. Donald Kagan explains that this first war “ended when the Magarians defected from the Athenian alliance and returned to the Peloponnesian League, opening the way for the Spartan king Pleistoanax to lead a Peloponnesian army into Attica.” But at the end Sparta retreated perhaps due to Pericles’ offer for a peace treaty. The treaty recognized “Sparta’s hegemony on the mainland and Athens’ in the Aegean” both “accepted the dualism into which the Greek world had been divided.” Also, it reassured that states already in the alliances of the two parties could not change sides once in a league, like Magara had done and neutral states could choose either side.
There were still some conflicts through the years always threatening Athens and Sparta’s treaty, but the two state leaders maintained peace for as long as they could. It was not until the war between Corinth and Corcyra over Epidamnus, according to Kagan, that the matter became more complicated. Corcyra, a neutral state at the time asked Athens for their aid against Corinth. Corinth tried to convince Athens that if they accepted that it would be a breach of the peace treaty for Corinth would have to ask Sparta to join as well. Both Sparta and Athens were hesitant of joining either party, but at the end Athens did accept Corcyra’s request, with the condition that it would only be defensive aid; Sparta denied Corinth. But Corinth’s continued to seek vengeance and tried to convince Sparta to get involved. In addition Athens “had passed a decree barring the Megarians from the harbors of the Athenian Empire and from the Athenian agora,” and scholars believe it was “a device intended as a deliberate provocation to war, a statement of defiance to the Peloponnesian League, an attempt to enrage the Spartans into violating the treaty.” No matter the reasons after many negotiations and deliberation Sparta and Athens waged war.
It was a war that lasted too long and cost Athens many losses along with some victories. The overall effect of the war left Athens destroyed, divided, demoralized and with limited resources. The plague also took about a third of the Athenian population including its most admired leader, Pericles’; bringing new politicians and therefore new strategies to the war accordingly. But it was when the Persians joined the Peloponnesian League that Athens completely fell. Although, around 403 BC when Sparta left Athens and a new democracy was reinstated, Athens was never the same, as it was during its High Classical period. This realization and devastation left a mark on the formerly confident Greek psyche, consequently revealing itself through art.
For the rest of this lecture sculptures of the Late Classical through the Fourth Century will be discussed in terms of how it shifted to a different form of expression and style from the Classical standard, and one will examine other popular mediums of art which rose in popularity at the end of the Late Classical and early Fourth Century. Portraits of busts from the Late Classical period will be compared to those of the early Fourth Century. These two portraits are, respectively, a Herm with Portrait Bust of Perikles (Roman copy)  and Double portrait of Sophocles and Aristophanes  and . In terms of contrasting body sculptures the Statue of Ares from approximately 430 BC  and the Nike by Paionios, in original  and  and reconstructed forms , from about 420-10 BC will be evaluated. In addition to the latter work certain trends in art will be mentioned which relate to the psychological toll of the Pelopennesian War perceived in some work of art. Statues barring similarities to the Nike by Paionios will be analyzed; these include the Statue of Aphrodite  and Victory: Akroterion . Then, later artist from late Fourth Century to the Hellenistic period, like Proxiteles, Skopas and Lysippos will demonstrate where the transition in style after the Peloponnesian War resonated and continued to grow after the fall of Athens.
The Herm with the portrait bust of Pericles is a Roman copy of its Greek 431 BC bronze said to be made by Kresilas, a “native of Crete” but who worked mainly in Athens. He follows the patterns of the idealistic shape. He is described by Pliny to have the skill of which “can make famous men even more famous.” This is a good example of the ideal expression that is found in figures at the Acropolis. It is ideal, young, and tranquil and it does not show the heavy responsibility that the general Pericles has to carry. The helmet represents who he is and his importance as a leader. On the other hand there is the Double portrait of Sophocles and Aristophanes also a Roman copy but from the early fourth century. There is a distinct contrast between these two portraits, and this is to represent how far apart these two styles separate in a short period of time. The ideal face of Pericles perhaps was used more to send a message that he is “ideal” for the job that has been entrusted in him and could have been “frequently replicated in large numbers and distributed throughout [his] respective [states].” But the faces of the writers Sophocles and Aristophanes are more realistic, showing their furrowed brows and wrinkled forehead, as if they were thinking about what to write next and also indicative of their age. No longer worried about the ideals of the Fifth Century these portraits show more expression and naturalism than realism as an ideal.
The Statue of Ares about 430 BC portrays the same if not similar characteristics of Polycleitos’ Doryphoros. As it has been mentioned the Doryphoros was subject to many copies, but so were other statues from the same school of art or followers of Phedias, sculptor and seer of the project of the Parthenon; and Alcemenes was one of them. This statue follows the classical proportions and characteristics of the contrapposto and a slight “walking stance.” His expression is too distant as if lost in his own mind. Symmetria is most definitely present in the composition of the musculature and balance of the body. One expects to see these same features in later works of sculptures, let’s say a decade apart, like one sees in the Doryphoros compare to the Diadoumenos also by Polycleitos. However, only ten years apart at about 420 BC the Nike by Paionios could not be compared as similarly. The akroteria of Victory is “shown at the moment of touching down, still hovering in flight and with wings (now lost) unfolded. Her bared limb and breast contrast against her body by the rush of her flight, accentuates her anatomy.” This statue clearly wants to give a ‘wow effect’ to the viewer, and perhaps to lift the spirits of the people of Athens and those states fighting the war. It was dedicated “to celebrate [â€¦] a victory of the Messenians and Naupaktians” over the Spartans. This very big flowing drapery is a style at the time becoming more popular as the appearance of expression becomes more prominent during and after the war with the Peloponnesians.
One knows because of the inscription on the Nike by Paionios that this statue is specifically connected to the Peloponnesian War. Therefore, why could one not assume that the war was on everyone’s mind and causing a change in the style of art? Certainly, the Doryphoros or the Statue of Ares do not represent such troubled times. They are still stuck in the past trying to reach an ideal that is not representative of the time; but they were still being made. For this reason, one must understand that major events, like catastrophic war and plague, takes time to set in people’s consciousness and thus will not be characterized until later years. One does not see the change of style until later in the period, at around 420-410 BC. There is another reason why the Classical ideal might have continued through the time of war. That is artists were following certain trends. Discussed in another lecture, characteristic trends of pursuation, escapism, and soberness can be found in arts associated with the Peloponnesian War. The figure in flight of the Nike of Paionios has an illusionistic quality of persuasion, something like a miracle, which could aid Athens end the war. But the war continued and perhaps people wanted to forget about their troubles and tragedies of the war. Art created another world for people to escape to. Though not illustrated in this lecture, the Vase by the Meidias painter was “at odds with the implied tension of the activities shown and with rigor of the Peloponnesian War then engulfing Athens.” The third trend, soberness, tends to follow the realistic effects of the war on people. As the casualties of the war increased so did the use of grave stones as burial markers, known as stele. These steles were the expression of sorrow and sadness and used to commemorate Greek losses. Unfortunately for the Greeks, the steles are also evidence of their economic decline as well as fall from power. From the faces and postures of the steles of the young woman , the woman , and the family , the viewer can see and feel the sadness emanating from these work of art. The stillness, quietude and sober contemplation are all confirmation of the grim statues of Athens.
The arts of the stele from the Fourth Century foreshadow the style attributed to the Hellenistic period, that of drama and expression. However, before this time period the aftermath of the war left Athens lost. Works of art started to look Classical again. This archaism of the late Fourth Century reflected a need for order from chaos and revival of the Greek world, “to recapture something of the confident humanism and harmony of forces.” Lysippos, working around 370-300 BC, concerns himself with the principles of symmetria and looks back at Polycleitos and Proxiteles for guides. And from them he develops his own style. His work is “more slender, with long limbs and small heads, and give the illusion of being taller. Limbs often extend away from the body so that Lysippos’s figures occupy more physical space.”And perhaps this search for “classicism”after the fall of Athens and prior to it make is harder to see where there is rupture and where there is continuity in the beginning and the end of the classical era.
As a conclusion looking at the style and form of the Nike by Paionios in comparison to later works of art like the Statue of Aphrodite and Victory: Akroterion, as well as late Fourth Century sculptures, like Artemis Brauronia copy of Proxiteles  and Niobid and Youngest Daughter Roman copy from ca. 300 BC , one sees more similarities (in drapery and movement) between all these rather than the classical ideal of the Statue of Ares or the Doryphoros. Therefore, is it more practical to assume that the Peloponnesian War did have an effect on Greek art and that it should be classified as its own period? It is better to understand it in this fashion rather than trying to argue for continuity in style and composition or worse to ignore the subject all together. War is a very influential catalyst, and like the division between Early Classical and High Classical when Athens grew from the power of winning a war, so should there be a division between High Classical and Late Classical followed by the Fourth Century for losing a war.
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