The Art and Culture of Ancient
Greece: 800-200 B.C.
Ground floor, rooms 108,109,111-114, and 121
Room 111. The art of the archaic and early classical periods, 800-
450 B.C. The oldest examples of Greek art in the exhibition are some
ninth and eighth century clay vessels with geometric patterns painted in
black or reddish brown pigment (case 1). This ornamental pattern, con-
sisting of circular bands, sometimes includes geometric representations
of animals, birds and man. The vessels of the geometric style, like the
primitive statuettes of bronze and clay, belong to the era of the tribal
system and the birth of the slave-owning city-states, the so-called poleis.
During the seventh and sixth centuries can be observed the rapid growth
of the Greek poleis of Miletus, Clasomenus (Asia Minor), Rhodes, Chios,
Samos, Athens, Corinth, etc. Busy trade connections were established
between them, and trade was likewise developed with the countries of the
East. Among the crafts, pottery was the most important. The Corinthian
vases of the "carpet" style, the decorative patterns of which bring to
mind an eastern fabric, were famous throughout the Mediterranean in the
seventh and sixth centuries B.C. (cabinet 2). In Athens, one of the most
prominent centres of Greek crafts, trade and culture, the so-called black-
figure style was prevalent in the sixth century. Upon the orange-coloured
surface of the clay vessel a black silhouette was drawn, and the details
were scratched in with a chisel and painted in purple and white pigment.
These black-figure vessels are extremely decorative, and the shining black
pigment, often called lacquer, stands out boldly against the colour of
natural clay beneath a transparent glaze (cabinets 7 and 8). Towards the
end of the sixth century B.C. and the beginning of the fifth, the black-
figure style was replaced by the red-figure style. Now the ground was
covered with lustrous black pigment, and the figures were composed in
the natural terracotta tones of the clay, all the details painted by brush or
quill. This method made it possible to render more vividly and convinc-
ingly the multifigured compositions of mythological, epic and genre
scenes which usually adorn the surface of Attic vessels. Some vases have
preserved the names of their creators; a wine bowl bears the inscriptions
"Made by Hischylus" and "Painted by Epictetus". Upon a psykter,
decorated with the figures of hetaerae reclining on couches, there is the
inscription "Painted by Euphronios". The Hermitage example is one of
a group of vessels that have been preserved bearing the signature of this
celebrated Greek craftsman of the late sixth and early fifth centuries B.C.
Also attributed to Euphronios is the famous "Vase with a Swallow"
(case 12). On one vase there is the curious inscription, "Painted by
Euphimides, son of Polios, like Euphronios could never do!"
Greek ceramics are extremely varied in shape; there are amphoras
-tall vessels with two handles for storing or carrying wine and oil;
squat, three-handled hydrias for water; kraters for mixing wine with
water; drinking cups-kylices, kanthari and scyphi; and vessels used
for storing fragrant oil-narrow-necked lecythi, globe-shaped aryballi,
and slender alabastra. Ancient Greek ceramics were famous far beyond
the frontiers of Greece and were widely exported.
The small-size bronze sculpture of the sixth and early fifth centuries,
B.C., including statuettes of youths and a stand for a mirror in the form
of the goddess Aphrodite, introduces us to the archaic style in sculpture.
The figures are static and are portrayed full face, with characteristically
prominent eyes, and the hair and the folds in the clothes are represented
schematically (cabinet 3, cases 5 and 9).
The statue of Hyacinth, attributed to Pythagoras of Rhegium, is
evidence of the realist features of Greek art in the first half of the fifth
century B.C. The famous sculptor gave the lean, supple body of the youth
spatial life. Hyacinth is portrayed watching the flight of the discus.
Room 112. The art of the Golden Age (500-400 B.C.) The basic
theme of the classical period is the portrayal of the athlete, the victor
ludorum, the bold, valiant defender of his native town, as well as the
representation of the gods who personified the wealth and power of the
state. The most eminent Greek sculptors during the Golden Age were
Myron, Polycletus, and Phidias. Myron, who worked in bronze and
whose work survived only in Roman copies, was the creator of the famous
statue Discobolus. Similar in style to the works of Myron are the statues
of a woman (No. 95), of the god of healing Aesculapius (No. 94), and also
the head of a fist-fighter (No. 143) displayed in room 113.
The basalt head of a youth (No. 140) with a classically regular, tran-
quil face belongs to the sculpture of Polycletus' circle. It re-creates the
celebrated Doryphoros (The Spear-bearer) executed by Polycletus in
strict conformity with his Canon, a tractate on the proportions of the
human body. Polycletus, like Myron, worked in bronze, but his originals
have not been preserved. Other works of the same circle are the torso of
an athlete (No. 104a) and the statue of Hermes (No. 104).
The Roman copy of a fifth century marble statue of Athene gives us
some idea of Phidias' style; the warrior goddess is portrayed in a calm,
majestic pose, leaning against a spear, her head is crowned with a helmet,
and the dress, descending in a series of folds, emphasizes the magnitude
of the frontally portrayed figure (No. 98). This representation personi-
fied the unshakable power of the Athenian state. Two stelae, the tomb-
stones of Philostrata and Theodotus (Greek originals), give us some idea
of the classical relief at the time of Phidias.
Room 114. Greek art, 400-300 B.C. The complex social and political
situation in Greece during the fourth century B.C. brought about the
development in art of several trends, of which Scopas, Praxiteles and
Lysippus are good representatives. These great sculptors, differing enor-
mously in their creative individuality, are united by their interest in
man's inner world; their portraits of the gods are even more "human"
than was the case in the fifth century B.C. Several sculptures in the ex-
hibition are from the school of Scopas (his work has survived only in
Roman copies); one of these is the statue of Heracles (No. 272). The
hero's muscular body appears tired, and the deeply sunken eyes and the
mouth half open in suffering lend a mournful expression to his face. The
fervour of passions-suffering, ecstasy, fury-is the basic theme of
His contemporary, Praxiteles, worked mainly in marble. Praxiteles'
heroes are usually portrayed in some light reverie, and in poses full of
indolent grace. The smoothly outlined figures are notable for their
proportions, elongated in comparison with Polycletus' Canon. Acquaint-
ing the visitor with the work of the great sculptor is a whole series of
items: The Resting Satyr, a copy of one of the sculptures by Praxiteles
most popular in antiquity; the head of Aphrodite (No. 300), similar to the
type of the celebrated Aphrodite of Cnidus; Satyr Pouring Wine, a copy
of one of Praxiteles' early works, and others. The portrait of the Greek
dramatist Menander was executed by Praxiteles' sons, Cephisodotus and
The small marble group called Heracles Slaying the Lion of Nemea is
a reduced-size copy of a bronze sculpture by Lysippus from a series
devoted to the twelve labours of Heracles. The powerful figure of Heracles
and the body of the beast are represented in such a way that the group can
be viewed from all angles. The sculptor depicts the climax of the duel
between man and beast; Heracles is strangling the lion, which, as its
strength is sapped, sinks down onto its hind paws. The extent of Lysip-
pus' creative scope can be seen from his Eros Stringing the Bow and the
statuette The Feasting Heracles. He also worked in the field of portraiture,
and the head of the great Greek philosopher Socrates was based upon
Lysippus' original. His work crowned the achievements of Greek art of
the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.
Room 121. The Hellenistic period. Nowadays we have only isolated
examples of original works of Greek marble sculpture, whereas much
terracotta has been preserved. Elegant terracotta statuettes were made in
many cities in Greece, Asia Minor and the northern Black Sea coastlands,
though particularly highly esteemed were the items produced in the
Greek town of Tanagra, whose craftsmen were influenced by the work of
Praxiteles. The Hermitage collection of Tanagra terracottas of the fourth
and third centuries B.C. ranks among the finest in the world (cases 3-6).
The figurines of girls, youths and children in the costume of that time
provide interesting material for studying the Greek way of life. Frequently
terracottas reproduce in miniature famous statues of antiquity which
have not come down to the present day.
In almost all the rooms of the department devoted to the art of antiq-
uity there are displays of gems-carved stones, which were no less prev-
alent in the world of antiquity than in the countries of the ancient East.
Carving on precious and semiprecious stone was done by hand and
on the lathe, which was known in Greece as early as the sixth century
B.C. The Hermitage collection includes hundreds of specimens of
beautiful intaglios and cameos. The former were known in the Hellenistic
period among the aristocracy, who surrounded themselves with luxury
previously unheard of. Cameos were inserted into diadems, fibulae and
rings, they were used to embellish valuable vessels, or simply preserved
as works of art. In one of the horizontal cases by the window is the Gon-
zaga Cameo, exceptionally beautiful and among the largest of its kind
(15.7X11-8 cm-6.14X4.65 in.). On a three-layered sardonyx, almost
transparent and fancifully coloured by nature, two exquisite profiles
were carved in high relief,-the Egyptian pharaoh Ptolemy Philadelphus
and his wife Arsinoe. The Gonzaga Cameo was made in the third century
B.C. in Alexandria, the capital of Ptolemaic Egypt and one of the leading
centres of Hellenistic culture. The Alexandrian school, in which genre
themes in particular were widely developed, frequently treated with
naturalistic details, is represented in the exhibition by some characteristic
examples: The Satyr with a Splinter and Shepherd with a Lamb. Such
marbles were traditionally placed in the corners of gardens. In this room
should be noticed three items representing the school of Pergamum which
was influenced by Scopas: the heads of a dying Gaul (No. 501), of a dying
giant (No. 21a) and of the dead Patroclus (No. 75), and also moulded
copies of the sculptural frieze from the Altar of Pergamum (room 105).
From the Rhodes school is the fragment of a statue,-the head of a dying
companion of Odysseus (No. 86).
Rooms 108 and 109. Graeco-Roman decorative sculpture. The
architecture of room 108, completed between 1842 and 1851 by the
architect Yefimov according to Leo Klentze's design, reproduced the
inner courtyard of a grandiose Hellenistic or Roman house.
The fountain with the statue of Aura, the goddess of the air and the
gentle breeze, and some examples of small decorative sculpture-Eros
Holding a Shell, The Infant Heracles Strangling the Snakes and Boy with
a Bird-at one time adorned similar courtyards and rooms in ancient
houses. The realistic portrayal of the child was one of the most significant
achievements of the art of the Hellenistic period.
Room 109 contains a wonderful collection of marbles which deco-
rated palaces, villas, gardens and parks during Hellenistic and Roman
times; these include statues of Dionysus, Aphrodite, dancing satyrs, and
figures of the Muses. Of wide renown is the statue of Aphrodite, later
called the Venus of Tauris after the Tauride (Tavrichesky) Palace in St
Petersburg, where it was kept from the end of the eighteenth century
until the mid-nineteenth. An unknown sculptor of the third century
B.C., inspired by the conception of the Aphrodite of Cnidus, portrayed
the beautiful goddess nude; her well-proportioned body is more fragile,
her beauty more refined than that of Praxiteles' goddess. The Venus
of Tauris, ceded to Peter by Pope Clement XI after protracted diplomatic
negotiations, was, in 1720, the first antique statue to appear in Russia.