The artistic value of the magnificent sculptures of Amphipolis

The artistic value of the magnificent sculptures of Amphipolis


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Roman writer Pliny the Elder (1 st century AD), in his writings about ancient Greek art, said that after the Greek sculptor Lysippus, art ceased to exist (“deinde cessarit ars”). He believed that after the great creations of Lysippus, the personal sculptor of Alexander the Great, what characterized the art of the Hellenistic period was at best a classicized form, a decadent version of the higher classical art.

The Roman writer expressed rather a conservative opinion of the art of his era. Apparently, he was not impressed by the innovations of the Hellenistic period, and insisted on going back to the authentic style of art that sealed with its high quality of expression, an era that was at least three centuries before his own. The reason that I have started this article with a reference of Pliny, is because of the clear boundaries he placed between the two artistic eras, the classic and the Hellenistic periods, using the work of the bronze sculptor, Lysippus, as the last example of high quality classic art.

The time frame when Lysippus was active, during the second half of the 4 th century BC, brings us at the same time to the era that the archaeological team provided for the creation of the Amphipolis tomb in Greece, which is between 325 and 300 BC. The sculptures that were found inside the tomb certainly do not belong to the description of classical art that Lysippus provided, and are not consistent with the realistic and personalized characteristics of classical art as we know it. But on the other hand they also do not belong to the mature Hellenistic period. So what could this possibly mean?

Caryatid sculptures found within Amphipolis tomb in Greece. Credit: Greek Ministry of Culture

What happened here is probably the same as what typically happens to pieces of art created during a transition period between an older artistic style and a new one – they appear to have a combination of characteristics that make their dating amphoteric; in other words, they could belong to either period. Different opinions talk about a ‘classicizing’ style of the caryatid statues (female statues serving as architectural supports) in Amphipolis, supporting the view that they just mimic the older genuine classic style, which was appreciated with nostalgia during the Roman period, as we have seen with Pliny. There is also the opinion that the sculptures are creations of artists from the island of Paros, while a few mentioned the ‘Athenian’ workshops too. The island of Thasos, where we will find the quarries that were used for building the monument, had a direct connection with the island of Paros, both belonging to the same Municipality. It is clear that artists from Paros, at the end of the fourth century BC, were following a sculptural tradition that still preserved the memories of the archaic style, during a period of time when Macedonia didn’t have any notable sculpture workshops. I tend to appreciate the second opinion as the most appropriate to explain the sculpting style.

The proposition that the marble statue of the Lion in Amphipolis was positioned at the top of the hill, additionally places with confidence the building of the tomb at the ends of the fourth century BC. In any case, other characteristics of the caryatids like the drapery of their tunics and how they are carved on the statue, show a distance from the classical motives of caryatids of the fifth century BC. They imprint a lively style of artistic expression and experimentation that combines the previous classical achievements along with any classical innovation that had already started to appear in arts at the end of the fourth century, preparing the era of the Hellenistic period. The tomb is special because of the existence of statues and certainly is distinguished because of the innovations in comparison to other Macedonian tombs, and at the same time is the largest monument of its kind that has ever been discovered in Greece.

Scaled representation of how the caryatid sculptures would have once looked inside the Amphipolis tomb. © Gerasimos G. Gerolymatos.

The caryatid statues for the era that we are talking about, represent an excellent early sample that could reveal one of the first entries in the development towards the Hellenistic period, and this is probably the greatest artistic value of the sculptures of the Amphipolis burial monument, since they could help art historians better understand the transition from classical to Hellenistic art. I have also suggested as appropriate the study of the Tanagra figurines , in order to examine commonalities with the caryatids’ morphological directions. We frequently know that because of freedom of expression, arts such as ceramics and pottery painting were the first to flag any change of style, while the high art of large temples and public buildings were not as willing to change their official established style.

The pieces of art that were found in the monument include two sphinxes at the entrance of the tomb, the two large caryatid statues, and the marvelous figurative mosaic of the Abduction of Persephone before the chamber of the main tomb. The mosaic, as well as other painted art of that period, reveals clearly that ancient Greek artists had the knowledge of perspective and representation of three dimensions. The chariot and the horses are represented with a ¾ perspective , something that would be a challenge even for the artists of the early Renaissance.

From the scaled representations that I have created, the first one (above) is clearly a design, while the second one (the featured image) is in color. They are based on the announcements of the archaeologists in reference to the dimensions, colors, and findings, as they were published with their respective photos. The third colored representation (below) is, to a large extent, speculative and is a combination of a few real colors as they are presented in the second representation, as well as a few colors that I have added based on logical speculations and using decorative elements from other Macedonian tombs that were probably common in terms of the burial traditions of that Era.

Speculative representation of the decorative elements within the Amphipolis tomb, combining findings of real color traces with logical assumptions based on decorative elements from other Macedonian tombs © Gerasimos G.

In relation to the colors, the tomb of Amphipolis appears to follow the basic set of colors of other Macedonian tombs of that Era, which are primarily white, blue and red. The rest is enriched with the use of other colors in secondary elements, such as black, yellow, red ochre and green, creating an interesting chromatic result. The white of the marble dominates and it is the basic background color on which blue and red develop – these are the two colors used in larger quantity than all others. The different proportions of each of the colors that cover the surfaces, appear to also apply to the chromatic variations inside the tomb. While I was drawing the representation of the interior of the monument, I realized that the proportional use of these colors was not random at all, since it appears to follow a conscious intention to give colors - among other things, a meaning and a symbolic character.

There is a pervasive theatricality with the intention of impressing the visitor - which with the multiple sceneries, is reminiscent of an early baroque style. So when we enter the tomb from the gate of the two Sphinxes – who are the guardians of the tomb, most probably painted red – we go through the first corridor with the mosaic floor. We then reach the impressive gate of the caryatids, who are painted intensively with a feeling of ‘pop art’, basically with dark blue color, then entering the second chamber where the blue background of the Abduction of Persephone overrules and is the vestibule of the main tomb. The presence of two main warm and cold colors, the red and blue, define proportionally and symbolically the two different areas. I assume that in this way the two vestibules of the tomb represent nothing more than a symbol of the life of the dead person, where the first chamber with the warmth represents his/her life and actions, while the second represents the entrance to death, since the mosaic presents the unwilling abduction of Persephone by Pluto. This passageway from life to death, which the dead followed, was sealed with the glory of immortality behind the heavy marble door, leading beneath the entrance of caryatids, which had in my opinion a glorified character. For this reason, and by noticing the specific position of their arms, I assume that the caryatids were holding an object and specifically a wreath of glory for the dead hero.

Visit the blog site of Gerasimos G. Gerolymatos here.

Featured image: Artistic representation of the caryatids in the Amphipolis tomb, © Gerasimos G.

By Gerasimos Gerolymatos


The Tomb

The world is looking for the answer to an old mystery! What or who is in the Ancient Tomb at Amphipolis Greece? A large-scale archeological excavation is in progress in hopes of answering the old question… Who is buried in this magnificent tomb? Is it Roxanne, the wife of Alexander the Great, or is it his son, or his mother or even Alexander the Great. himself? Or is it someone else.

The Tumulus Tomb of Amphipolis lies on the hill of Kasta inside a 500-meter long surrounding wall of marble and limestone. The Marble wall is almost a perfect circle 3 meters high with a cornice of marble from the Aegean Island of Thassos. This great Tomb and the surrounding wall with its special base and unique design is likely the work of the Architect Deinokratis, who lived at the time of Alexander the Great. Deinokratis and was Alexander's chosen Architect and also a very important person in the time of Alexander.

The Entry of the Tomb is 13 steps down from the surrounding Wall. The Entry Arch contains two headless/wingless Sphinxes, amazing works of classic art. In front of the Arch and Sphinx Portal there is a Limestone wall protecting and concealing the entire entry of this vast tomb. The design of the Entry and surrounding wall are unique to the ancient Greece world.

Originally on the top of the Tomb there was a great Stone Lion, the Lion of Amphipolis. The Lion it's self is 5.3 meters high and has a stone base that makes a total [with Lion] height of 15.84 meters. The sculpture who carved the two entry Sphinxes is the [same?] person that sculpted the colossal Lion. We usually associate a Lion with a battle, like the battle of Chaeronea or with for some great General. Since there was no battle around the time the Tomb was built, the archaeologists suggest that the person inside the Tomb could also be some great General from Alexander's time.

The fact that the Tomb is still sealed is very important because it means that it may contain items and information of great historical value and that they are still in place. Because the tomb was still sealed and filled with sand/soil, tomb raiders would not have entered far inside. Only the end of the excavation will tell the whole story of . Who and When.

This vast Tomb, the Lion and the two Sphinxes represent amazing beauty from the ancient world and may be the guardians of the contents to one of greatest Archaeology excavations of our time.


Posts Tagged With: Amphipolis

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post for this blog in which I speculated about what might have happened to Hephaestion’s body after he died.

You can read the post here but in short, I said that I did not think that his magnificent funeral (Diodorus XVII.115) took place, and that after Alexander died, Hephaestion was probably quietly cremated and buried by the Successors in Babylon before being forgotten about.

When I wrote my post, I never imagined that a year on I would have reason to return to it. However, the discovery of a skeleton in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis, and the suggestion that it could be Hephaestion’s, has drawn me back to the subject.

The person to whom I owe the idea that Hephaestion might be buried at Amphipolis is Dorothy King – see her post here.

As you’ll see, she theorises that the Lion Tomb was originally built for Alexander. If that is correct, the presence of Hephaestion’s body would presumably mean that Alexander intended to be buried with his friend.

Given how Alexander identified himself with Achilles, and treated Hephaestion as Patroclus*, together with the fact that Achilles and Patroclus were buried together at Troy**, this idea makes perfect sense.

But, do the bones belong to Hephaestion?

Tests are being carried out on them at the moment. It goes without saying that they won’t tell us the deceased’s name but hopefully they will give us information that will help in the identification process.

For example (and again, hopefully) they’ll tell us the person’s sex, their approximate age at time-of-death, and perhaps what injuries or illnesses they suffered from in their life.

If the sex of the person is female then that obviously rules out the deceased being Hephaestion.

If, however, it is male and the person died in their 30s that would make it possible for the bones to be his as he was about Alexander’s age and we know that in 324 B.C. Alexander was 32.

Further to this, if there is sign of injury in at least one of the arm bones, that would also make it possible for the skeleton to be Hephaestion’s as Curtius says he ‘suffered a spear-wound in the arm’ at the Battle of Gaugamela (IV.16.32).

It has to be emphasised, though, that even if the tests point to the skeleton being Hephaestion’s we can gain no certainty in the matter from them. What we must really hope for is the discovery of an inscription that spells out clearly to whom the tomb belongs. Otherwise, there will always be an element of doubt.

But let’s backtrack a bit – how can we be talking about Hephaestion’s skeleton being in Amphipolis when the sources have his funeral – and cremation at that – taking place in Babylon?

That’s a good question. What could have happened is that after the funeral his remains were transported to Amphipolis and there deposited. This, however, doesn’t answer the question how it is we have a skeleton in the Lion Tomb when Hephaestion was cremated.

So, what about the bones? Dr King provides an answer. In a comment made on 13th November 2014 at 10:30am (I’m sorry – I can’t seem to link directly to it) underneath the above mentioned blog post she states that ancient cremations did not take place at the same temperatures as modern ones.

This means that Hephaestion could have been cremated to the point that his flesh burned off but that – due to the lower temperature of the pyre – his bones survived.

Perhaps the tests currently being done on the skeleton will be able to tell us if the bones were indeed subjected to fire?

If we agree to the survival of Hephaestion’s bones as a possibility we can move on to the question of how they got from Babylon to Amphipolis.

As it happens, though, we need to correct the starting point of his final journey.

Let’s look at what the five major Alexander historians say about Hephaestion’s death and what happened to his body afterwards.

Arrian (VII.14,15) states that Hephaestion fell ill and died in Ecbatana and that a funeral pyre was built for him in Babylon. There is no reference, however, to the funeral actually taking place once Alexander arrived there.

Curtius Unfortunately, a lacuna in the MS means we do not have his account of Hephaestion’s death and funeral.

Diodorus has Hephaestion die in Ecbatana and his body transported to Babylon (XVII.110) where his pyre built XVII.115). No mention is made of what happened to Hephaestion’s remains afterwards.

Justin does not say explicitly where Hephaestion died. In terms of the narrative, his death takes place in Chapter 12. The last city Alexander is identified as reaching prior to this is Babylon (in Chapter 10), but at the start of Chapter 13 Justin appears to suggest that Alexander went to Babylon after Hephaestion’s death.

Neither does Justin say what happened to Hephaestion’s body. He does mention, however (in Chapter 12), that a monument was built in his honour, and that it cost 12,000 talents.

Plutarch states that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (Chapter 72) but doesn’t say that his body was taken to Babylon. He does state, however, that Alexander decided to spend 10,000 talents on his friend’s funeral and tomb.

In summary, Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch all agree that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana. But while Arrian and Diodorus state explicitly that his body was taken to Babylon, Plutarch makes no such claim. By implication he has Hephaestion’s body remain in Ecbatana. This may be what Justin is getting at although his account is really too vague to be of much use.

So, we have a disagreement. Who, in that case, do we believe?

Up until this week, I would have accepted Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account. Diodorus is not the best historian but Arrian has a very good reputation, and based his history on people who were witnesses to what happened four hundred years earlier – including one who was at the very centre of Macedonian power.

However, my opinion changed after I read an article by Paul McKechnie called Diodorus Siculus and Hephaestion’s Pyre, which offered a compelling reason not to accept Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account at face value.

I came across McKechnie’s article thanks to a link on Dorothy King’s blog here.

If I have understood McKechnie correctly, he argues that the account of Hephaestion’s funeral in Diodorus is not an account of an historical event at all but a literary conceit, designed to foreshadow Alexander’s death***.

Seeing the funeral in this way allows us to make sense of a statement that Diodorus makes in XVIII.4 of his Library of History. There, he says that after Alexander’s death, Perdiccas found among the late king’s papers

… orders for the completion of the pyre of Hephaestion.

Now, obviously, if the funeral had taken place as per XVII.115 there would be no need for these orders to be in Alexander’s papers.

McKechnie further argues that Diodorus took the story of the pyre in Babylon from a writer named Ephippus of Olynthus, who lived around the time of Alexander.

The reason I mention Ephippus is because he connects Diodorus’ narrative to Arrian’s. McKechnie suggests that Ptolemy read Ephippus’ account and decided to use it in his own history.

And indeed, he had a good reason for doing so. Just as Ephippus placed Hephaestion’s funeral in Babylon for literary reasons, Ptolemy placed it there for political ones.

So, I took Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis, he could say to the political doubter, I had a precedent – Alexander, himself, who took Hephaestion’s body from Ecbatana to Babylon.

Paul McKechnie’s article is really interesting, and I thoroughly recommend it to you. If you don’t have access to JSTOR, you can read it here.

So, as matters now stand, we have Hephaestion dying in Ecbatana and his funeral taking place there. The presence of the Lion of Hamadan (which is modern day Ecbatana) would appear to indicate that Alexander buried his friend there as well†.

Having corrected the starting point of Hephaestion’s journey, therefore, we now need to get him from Ecbatana to Amphipolis.

This part is most difficult for none of the surviving sources state that Hephaestion’s body was taken back to Macedon. If we are to place him there, we must do so by other means.

Here are three reasons for placing Hephaestion in Amphipolis.

  1. Alexander would not have regarded burying Hephaestion in Ecbatana as fitting. In life, he had seen himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as his Patroclus. In light of that, it makes better sense that he would want that identification to be made permanent in death
  2. The Lion Tomb in Amphipolis is so great, so majestic, it could only have been built for a very few people. The other possibilities are: Olympias, Philip III Arrhidaeus and Roxane, and Alexander IV.
    As I understand it, there are inscriptions in existence which state (or indicate?) that Olympias was buried in Pydna, where she was killed.
    Philip III Arrhidaeus is a possibility as he was a king but maybe buried at Vergina.
    Would Cassander to have honoured Alexander IV (and through him, Roxane) with such a great tomb after killing them?
  3. It looks like the Lion Tomb could easily have met the cost of Hephaestion’s burial as described by Plutarch and Justin

These may or may not sound like good reasons but if you are still nervous about the lack of evidence in the sources, it is perhaps worth remembering that they are the surviving sources and that – as we have seen – they disagree with one another about what happened to Hephaestion after his death. We have no obligation, therefore, to take them at their word.

What do I think? I honestly don’t know. I like the idea of Hephaestion being buried at Amphipolis but I wish – really wish – we had stronger literary evidence.

At the moment, though, and although he is supposed to have been buried at Vergina, I am very tempted by the idea of Alexander IV being buried there.

After his murder on Cassander’s orders, several years passed before Alexander IV’s death became known. When it did, there was no civil war, no unrest, no rioting, nothing. Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Antigonus all in due course proclaimed themselves king of their individual realms and that was that.

The reason for this is that time had passed and people had let the past go. I think perhaps Cassander realised this. And when he did, he decided that he could afford to be as generous to Alexander IV in death as he had been cruel in life, and deposited his remains in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis.

That’s what I think, and as I am sure you have noticed, I have offered no actual evidence for Alexander IV being buried there. In fact, as I read back what I have written, I am beginning to think there is a stronger case for Hephaestion’s burial.

A last word. I have no more of an idea about who is buried in the Lion Tomb as anyone else, and I look forward to hearing more news from the archaeologists. In the meantime, what I would say, is that Amphipolis has been – and continues to be – a great learning experience for me and I am indebted to Dorothy King who has posted very insightful blog posts and linked to equally good articles about Alexander – McKechnie’s especially. I hope I never stop learning.

* I’m thinking here of how he had Hephaestion lay a wreath on Patroclus’ grave at Troy (Arrian I.12) and his Homeric response to Hephaestion’s death. Just as Achilles cut his hair in honour of Patroclus (Iliad XXIII.147-8)
** See Iliad XXIII.243-44 and Odyssey XXIV.73-5)
*** McKechnie notes how Diodorus emphasises Hephaestion’s status as Alexander’s second self, how Alexander attends to the funeral after setting his affairs in order, and orders the Sacred Flame in Asian cities to be extinguished in Hephaestion’s honour – something which is was only ever done upon the king’s die
It is McKechnie who uses the Lion of Hamadan as evidence for Hephaestion’s remains being in Ecbatana. He provides other reasons as well. For example, a reference to Aelian, who

… in his story of gold and silver being melted together with the corpse on Hephaestion’s pyre, speaks of Alexander’s having demolished the walls of the acropolis of Ecbatana-and gives no hint of the pyre’s being supposed to have been in Babylon


Who's Buried In The 'Magnificent' Tomb From Ancient Greece? 04:27

Early last month, on a hill outside a tiny, windy village of almond and tobacco farmers in northeastern Greece, veteran archaeologist Katerina Peristeri announced that she and her team had discovered what is believed to be the biggest tomb in Greece.

The "massive, magnificent tomb," Peristeri told reporters, is likely connected to the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, which, in the fourth century B.C. produced Alexander the Great.

Shortly after Peristeri's announcement, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras held his own press conference at the site — known as Amphipolis — declaring it an "exceptionally important discovery" from the "earth of our Macedonia."

And since then there have been daily reports in the Greek media, even though Peristeri and her team have refused interviews. They release each tidbit of news — each discovery of a caryatid, sphinx and other impressive artifacts — in press releases through the Greek Ministry of Culture.

Tourists visit the Lion of Amphipolis on Aug. 18. The large tomb, its occupant unknown, was found nearby. But Greek authorities have not yet allowed the public to visit the site of the tomb. (Haris Iordanidis/EPA/Landov)

Speculation over who is buried in the tomb has drawn a steady stream of visitors to nearby Mesolakkia, where the village's president — Athanassios Zounatzis, a silver-haired, retired tobacco farmer — now doubles as a tour guide.

"We've seen tour buses full of German tourists, the Dutch have gone, even a few American families," he says. "And they all ask, 'Where is the tomb?' But they leave disappointed, because they don't even get a glimpse."

That's because Greek police have set up a roadblock to the excavation, which left Bernard Boehler, an art historian from Vienna, looking longingly at a grassy hill obscuring the site.

"Needless to say, we are more than curious to see a little bit more, but we realize there is heavy surveillance and we can't come closer," Boehler says.

Archaeologists say the secrecy and security surrounding the tomb is about keeping the facts straight. They're also worried that visitors could get hurt at the partially excavated site.

But retired sanitation worker Giorgos Karaiskakis, who has visited the roadblock to the site three times, says he suspects the measures are also related to the conflict with neighboring Macedonia — the former Yugoslav republic — over who owns Alexander the Great. This discovery, he says, is just more proof that Alexander belongs to Greece.

"This great discovery doesn't get us out of the crisis, because if you don't have money, what are you going to do?" he says. "But it shows one more time that Macedonia is here, OK? Not up there with the Slavs."

Regardless of where Macedonia is, the tomb likely doesn't hold its most famous son, Alexander, who died at age 32 in Babylon, now in modern-day Iraq. It also doesn't likely hold his immediate family, such as his son Alexander IV, who is likely buried at one of the royal tombs in Aigai, the ancient first capital of Macedonia which is located near the present-day northern Greek city of Vergina, and also likely contains the remains of Alexander's father, Philip II.

It reminds us that we are rich, in history at least.

Alexandros Kochliariades, a local resident

So who might be buried there?

Robin Lane Fox, a noted historian at Oxford University and an expert on ancient Macedonia, says the existing scholarship suggests the tomb might belong to a top admiral in Alexander's empire-expanding Macedonian army, someone such as Nearchus, Alexander's best friend since childhood.

In Plutarch's Life of Alexander, another important friend of Alexander's — Demaratus of Corinth — was honored with an individual grave mound over his burial site that is comparable in size to the one at Amphipolis, Lane Fox says.

"So my suspicion is that this is a very high-ranking companion in Alexander's former army, who has returned back or has been returned back as a body to his home in Amphipolis," he says.

But Olga Palagia, an archaeologist at the University of Athens, suspects that the Amphipolis tomb might not be Greek at all — but Roman.

"Nobody has realized that Amphipolis was a very significant place in the first century B.C. because it was the headquarters of a huge Roman army led by Marc Antony and Octavian when they were fighting Brutus and Cassius, who had killed Julius Caesar," she says.

Athanasios Zournatzis heads the village of Mesolakkia near the tomb. Though the public has not been allowed to visit the tomb itself, he says he's seen a steady stream of international visitors since the discovery was announced. "We were just a sleepy village of tobacco and almond farmers," he says. "Now, suddenly we're a tourist attraction." (Joanna Kakissis for NPR)

Palagia, an expert in ancient sculpture, hasn't visited the site, but says the Amphipolis sculptures look Roman, not Greek. If the tomb is a monument to Roman generals, she says, it won't mean much to Greece.

"Modern Greeks are very insular, inward looking and extremely traumatized by the financial crisis," she says. "I think they will feel really cheated if it's not Greek."

Peristeri, the lead archaeologist in Amphipolis, insists that the site is Greek, beyond a doubt.

That's also the sentiment back at Mesolakkia, where the townspeople remember a Greek archaeologist named Dimitris Lazaridis, who first discovered the Amphipolis mound in the 1950s but ran out of money to excavate it. Lazaridis said he also suspected that the tomb contained a major Macedonian tomb.

"He was sure of it," says Alexandros Kochliariades, who worked for 30 years as a guard for Lazaridis, who excavated other sites in the area. "Now, so many years later, his hypothesis is turning out to be true."

Kochliarides sips coffee at a gas-station cafe near Mesolakkia, the village which has now become ground zero for what one archaeologist called "Amphipolimania." The retired guard says he understands why the tomb means so much to Greeks right now, who have suffered a psychological as well as economic beating during the four years of the debt crisis.

"It reminds us that we are rich, in history at least," he says. "And that Amphipolis was once the apple of an empire."


A Comprehensive Art Movement Timeline

It is time to dive a little deeper into the social, cultural, and historical contexts of each of the distinct art eras we presented above. You will see how many eras take influence from those before them. Art, like human consciousness, is continuously evolving. It is also important to note that this art timeline is a history of Western and predominantly European art.

The Romanesque Period (1000-1300): Sharing Information Through Art

Art historians typically consider the Romanesque art era to be the start of the art history timeline. Romanesque art developed during the rise of Christianity ca. 1000 AD. During this time, only a small percentage of the European population were literate. The ministers of the Christian church were typically part of this minority, and to spread the message of the bible, they needed an alternative method.

Christian objects, stories, deities, saints, and ceremonies were the exclusive subject of most Romanesque paintings. Intended to teach the masses about the values and beliefs of the Christian Church, Romanesque paintings had to be simple and easy to read.

As a result, Romanesque works of art are simple, with bold contours and clean areas of color. Romanesque paintings lack any depth of perspective, and the imagery is rarely of natural scenes. There were several different forms that Romanesque paintings could take, including wall paintings, mosaics, panel paintings, and book paintings.

Due to the Christian purpose behind Romanesque paintings, they are almost always symbolic. The relative importance of the figures within the paintings is shown by the size, with the more important figures appearing much larger. You can see that human faces are often distorted, and the stories depicted in these paintings tend to have a high emotional value. Romanesque paintings often include mythological creatures like dragons and angels, and almost always appear in churches.

At the most fundamental level, paintings of the Romanesque period serve the purpose of spreading the word of the bible and Christianity. The name of this art era stems from round arches used in Roman architecture, often found in churches of the time.

The Birth in the Stable Christmas fresco in a medieval church. Bjaresjo, Sweden

The Gothic Era (1100-1500): Freedom and Fear Come Together

One of the most famous eras, Gothic art grew out of the Romanesque period in France and is an expression of two contrasting feelings of the age. On the one hand, people were experiencing and celebrating a new level of freedom of thought and religious understanding. On the other, there was a fear that the world was coming to an end. You can clearly see the expression of these two contrasting tensions within the art of the Gothic period.

Just as in the Romanesque period, Christianity lay at the heart of the tensions of the Gothic era. As more freedom of thought emerged, and many pushed against conformity, the subjects of paintings became more diverse. The stronghold of the church began to dissipate.

Gothic paintings portrayed scenes of real human life, such as working in the fields and hunting. The focus moved away from divine beings and mystical creatures as more focus was given to the intricacies of what it meant to be human.

Human figures received a lot more attention during the Gothic period. Gothic artists fleshed out more realistic human faces as they became more individual, less two-dimensional, and less inanimate. The development of a three-dimensional perspective is thought to have facilitated this change. Painters also paid more attention to things of personal value like clothing, which they painted realistically with beautiful folds.

Giotto’s Bell Tower ceiling painting in Florence

Many historians believe that part of the reason as to why the subjects of art became more diverse during the Gothic era was due to the increased surface area for painting within churches. Gothic churches were more expansive than those of the Romanesque period, which is thought to represent the increased feelings of freedom at this time.

Alongside the newfound freedom of artistic expression, there was a deep fear that the end of the world was coming. It is suggested that this was accompanied by a gradual decline in faith in the church, and this in turn may have spurred the expansion of art outside of the church. In fact, towards the end of the Gothic era, works by Hieronymus von Bosch, Breughel, and others were unsuitable for placement within a church.

We do not know many individual artists who painted in the Romanesque period, as art was not about who painted it but rather the message it carried. Thus, the move away from the church can also be seen in the enormous increase in known artists from the Gothic period, including Giotto di Bondone. Schools of art began to emerge throughout France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and other parts of Europe.

The Renaissance Era (1420-1520): The Reawakening of an Art Era That Never Really Existed

The Renaissance era is possibly one of the most well-known, featuring artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. This era continued to focus on the individual human as its inspiration and took influence from the art and philosophy of the ancient Romans and Greeks. The Renaissance can be seen as a cultural rebirth.

A part of this cultural rebirth was the returned focus on the natural and realistic world in which humans lived. The three-dimensional perspective became even more important to the art of the Renaissance, as is aptly demonstrated by Michelangelo’s statue of David. This statue harkened back to the works of the ancient Greeks as it was consciously created to be seen from all angles. Statues of the last two eras had been two-dimensional, intended to be viewed only from the front.

David (ca. 1501-1504) by Michelangelo

The same three-dimensional perspective carried over into the paintings of the Renaissance era. Frescos that were invented around 3000 years prior were given new life by Renaissance painters. Scenes became more complex, and the representation of humans became much more nuanced. Renaissance artists painted human bodies and faces in three-dimensions with a strong emphasis on realism. The paint used during the Renaissance period also represented a shift from tempera paints to oil paints. The Renaissance period is often credited as the very start of great Dutch landscape paintings.

Mannerism (1520-1600): A Window into the Future of Kitsch

Of course, this heading is partly in jest. Not all of the art produced in this era is what we would understand today as “kitsch”. What we understand kitsch to mean today is often artificial, cheaply made, and without much ‘classic’ taste. Instead, the reason we describe the art of this period as being kitsch is due to the relative over-exaggeration that characterized it. Stemming from the newfound freedom of human expression in the Renaissance period, artists began to explore their own unique and individual artistic style, or manner.

Michelangelo himself, in fact, is not free from the exaggeration that distinguishes this era. Some art historians do not consider some of his later paintings to be works of the Renaissance period. The expression of feelings and human gestures, even items of clothing, is exaggerated deliberately in mannerist paintings.

The small S-curve of the human body that characterizes the Renaissance style is transformed into an unnatural bending of the body. This is the first European style that attracted artists from across Europe to its birthplace in Italy.

The Baroque Era (1590-1760): The Glorification of Power and the Deception of the Eye

The progression of art celebrating the lives of humans over the power of the divine continued into the Baroque era. Kings, princes, and even popes began to prefer to see their own power and prestige celebrated through art than that of God. The over-exaggeration that classified Mannerism also continued into the Baroque period, with the scenes of paintings becoming increasingly unrealistic and magnificent.

Baroque paintings often showed scenes where Kings would be ascending into the heavens, mingling with the angels, and reaching ever closer to the divinity and power of God. Here, we really can see the progression of human self-importance, and although the subject matter does not move away entirely from religious symbolism, man is increasingly the central power within the compositions.

New materials that glorify wealth and status like gold and marble become the prized materials for sculptures. Opposites of light and dark, warm and cold colors, and symbols of good and evil are emphasized beyond what is naturally occurring. Art academies increased in their numbers, as art became a way to display your wealth, power, and status.

Ceiling of the Caserta Royal Palace in Italy

The Rococo Art Period (1725-1780): Light and Airy, a French Fancy

The paintings from the Rococo era are typical of the French aristocracy of the time. The name stems from the French word rocaille which means “shellwork”. The solid forms which characterized the Baroque period softened into light, air, and desire. Paintings of this era were no longer strong and powerful, but light and playful.

The colors were lighter and brighter, almost transparent in some instances. Many pieces of art from this period neglected religious themes, although some artists like Tiepolo did create frescos in many churches.

Much like the attitude of the French aristocracy of the time, the art of the Rococo period is totally removed from the social reality. The shepherd’s idyll became the theme of this period, representing life as light and carefree, without the constraints of economic or social hardship.

Classicism (1770-1840): Throwing It Back to Classic Times

Classicism, like the Rococo era, began in France in around 1770. In contrast to the Rococo era, however, Classism reverted to earlier, more serious styles of artistic expression. Much like the Renaissance period, Classisim took inspiration from classic Roman and Greek art.

The art created in the Classicism era reverted to strict forms, two-dimensional colors, and human figures. The tone of these paintings was undoubtedly strict. Colors lost their symbolism. The art produced in this era was used internationally to instill feelings of patriotism in the people of each nation. Parts of Classicism include Louis-Sieze, Empire, and Biedermeier.

Self-Portrait (ca. 1770-1775) by Angelica Kauffman [Public domain]

Romanticism (1790-1850): A Break from the Severity of it All

You can see from the dates that this art era occurred at around the same time as Classicism. Romanticism is often seen as an emotionally charged reaction to the stern nature of Classicism. In contrast to the strict and realistic nature of the Classicism era, the paintings of the Romantic era were much more sentimental.

The exploration of the intangible emotions and the subconscious, took center-stage. Around this time, people began to go hiking in an attempt to explore the natural world. It was not, however, the true reality of the natural world which they intended to discover, but the way it made them feel.

There is no tangible or precisely determinable style to the art of the Romanticism period. English and French painters tended to focus on the effects of shadows and lights, while the art produced by German painters tended to have more gravity of thought to them. The Romantic painters were often criticized and even mocked for their interpretation of the world around them.

Realism (1850-1925): Objectivity over Subjectivity

As the Romanticism era was a reactionary movement to the Classicism period before it, so is Realism a reaction to Romanticism. In contrast to the beautiful and deeply emotional content of Romantic paintings, Realist artists presented both the good and beautiful, the ugly and evil. The reality of the world is presented in an unembellished way by Realism painters. These artists attempt to show the world, people, nature, and animals, as they truly are. There is a focus on the “obligation of art into truth” as Gustave Courbet puts it.

Just as with Romanticism, Realism was not popular with everyone. The paintings are not particularly pleasing to the eye and some critics have commented that despite the artist’s claims of realism, erotic scenes somehow miss the real eroticism. Goethe criticizes Realism, saying that art should be ideal, not realistic. Schiller too calls Realism “mean,” indicating the harshness that many of the paintings portray.

Impressionism (1850-1895): Heralding the Era of Modern Art

Historians often paint the Impressionist movement as the beginning of the modern age. Impressionist art is said to have closed the book on classical music and other classical forms of art. Impressionism is also perhaps, after Cubism, one of the most easily recognizable art periods. Featuring artists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gough, Impressionism broke away from the smooth brush strokes and areas of solid color that characterized many art periods before it.

Starry Night (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh

Initially, the word Impressionism was like a swear word in the art world, with critics believing that these artists did not paint with technique, but rather simply smeared paint onto a canvas. The brushstrokes indeed were a significant departure from those that came before them, sometimes becoming furiously wild. Distinct shapes and lines disappeared into a whirlwind of colors. Individual dots of completely new colors were put together, particularly in the pointillism variety of Impressionist paintings. The subjects of Impressionist paintings could often only be recognized from a distance.

A significant change that occurred during the Impressionist era was that painting began to take place “en-plein-air,” or outside. Much of the Impressionist artist’s ability to capture the complex and ever-changing colors of the natural world was as a result of this shift.

Impressionist artists also began to move away from the desire to lecture and teach, preferring to create art for art’s sake. Galleries and international exhibitions became increasingly important.

Symbolism (1890-1920): There is Always More Than Meets the Eye

During this period, the era of Symbolism began to take hold in France. Artists became preoccupied with the representation of feelings and thoughts through objects. The favorite themes of the Symbolism movement were death, sickness, sin, and passion. The forms were mostly clear, a fact which art historians believe was anticipating the Art Nouveau era.

Art Nouveau (1890-1910): The Pure Gold of Gustav Klimt

Although Gustav Klimt was by no means the most important artist in the Art Nouveau movement, he is one of the most well-known. His style perfectly encapsulates the Art Nouveau movement with soft, curved lines, lots of florals, and the stylistic characterization of human figures. In many countries, this style is known as the Secession style.

Death and Life (1908) by Gustav Klimpt

The art produced in the Art Nouveau period includes a lot of symmetry and is characterized by playfulness and youthfulness. Art Nouveau has a lot of political content, although many critics ignore this and hold the decorative aspects against it. Through the art of the Art Nouveau period, artists attempted to bring nature back into industrial cities.

Expressionism (1890-1914): Bringing a Political Edge to the Debate

In the Expressionism art era, we once again see a resurgence of the importance of the expression of subjective feelings. The artists within this movement were not interested in naturalism or what things look like on the outside. As a result, there is a certain tinge of aggression in some Expressionist paintings, which are often archaic and slightly wild.

Expressionism originated in Germany and is intended to contrast Impressionism. Towards the beginning of the First World War, Expressionist paintings had a disturbing intensity about them. Intended to criticize power and the standing social order, Expressionism spread these political ideas through the medium of paint. Art was beginning to become political.

Cubism (1906-1914): Breaking Things Apart and Putting Them Back Together Again

Beginning with two artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the Cubist movement was all about fragmentation, geometric shapes, and multiple perspectives. The dimensional planes of everyday objects were broken down into different geometric segments and put back together in a way that presented the object from multiple sides simultaneously.

Cubism was a rejection of all the rules of traditional western painting and has had a strong influence on the styles of art that have followed it.

Le Tapis Vert (1929) by Georges Braque

Futurism (1909-1945): Artistic Anarchism

Futurism is less of an artistic style and more of an artistically inspired political movement. Founded by Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, which rejected social organization and Christian morality, the Futurist era was full of chaos, hostility, aggression, and anger. Although Marinetti was not a painter himself, painting became the most prominent form of art within the Futurist movement.

These artists vehemently rejected the rules of Classical painting, believing that everything that was passed through generations (beliefs, traditions, religion) was suspicious and dangerous. The militant nature of the Futurist movement has resulted in many people believing that it was too close to fascism.

Dadaism (1912-1920): The True Reality That Life is Nonsense

Dada means a great many things and nothing at all. The writer Hugo Ball discovered that this small word has several different meanings in different languages and at the same time, as a word, it meant nothing at all. The Dadaism movement is based on the concepts of illogic and provocation and was seen as not only an art movement, but an anti-war movement.

The illogic of existing rules, norms, traditions, and values was called into question by the Dadaist movement. The art movement encompassed several art forms including writing, poetry, dance, and performance art. Part of the movement was to call into question what could be classified as “art”.

Dadaism represents the beginnings of action art in which painting becomes more than just a portrait of reality, but rather an amalgamation of the social, cultural, and subjective parts of being human.

Surrealism (1920-1930): Things Just Get More Bizzare

As if the pure illogic nature of the Dadaism movement was not outlandish enough, the Surrealists took the dream world to be the fountain of all truth. One of the most famous Surrealist artists is Salvador Dali, and you are bound to know his painting Melting Watch (1954).

Surrealism is fundamentally psychoanalytical, and many Surrealist artists would paint directly from their dreams. Sometimes dealing with uncomfortable concepts, hidden desires, and taboos, Surrealism was a direct critique of the ingrained ideas and beliefs of the bourgeoise. As you can imagine, this style of art was not popular when it began, but it has greatly influenced the world of modern art.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) by Salvador Dali

The New Objectivity (1925-1965): Cold and Technical

As the surrealists were attempting to move away from the world of physical, concrete, and visible objects, the New Objectivity movement turned towards these ideas. Many of the themes within New Objective art were social critiques. The turbulence of the war left many people searching for some kind of order to hold onto, and this can be seen clearly in the art of New Objectivity.

The images represented in New Objectivity were often cold, unemotional, and technical, with some favorite subjects being the radio and lightbulbs. As is the case with many modern movements in art, there were several different wings to the New Objectivity movement.

Abstract Expressionism (1948-1962): Stepping Away from Europe

Abstract Expressionism is said to be the first art movement to originate outside of Europe. Emerging from North America, Abstract Expressionism focused on color-field painting and action paintings. Rather than using a canvas and a brush, buckets of paint would be poured on the ground, and artists used their fingers to create images.

With well-known artists like Marc Tobey and Jackson Pollock, this art movement was distinct from any that came before it. The application of the paint was sometimes so thick that the finished piece would take on a form unlike any painting before it. Abstract Expressionism spread throughout Europe. As with all art, there are always critics, with conservative Americans during the cold war calling it “un-American.”

Pop-Art (1955-1969): Art is Everything

For the artists of Pop-Art, everything in the world was art. From advertisements, tin cans, toothpaste, and toilets, everything is art. Pop-Art developed simultaneously in the United States and England and is characterized by uniform blocks of color and clear lines and contours. Painting and graphic art became influenced by photorealism and serial prints. One of the most famous English Pop artists is David Hockney, although only a few of his lifetime paintings were in this movement.

Viewer at a David Hockney exhibition in London

Neo-Expressionism (1980-1989): Modern Art

Starting in the 1980s, Neo-Expressionism emerged with large-format representational and life-affirming paintings. Berlin was a central point for this new movement, and the designs typically featured cities and big-city life. The name Neo-Expressionism emerged from Fauvism, and although the artists in Berlin disbanded in 1989, some artists continued to paint in this style in New York.

Art is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. Many of the troubles and joys we experience can only be captured accurately through artistic expression. We hope that this short summary of the art periods timeline has helped you gain some more insight into the contexts surrounding some of the most famous works of art created by the human race.


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Is the Mother of Alexander the Great in the Tomb at Amphipolis? Part 6: The Mutilation of the Sculpture

By Andrew Chugg*
I wrote my initial article on this question on the morning of 6th September, a day before the announcement of the discovery of the caryatids, and I wrote a second part on 20th September and a third part on 28th September dealing with the caryatids.
The discovery of the mosaic announced on 12th October prompted fourth article on 13th October, in which I predicted that the part-excavated mosaic depicted the Abduction of Persephone with the god Hermes running ahead of the chariot and Hades (a.k.a. Pluto), god of the Underworld, driving the chariot. In a fifth article on 18th October I suggested that Persephone should be a portrait of the occupant of the tomb and therefore the occupant should be a woman. Of the two queens that are candidates, Olympias is far more likely to have had red hair. I also showed that the Hades figure could be a portrait of Philip II and the Hermes figure a portrait of Alexander the Great at his age when his father died. Now there is new evidence from the discovery of large fragments of the tomb doors and the head of the right-hand sphinx from the entrance, announced on 21st October.
But in order to set the occupant’s identification in context, here is a summary of the inferences I drew from the evidence available in my first five articles:
1) Sphinxes decorated the thrones found in the tombs of two mid to late 4th century BC queens of Macedon, one of whom was Alexander’s grandmother Eurydice I
2) Greek mythology recognised Hera the wife of Zeus as the mistress of the sphinx: the 4th century BC Macedonian kings identified themselves with Zeus, so it would make sense for their principal queens to have identified themselves with Hera
3) The female sphinxes at Amphipolis, Greece , have their closest parallel in a pair of female sphinxes found by Mariette at the Serapeum at Saqqara, which were dated to the reign of the first Ptolemy by Lauer & Picard, mainly on the basis of an associated inscription: the Serapeum at Saqqara is also a strong candidate for the site of the first tomb of Alexander the Great
4) There are strong parallels between the façades of the tombs of Philip II and Alexander IV at Aegae and the reconstructed façade of the lion monument that stood atop the mound at Amphipolis
5) The paving in the tomb at Amphipolis closely matches paving in the 4th century BC palace at Aegae
6) The 8-petal double rosettes in the Amphipolis tomb have an excellent match on the edge bands of the gold larnax of Philip II
7) The evidence therefore favours an important queen being entombed at Amphipolis: Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and Roxane, Alexander’s wife may both have died at Amphipolis and are the only prominent queens that
accord with the archaeologists’ firm dating of the Amphipolis tomb to the last quarter of the 4th century BC
8) On the assumption that the occupant of the Amphipolis tomb is Olympias, a straightforward explanation of the caryatids would be that they are Klodones, the priestesses of Dionysus with whom Plutarch, Alexander 2 states that Olympias consorted: the baskets worn on their heads would be those in which Plutarch says the Klodones kept snakes.
9) Plutarch, Alexander 2 tells the story of Philip having dreamt that he sealed Olympias’s womb whilst she was pregnant with Alexander with the device of a lion. This provides an explanation for the tomb having been surmounted by a lion monument.
10) The mosaic from the floor of the second chamber depicts the Abduction of Persephone by Hades, led by Hermes. However, it is reasonable to suspect that Persephone is a portrait of the occupant, in which case she is a Queen. The reddish hair colour fits Olympias much better than Roxane.
The Hades figure would work as a portrait of Philip II and Hermes may be a portrait of Alexander aged twenty, because he could not be depicted any older in the company of his father.
Figure 1. The head of the right-hand sphinx over the entrance as discovered inside the tomb
On 21st October 2014 the Greek Ministry of Culture issued a press release announcing the discovery of the missing head of the eastern sphinx that sits on the right-hand side of the lintel above the entrance to the tomb. The sphinx’s head has a terrible beauty, considering that she was a mythological creature that tore her victims to pieces (Figure 1). The rarity of such original 4th century BC sculptures of this superb quality needs to be emphasised: nearly every example we are used to seeing of a similar nature is a Roman copy. Some are even whispering the name of Alexander’s court sculptor, Lysippus.
Figure 2. One of a pair of Greek sphinxes found at the Serapeum temple near Memphis which may once have guarded the first tomb of Alexander the Great
However, this new discovery also provides important new information on the way that the Amphipolis LionTomb may fit in with other royal Macedonian tombs in the period immediately after Alexander’s death. In particular, the pair of Amphipolis sphinxes can now be recognised to have the same hairstyle as the pair of generally very similar Greek sphinxes found in 1850-1851 at the Serapeum at Saqqara in Egypt (Figure 2). I wrote in 2012 that the Serapeum sphinxes were probably part of the decoration of the first tomb of Alexander the Great. The close similarity with the sphinxes at a tomb that may belong to Alexander’s mother enhances the evidence that the Serapeum was indeed the site of Alexander’s first tomb in Egypt, before his remains were moved to Alexandria in about 280BC. It improves the chances that the Serapeum sphinxes were indeed a part of its sculptural decoration. The speculation would be that it also indicates some tangible link between the two tombs. Did somebody view the sphinxes at Olympias’s tomb shortly after 316BC and decide that similar sphinxes would serve as a suitable decoration for the tomb of her son at the Serapeum? Or might it even be possible that Olympias herself commissioned sculptures of a pair of sphinxes to guard her son’s tomb at the Serapeum on her behalf soon after it was set up in 321BC?
Figure 3. Fitting the sphinx’s head
One problem with the new head is currently obsessing the “Twittersphere”. Naturally enough, photoshop reconstructions of the new head restored to its body have quickly been produced (Figure 3). It is immediately obvious that there is potential difficulty in fitting the head into the available space beneath the arch. This has led to wild speculation that the arch was not built when the sphinx’s head was knocked off and that somebody subsequently built the arch to house already decapitated sphinxes. As we shall see that is very unlikely, not least because the rest of the evidence is starting to suggest that the tomb was sealed up at the same time as the sphinxes were beheaded. However, there is a more credible answer to the conundrum. Two thousand three hundred years have passed since the sphinxes’ heads were in place. Arches are not immune to some degree of movement on such timescales, especially when they have been subjected to known stresses. In this case the arch has long supported a huge overburden of soil and has been subjected to at least one historical earthquake. There are indeed signs of subsidence in the form of large cracks and slight misalignments of some blocks. The mason puts the same taper onto all the blocks in an arch of this form, which leads inexorably to a precisely semicircular form. However, the arch above the sphinxes is around 10% flatter than a true semicircle: its vertical radius is about 10% shorter than its horizontal radius (Figure 4). This is probably attributable to subsidence and/or earthquakes. So we can reasonably conclude that there was plenty of room for the heads and wings of the sphinxes when it was originally built.
Figure 4. The departure of the arch above the sphinxes from a true semicircle.
Another important implication about the history of the Amphipolis tomb can be derived from the newly released photos. Both the sphinx’s head and the tomb door fragments appear to have been found completely embedded in the sand and soil used to fill the tomb. For example one large door fragment is shown supported by a block of the sandy soil (Figure 5). It is hard for this to have happened unless the doors were smashed actually in the course of the process of filling the tomb with earth and sand.
The doors can now be confirmed to have originally looked exactly like the doors found in other high status Macedonian tombs of the period (4th to 3rd centuries BC), such as the pair from the tomb found by Heuzey in the royal cemetery at Aegae/Virgina (Figure 6). The massive construction and the thickness of the marble of these doors means that it is very unlikely that they could have been so thoroughly smashed other than through determined attack by people deliberately wrecking or mutilating the tomb.
Figure 5. Tomb door fragment from the Amphipolis tomb supported by a pile of the sandy earth that was used to fill the tomb.
It is also unambiguously clear that the sphinxes were deliberately mutilated. Although it is just possible that the heads and wings could have been dislodged by some natural accident, both breasts on both sphinxes have been very precisely hacked off. That must have been deliberate. Although it is less clear at the moment that fragments of the statues were found suspended in the fill, it is very likely that they were smashed on the same occasion as the doors.
Assuming that the various fragments were suspended in the fill, as is strongly implied by the latest photos, then in all probability the person who sealed up the tomb was the same person who had the statues decorating the tomb mutilated. Furthermore, the sealing and the mutilations must have happened at the same time. This is quite strange. Why would a tomb raider spend a lot of time and money diligently sealing up the tomb during the raid? Really, only some very important individual, most probably the ruler of Macedon, would conceivably have wished to seal the tomb so carefully.
But why would the ruler of Macedon have so disliked this tomb as to risk the censure of the Macedonians by mutilating its decorations and fittings? What happened to this tomb virtually requires that a ruler of Macedon detested the occupant of the tomb and also had reason to wish to prevent anybody gaining access to the remains within it.
That is a very specific set of circumstances. The most intriguing question is therefore how such circumstances could have transpired?
A terrible answer immediately presents itself from the pages of history, which further enhances the likelihood that this is the tomb of Alexander’s mother. On the assumption that it is Olympias’s tomb, a combined wrecking and sealing could have been perpetrated by Cassander after he had foully murdered Alexander IV and Roxane in 310BC.
Figure 6. Tomb doors from the high status tomb excavated by Heuzey in the royal cemetery at Aegae/Vergina
Cassander had in effect arranged the murder of Olympias in 316BC. He nevertheless allowed her grandson, Alexander IV, to live along with his mother Roxane. He set them up in the citadel of Amphipolis seemingly in the custody of his henchmen, but not actually imprisoned. If the tomb belongs to Olympias, we should infer that Roxane and the retinue of Alexander IV organised the construction of the tomb at Amphipolis. Cassander seems to have sought reconciliation with the royal family by marrying Alexander’s half sister, Thessalonike, in 315BC, so it is likely that he permitted the construction of Olympias’s tomb as part of the same policy. However, in 311BC a conference of the generals who were running the empire concluded that Alexander IV should assume control when he came of age. Childhood seems to have been deemed to end at 14 in ancient Macedon, which meant 309BC in Alexander IV’s case. Cassander presumably concluded that he had not been forgiven for the murder of Olympias and that he therefore needed to eliminate Alexander IV and his mother.
Up until his murder, Alexander IV might have become the ruling king, so Cassander needed to allow the tomb project to go forward, even though he must have resented the honouring of his erstwhile enemy with such a magnificent monument. But with Alexander IV dead, the tomb had no further political value to Cassander, but instead threatened to become a focus for opposition to his rule. He would both have wished to destroy it and to prevent Olympias’s supporters getting access to what had become a shrine for her remains.
This fit with the history is an extra boost to the candidacy of Olympias as the occupant, because I believe it will be difficult to find other historical circumstances to explain the concurrent mutilation and sealing of the Amphipolis tomb. This reasoning would also suggest that we should still expect to find Olympias’s remains inside the tomb, for it would have been pointless to seal it up if there was nothing of value inside. It is even possible that Roxane’s remains were also incorporated in its deep interior, which was soon to become highly inaccessible. Although they may be a testament to one of history’s most awful stories of foul treachery and child murder, the door fragments are simultaneously a beacon of hope for yet more tremendous discoveries ahead.
*Andrew Chugg is the author of The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great and several academic papers on Alexander’s tomb.


Renaissance art

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Renaissance art, painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and literature produced during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries in Europe under the combined influences of an increased awareness of nature, a revival of classical learning, and a more individualistic view of man. Scholars no longer believe that the Renaissance marked an abrupt break with medieval values, as is suggested by the French word renaissance, literally “rebirth.” Rather, historical sources suggest that interest in nature, humanistic learning, and individualism were already present in the late medieval period and became dominant in 15th- and 16th-century Italy concurrently with social and economic changes such as the secularization of daily life, the rise of a rational money-credit economy, and greatly increased social mobility.

What are the characteristics of Renaissance art, and how does it differ from the art of the Middle Ages?

Renaissance art is marked by a gradual shift from the abstract forms of the medieval period to the representational forms of the 15th century. Subjects grew from mostly biblical scenes to include portraits, episodes from Classical religion, and events from contemporary life. Human figures are often rendered in dynamic poses, showing expression, using gesture, and interacting with one another. They are not flat but suggest mass, and they often occupy a realistic landscape, rather than stand against a gold background as some figures do in the art of the Middle Ages. Renaissance art from Northern Europe emphasized precise detail as a means of achieving a realistic work.

When and where did Renaissance art start and end?

Characteristics of Renaissance art, notably naturalism, can be found in 13th-century European art but did not dominate until the 15th century. Scholars have traditionally described the turn of the 16th century as the culmination of the Renaissance, when, primarily in Italy, such artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael made not only realistic but complex art. About 1520 the Renaissance gave way to Mannerism, wherein a sense of drama pervaded otherwise realistic art.

How did humanism and religion affect Renaissance art?

Interest in humanism, a philosophy that emphasized the individual and the human capacity for fulfillment through reason, transformed the Renaissance artist from an anonymous craftsman to an individual practicing an intellectual pursuit. Artists introduced new subjects to their work, which reflected the growing emphasis on the individual, including portraits, scenes of contemporary life, and historical narratives. Although Renaissance culture was becoming increasingly secular, religion was still important to daily life, especially in Italy, where the seat of Catholicism was located. A good portion of Renaissance art depicted scenes from the Bible or was commissioned by the church. Emphasis on naturalism, however, placed such figures as Christ and the Madonna not on a magnificent gold background, as in the Middle Ages, but in landscapes from the observable world.

What made Renaissance art revolutionary?

The developments of the Renaissance period changed the course of art in ways that continue to resonate. Interest in humanism transformed the artist from an anonymous craftsman to an individual practicing an intellectual pursuit, enabling several to become the first celebrity artists. A growing mercantile class offered artists new patrons that requested novel subjects, notably portraits and scenes from contemporary life. Moreover, scientific observations and Classical studies contributed to some of the most realistic representations of the human figure in art history. Figures have accurate anatomy, stand naturally through the Classical scheme of contrapposto, and have a sense of mass, an accomplishment made easier by the flexibility of oil paint, a medium that was gaining popularity. They also occupy believable space—an achievement based on the development of linear perspective and atmospheric perspective, illusionistic devices to suggest depth on a two-dimensional surface.

What are some famous Renaissance artworks?

Two of the most famous artworks in history were painted during the Renaissance: the Mona Lisa (c. 1503–19) and the Last Supper (c. 1495–98), both executed by Leonardo da Vinci, which show an interest not only in representing the human figure realistically but also in imbuing it with character through expression, gesture, and posture. Other famous artworks include Michelangelo’s sculpture of David (1501–04) and his paintings for the Sistine Chapel (ceiling, 1508–12 Last Judgment, 1536–41), in which the artist pushed the accurate representation of human anatomy to challenging extremes with complicated elegant poses. Raphael’s School of Athens (c. 1508–11) celebrates the intellectual by populating a deep hall, skillfully executed using the recently codified linear perspective, with notable Western thinkers. Donatello’s David (early 15th century) recalls Classical sculpture through the use of contrapposto, wherein the figure stands naturally with the weight on one leg. Albrecht Dürer exemplifies the Northern European interest in meticulous detail in his Self-Portrait (1500), while Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) illustrates the Venetian interest in representing soft light and vibrant colour.

In Italy the Renaissance proper was preceded by an important “ proto-renaissance” in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, which drew inspiration from Franciscan radicalism. St. Francis had rejected the formal Scholasticism of the prevailing Christian theology and gone out among the poor praising the beauties and spiritual value of nature. His example inspired Italian artists and poets to take pleasure in the world around them. The most famous artist of the proto-renaissance period, Giotto di Bondone (1266/67 or 1276–1337), reveals a new pictorial style that depends on clear, simple structure and great psychological penetration rather than on the flat, linear decorativeness and hierarchical compositions of his predecessors and contemporaries, such as the Florentine painter Cimabue and the Siennese painters Duccio and Simone Martini. The great poet Dante lived at about the same time as Giotto, and his poetry shows a similar concern with inward experience and the subtle shades and variations of human nature. Although his Divine Comedy belongs to the Middle Ages in its plan and ideas, its subjective spirit and power of expression look forward to the Renaissance. Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio also belong to this proto-renaissance period, both through their extensive studies of Latin literature and through their writings in the vernacular. Unfortunately, the terrible plague of 1348 and subsequent civil wars submerged both the revival of humanistic studies and the growing interest in individualism and naturalism revealed in the works of Giotto and Dante. The spirit of the Renaissance did not surface again until the beginning of the 15th century.

In 1401 a competition was held at Florence to award the commission for bronze doors to be placed on the Baptistery of San Giovanni. Defeated by the goldsmith and painter Lorenzo Ghiberti, Filippo Brunelleschi and Donatello left for Rome, where they immersed themselves in the study of ancient architecture and sculpture. When they returned to Florence and began to put their knowledge into practice, the rationalized art of the ancient world was reborn. The founder of Renaissance painting was Masaccio (1404–28). The intellectuality of his conceptions, the monumentality of his compositions, and the high degree of naturalism in his works mark Masaccio as a pivotal figure in Renaissance painting. The succeeding generation of artists—Piero della Francesca, Pollaiuolo, and Andrea del Verrocchio—pressed forward with researches into linear and aerial perspective and anatomy, developing a style of scientific naturalism.

The situation in Florence was uniquely favourable to the arts. The civic pride of Florentines found expression in statues of the patron saints commissioned from Ghiberti and Donatello for niches in the grain-market guildhall known as Or San Michele, and in the largest dome built since antiquity, placed by Brunelleschi on the Florence cathedral. The cost of construction and decoration of palaces, churches, and monasteries was underwritten by wealthy merchant families.

Principal among these were the Medici, who dominated Florence from 1434, when the first pro-Medici government was elected, until 1492, when Lorenzo de Medici died. During their ascendancy the Medici subsidized virtually the entire range of humanistic and artistic activities associated with the Renaissance. Cosimo (1389–1464), made wealthy by his trading profits as the papal banker, was a scholar who founded the Neoplatonic academy and collected an extensive library. He gathered around him the foremost writers and classical scholars of his day, among them Marsilio Ficino, the Neoplatonist who served as the tutor of Lorenzo de Medici, Cosimo’s grandson. Lorenzo (1449–92) became the centre of a group of artists, poets, scholars, and musicians who believed in the Neoplatonic ideal of a mystical union with God through the contemplation of beauty. Less naturalistic and more courtly than the prevailing spirit of the first half of the Quattrocento, this aesthetic philosophy was elucidated by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, incarnated in painting by Sandro Botticelli, and expressed in poetry by Lorenzo himself. Lorenzo also collaborated with the organist and choirmaster of the Florence cathedral, Heinrich Isaac, in the composition of lively secular choral music which anticipated the madrigal, a characteristic form of the High Renaissance.

The Medici traded in all of the major cities in Europe, and one of the most famous masterpieces of Northern Renaissance art, the Portinari Altarpiece, by Hugo van der Goes (c. 1476 Uffizi, Florence), was commissioned by their agent, Tommaso Portinari. Instead of being painted with the customary tempera of the period, the work is painted with translucent oil glazes that produce brilliant jewel-like colour and a glossy surface. Early Northern Renaissance painters were more concerned with the detailed reproduction of objects and their symbolic meaning than with the study of scientific perspective and anatomy even after these achievements became widely known. On the other hand, central Italian painters began to adopt the oil painting medium soon after the Portinari Altarpiece was brought to Florence in 1476.

High Renaissance art, which flourished for about 35 years, from the early 1490s to 1527, when Rome was sacked by imperial troops, revolves around three towering figures: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564), and Raphael (1483–1520). Each of the three embodies an important aspect of the period: Leonardo was the ultimate Renaissance man, a solitary genius to whom no branch of study was foreign Michelangelo emanated creative power, conceiving vast projects that drew for inspiration on the human body as the ultimate vehicle for emotional expression Raphael created works that perfectly expressed the classical spirit—harmonious, beautiful, and serene.

Although Leonardo was recognized in his own time as a great artist, his restless researches into anatomy, the nature of flight, and the structure of plant and animal life left him little time to paint. His fame rests mainly on a few completed paintings among them are the Mona Lisa (1503–05, Louvre), The Virgin of the Rocks (1483–86, Louvre), and the sadly deteriorated fresco The Last Supper (1495–98 restored 1978–99 Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan).

Michelangelo’s early sculpture, such as the Pietà (1499 St. Peter’s, Rome) and the David (1501–04 Accademia, Florence), reveals a breathtaking technical ability in concert with a disposition to bend rules of anatomy and proportion in the service of greater expressive power. Although Michelangelo thought of himself first as a sculptor, his best known work is the giant ceiling fresco of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome. It was completed in four years, from 1508 to 1512, and presents an incredibly complex but philosophically unified composition that fuses traditional Christian theology with Neoplatonic thought.

Raphael’s greatest work, School of Athens (1508–11), was painted in the Vatican at the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel. In this large fresco Raphael brings together representatives of the Aristotelian and Platonic schools of thought. Instead of the densely packed, turbulent surface of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Raphael places his groups of calmly conversing philosophers and artists in a vast court with vaults receding into the distance. Raphael was initially influenced by Leonardo, and he incorporated the pyramidal composition and beautifully modelled faces of The Virgin of the Rocks into many of his own paintings of the Madonna. He differed from Leonardo, however, in his prodigious output, his even temperament, and his preference for classical harmony and clarity.

The creator of High Renaissance architecture was Donato Bramante (1444–1514), who came to Rome in 1499 when he was 55. His first Roman masterpiece, the Tempietto (1502) at S. Pietro in Montorio, is a centralized dome structure that recalls classical temple architecture. Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–13) chose Bramante to be papal architect, and together they devised a plan to replace the 4th-century Old St. Peter’s with a new church of gigantic dimensions. The project was not completed, however, until long after Bramante’s death.

Humanistic studies continued under the powerful popes of the High Renaissance, Julius II and Leo X, as did the development of polyphonic music. The Sistine Choir, which performed at services when the pope officiated, drew musicians and singers from all of Italy and northern Europe. Among the most famous composers who became members were Josquin des Prez (c. 1450–1521) and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–94).

The Renaissance as a unified historical period ended with the fall of Rome in 1527. The strains between Christian faith and classical humanism led to Mannerism in the latter part of the 16th century. Great works of art animated by the Renaissance spirit, however, continued to be made in northern Italy and in northern Europe.

Seemingly unaffected by the Mannerist crisis, northern Italian painters such as Correggio (1494–1534) and Titian (1488/90–1576) continued to celebrate both Venus and the Virgin Mary without apparent conflict. The oil medium, introduced to northern Italy by Antonello da Messina and quickly adopted by Venetian painters who could not use fresco because of the damp climate, seemed particularly adapted to the sanguine, pleasure-loving culture of Venice. A succession of brilliant painters—Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese—developed the lyrical Venetian painting style that combined pagan subject matter, sensuous handling of colour and paint surface, and a love of extravagant settings. Closer in spirit to the more intellectual Florentines of the Quattrocento was the German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who experimented with optics, studied nature assiduously, and disseminated his powerful synthesis of Renaissance and Northern Gothic styles through the Western world by means of his engravings and woodcuts.


The Decline And Legacy Of Classical Greece

Alexander’s encounter with Diogenes the Cynic by Pierre Puget, 1680, The Louvre

Macedonia, situated in northern Greece, during the mid-fourth century BC., became a challenging and intimidating power under Philip II (r. 360/359–336 BC.). Philip’s military and political achievements paved the way for the conquests of his son, Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 BC.).

The rise of the Macedonian Empire resulted in the occupation of all Greek city-states by either Philip II or Alexander the Great. The Macedonian rulers did not invade Athens they had great respect for the city and its culture. They were made honorary citizens of Athens and perpetuated the legacy of classical Greece throughout their vast empire. The ensuing Hellenistic era is the glorification of classical art, culture, sciences, and philology and its dissemination across the known world.

Upon the rise of the Roman Empire , the Greek legacy found new passionate admirers and supporters. The Roman Classical era is indeed an enlargement of the Greek ideals in Art both in size (roman artifacts were enlarged copies of originals from classical Greece) but also in latitude as it traveled through the European and North African borders of the realm.

It survived in ruins of the ancient world, in treasures unearthed centuries later, in myths carried through the human consciousness, its literature, science, and philosophy meticulously studied and copied by Arab scholars and would be revived during the European Renaissance and become what we today study, research and admire in Classical Studies.

The Parthenon frieze by Pheidias , 5th century BC, The Acropolis Museum, Athens

The Classical Period in ancient Greece produced outstanding cultural and scientific achievements. The city of Athens introduced to the world a direct Democracy political system later adopted and adjusted by western governments like Great Britain, France, and the USA a thousand years later. The logical approach centered on the concept of logos which initiated a continuous process of exploring and explaining the world. Democracy and Reason of classical Greece became the catalysts of western culture, the foundations of its advancement as demonstrated early in the subsequent Hellenistic Age, and its successor the Roman Empire that based its values on the same principles.


Amphipolis tomb reveals third chamber, with a glimpse of colour within

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered a third chamber of a mysterious, massive tomb in northern Greece - and had a glimpse of what it contains.

Hopes are rising that the ancient Greek tomb of Amphipolis may have somehow remained untouched after being hidden for centuries.

Hopes are rising that the ancient Greek tomb of Amphipolis may have somehow remained untouched after being hidden for centuries.

Revealing . An earlier image shows the soil being removed from the entrance chamber containing the two female statues. Source:Supplied

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have discovered a third chamber of a mysterious, massive tomb in northern Greece, and had a glimpse of what it contains.

Workers have spent the past few weeks removing the soil which filled the 2300-year-old entrance chamber guarded by two female statues clad in semi-transpired robes — called Caryatids.

As the soil was removed behind the guardians, an Ionic-style marble lintel was gradually exposed. This marks the entrance to the third chamber.

What lies beneath . Reports suggest a colourful decoration has been glimpsed behind this Ionic-style doorway guarding the Amphipolis tomb’s third chamber. Source:Supplied

A fallen stone in the entrance reportedly appears to provide a view of a painted sculpture or decoration within. Hopes are high this will contain clues as to the identity of the tomb’s occupant.

The excavation, on a hillock near ancient Amphipolis, 600 kilometres north of Athens, has dominated local news coverage for a month, since Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited it and pre-empted archaeologists by releasing details on the findings.

The journey so far . A reconstruction of the entrance of the Amphipolis tomb. Source:Supplied

Greek archaeologists say the attention is placing an unfair burden on the excavation team.

The diggers, however, are continuing to shore-up the ancient structure to ensure the safety to protect workers before they enter the new chamber.

The risk of cave-in is high, so timber beams and retaining walls are being erected as archaeologists advance further into the structure.

Lina Mendoni, General Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, has told media that the monument has elements indicating that its owner had a 𠇌osmopolitan” outlook.

A detailed diagram of excavation work so far has been released by Greek authorities.

It shows a representation of the dig, with photographs highlighting each element uncovered so far.

Eternal vigilance . A close-up of the face of one of the two Caryatids. Source:Supplied

The full-body sculptures of two females guarding the third chamber appear to have been adorned with extended arms as either a warning to those who entered or blocking the entrance itself.

“The robes bear exceptional art folds”, stated Ministry’s notice. “The Caryatids, from the outside are slighting lifting their robe with their corresponding hand,” a Greek heritage ministry statement read.

You shall not pass . The outstretched arms of the Caryatids once barred entry to the chamber beyond. Source:Supplied

The statues reportedly represent the pinnacle of artistic value for their era.

One caryatid was found with her face intact. The face of the second, however, has been found in the sand at the base of the statue. Efforts are underway to conserve the stonework.

Strong presence . Timber beams shore-up the roof between the two female statues guarding the entrance to the third chamber.

Less than half the tomb, which bears signs of having been plundered in antiquity, has been explored, and removing the tons of earth that fill it will take weeks. Although no burials have been found so far, the opulence points to some senior official linked with Ancient Greek warrior-king Alexander the Great.

The barrel-vaulted tomb is among the biggest of its period in antiquities-rich Greece. Excavator Katerina Peristeri believes the mound was originally topped by a stone lion on a large plinth, found a few kilometres away 100 years ago, that was probably removed during Roman times. She has also voiced strong hopes that the site hasn’t been looted.

Entrance . One of the guardian Sphynx statues at the entrance to the tomb, right, and the chamber behind it, left. Source:Supplied

Archaeologist Chryssoula Paliadelli, who is not involved in the excavation, told The Associated Press that the tomb has several exceptional features, including a monumental facade that leaves the top of the vault exposed above two large marble sphinxes.

The site, set among almond groves and tobacco fields, has about 20 police providing a 24-hour guard to deter looters, who have plagued the area in the past.

Former antiquities guard Alekos Kochliaridis told the AP that robbers tried to excavate the mound in 1952, brazenly turning up in broad daylight with a mechanical digger.

“We local residents called the police and they chased them off,” he said. “The whole surrounding area has plenty of holes left by illegal excavations.”

Translucent quality . The exquisite stonework displayed in the torso of one of the Caryatids. Source:Supplied

Speculation is rife that the tomb may contain buried treasure and the remains of an eminent figure — although Alexander himself was buried in Egypt.

Alexander conquered a vast area from modern Greece to India, enriching many of his close friends and commanders. His death in 323 B.C. was followed by upheaval as his generals fought over the empire.

Professor of History and Archaeology in the University of Cyprus Theodoros Mavraganis has said he believes the tomb belongs to Hephaestion, one of Alexander the Great childhood friends. He also accompanied him Alexander as a general on his ten-year campaign in Asia.

Another theory attributes the tomb to one of Alexander’s admirals, Nearchos. He was exiled to Amphipolis by King Philip II.

Athird scenario is that Alexander’s Persian wife, Roxana, and his son, Alexander IV, are buried there. They also had been banished to Amphipolis in around 310 B.C.

Revealing . An earlier image shows the soil being removed from the entrance chamber containing the two female statues. Source:Supplied

Dozens of tourists daily try to get a peek of the fenced-off site, and visitor numbers at the nearby Amphipolis museum have swelled.

Paliadelli, a professor at the University of Thessaloniki, said the media attention is greater than during the discovery in the late 1970s, in which she participated, of a rich unplundered tomb identified as that of Alexander’s father, King Philip II of Macedonia in a royal cemetery 200 kilometres (125 miles) to the west.

“The media — television, the internet — has developed so much,” she said. “We worked at a much calmer pace, despite the pressure from the nature of the finds — that included wood and leather artefacts that required urgent conservation.”

The Association of Greek Archaeologists on Thursday criticised the Culture Ministry’s approach to the media, which it said was tailored to “satisfying a public opinion hooked on facile sensationalism and over-consumption of television, print and online sub-products.”


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