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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts


Mix Master
About Mr.B
Ancient Greece:

Education and athletics were important parts to the Greek society. Maybe one of the most known Greek traditions around the world in their Olympic Games. All wars stop for this festival for the god of gods, Zeus. Before the games began, the priests sacrificed animals for Zeus. This included the butchering of a hundred ox for a public feast. Only free born Greek men were allowed to take part in the five day long Olympic Games. Unmarried women and girls could sit in the stands. Men competed in the nude, which was a time honored tradition of the Hellenic culture. Only a true savage would be ashamed to display their body, but it also put all people, regardless of class, on the same level. The eighteen core events began with the chariot race. One of the more famed chariot races was in 67AD when emperor Nero won first prize even though he fell off the chariot and never completed the race. Events also included wrestling, running, javelin, boxing and the discus. There was the hopliodromia (a 400 yard run in full armor) and pankration (an MMA-style brawl were no eye gouging was the only rule). Beyond the athletic events, there was also a circus-like atmosphere with many shows and programs, eating races, beauty contests, and Homer reading competitions. The Games were held every four years from 776 BC-394AD when Christian emperor Theodosius banned all pagan festivals. They resumed in 1896 and are held every four years to this day.


Greek art was always evolving into new styles. They developed a new and unique way of visually communicating their ideas. 1000-600 BC is known as the Great-age of Pottery. This began with Geometric patterns glazed onto the ceramic wares. This style is regarded as the Geometric Style (1000-700 B.C.). As the age evolved, Greeks organized patterns into bands. This is an Egyptian influence. They also start using a new ceramic media, red terracotta clay with black glazes or slips. This gives the figures a black look, thus developing the Black-Figure Style (700-480 B.C.). Overlapping with this ideal, the Greeks changed into a blackened clay with red slip style; this gives the figures a red look. This is called the Red-Figure Style (530-320 B.C.). The Greeks created wares in specific shapes for a specific purpose.

Five types of vessels:
1. Krater; large opening, to mix water & wine.
2. Kylix; 2-handed cup.
3. Hydria; carried water, 3 handles (2 carry, 1 pour)
4. Oenochoe; wine jug
5. Amphora; food, large.

With the many ways to tell a story with slips on ceramic wares, some artists developed a style that set themselves apart from the masses. One of the first ceramisicists to develop a reputation for great quality was Exekias. He was the best Black-Figure Style painter who worked from about 550 through 525 B.C. in Athens. His work was exported all over the Greek Empire. He was known for the high quality produced in his artworks. Only eleven of his signed works are known, but there are about thirty five works that are believed to be created by Exekias. All works, regardless of the artist that created them, tell us stories of the gods they believed in and explained the world they lived in. Why are there seasons? Why do we die? Why does a deer look they way it does? Why do we need to act a certain way? All and more are explained through the gods and their interactions with one another. Because most are illiterate, placing these stories into an illustration onto ceramics and other places that were seen everyday, reminded all of the way life was intended to be lived.


The ancient Greeks were drawn as a culture toward many areas of life: mathematics, philosophy, and the study of the human form. I would say they were borderline obsessive with discovering the perfect human body. The better a person looked, the closer you were to the gods. They began their sculptures with abstracted bronze human forms. The best example if this is the Kouros Figure.Check out the link to see it. Greeks move toward stone media with a more realistic feel and a larger scale. The best example of this is Kritios Boy. This is the first known freestanding stone sculpture without supports. The supports were usually behind or along the legs of the figure. Kritios Boy stands without a leg balance and has space between arms and sides. This work is said to have been sculpted by Kritios. For the first time, humans create art as a perfect imitation of life. The way he is standing is also unique. He stands in a natural posturing called contrapposto. The standing in relaxed and natural stance was a new idea in sculpture and it soon became the common with artists around the world, but that is not all a good thing for artists. Research by Dr. Nigel Spivey indicates that the human brain is hardwired get bored with realistic looking art; we need the abstracted and exaggerated. For this reason Greeks moved from realistic images to the super-human looking images that make humans look better then perfect. No longer was it cool to have someone standing as people do in a relaxed stance, but they had to be doing some exagurated action. The more complex the action the more complex the art. Dr. Spivey's theory is that this "hardwiring" is still evident today. He points to our pull toward fashion, the digital alteration in magazines, make-up, and with ourselves as a whole.

Kouros Figure
590–580 BC. Marble. 76 5/8 inches tall and 20 5/16 inches wide.

Kritios Boy
480 BC. Marble. 2 feet 6.6 inches tall. Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece.

Polyclitos was a sculptor in the 5th century BC and developed mathematic ratios to keep the human form looking correct. His most important discovery was with the development of contrapposto. It is used to keep the human form in proper proportion. After this is mastered, an artist has the ability to give the illusion of the human body in motion. This was done with works like Discus Thrower.


Temples are the most important buildings in Greek society. The temples are built of several basic parts. The column has two parts: the shaft, and the capital. The capital, at the top of the shaft, give us the order, or gender of the building. The term capitol comes from the latin word "caput"" meaning head. Greek and Roman architecture use two basic orders, Doric and Ionic. Doric is male and most popular. Ionic is female. Resting on top of the capital is an architrave and a frieze (usually decorated). The roof is supported by the frieze. The triangular shelf created at the roof line and frieze is called a pediment. Sculptures are placed in these pediments, typically to tell stories.

Greeks were overly obsessed with numbers. Math was seen as a sacred gift, given by the gods. They discovered the importance of Feriachi Numbers and the Golden Rectangle. This is used everywhere there is harmony: keys on a piano, the curve of a bent finger, honeycomb, a body from waste up to waste down is all able to figure back to the Golden Mean. This is a 1:1.6 ratio.


The Parthenon was built in Athens on top of the Acropolis, "hill top fortress." Most students confuse these very different things. The Acropolis is the hill and the Parthenon is the building. A scholarly student would make it a point to know some of the features of the Parthenon. It was designed by Iktinos and Kallikrates, although Pericles played a major role in the design of the structure; It was his idea, after Athens held off Xeries and the Persians, that the destroyed temples atop Acropolis would be rebuilt. At the center of this work was the construction of the Parthenon. It was constructed with the illusion of visual perfection. The parts of the structure are not interchangeable, although the look as though they would be. Mathematically, the building keeps with a 9:4 ratio throughout (length:width, width:column height, distance between columns:column diameter, etc.) and also incorporates the Golden Ratio; a 1:1.6 ratio that is considered to be the mathematical formula to aesthetics or visual beauty. Not only is it the ratio of the front length to height ratio, but is a ratio seen in the creation of honey comb, human proportion, shell growth, and elsewhere in the natural world. Using these ratios helps look at the symmetry of the parts compared to other parts in the building, but also the parts in relationship to the whole. As I've stated, the Greeks love numbers.

The Parthenon is a two cella chamber designed structure (meaning it has a solid wall inside a colonnade) that is constructed largely out of Pentelic marble. This material was well known in ancient Greece for its quality and beauty. Although beautiful, the marble would have been painted with bright colors. As far as a function of the building goes, the primarily purpose of the build was a place or worship for the goddess Athena. The main room housed a forty foot tall statue of her. She was likely made of ivory and gold over a wooden armature. The second chamber was used as a treasury for the Delian League.

Doric order column styles were used in most of this buildings colonnades, however Ionic order was used inside the two cella chambers. The columns them selves are made for stacked sections of marble block that fit together perfectly. These sections were made with a square notch placed perfectly at the center (on both the top and bottom). In the bottom notch was placed a cedar wood block with a hole in the center. The top section was lowered with a wooden block that had a wooden peg coming down. After the peg was inserted to the hole, the blocks were perfectly on center and only minor alignment adjustment was needed. Another interesting note on the columns is that they tip in slightly so they appear more stable, and thus appearing stronger as one looks up at them. Along this same optical adjustment, the columns also swell in the middle so they don't appear to sag.
In its prime, the Parthenon was used as a civic meeting area, art gallery, worship area, bank and library. Since then, it has also been attacked; partially exploded; set on fire; served as a church, mosque and Spartan military barracks; its art has been looted and it has survived earthquakes, air pollution and problems due to damaging restoration techniques of the early 1900’s. Since 1975, the Parthenon has been getting a facelift by the Acropolis Restoration Project. The project’s president, Charalambos Bouras, stated that, "We preserve all the original pieces and we add only a few marble in order to fit them to the general construction." The work is painstaking: it took five years to properly place and restore 500 marble sections. There are over 70,000 in the whole structure.

The Fall of Greece:

The Greeks were weakened after the Peloponnesian War. Soon, Greece was controlled by a Macedonian Prince: Alexander the Great. He had conquered: Macedonia, Greece, Egypt, Mideast, Persia, and West India. After Alexander's death, the kingdom was divided into three parts. In 146 BC, Greece became a part of Roman Empire. Although the Greek civilization is not what it once was, their ideas they developed have changed the world forever. Classic ideas are those that have developed from Greek and Roman origins.

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063