The Naked Truth: Humanism through Nudity in Classical Greece
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance, and this, and not the external manner and detail, is true reality. -Aristotle
After the Persian Wars, the Greeks felt a sense of superiority unlike anything they had previously experienced. Suddenly, they found themselves the dominant culture of the known world. Nothing could top them militarily, politically, and or especially culturally. The Athenian democracy blossomed into a full-fledged empire and Achaean culture expanded across the Mediterranean on a scale not seen since the era of Mycenaean palaces. With increased societal participation for the common man, the individual became something of greater value than it had been ever before. Early Classical art saw the introduction of facial expression, though it was often subtle. As art historian J.J. Pollitt says: “[there was] a tendency to think of sculptures not only as hard, ‘real’ objects known by touch and by measurement but also an impressions, as something which is in the process of change, a part of the flux of experience, bounded not by solidity and ‘hard edges’ but by flickering shadows and almost undiscernable transitions” (69). As the period progressed, sculptors continued to depict individuals and emotional depth by creating works of art with more naturalistic and individualistic features. Humanism, the idea that man is above all else in every aspect of life, was derived from this sense of the individual. Humanism was often expressed through art in idealized nude figures, which demonstrate the perfection of man in both body and mind. The equilibrium of the contrapposto pose conveys sophrosyne: the body is effortlessly in balance and shows us that the figure has control over their body and their mind. There is a sense of rationality and reason to the pose that should be admired as much as the idealized musculature. Depicting the body in motion was the next step in depicting naturalism, and by the end of the Classical Period long flowing robes and thick layers of cloth were common in artwork. The Classical Period came to a close following the death of Alexander the Great. His conquests in the east caused a mingling of Greek and Oriental culture that, as the assimilation progressed, ushered in a new social and artistic era that expanded upon many of the ideas seen in the Classical Period.
Pollitt, J. J. Art and Experience in Classical Greece. Cambridge [Eng.: Cambridge UP, 1972. Print.