ART DURING THE HELLENISTIC PERIOD (323 - 31 B.C.)
The campaign of Alexander the Great in the East triggered the establishment there of Greek settlers, who brought with them from the metropolitan centers Greek customs and religion and a freer spirit. The independent kingdoms, which resulted from the division of Alexander’s empire, became the new intellectual and economic centers. Their development was reinforced by the Greek language, in the form of the Koine dialect, and the widespread use of coinage.
Great advances in the natural sciences overturned prevailing religious beliefs. Through their philosophical researches, the educated discover a world replete with order, coherence, and meaning. The idea that the ruler ought to serve the state as well as its people arises in this context. The broader classes of common people look to religion as a means of salvation. In this era of rapid changes, they entrust their hopes to Tyche (Fortune), goddess of coincidences,as well as in mystic and Eastern cults.
The spirit of the epoch is reflected in its art and architecture. Now more than ever, art has a secular character and focuses on themes from daily life, but also on the world of Dionysus and Aphrodite, with idyllic or dramatic content. In sculpture, realism and representation of individual bodily characteristics replace ideal beauty and eternal youth. In this context, the art of portraiture also develops. These new trends culminate in truly three-dimensional works with which the mastery of space takes place. At the end of the period, classicism is evident in the plastic arts. It should be linked to the gradual conquest of the Greek world by the Romans, who foster a great love for the art of the Classical Period.
The minor arts and metal works of this period are multitudinous and diverse, and are used for the decoration of palaces and luxurious private homes. Figurines and statuettes of traditional and new gods, often copies or modifications of the great creations of the 4th century B.C., are produced in marble or bronze.
Jewelry and household items made of precious and semi-precious materials served the need for the extravagance and personal display of their owners. Elaborate diadems, exquisite necklaces, valuable earrings and belts, bracelets, and gold rings were decorated with themes from nature and mythology. Everyday items belonging to the rulers and upper classes, such as those for the symposium, were of gold, silver, and bronze. The use of glass items was involved in the trend toward luxury and sophistication; their forms imitate their counterparts in metal or clay. These luxurious vases compete with and displace clay ones, simply black-glazed or decorated with vegetal or geometric themes, and occasionally gilded. Characteristic types of the latter are lagynoi, oinochoae, unguentaria, relief skyphoi, and cinerary urns of the Hadra type.
The coroplastic arts of the Hellenistic period derive their agenda from religious and daily life and from theatrical and musical space. They mirror an atmosphere of leisure and enjoyment in a world oriented toward ephemeral and personal happiness.
The cities, which Alexander the Great and his Diadochoi founded, are developed in symmetrical orthogonal blocks, as the Milesian urban planner and philosopher Hippodamus proposed. Enormous temples and porticoes, altars with monumental staircases and facades, sumptuous funerary structures, and theatres were built in public spaces and sanctuaries. They testify to the trend of displaying power and wealth on behalf of their founders and dedicators. The styles and the components of the rich decoration did not obey the strict rules of the Classical Period.