The Hellenistic period played an important role in the development and evolution of Greek’s art and architecture. Art and architecture in this period derived its uniqueness and cultural significance mainly from the prior conquests of Alexander the great. The period before Hellenistic Greece was characterized by the conquests of Alexander and his armies; they managed to conquer significant parts of continental Europe and Asia (Austin 72). In the process of these conquests, Greek artistic culture was brought into contact with new forms of artistic culture in the conquered territories. It also had the effect of expanding the realm of Greek art and architecture beyond the confines of Greece. In the period before Alexander the Great, Greek art and architecture was confined to Greece only. After his conquests, Greek artisans were exposed to new experiences that subsequently shaped the arts and architecture landscape in the succeeding Hellenistic period.
Following the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided into Hellenistic dynasties mainly led by Alexander’s generals (Cary 45). The newly formed dynasties (while separate) had greatly been influenced by Greek elements - especially its art and architecture. Subsequently, it was absorbed by these new dynasties and became part of their culture. The royal families lived in grand palaces, which were dominated by huge halls, complex and beautiful decorations in the rooms as well as elaborately manicured gardens. The need for self-satisfaction led to competition among the newly formed dynasties in the building of the grandest palaces. The competition pushed the limits of architecture in the Hellenistic period. Religion played a great role in the lives of many of the inhabitants of the former Greek empire (Austin 101). Consequently, the construction of temples further helped define the bounds of architecture and design. The Greeks pioneered various orders in architecture including the Doric, Corinthians, and Ionic (Ancient-Greece.org). The Corinthian order was developed in the Hellenistic period; it has been shown to have been built up from the Doric and Ionic orders in the classical and Alexander ages.
Most of the activities in this period were centered on the royal families. A majority of the events were held in the palaces. It afforded an opportunity for other elites in the society to notice these architectural designs and advance them in their subsequent projects. It further expanded the scope of Greek architecture in the Hellenistic period. Usually, the prominent works of art and architecture such temples and sculptures were commissioned by the royal families. It had the effect of giving high status to such works hence their continued prominence.
In the period of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greeks discovered precious stones and other minerals in the new territories. Such stones allowed the art of jewelry to flourish with demand for jewelry made from such stones being high especially from the royal families. Furthermore, increased territory in the era of Alexander the Great meant that goldsmiths and other artisans could move freely and widely. Subsequently, in the Hellenistic period, there was never a shortage of these artisans who had already traveled everywhere despite the division of the empire. The artisans helped preserve Greek art even in the various dynasties that they had moved to other artistic forms.
Sculptural art is perhaps one of the most prominent of Greek art forms that grew during the Hellenistic period. Greek gods offered the most influence on Hellenistic sculpture owing to the prominence of religion (Cary 45). Different sculptures represented different gods and goddesses. However, the sculptors did not constrain themselves to gods; they created statues of animals, men and women often portraying various emotions and carrying different meanings. Still, due to the spread of Greek culture resulting from Alexander’s conquests, demand for Greek art and architecture (especially the sculptures of gods and other heroic figures) increased. Sculptures became a symbol of wealth in the new Hellenistic dynasties. Consequently, Greek sculptures and sculptors became a major export creating a completely new industry in the process. Some of the famous sculptures of the Hellenistic period include the “Pergamon Altar” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Naturally, increased demand for sculptures and architectural design results in the subsequent increase in the demand for painting as an art form. The period therefore corresponds with an increase in Hellenistic paintings. Painting was used to relay various subject matters including mythology in various decorative styles. This is especially the case in the Persian Empire, which had been part of the Greek Empire in the period of Alexander the Great (Ancient-Greece.org). It is in this period that Greek portraits evolved as an art form, which was mainly held for its value as a form of antiquity. Facial portraits as a form of painting became prominent. In fact, it has been documented that the art of painting facial portraits on the funeral clothes of mummified bodies in Egyptian culture has been attributed to the Greek portrait culture rather than as a form of original Egyptian culture.
Despite the Hellenistic dynasties having a common Greek theme in them, their art and architecture are as diverse as the territories they occupied. It is attributed to the fact that the even as the Greeks conquered new territories, their artisans also incorporated local art and architecture in their works hence providing a blend. The impact on Hellenistic art and culture continued being felt even in the succeeding periods of the Roman Empire due to the integration of Greek artisans in Rome during the conquests of Alexander the Great.
Austin, Michel M. The Hellenistic world from Alexander to the Roman conquest: A selection of ancient sources in translation. Cambridge. Cambridge University College. 2006. Print.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of the Hellenistic Age and the Hellenistic Tradition. 2010. Web. 02 July, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/haht/hd_haht.htm
Ancient-Greece.org. History of Greece: Hellenistic. 2002. Web. 02 July, 2015.
Cary, Max. A History of the Greek World from 323 to 146 B.C. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd. 1932. Print.