Greek portraiture

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Greek portraiture proper begins after the Persian invasion of 480. The Tyrannicides (see critius) were generic representations of men long dead, but the Themistocles from Ostia (a copy) modifies a pre‐existing Heracles type to make him into a heroic figure. Such ‘role’ portraiture, whereby standard types were personalized to a greater or lesser degree, was normative during the Classical period and into the Hellenistic. Early examples (all copies) include Pericles (c.425: see cresilas), Herodotus, Thucydides 2, and Socrates ‘A’ (c.380). Most if not all are Attic. Coiffure, attributes, posture, and gesture helped to locate the subject as belonging to a particular citizen and/or character type within the polis.

Alexander's conquests both revolutionized the genre of ruler‐portraiture and stimulated a massive demand for portraits at all levels. Lysippus idealized his features and blended them with a version of the nude spear‐bearing Doryphorus (see polyclitus) in order to show him as a latter‐day Achilles, while Apelles represented him as a Zeus on earth, complete with thunderbolt. They and others also first portrayed the ruler in narrative situations (hunts, battles, processions), and with gods and personifications. Alexander's successors eagerly followed suit, choosing the diadem (a white cloth headband, knotted behind with the ends dangling, which he had assumed in 330) as their royal symbol. Whether equestrian, armoured, cloaked, or nude; striding, standing, or seated; spear‐bearing or with trident, scepter, or cornucopia, their statues, pictures, coins, and gems represented them as charismatic and often semi‐divine rulers in their own right. While most are idealized, this seldom obscures their individuality, for easy recognition is one of their prime aims.

After Alexander, portraiture became the central Hellenistic art form. While the old categories continue, and bourgeois portraits are mostly conventional, others are markedly original, such as the sharp‐featured Menander, and the aged Chrysippus. Portraits of Romans conformed both to traditional Greek attitudes about barbarians and the sitters' own tastes: examples range from the aquiline, impetuous Quinctius Flamininus to the hard‐boiled Italian merchants who settled on Delos between 166 and 88 (see negotiatores). Athletes represent the opposite pole: surviving examples rarely suggest much individualization.

See portraiture, roman.

See portraiture, roman.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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