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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Art of Praxiteles

The ancient art criticism recognized in Praxiteles the greatest sculptor of images of deities (agalmatopoios) after Pheidias, and the greatest artist of Athens in the late-classical period, which is for us the fourth century B.C. In particular, Praxiteles’ predilection for marble sculpture has been very clear in the ancient tradition, because marble sculpture is consistent with the concept of sculpture as a release and, according to Plato, as a discovery of what existed already inside the block of marble, thus inside nature. The most significant merit of his art is that it has been regarded as the symbol of the world of the courtesans in late classical Athens, when this important figure of Greek society had been deeply admired and highly regarded. The expression of subjective feelings in works of art, which is so apparent in Praxiteles’ oeuvre, is the result of a long process, whose antecedents go back to the age of the Athenian leader Cimon (460s B.C.). The art of Praxiteles is great, because it expresses very well the need to evade the narrow environment of the polis, surrounding the individual, which was felt very deeply in the Athenian culture and which led, three decades later, to the epic adventure of Alexander the Great. The late artistic production of Praxiteles is characterized by the following features: from the stylistic point of view, by the accentuation of the rendering of the surfaces through a game of light and shade, which makes the image fluent and dreamy; from the rhythmic point of view, by the addition of backdrops, against which the figures are represented enlarged and are rendered as in a stage setting; from the point of view of the message, by the neglect of the ideal tendency, aiming at the discovery of the true form of the gods, and the favouring, instead, of the elegant mundane figures, apt to excite a hedonistic gratification. This Praxitelean style is irradiated everywhere in the Greek world and becomes the Athenian style par excellence.