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The Beginnings Of Greek Sculpture
by [?]

THE BEGINNINGS OF GREEK SCULPTURE I: THE HEROIC AGE OF GREEK ART

THE extant remains of Greek sculpture, though but a fragment of what the Greek sculptors produced, are, both in number and in excellence, in their fitness, therefore, to represent the whole of which they were a part, quite out of proportion to what has come down to us of Greek painting, and all those minor crafts which, in the Greek workshop, as at all periods when the arts have been really vigorous, were closely connected with the highest imaginative work. Greek painting is represented to us only by its distant reflexion on the walls of the buried houses of Pompeii, and the designs of subordinate though exquisite craftsmen on the vases. Of wrought metal, partly through the inherent usefulness of its material, tempting ignorant persons into whose hands it may fall to re-fashion it, we have comparatively little; while, in consequence of the perishableness of their material, nothing remains of the curious wood-work, the carved ivory, the embroidery and coloured stuffs, on which the Greeks set much store–of that whole system of refined artisanship, diffused, like a general atmosphere of beauty and richness, around the more exalted creations of Greek sculpture. What we possess, then, of that highest Greek sculpture is presented to us in a sort of threefold isolation; isolation, first of all, from the concomitant arts–the frieze of the Parthenon without the metal bridles on the horses, for which the holes in the marble remain; isolation, secondly, from the architectural group of which, with most careful estimate of distance and point of observation, that frieze, for instance, was designed to be a part; isolation, thirdly, from the clear Greek skies, the poetical Greek life, in our modern galleries. And if one here or there, in looking at these things, bethinks himself of the required substitution; if he endeavours mentally to throw them back into that proper atmosphere, through which alone they can exercise over us all the magic by which they charmed their original spectators, the effort is not always a successful one, within the grey walls of the Louvre or the British Museum.

And the circumstance that Greek sculpture is presented to us in such falsifying isolation from the work of the weaver, the carpenter, and the goldsmith, has encouraged a manner of regarding it too little sensuous. Approaching it with full information concerning what may be called the inner life of the Greeks, their modes of thought and sentiment amply recorded in the writings of the Greek poets and philosophers, but with no lively impressions of that mere craftsman’s world of which so little has remained, students of antiquity have for the most part interpreted the creations of Greek sculpture, rather as elements in a sequence of abstract ideas, as embodiments, in a sort of petrified language, of pure thoughts, and as interesting mainly in connexion with the development of Greek intellect, than as elements of a sequence in the material order, as results of a designed and skilful dealing of accomplished fingers with precious forms of matter for the delight of the eyes. Greek sculpture has come to be regarded as the product of a peculiarly limited art, dealing with a specially abstracted range of subjects; and the Greek sculptor as a workman almost exclusively intellectual, having only a sort of accidental connexion with the material in which his thought was expressed. He is fancied to have been disdainful of such matters as the mere tone, the fibre or texture, of his marble or cedar-wood, of that just perceptible yellowness, for instance, in the ivory-like surface of the Venus of Melos; as being occupied only with forms as abstract almost as the conceptions of philosophy, and translateable it might be supposed into any material–a habit of regarding him still further encouraged by the modern sculptor’s usage of employing merely mechanical labour in the actual working of the stone.