Greek Fascination with Beauty

Moving forward in time as our gaze continues to place art in its historical context, we now confront one of the truly great moments or eras of creative activity.  Greek artists, over the passage of several centuries of time, codified a vision of beauty which still resonates with us today.  How the Greeks evolved such a vision in their finished works of art, especially in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, remains a tantalizing mystery.  Johann Wolfgang Goethe, in his Italian Journey (1786-88), wrote the following quip regarding the mysterious Greek understanding of beauty :  “What was the process by which these incomparable artists, the Greeks, evolved from the human body the circle of their god-like shapes, a perfect circle from which not one essential, incidental or transitional feature was lacking?  My instinct tells me that they followed the same laws as Nature…But there is something else involved as well which I would not know how to express.”  What do you think is the missing piece of expression which Goethe could sense but was not able to put into words?

Nike of Samothrace or Winged Victory

Nike of Samothrace being removed from the Louve in September 3, 1939 to ensure its safety should war break out.



15 thoughts on “Greek Fascination with Beauty

  1. Perhaps the missing ingredient as it were, is a divine intuition that they felt while producing this art. It is hard to put some things into words. Perhaps there is no word for what the ancient Greeks had. I feel that at times words can limit us and that is why the words escaped Goethe when he tried to describe it.

  2. I believe that the Greeks regarded the human body as the top of perfection. In geometry, structure and movements. A knowledge of anatomy not deeply medical-scientific but structural. Plastic. The anatomy for artists as we know it today. The plasticity of the human body was the standard of beauty par excellence. And if the Greeks considered a statue as the container of the spirit of a god that I do not wonder what it was made for a god was also extremely beautiful and perfect.

  3. I think Greek art and their artists symbolized humanism – the glorification of man as the most important creature in the universe. Probably art even more than their literature reflected the true character of Greek civilization. Though much of the sculpture depicted gods, this did not detract in any way from its humanistic quality. The Greek deities existed for the benefit of man, so that in glorifying them he glorified himself. Both architecture and sculpture embodied the ideals of balance, harmony, order, and moderation. Its purpose was not merely aesthetic but also political. It symbolized the pride of the people in their city and enhanced their idea of unity. So to be at a loss for words when trying to describe a topic which resonates with your country to extreme depths I can understand his issue with trying to put it in words. Just looking at the Nike of Samothrace shows their unparalleled abilities to make a standard stone appear breathtaking.

  4. Greek sculptors regarded gods as perfect physical beings. So when they sculpted them they must have had this concept in their mind of perfection. I truly believe that sculpting is the most personal of all the types of artistic expression. Greek statues we’re made to be grand and awe inspiring because they we’re paying tribute to some one or some thing.

  5. I think I would have to say the missing piece that Goethe was speaking about would have to be the “soul” behind the sculpture. The Greeks believe that the Gods were the almighty and powerful and wanted that to reflect in their work. But sometimes we can’t always catch that special something behind the stone or paintings. I must say that they are all still amazing and beautiful.

  6. I think there are two ways to explain why Goethe didn’t put it into word. Frist, I think at that time there are some reason some words not allow to use, so may be he want to explain something but he can not. On the other way, may be he wants people guess what it means or what it was before. This statue is means victory, he want people who see this statue can have more hope not just limit them in his words.

  7. I think what Goethe is trying to say is the way the Greeks capture the fluidity in the body movements are indescribable. I also think he was trying to say that if man was able to create these marvels out of stone and make them so perfect and beautiful that is really true talent that they express.

  8. The Greeks believed in the Gods as being perfect rather then imperfect. Goethe was limited by the words he could have chosen to express the emotion or feeling he was thinking of. Although i believe he was trying to get a deep message across expressing that the human body shouldn’t be taken as a joke.

  9. I’d say intuition, when expressing your true self, you gotta go with your gut. You put your heart and soul into your work and at the same time apply what feels natural to you.

  10. I think that because they put these Gods on such a high pedestal and seen them as such absolute perfection, the piece that was missing will forever be missing or thought of as indescribable because obtaining perfection is impossible.

  11. Goethe’s instinct was on the right track. The Greek’s were accurately portraying the human body according to the laws of nature. Their painstaking work came from their appreciation of beauty as a whole and the quest to capture it in it’s truest form. Even still, it is difficult to put into words.

  12. Like many of the comments I’ve read, I have to agree with the Greeks thinking of the human body as perfection and it’s almost true. We, as humans, are a machine, a walking work of art, and I feel the Greeks were the first to demonstrate that. Their statues shows natural beauty, great detail, and perfection. As for that Goethe meant, I feel it has to do with many variables. The Greeks were a smart civilization that lead them see the valuable within them and the love for each other made them create such wonderful pieces of marble.

  13. The Greeks see the gods with perfect shapes of human bodies as part of the tribute towards the almighty. Perhaps – just perhaps, what Goethe was trying to express regarding the perfection of the sculptures is that they are too flawless therefore makes them not as lively.

  14. In these pieces of art, the Nike of Samothrace or Winged Victory completely confesses the true despair of the cruelty nature pertains to have. As I continue to analyze these pieces I can see that the other piece of work, Wolfgang’s Nike of Samothrace, portray the tragic horrors industry has in times of war. In wartime, industries of guns, ammunition, and propaganda, play a crucial role in the continuation of conflict. Although they both follow the laws of nature through the conformities of their human bodies, it can be seen clearly that the missing piece of expression is the lack of judgment. The Winged Victory is missing her head so that she cannt judge. The Nike of Samonthrace shows lack of judgment with the two blue-collar workers looking toward the ground.

  15. I think what Goethe is getting at, but not able to describe, is the feeling and emotion that is brought to life in Greek art. These artists were able to make their figures come alive with their realistic and beautiful depictions of life, love and even death. I think that Goethe is describing how he feels about how these artists do a wonderful job at touching the hearts and minds of the observers of the many famous pieces.

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