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Analysis of The Features of Sculpture Art in The Hellenistic Period

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The Hellenistic period brought about a new wave of artistic diversity that transcended all past works. Sculptures made during this time pushed boundaries and took risks. The Hellenistic Terracotta figures had various functions. The figures that will be discussed were all made during the Hellenistic period, however the exact dates and artists are unknown. The mystery behind the sculptures leave much room for speculation and analyzation. The following analysis will depict figures from different categories, discussing the background of all the sculptures and what they meant.


Religious Cults/ Depictions of Religion/ Belief

Rituals were often used by religious cults for various reasons. The figures were mostly dolls with articulated limbs. People believed they were protection. The dolls in figure 1 were thought to ward off evil – ironic seeing as they had no arms. Power within was believed to be more important than physical power. These “dolls” are often discovered in the graves of adults; this indicates possible chthonic connection or apotropaic function. The dolls are women; they are not goddesses and do not have any specific powers. The women seem to lack femininity; the only signs being their breast and very sparingly, their hair. The women seem to be wearing headbands to hold their hair, which seems to be curly, back; this could be so that their powers are not taking a back-burner to their beauty. For the women to be so powerful, they seem to be very obedient as they sit straight up as if they are following orders of some sort.

Recreational/ Entertainment Purposes

Rituals would be performed at festivals, comedic demonstrations, and even musical theatre performances. The figures would be depicted smiling, wearing wreaths, and dancing. Grotesques were mostly used as comedic presences. A dancing dwarf is shown wearing a wreath that was most likely a participant in a comedy show. This figure is made similarly to a doll that would be used in religious cults; the only difference is he has arms. The figure could also be used for apotropaic reasons. During this time, festivals were mostly used to honor Dionysus by paying respect. The dwarf looks almost like a baby; extremely small feet, playful attributes. Contrastingly, the dwarf’s chest looks like that of a fully-grown man; he has chest indentions almost like abdominal muscles. Although the figure seems childlike, he does not smile; his body language and the wreath on his head work together to create a playful image.


Rituals used in death were made before, during, and after the actual death would occur. Figure 3 is known as the Dying Gaul or the Dying Gladiator. The figure is depicted as one that is currently dying; it can be assumed that he has just been in a war or harsh fight. Although he is dying, there are no wounds depicted, nor are there any scars of any sort. The Gauls nudity suggests his vulnerability and maybe even his unknowingness of the harsh nature of the actions in which he had just partaken. His hand grasping his leg is an illusion to his pain; this could also be an illusion to the time in which it was made.

The Dying Gaul is an Ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture, thought to have been originally executed in bronze. Figure 3 symbolizes a shift in Greek culture. Art during the Hellenistic period was very emotional and highly concentrated on strong expressions. His hair is spiked up, not in curls – this could be because the figure is only a slave and not a god or higher power. His body makes a triangle, which includes a strong diagonal; the diagonal further speaks to the foreshadowing of the figure’s future; hence the title “The Dying Gaul”.

Reality V. Ideality/ Idea of Heroism


Grotesques are human figures which were aimed to reflect reality. Rhyton in the Form of a Centaur. Centaurs are known as wild and uncivilized creatures; however, the one above is pictured to be serene and focused. This is an illusion to not believing stereotypes. He is shown to be half man half horse; an illusion to what people want to see versus what you are. Depicting the figure as a hybrid, psyches people out – makes them believe in something opposite. Rhyton appears to be strong, abdominal muscles on full display while he seems to be “strutting” tall – this shows Rhyton’s confidence. His hair doesn’t look like hair at all; it looks like leaves – an illusion to Rhyton’s bottom half’s origin being in nature.

Women in Reality

During the period, many women were depicted as being royalty or greater than gods or goddesses. The Statuette of Aphrodite was thought to be made during the 2nd century B.C; this is luxury art. The apple held out in her hand is an attribute to Aphrodite; it was awarded to the goddess by Paris of Troy as a prize in a beauty contest. She may represent a Hellenistic queen portrayed as Aphrodite, perhaps Apollonis of Pergamon. Her fashion is contradicting with who she is supposed to be depicted as; her dress, her sandals, and head gear. Her dress is somewhat plain; she wears thong sandals, fashionable in the early 100s B.C. The texture in of her dress is expressive, yet simple; there are no designs or patterns, no jewelry – her only seemingly goddess like factor is the crown. The curls of hair brushed forward on the cheeks, and the veil seem drawn from royal portraiture of the time –her crown has no jewels, and no extremely strong detailing. She keeps her hand on her hip almost in a superhero like stature. She holds the apple out in front of her as if to say she has won a prize; this would be the prize of beauty.

Men Vs. Women

In Hellenistic art, it was sometimes hard to differentiate between men and women. This figure is the head of an old woman depicted with a protruding bony larynx and the head of a bald male figure. The figure above is supposed to be an old woman yet features tend to say otherwise. Her nose is protruding, like a man’s and her lips are very large, and so is her bone structure in her head. The only part of the figure that can exude womanly qualities is the head band around her head. It is not an athletic headband – a headband of leaves, somewhat feminine. The shape of the head leads the viewer to believe that the old woman may have been sick, because of her overly large skull. Both of her eyes seem to be closed, however there is much less texture on left eye than the right, almost as if it was never there or it is fading. The material of the figure seems to be weathered; this is shown by the vast discoloration and the random indentions.

Importance of Material


During the Hellenistic period, Clay was one of two main materials in which were used in sculptures. The sculpture depicts Herakles; the statue is made from Corinthian clay. The appearance of a clay sculpture is very different from that of a bronze. The head belonged to a statue that was twice life size. The hair is carved on the sides around the face, meaning the statue was most likely made to be viewed from the front. His eyes appear to be deep set, even though he has no pupils. Heightened athletic appearance. Athletic appearance was typical for figures that were the focus of cults. Herakles himself, was once the focus of a cult. This, however is not necessarily a cult image. The statue emphasized athletic training and impressive strength. It is important to also highlight the figures eyes in opposition to most bronze figures. He has no pupils; there is much detail, however it lacks the character of bronze sculptures. It looks clean, opposed to bronze sculptures that are often depicted as copper like and worn. The hair texture contrasts to that of The Dying Gaul in the third figure. His hair is formed in great, strong curls – an attribute to his place in society; opposes the Gaul.


The Tritoness Relief Applique is the statue is Bronze with copper inlays. This is one of the sea god Triton’s female counterparts. Her luxurious hair falls over her shoulders in snake like tendrils. Her curls appear to be wet – an illusion to her position in the sea. Behind her head, she grips the handle of what is most likely a weapon, probably a sword. The copper inlay is presented in the eyes, lips, nipple and some in the undulating leaves over her shoulder; draws attention to the most feminine features of the figure. She has pupils in her eyes, opposed to the clay. The texture of her hair is deep, yet her curls are not strongly depicted. She holds a sword behind her head as if she is prepared for battle.

Motif of Nudity

This sculpture of Aphrodite with Pan and Eros. The statue was thought to counter “Hellenistic rococo”. All of the figures in the sculpture appear to be smiling, as if letting us believe in the playful, lighter tone. Pan grasps Aphrodite’s wrist while Eros flies above her shoulder trying to get Pan away.

Aphrodite raises her sandal in defense. She hides her feminine area from the viewer, which has been common throughout art since this time. She does not, however, hide her breasts – this suggests that she is comfortable with her body and with others seeing it. Aphrodite is depicted somewhat as manlier than Pan; she is taller and has strong abdominal muscles. Pan on the other hand has horns, which Eros is holding onto. Pan also sports hooves and a tail. He proves to be macho in his figure which can be shown by his dominant muscularity. During the Late Hellenistic period, statue groups with satyrs, nymphs, and hermaphrodites became more daring. They are often interpreted as realization of the erotic male fantasy. This is a very playful image of Eros; the idea fits well with the innovative themes of the Hellenistic art period.

In Greek mythology, satyrs were sub-human male woodland spirits with several animal features. This is used to depict a drunken man after he has fallen asleep on a rock. His eyebrows are knitted together, signifying his worriedness. He is tense in his arms and legs; you can see his veins protruding from his limbs; for the man to be asleep, he does not seem to be at peace. His tail peaks out from under his left thigh and his ears are large. His face is no symmetrical – intense naturalism. Restorations can be seen to have been made to his left thigh and his entire right leg and foot; there are marks mimicking scars as indicators. He exudes sexuality which is unusual as he is not a soldier and has not just gotten out of a fight; he is exuding sexuality, specifically because of his nudity alone. His nudity is not athletic – it’s exotic; his legs are spread for full view. This is an explicit view on nudity meant to express the barbaric qualities of human nature.


After research, the true diversity of the Hellenistic period is clear. The sculptures made during the time were unlike any others before. They were not just beautiful, they told stories of real life. The sculptures reflect the creativity of their creators, as well as their commissioners.The open-minded ideas of those of that time clearly show through all the sculptures. All in all, each figure had a different story to tell and each served a purpose. 

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Analysis Of The Features Of Sculpture Art In The Hellenistic Period. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 4, 2021, from
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