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A History of Art for Beginners and Students

Sculpture deals almost exclusively with the form of man


very ancient nations had sculptors, and a few remains of their arts still exist. This is true of the Medes, Babylonians, and Persians; but the general features of their arts resembled those of the Assyrians, though they were less advanced than that nation, and have left nothing as interesting as the Egyptian and Assyrian remains which we have considered. I shall therefore leave them and pass to the sculpture of Greece.

[Illustration: FIG. 14.--MODE OF DRAWING THE BOW. _Koyunjik._]



We have seen that the Egyptians and Assyrians were skilful in sculpture, but at the same time their works have not moved us as we wish to be moved by art; there is always something beyond them to be desired, and it remained for the Greeks to attain to that perfection in sculpture which satisfies all our nature and fills our highest conceptions of beauty and grace. In truth, in Greece alone has this perfection in plastic art existed, and since the time of its highest excellence there no other nation has equalled the examples of Greek sculpture which still exist, though we have reason to believe that its finest works have perished, and that those remaining are of the second grade.

There are many reasons for the high artistic attainments of the Greeks, and a discussion

or even a simple statement of them would require an essay far too learned and lengthy for the scope of this book; but I will speak of one truth that had great influence and went far to perfect Greek art--that is, the unbounded love of beauty, which was an essential part of the Greek nature. To the Greek, in fact, beauty and good had the same meaning--_beauty was good_, and the good must be beautiful.

Sculpture deals almost exclusively with the form of man, and the other features in it have some relation to the human element of the design; and it would have been impossible for a true Greek to represent the human form otherwise than beautiful. A writer on this point says: "The chief aim of the enlightened Greek, his highest ambition and his greatest joy, was to be a _man_ in the fullest sense of the word--man in the most complete development of his bodily strength and beauty, in the active exercise of the keenest senses, in the greatest because tempered enjoyment of sensual pleasure, in the free and joyous play of an intellect strong by nature, graced and guided by the most exquisite taste, and enlightened by the sublimest philosophy." Thus, beauty was so important to the Greek that every parent prayed that his children might have this gift, and the names of beautiful persons were engraved upon pillars set where all could read them; and at times there were competitions for the prize of beauty.

The religion of the Greek, too, taught that the body was the beautiful and godlike temple of his soul; and the truth that human beings have something in common with a higher power than their own gave him a great respect for humanity, and, in truth, he felt that if he could escape death he should be content and almost, if not quite, a god. For we must remember that the gods of the Greek were not all-wise, all-powerful, and all-good, as we believe our God to be. If you read their mythology you will find that with the power of the god much imperfection and weakness were mingled. They did not believe that Zeus had been the greatest god from the beginning, but that there was a time when he had no power. He was not omniscient nor omnipresent, and was himself subject to the decrees of Fate, as when he could not save his loved Sarpedon from death. Not knowing all things, even the gods are sometimes represented as depending upon mortals for information, and all these religious views tended to make the human form far more noble to the Greek than it can be to the Christian, with his different views of the relations of God and man.

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