Floor | Greek Art
Hellenistic Art Gallery
In the space of just 10 years, the Macedonian army of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) conquered Egypt and the vast Persian Empire as far as the Indus River, with wide-ranging consequences: the Greek language and culture were spread internationally and remained preeminent for centuries, far beyond Greece. Thus, modern historians invented the term “Hellenistic,” which derives from “Hellenic,” to indicate the “Greek-like” or “Greek-derived” character of the political, economic, religious, and military structures shared in this period by Macedonian-ruled regions from Greece to Afghanistan. Alexander's empire disintegrated immediately after his death. After bloody battles, competing Macedonian kingdoms established themselves in Greece, Anatolia, the Near East, and Egypt. The Greek city-states, the poleis, lost their external political independence - albeit with the advantage of being less entangled in periodic warfare amongst themselves. All these political changes are reflected in the art of so-called Hellenism: this is the term used to describe the last epoch of independent Greek culture until the incorporation of the Greek states into the Roman Empire during the second century BCE.
The Macedonian kings used art extensively for their legitimation and self-expression. They adorned their new residences with massive monuments, magnificent temples and palaces, which were furnished with precious works of art as never before (the beginning of art collections). The kings celebrated their personal achievements and individual personalities with portrait statues.
Under the pressure of the new circumstances and functions, the range of themes of art expanded as never before: the identity-forming image of man and the gods of the fifth century, which had been the basis of life in the polis, lost its function as role model. Ironically, the suppression of political freedom and the individual’s civic identity imposed by the new monarchical regimes resulted in an increased interest among sculptors in the individual personality and in daily life. Even a brief glance at our exhibits demonstrates this: not only are the idealized portraits of gods, heroes, or athletes familiar from the Classical period present, but also multi-figured groups of statues, dramatic poses and expressions, and, for the first time, representations of children, the elderly, and manual laborers.