(ARTH010) Art of Ancient Greece and Rome

Rider on horse, interior of Attic red-figure cup



Course start date: Monday 5th October 2020
Course end date: Friday 11th December 2020
Price £150:

Tutor: Dr Jeni Fraser
Course Code: ARTH010
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 10 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 2 – 3 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Price: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications nor experience are required – you will simply need an enthusiasm for this subject.
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

Preparatory study is not expected. The following texts are recommended reading only:

Classical Art From Greece to Rome
Mary Beard and John Henderson
Oxford University Press, 2001.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Greece: An Illustrated Account of Classical Greek Buildings, Sculptures and Paintings, Shown in 200 Glorious Photographs and Drawings
Nigel Rodgers
Southwater, 2011.

The Art of Greece and Rome
Susan Woodford
Cambridge University Press, 2004.

A History of Roman Art
Steven L. Tuck
Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

Architecture and Politics in Republican Rome
Penelope J. E. Davies
Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Required Reading**: None

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Dr Jeni Fraser when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit / Captive Greece captured her rude conqueror – Horace.

Students of Western art and architecture usually begin their studies with classical Greek art because it was precisely in Greece, between 800 and 300BC, that the tradition began which has dominated Western art to this day.

During this period, Greece moved from being a recognisable part of the Near Eastern art world, to pioneering an approach to the representation of the human body which not only set it apart from the East, but made it a permanent reference point for naturalistic figurative art in the West.

The Romans so admired Greek art that they emulated them stylistically. Hence the adage above, usually paraphrased as, “Rome conquered Greece but Greece conquered Rome”. On this course we will explore the extent to which that is true in terms of art history.

Syllabus Plan

Week 1: Introduction: A History of Art without Artists
Week 2: The Geometric Period: From Praying to Playing: Art in the 8th Century BC
Week 3: The Archaic Period (c.700BC to 480BC): Marketing an Image
Week 4: The Classical: Of Gods, Men and Ritual
Week 5: The High Classical: Cult, Politics and Imperialism
Week 6: Hellenistic: Dramatis Personae
Week 7: Etruscan Italy Before the Romans
Week 8: Imperial Rome: The Material Culture of an Empire
Week 9: The Romans Abroad: Veni, Vidi, Vici
Week 10: Legacies from the Classical world of Ancient Greece and Rome

Course Content in Depth

Week One
Introduction: A History of Art Without Artists

History embraces many different approaches to visual culture; contextual art history seeks to place and understand art as one expression of complex social, economic, political and religious influences on the culture and the individuals within it; formalism or formal analysis examines and analyses the formal elements of works of art, in and of themselves.

This course combines contextual art history and formal analysis: in these sessions, we’ll be following the unfolding stories of ancient Greek art and the world influenced by the Greeks beginning with an overview of the artistic world into which ancient Greece was born.

Week Two
The Geometric Period: From Praying to Playing – Art in the 8th Century BC

The Geometric period of Greek Art lasted from 900 to 700 BC. Art from this period tends to be, true to the period’s name, especially geometric, confining itself to representations and repetitions of shapes rather than the more realistic work of the earlier periods. Human and animal forms are relatively rare, and when they do happen, they exhibit many of the same geometric characteristics.

During the Geometric period, the most common medium was painting on vases. However, a few limited works of sculpture and bronze casts survive.

The Greek region wasn’t yet fully recovered from the Dark Age, which had essentially destroyed most Mycenaean and Minoan influences. The vacuum of influence during this period meant that Greek Art began to distinguish itself from earlier styles of art.

Week Three
The Archaic Period (c.700BC to 480BC): Marketing an Image

Emerging from the Dark Age and the last vestiges of the Geometric period, Greek artists began using several new methods and tools in their work. For the first time in almost 800 years, artists began working to recreate more realistic human forms. New technologies enabled pottery to be more colourful and ornate than ever before. Some Archaic art shows an Egyptian influence, certainly in regard to the placement of the feet, but much of it seems to be original to the Greeks. One point of originality, in particular, is the smile seen on Archaic statues, almost always staring back to the viewer.

Week Four
The Classical: Of Gods, Men and Ritual

When many people think of Greek art, it is the images of the Classical period that immediately come to mind. During this time, roughly from 510 BC to 320 BC, the Greeks achieved their highest level of craftsmanship and pressed exploration of form and perspective in art to limits well beyond its previous bounds

Week Five
The High Classical: Cult, Politics and Imperialism

Perikles, the ruler of Athens who was a great patron of the arts, once said, “Future generations will marvel at us, as the present age marvels at us now”. During the High Classical Period, sculptures were created using an idealised canon of proportions that was based on achieving perfect symmetry and the “ideal beauty” of the human body. The sculptures also became much more lifelike and detailed, while artists also studied and put into practice the concept of using drapery of cloth to describe action.

Week Six
Hellenistic: Dramatis Personae

With the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek art entered its last great phase, the Hellenistic period. The importance of Athens gradually declined, and cultural centres rose at Pergamum, Rhodes, and Alexandria. Masterpieces of this period include the Nike (Victory) of Samothrace and Aphrodite of Melos, both now held in the Louvre; and the Pergamum (Pergamon) Frieze, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. Especially charming among the minor arts are terracotta figurines from Tanagra. Marked tendencies toward heightening spatial illusionism are revealed in sculpture and, judging from Roman copies, prevailed also in painting (e.g., Odyssey Landscapes, Vatican).

Week Seven
Etruscan Italy Before the Romans

Italy’s initial settlements came very early in its history. Primitive peoples, such as the Latins, Sabines and Umbrian, settled in the country until 900 BC, when the Etruscans established the first sophisticated culture in Italy. Powerful Etruscan city-states, including today’s Milan and Bologna, dominated the whole of northern Italy and steadily extended their influence on the Apennine peninsula. Etruscan art and architecture built on earlier models to produce unique works.

Week Eight
Imperial Rome: The Material Culture of an Empire

From the 2nd century BC onwards, copies of Greek masterpieces of sculpture, which only approximate their prototypes, appear frequently along with vigorous group compositions closely related to the Pergamene school (e.g., Laocoön and His Sons, The Vatican). Greek and Roman artists produced these copies for private patrons or the Roman state, and most of our knowledge of classical Greek art is derived from them. Although the inventive originality of Greek culture declined, its influence remained of paramount importance during the Roman and Byzantine periods, and has continued to be an inspiring force throughout the history of Western culture.

Week Nine
The Romans Abroad: Veni, Vidi, Vici

Art of the period that combined both Celtic and Roman features is known as Romano-British. The finest examples are in sculpture. This was commonplace and used for various purposes including tombstones, statues of deities and rulers, and for decorative features. One of the most famous and widespread arts that was practised in Roman Britain was mosaic-making. Mosaics could be bought ‘off the shelf’, and standard designs would probably be preferred by slightly less-wealthy customers, while the most affluent would probably have preferred individual designs. Mosaics were usually put in the most important room of the house or villa, as they were a feature of the building, an important talking point and a sign of status.

Week Ten
Legacies from the Classical world of Ancient Greece and Rome

The Trojan prophet Laocoön warned his countryman to “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” and was proven right after the big wooden horse was dragged inside Troy’s city gates. But, in our case, we rejoice in the gifts the Greeks have brought, directly and indirectly, to us and our ancestors. Our system of government, our laws, our literature; the art we admire; the architecture we copy; the whole core of our philosophy, our religion, science, medicine, the Olympics, and so on. Western civilization rests firmly on ancient Greek footings.

Learning Outcomes

This course will help you to develop:

  • Confidence in discussing the art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome
  • Your ability to recognise and differentiate between the styles of the period
  • Your ability to identify and evaluate the impacts of the social, economic, religious and historical contexts to which the creators of art and architecture responded
  • Familiarity with the materials and techniques used by artists of Ancient Greece
  • Familiarity with contemporary interpretations of the works produced by artists of Ancient Greece