Defining Beauty

The Body in Ancient Greek Art


A visually stunning and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition seen through ancient Greek eyes, with a particular focus on the human form.

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ISBN: 9780714122878 Category:


Greek sculpture is full of breathing vitality and yet, at the same time, it reaches beyond mere imitation of nature to give form to thought in works of timeless beauty. For over 2000 years the Greeks experimented with representing the human body in works that range from prehistoric abstract simplicity to the full-blown realism of the age of Alexander the Great. The ancient Greeks invented the modern idea of the human body in art as an object of sensory delight and as a bearer of meaning. Their vision has had a profound influence on the way the western world sees itself. Drawing on the British Museum’s outstanding collection of Greek sculpture – including extraordinary pieces from the Parthenon and the celebrated representation of a discus thrower – and through a number of themed sections, this richly illustrated book explores the Greek portrayal of human character in sculpture, along with sexual and social identity. In athletics, the male body was displayed as if it was a living sculpture, and victors were commemorated by actual statues. In art, not only were mortal men and women represented in human form but also the gods and other beings of myth and the supernatural world. In a series of lively introductory chapters, written by a selection of academics, historians and artists, it is revealed how the Greeks themselves viewed the sculpture (which was vividly enhanced with colour), and how it was regarded and treated in later pagan antiquity. The revival of the Greek body in the modern era is also discussed, including the shock of the new effect of the arrival of the Parthenon sculptures in London at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Additional information

Weight 1745 g
Dimensions 24.8 x 28.7 cm
Publisher name The British Museum Press
Publication date 20 May 2015
Number of pages 256
Format Hardback
Dimensions 24.8 x 28.7 cm
Weight 1745 g


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Ian Jenkins was senior curator at the British Museum, where he iwas responsible for the ancient Greek collections.