The period we call “Classical Antiquity” includes three great civilizations from the Mediterranean area: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman. Plato compared their inhabitants to frogs sitting around a pond, but it doesn’t bear forgetting that this era gave birth to a great and inspired civilization, in which Carthage, Rome, and Alexandria all played a part.
The Greek civilization was therefore able to produce a very coherent social and cultural system, generating a philosophical and aesthetic tradition that forms a link running throughout the region. At the centre of the Greek artistic conception lies the human and heroic ideal. The poets invented this ideal and ascribed moral and physical attributes to each divinity. The Gods came out of their terrifying otherworldly existence, slowly becoming stronger and more beautiful versions of mankind, whose passions they shared. They inspired a statuary perfect both in its proportion and grace, with the pediment of the temple of Aegina heralding the splendours of the Parthenon.
When the Romans invaded Greece, they sent statues taken from the Acropolis and the Hippodromes back to Rome, and ended up submitting entirely to the influence of Greek art. The cruelty and sensuality of the Etruscan culture left the Romans only rituals and superstitions, whereas the Greek culture was assimilated and transformed.
An intermediate period covers the development of Greek settlements in southern Italy, particularly Apulia, Campania, Lucania and Sicily. There develops a regional style which comprises geometric and red figure pottery. In a first moment the Daunian, Messapian and Canosan terracotta refer most of the time to pleasant brown geometric designs painted over ritual vases. Between 430 and 300 BC popular mythical subjects and ornate styles were painted in red on a black bottom on sometimes quite large vessels.
These vessels are still today highly decorative and definitely bring a distinct advantage to the most important mansions. The Roman art of portraiture was often just an imitation of the Greeks, but the Romans developed original engineering techniques for architecture, which spread throughout their colonies as far as the borders of the known world.
It is impossible to remain indifferent to the majesty and quest for perfection found in Greco-Roman art. The peaceful harmony, realism, the devoted study of both daily life and war, and the beauty of the proportions render this period exceptional in the history of art. The Greeks sought to make themselves divine through their art, developing perfection in their techniques; and an inexhaustible proliferation of precision and subtlety.