"Classical Greece", meaning, authoritative: of recognized authority or excellence; "the definitive work on Greece"; or, relating to the most highly developed stage of an earlier civilization and its culture.
This interpretation of the term "classic" clearly defines the Greece of 500 BC, which has constantly re-inspired the Western world. The well known Athenian Acropolis, the temple to Athena, being a perfect example of classical Greek architecture.
At various periods thought history, revivals of the superb designs of Greek classicism have emerged in art and design and particularly, architecture. Architectural styles have been inspired by elements of ancient Greek temples, with the use of massive marble Corinthian and Doric columns, decorative friezes and grand stair cases.
These revisits are generally known today as periods of "Greek Revival". These movements were dominant from about the middle of the 18th century, lasting, almost until the close of the 19th century, 1750 - 1890.
When speaking of design and the visual arts, the neoclassical movement, or the turning back to the classic, can be dated to about c1765 with its introduction generally seen as a reaction to the restraints of the former styles of the Baroque and Rococo, both of which were heavy with form and ornamentation.
The neo classical style can be seen as a desire to go back to the perceived purity and clean lines of ancient Greece. In France, this classical style became known as the style "Etruscan" and was much favored by the court of Louis XV and XVI.
From the late 18th century and up until about 1830 the style greatly influenced designers, peaking through the early years of the 19th century. Interior and furniture designers began to design and produce Greek style tables, chairs, wall hangings, pottery, silver and even coaches. These were all designed in the new classical Greek style, with simple lines and decorative elements drawn from the repertoire of Greco-Roman ornament, particularly from Greek vase painting and from classical architecture, i.e. architectural motifs such as the repetitive Greek key, palmettes and Acanthus leaf.
The typical colour range of this neoclassic revival included black motifs outlined against terra cotta and Pompeian red, powder blue, puce and olive, these colours sometimes used in a single decor.
With the exception of porcelain and pottery of the period, when we see these colours today, they appear as pastels. We forget that these objects have been exposed to over 200 years of sunlight with original interiors having long since faded.
From about 1800, European archeology was "discovering" ancient Greece, with new design elements being literally brought to the surface! In 1806, Lord Elgin transported architectural elements of the Parthenon from Athens to London; events like this having the effect of lifting neoclassicism to new heights. Many artists were now taking the path to Greece and a steady flow of sketches and engravings were now making their way north. The style swept across Europe, now variously known in France, as the Neo-Grec and Empire style, in England as the Regency style and in Russia as Empire style, with its influence felt not only in architecture and design, but in literature, theatre and music.
The Greek revival had a profound influence on architecture, an influence which lasted well into the 19th century. In fact, it was not until the 1840's that the term "Greek Revival" was used, believing to have been first used by Charles Cockerell, Professor of Architecture, in a lecture delivered to the Royal Society in 1842.
The style lasted well into the 1860's, especially in North America. The revival saw the construction of many banks, courthouses and other large public buildings including private houses designed on the grand scale. From an architectural perspective, it was held to reflect intellect, prosperity and stability, with the use of grand porticos supported by stately columns, reminiscent of Greek temples.
With the decorative arts, the revival was again strengthened in the 1860-1870 period. At this date, of course, we are talking of the high Victorian period, with design now characterised by a Victorian robustness. Throughout this late revival decade, art and design again swung toward the neoclassical, although this time without the early 19th century slenderness and elegant fine lines.
This article is illustrated with a French lamp from the late revival period and includes its formal description -:
A very rare, French, 19th century, black matte glazed, terra cotta lamp decorated with a classical Greek subject. The lamp derived from the style of the Bucchero, Etruscan, terra cotta vases of classical Greek antiquity, circa 500 B.C. These vases, characteristically painted with highly glazed black figures on a grey-black ground.
The lamp of amphora shape, an oval body with a narrow neck and curved handles. The amphora supported on a short socle and standing on a circular base. This shape was introduced by the "Bucchero potter", Nikosthenes in about 530 B.C
The subject of the decoration, Triptolemus, the legendary mortal of Greek mythology, much favoured by the gods. Demeter, goddess of agriculture, consecrates Triptolemus, the son of Celeus, "King of Eleusis". Demeter, with her daughter, Persephone, Goddess of Spring Growth, instructing him in the art of agriculture. From Triptolemus the rest of Greece learned to plant and reap crops.
Triptolemus flew across the land in a winged chariot, a gift of the goddesses, to complete his mission. The decoration with highly glazed black figures, shows Triptolemus seated in his winged chariot and holding his attribute, a sceptre of ears of corn, the goddess Demeter passing him implements of agriculture.
The reverse side of the lamp decorated with Demeter, the grain and fertility goddess and Persephone, goddess of Spring growth and Queen of the underworld, the goddesses holding Eleusinian torches and sheaves of wheat. Demeter shown standing by her altar, within the temple, built in her honour by Triptolemus.
The lamp standing on a custom made stepped, circular, gold plated, bronze base, the base rim enamelled in black. The lamp cap of custom made, gold plated bronze.
The lamp produced in Greek Etruscan style, with a black matte ground selectively polished to produce the classical Greek subject. This example also demonstrates the attention to detail and quality of workmanship of this Victorian expansionist period.
The descriptive term, "neoclassical" giving way to the term "Greek revival" and accepted as being prominent from c1765 - c1870, saw the rebirth of classical Greek architectural elements, extending into the decorative arts, interior design, literature and music.
This elegant, fine lined style has never been surpassed and is constantly revisited by every aspect of design, architectural, interior design and fashion.