Hellenistic art, let alone architecture, was a period of dramatic transformations that deterred greatly from the Greek Classical period. While the Classical Greek concepts were not entirely abandoned, the Hellenistic period expanded the formal horizons with dramatic posing, sweeping lines, and high contrast of light, shadow and emotion, something greatly different from the Classical artists ideas. The conventions and rules of the Classical period gave way to experimentation and a sense of freedom that allowed the artists of the Hellenistic period to explore their subjects from unique points of view that they had not previously done. The Altar to Zeus in Pergamon is the perfect representation of the Hellenistic period. Pergamon contained the Altar to Zeus in the same way that the Athenian Acropolis contained the Parthenon and is considered by the Greek art historian Gisela Richter to be “the most famous altar of Hellenistic times” (Handbook 32). The Altar of Pergamon is uniquely suited as an ideal example of 2nd century Greek culture that is tied to the ideals of the people, and shows off Hellenistic characteristics that define the time just as the Parthenon is a staple in the Classical period. [Stokstad]
The Altar of Zeus currently is on display in Berlin, Germany for anyone to see and it is assumed that the temple was dedicated to Zeus or its purpose, in addition to being a tribute to the Zeus/the gods, was most used for celebration of the Pergamene people over anyone who opposed them. As Richter explains,
“The altar in an open precinct preceded the temple as a place of worship and later remained an essential adjunct of the temple, being placed either inside it, or more commonly outside, facing the entrance. Generally it was a simple oblong or 3circular structure, occasionally of great size, and sometimes decorated with friezes of triglyphs and metopes and other elements.” (Handbook 32).
Its architecture has Greek form with a high structure of marble that shows off a large frieze portraying an epic battle on the base’s walls. The cracked figures on the frieze fight violently against each other, and even with the test of time, their features are descriptive and their faces show much varied expression. The most impressive part of the Altar of Zeus is the sculptural frieze depicting the struggle of the gods and the giants. It is clear on the altar’s frieze’s that the artist/sculpture of the alter worked towards a natural view of the characters on them, borrowed from the classical period but sculpted them to be in more of realistic portrayal. The construction of a frieze seemed to be a fairly popular architectural enhancement at the time; this outer frieze is one of the most famous. The sculpted figures on it create a new height of Greek realistic representations and architecture in modeling, composition, and expression of emotion. The emotions of the figures are one of the aesthetics that makes the frieze so unique and beautiful. As the...