Difference Between Greek Classical & Hellenistic Art

Updated August 10, 2017

The Classical period of Greek history lasted from the late sixth to late fourth centuries B.C., ending with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Following Alexander's death, his empire fragmented into competing kingdoms ruled by his generals and their heirs. This period is known as the Hellenistic period and lasted until the middle of the second century B.C. Art from these two periods has many similarities, but also many differences.

Classical Art

Many art historians regard the Classical period as the high point of Greek art. Sculpture was the dominant art form and has been the most studied. In the Classical period, the highly stylised art of the earlier Archaic period was replaced with a form of sculpture in which statues became more characterised with simple, realistic anatomy and drapery. The most famous artworks of this period are monumental statues of the gods by the sculptor Phidias, such as the statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Hellenistic Period

The Hellenistic period saw an increased influence from the other cultures that had formed part of Alexander's empire. Hellenistic sculpture was fluid and expressive. Famous sculptures from this period include the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Architecture during this period was often monumental in scale, such as the massive temple complex built by the Attalid dynasty of Pergamon. In addition, this period saw the development of the mosaic as an art form.


The art of the Hellenistic period developed from the art of the Classical period, and therefore some similarities are inevitable. For the most part, the dominant artistic forms remained monumental sculpture and architecture. Many of the techniques developed during the Classical period remained in use in the Hellenistic period. In some ways, the Hellenistic period continued the trends that had made the Classical period different from the Archaic period, with looser, more individual sculpture.


There are several major differences between the Classical and Hellenistic periods. The first is in fluidity of pose. Classical art tends to show figures in simple, relatively static poses, while Hellenistic art is more fluid. Another difference is in subject matter. Classical art often focused on the gods or scenes from mythology, while Hellenistic art, which was often displayed in the home, also addressed everyday scenes and depicted common people. The final major difference is of scale. Advances in construction techniques meant that Hellenistic sculptures and buildings were often much larger than Classical ones.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.