5 Most Famous Greek Sculptures & Where to See Them

Pythocritos son of Timocharis of Rhodes, “The Nike of Samothrace,” ca. 190 B.C. - Ancient Greek Sculpture Pythocritos son of Timocharis of Rhodes, “The Nike of Samothrace,” ca. 190 B.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Alexandros of Antioch, “Aphrodite of Milos,” ca. 1st century B.C.

Alexandros of Antioch, “Aphrodite of Milos,” ca. 1st century B.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Many art historians regard ancient Greek sculptures as definitive symbols of ancient Greek art. These creations often mirror the cultural, political, and religious ideologies of the periods during which they were crafted. Renowned Greek sculptures, whether hyper-realistic and Archaic, idealized and Classical, or historically influenced and Hellenistic, offer profound insights into the life and culture of ancient Greece.

Let’s dive into the details of five of the most famous Greek statues for a deeper understanding of their histories, craftsmanship, and significance, and how they have shaped the tapestry of art history.

The 5 Most Popular Greek Sculptures

Among the countless famous Greek sculptures, these five stand as representative examples of ancient Greek art. Spanning all three periods of Ancient Greek art (Archaic 800 B.C. – 480 B.C., Classical 480 B.C. – 323 B.C., and Hellenistic 323 B.C. – 31 B.C.) and using diverse sculptural materials, these masterpieces are housed in museums around the world. Below is an overview of some of the most influential sculptures from ancient Greece.

1. Aphrodite of Milos, Alexandros of Antioch / ca. 1st century B.C. / The Louvre, Paris, France

Popularly known as “Venus de Milo,” Aphrodite of Milos was created by Alexandros of Antioch. This sculptrure is believed to embody Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. This piece emerged during the Hellenistic period, characterized by the use of Parian marble, a departure from the bronze that was more common in earlier eras. Discovered on Milos, an island in the Cyclades, the statue’s precise identity, including its subject, remains enigmatic. Although many historians identify it as Aphrodite, some argue that it is actually Amphitrite, the sea goddess, given Milos’s coastal setting. Despite these uncertainties, the statue undeniably holds a significant place in the realm of ancient Greek art.

Myron, “Discobolus,” 5th century B.C.

Myron, “Discobolus,” 5th century B.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

2. Discobolus (Discus thrower), Myron / 5th century B.C. / British Museum, London, United Kingdom

Attributed to Athenian sculptor Myron, the “Discobolus” is one of the most famous sculptures from the Classical period. While the original bronze statue has been lost to time, Roman copies of the “Discobolus” endure as the lasting testament to this masterpiece. Capturing the form of a youthful athlete mid-discus throw, the sculpture embodies the Classical emphasis on idealized form. It showcases the concepts of “rhythmos,” encapsulating movement within a static image, and “symmetria,” reflecting harmonious bodily proportions. These characteristics epitomize the essence of Classical Greek art.

3. The Kritios Boy, Kritios / ca. 490 B.C. / Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

Sculpted by Kritios circa 490 B.C., The Kritios Boy stands as a pivotal work that ushered in the Classical era of Greek art. Crafted toward the end of the Archaic period (800 B.C. – 480 B.C.), this slightly smaller-than-life-sized statue marks a shift away from hyper-realism. As a harbinger of the Classical period, “The Kritios Boy” foreshadows the innovative trends that defined this new era. It introduces the concept of “contrapposto,” a distinct spinal curve, and the sharp portrayal of facial features. These revolutionary elements marked a departure from the norm in ancient Greek art.

Kritios, “The Kritios Boy,” ca. 490 B.C.

Kritios, “The Kritios Boy,” ca. 490 B.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

4. The Nike of Samothrace, Pythocritos son of Timocharis of Rhodes / ca. 190 B.C. / The Louvre, Paris, France

Crafted by Pythocritos, “The Nike of Samothrace,” from the Hellenistic period, captures the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. The monumental statue, nearly five and a half meters tall, showcases Nike on the bow of a naval ship with outstretched wings, embodying the dramatic and expressive attributes of Hellenistic art. Combining Lartos and Parian marble, this sculpture melds various mediums. Situated on the island of Samothrace, this masterpiece attests to the island’s military history and the influence of its Great Gods cult.

5. Ermis of Praxiteles, Praxiteles / 4th century B.C. / Archaeological Museum of Olympia, Olympia, Greece

“Ermis of Praxiteles,” a.k.a. “Hermes of Praxiteles,” depicts Hermes, one of the most revered Greek gods, and the Infant Dionysus, god of festivity. The sculptor Praxiteles erected this statue in the 4th century B.C. Archaeologists discovered it in 1877 in the ruins of the Temple of Hera. Crafted during the Classical period, “Ermis of Praxiteles” demonstrates the idealized human form and principles such as “rhythmos.” From different angles, Hermes appears to wear different facial expressions — sadness on the left, happiness on the right, and neutrality head-on. Hermes’s ambiguous expression makes his face appear dynamic and nods to the desire of Classical Greek sculptors to capture movement in still portraits.

Agasias of Ephesus, “The Borghese Gladiator,” 1st century B.C. - Ancient Roman Sculpture

Agasias of Ephesus, “The Borghese Gladiator,” 1st century B.C. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Bonus: The Borghese Gladiator, Agasias of Ephesus / 1st century B.C. / The Louvre, Paris, France

While not of Greek origin, the Roman masterpiece “The Borghese Gladiator,” inspired by various Greek works, is notable for embodying principles like “rhythmos” and “symmetria.” Created by Agasias of Ephesus, it merges static and dynamic elements, depicting a mid-motion gladiator leaning on a tree trunk. Exhibiting exaggerated features, this sculpture aligns with the exaggerated style of Hellenistic art and incorporates historical elements.

The Lasting Impact of Greek Sculpture

Famous Greek sculptures from the Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods have left an indelible mark on the world of art. Through the nuances of their designs, the narratives behind their creations, and the stories of their acquisition, they offer priceless insight into the Greek empire. In this way, famous Greek sculptures are key to understanding ancient Greece’s history, as well as how its art changed over many centuries.

While a multitude of other renowned — and fascinating — ancient Greek sculptures exist, these famous pieces represent the scope of the Greek artistic canon. Through these, and many others of their kind, present-day viewers can begin to grasp the rich history of ancient Greece.