Category: Plato in 80 entries

Philosophers in ancient art

The images of ancient philosophers, as depicted by their contemporary artists, survive almost exclusively in the form of sculpted portraits, or rather works of figurative statuary-since ancient portraits depicted the whole body, not only the bust. A small number of original works survive to this day, and inevitably our study is based on the often distortive image of Roman copies.

From the art of portraiture, philosophers are represented by a big number of sculptures. The older 4th c. B.C. portraits are essentially an effort of depicting the person’s character inside the specific context of the "role of the philosopher"; however during the Hellenistic period (3rd c. BC-1st c. AD) a tendency for realistic imaging and psychographic approach was gradually adopted by the artists.

Some of the most famous portraits of philosophers of antiquity are the two types of portraits of Socrates in the mid-4th c. BC: The so-called "Type A" represents the philosopher almost bald, with sparse tufts of hair on the side of his head and a triangular beard, yielding the satirical features mentioned by his contemporaries. This type is often attributed to the sculptor Silanion, with whom a portrait of Plato is also associated. The "Type B" resembles the basic structure as the previous one, but is dominated by a tendency for idealization. This type is attributed to Lysippus, as also a portrait of Aristotle.

A special place in the history of ancient art also hold two portraits of the 3rd c. BC: Epicurus and Chrysippus. In the first one, the bony and wrinkled face of the philosopher with dense crown refers to the "type of thinker" who seems to be possessed by an inner anguish. In the second, a work of Euboulides, the hoary Stoic Chrysippus is depicted seated counting with his fingers. The statue of Chrysippus, unlike Epicurus, is characterized by a more extrovert expression, while wonderfully captured is the image of the sovereignty of the spirit over the body that becomes physically weaker.

Author: Konstantinos Lazaridis
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