The art and architecture of ancient Greece and UD


From London to Seville to Prague to Istanbul, this semester’s Rome class has outdone themselves with the extensive traveling despite COVID-19 restrictions and the conflict in Ukraine. But before the semester can draw to a close, there is one final school trip that remains, that being the 10 day journey to Greece. 

Arguably the most famous of the school trips of the Rome semester, the expedition to Greece takes students to various locations such as Athens, Marathon and Corinth. This allows UD students the opportunity to quite literally walk in the path of the people we study, such as Socrates, Aristotle and St. Paul. 

One of the main attractions is the surrounding landscape, namely the art and architecture that is a hallmark of ancient Greece. Yet it is not all just pretty statues and buildings that look good  on Instagram. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Elizabeth Robinson, who teaches the Art and Architecture class in Rome about the significance of Greece’s contributions and what they mean for UD students. 

One thing I learned from Dr. Robinson is that Greek architecture is far more complex than it may appear at first glance. For example, there are not one, not two, but three different kinds of columns that the Greeks used for construction: Ionic, Doric and Corinthian. The Corinthian columns, known for their distinctive leaf engravings on the capital of the column, are not common in Greece, yet are everywhere amongst the ruins of Rome. 

And you know those famous white marble Greek statues? Well it turns out that’s not what they used to look like. Robinson noted that these statues were actually painted at one point, and over time the color wore away leaving the statues that we know today. 

“The ancient world was filled with bright and vibrant colors,” Robinson said. 

She explained how, when the statues were being rediscovered during the Renaissance, the white marble was seen as the pinnacle of artistic beauty, and so new statues were constructed of white marble but were never actually painted over. Due to current technology however, we can now detect certain chemicals that point to various colored paints that were on the statues at one point in time. 

Due to the chaos of history, some Greek art pieces aren’t actually in Greece itself. Many, such as the Parthenon Sculptures, also referred to as the ‘Elgin Marbles,’ are actually in London as a result of them being forcefully removed by Britain’s ambassador to Constantinople.

This is an issue with other areas of the world as well: for example, Britain houses art pieces from nations in Africa that it previously occupied. The debate on this issue comes down to who is the rightful owner: the country of the piece’s origin or the country who preserved the piece from potential destruction? 

“The argument now essentially is, whose culture is it?” posited Robinson.

Questions over where to best display famous artifacts influences the debate as well. What if the place where it originated from is obscure and hard to get to? Will removing one or two artifacts from a museum bring it to ruin? Regardless of the outcome, these debates highlight the importance of art to places like Greece. They aren’t just nice decorations for tourists to look at. They are an integral part of the culture and history of the nation from where they originated.

So what does all of this mean for UD students? In truth, it means everything from a liberal arts education perspective. Robinson explained how having the opportunity to travel to the places we read about in the texts we study helps to truly complete our education. 

“There is no substitute for getting to see these places in person,” Robinson said. “It is rewarding to see students go off on trips and see pieces and know what they are looking at” as a result of the classes they took beforehand. 

There is only so much a UD student can know about a person or place through reading a textbook or looking at a photo on a PowerPoint. In order for UD students to truly grasp the full meaning of a liberal arts education, they must actually go out into the world and connect with what they are studying.

Article was updated at 7:50 PM on April 11 to clarify the location of the ‘Elgin Marbles.’


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