The Artists of Magna Grecia

Magna Grecia was a land of opportunity, not only for settlers but also for the development of a new artistic and cultural revolution.
National Archaeological Museum of Crotone

Magna Grecia was a land of opportunity, not only for settlers but also for the development of a new artistic and cultural revolution.

The Foundation of Magna Grecia

The foundation of Greek colonies in southern Italy –starting in mid 8th century B.C. – offered tremendous opportunities for freedom and rebirth to the settlers, who, in their mother country, had been oppressed by poverty and the obligations imposed on them by the rich and noble families. That was the birth of Magna Graecia. For these people, Italy and Sicily became a true ‘land of opportunity’: wherever allowed by geographic condition, the cities were planned on a principle of equality and ‘equal opportunity’. Plots of land of identical size were assigned by drawing lot, after having set aside public spaces for the whole community and temples to deities. 

The new culture of Magna Grecia

Magna Grecia became the site of cultural experiments: first and foremost the rise of Pythagoreanism, in the second half of the 6th century BC, promoting equality between men and women, overcoming the antithesis between Greeks and Barbarians, valuing people on their merit rather than on family clout, creating a common economic space among all the cities under Pythagorean rule.

The fruits of this cultural revolution were evident in all fields of the arts and ways of thinking: the first lawgivers – such as Zaleucus of Locri and Caronda of Catania – were born in Magna Graecia; philology was first applied by Theagenes and Glaucus, both from Reggio, to written texts and music; lyric and choral poetry would thrive, with champions like Ibicus of Reggio and Stesichorus of Metaurus. Sculpture, represented by Patroclus of Croton, who made a wooden statue of Apollo, commissioned by the Locrians, was not left out of this cultural process.  Terracotta sculpture is another typical type of sculpture in Magna Graecia. Some sources mention sculptors from Reggio working in Rome for Tarquinio Prisco. The Knight of Casa Marafioti held at the Museum of Reggio is a magnificent example of this type of artefacts. 

Magna Grecia’s Bronzes

Bronze statue making became a peculiar feature of Magna Graecia, with ancient examples such as the infamous brazen bull of Phalaris, by Perilaus (or Perillus). In particular, a School for bronze statue making, developed over three generations, and spanning the entire 5th century B.C, was established in Reggio. The progenitor was Clearchus, the first to make colossal bronze statues, followed by the much renowned Pythagoras, known throughout the world and throughout ancient times, and his grandson Sostratus.

Pythagoras and the Globalisation of the Arts

Pythagoras, who most of his life had worked in the Peloponnese, left three masterpieces in Magna Graecia: Europa Riding the bull in Taranto, Apollo Killing Python in Crotone and a suffering Philoctetes in Syracuse. According to various studies, Pythagoras, together with his disciple Sostratus, was most likely the author of the Bronzes of Riace in Argos.A real globalisation of the arts took place from the archaic to the classical periods in particular, when artists were travelling and working all over the Mediterranean. Its outcomes are still to be fully understood. The painter Zeusis is a clear example of this period. Born in Heraclea Lucana, he was much appreciated throughout Magna Graecia for his paintings on wood. The pinakes of Locri are the only tangible, still available evidence of his works that were so highly praised in antiquity.