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Ever notice the oversized eyes on Greek coins?


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The trend seems to have continued into the Roman republic era before giving way to more realistic facial proportions by the mid-empire era. 

Any explanation why they portraits tend to have really pronounced eye sizes? Is it a statement about the gods abilities to see better than ordinary humans? The Greeks are famous for playing around with proportions, columns of temples were designed using forced-perspective to make the columns appear taller when a person viewed them up close. Could the oversized eyes on portraits be another such trick?

Just curious if theres any accepted explanation. I didn’t really notice it until I started trying to draw a profile portrait in a similar style. None of the typical ‘artistic tricks’ worked, the eyes are typically about 15-30% larger than they should be. 

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Are you referring to the almond-shaped profile eye style of the classical Athenian owls of the 5th century BC?  That's a style that has its roots in archaic art of a century or so prior.  

Eye proportions, in relationship to the face might vary based on the skill of the engraver.  I am sure there was some artistic license involved as well, but having collected Greek ancients for a few decades, I have not seen any trend in Greek coinage to exaggerate or oversize the eyes to any great extent, if at all. 

Do you have example?  I would be interested in seeing them.  

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@DocTardy Many Greek coins of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, Hellenistic coins and early imperial Roman coins through the mid-second century are, in general,  remarkably naturalistic representations of human form. Proportions are often idealized in the in the coins prior to the mid-4th century, becoming realistic in the Hellenistic and Roman examples. 

As @robinjojo says, the Athenian coinage of the period art historians call High Classical are stylized in a way that recalls the Archaic period. To me this is curious considering they are contemporary with the great works of High Classicism (see the Elgin marbles).

If you want abstraction, look at Roman coins beginning with those of the mid-2nd century and notice how they become increasingly caricature-like until their representations of human form dematerialize in the abstraction of the Byzantine empire.

Like @robinjojo, I’d be curious to see examples illustrating your statement.

Late Classical period c. 400 BCE. Not my coin but I wish it was.



Early 4th century, Roman. Not my coin.





Edited by Etcherdude
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The style or rendering of the eye is certainly a key aspect of a coin's appeal, taking into account stylistic variations depending on the period of the coin's creation.

The classical, and skillfully rendered portraits of Syracusan coinage, notably of the Second Democracy (5th century BC), as well as much of the coinage of the 4th-2nd centuries BC represents a high water mark in portraiture, I believe.

Here is a tetradrachm of the Second Democracy, 460-406 BC. 

17.3 grams



And a tetradrachm of Agathokles, 317-310 BC.

17.0 grams 



How do the faces' proportions look to you?

Edited by robinjojo
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Talk about Big Eyes. I realize that this coin is somewhat off topic and I do apologies but it is rather interesting to see. THIS IS NO LONGER MY COIN.

Contantine I Ae Follis Alexandria 325-6 AD Obv Laureate head right. Rv Camp gate RIC 34  3,20 grms  20 mm 



This coin has a rather interesting retro look. Not only does the image feature a very large eye but it is full face and not a profile eye which would be expected on a coin minted at this time. It rather looks a bit like some of the very archaic images found on coins minted during the fifth century BC. It is unclear as to why the die cutters from this mint would adopt this rather novel approach. As the image of the emperors moved from the veristic to the ideal the thought of having the emperor look upon the viewer may have seemed to be a good idea. 

Edited by kapphnwn
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I'm not sure I'd call it rot.  I view it more as a stylistic feature typical of 4th century AD roman coinage. 

I feel the same way about Byzantine coins, especially the folles, with their crude portraits.  The coins, as I have said, reflect the times they are produced.

To be sure, the coinage of Syracuse and other Greek mints produced some absolutely beautiful portraits.  But, I take a contextual view when assessing coins from other periods.

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