Skip to content


    Full Name: Xenokrates

    Other Names:

    • Xenokrates of Athens

    Gender: male

    Date Born: fl. 280 B.C.E.

    Date Died: unknown

    Place Born: Athens, Region of Attica, Greece

    Home Country/ies: Greece (ancient)


    The “father of art history” as termed by Bernhard Schweitzer. Xenocrates was probably a sculptor and perhaps the same as the artist who signed “Xenokrates” on the bases of three early third-century sculptures. Although he may have been born in Athens, his work follows of the school of Sikyon (of which Lysippos was the acme). Our knowledge of him is drawn exclusively from Pliny the Elder. Xenocrates was either a pupil of Euthykrates (Lysippos’ son) or Teisikrates, a pupil of Euthykarates. According to Pliny, Xenokrates wrote on Greek sculpture, and by inference of other remarks by Pliny, on painting and drawing as well. Xenokrates supposedly wrote “a volume about his art” and a treatise on the working of sculpture in metal. Using the tradition of Democritus, Xenocrates organized and ranked works of art, placing individual artworks in various categories in order to explain their development as a resolution of artistic problems. He observed that the arts strived toward perfection, each succeeding artist developing something new, such as proportion or treatment of details. His categories included symmetry (proportion), rhythm, workmanship and aesthetics (“the optic problem” in Schweitzer’s words). He did not, apparently, address subject matter or moral value, instead using technical criteria from his sculptor’s training. His was the core text Pliny used for art comments in his Natural History, particularly the evolution of art history. The acme of Xenokrates’ history was Lysippos, the master of the Sikyonian school, for sculpture, and Apelles for painting. The Romans of the late Republic revered him and adopted his criteria for taste. None of Xenokrates’ writings has survived today, though we can glean it through Pliny’s work. An important treatment of Xenokratre’s art history was written by the art historian/classicist Eugénie Sellers Strong in 1896.


    Pliny the Elder. Natural History XXXIV.lvxxxiii, index to book XXXIV, and XXXV.lxviii; Strong, Eugénie, and Urlichs, Heinrich Ludwig. The Elder Pliny’s Chapters on the History of Art. Jex-Blake, K., trans. London, New York: Macmillan, 1896. Schweitzer, Bernhard. Der bildende Künstler und der Begriff des Künstlerischen in der Antike: eine Studie. (Sonderdruck…aus den Neuen Heidelberger Jahrbüchern, Jahrbuch 1925). Heidelberg: G. Koester, 1925; Schweizer, Bernard. “‘Xenokrates von Athen; Beiträge zur Geschichte der antiken Kunstforschung und Kunstanschauung.” Schriften der Konigsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, Geistwissenschaftliche Klasse, ix (1932): 1-52; Pollitt, J. J. “Introduction.” The Art of Ancient Greece: Sources and Documents. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1974, p. 3; Kultermann, Udo. The History of Art History. New York: Abaris, 1993, p. 2.


    "Xenokrates." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

    More Resources

    Search for materials by & about this art historian: