The Archaic period was an extremely important time period in Ancient Greece, especially for sculptures. This is because it paved the way for future art styles like Classical and Hellenistic with its significant advancements during its time. It came after the Dark Ages, Geometric period, and Orientalizing period, so it dates from about 600 to 480 B.C.E. (Gardner’s 96).
This period was greatly influenced by Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures and this is clearly depicted in the artwork of this time. The Greeks decided that they wanted to make permanent statues, unlike their previous wooden ones which rarely ever lasted.
They thus then adopted the Egyptian technique of carving from stone. They also adopted the canonical format from the Egyptians and incorporated it into their own art in this period also.
Kouros statues perfectly portray this stance and the art styles of this time period. They were typically nude male figures used as grave markers or offerings to the Greek god Apollo.
An excellent example of a permanent Egyptian influenced statue would be the life-size marble Kroisos statue from Anavysos, Greece. It’s a great example because its clenched fists held tight and close to the body, perfectly proving that this stiff stance is an imitation of the same stances of Egyptian statues.
The medium it was carved out of also proves another idea they used from the Egyptians. Using marble in this statue rather than wood further proves their desire to have statues that will last as long as possible. This also tells us that that the Greeks are starting to hold sculptures on a higher level of importance than before because of their new desire to have them last longer.
The value of the materials also tells you that sculptures are becoming more important to them as well. Wood is cheap and fairly easy to acquire, but now the Greeks are using bronze, which is not only expensive but harder to obtain. This once again proves their need to have a permanent piece of art rather than a temporary one.
This leads us to the question: why do the Greeks want a permanent sculpture so bad? The most logical theory would be that since they already used a lot of similar ideas and techniques from the Egyptians, they might have wanted to use permanent sculptures as their own Ka statues.
They most likely wanted something everlasting that they could “keep their soul in” after they die without it being destroyed, or stolen. It’s reasonable for one to say that they were like Ka statues or served funerary purposes because they were said to have stood over graves in Athens (Gardner’s 105). So, it’s understandable that these statues were also made of bronze because it’s hard to be moved, destroyed, or stolen.
Hence, the use of permanent materials, as well as the rigid, Egyptian like stances of the statues, were obviously very important characteristics of the Archaic period. The urge to have something to store one’s soul in for eternity was clearly a key factor in leading to the development of such statues. The kouros statues, in general, were also a very important attribute of this time period because it was designed then and used extensively throughout the whole period.
This is because it had a generic quality which allowed it to be employed in several different contexts (Gardner’s 105). They were useful because of their multiple functions as not only grave markers but votive offerings in temples, too. The fact that these statues replaced huge vases as grave markers is an additional interesting point. This shows that the human figure is gaining more and more importance within Greek art since human figures have replaced pottery.
Despite the many similarities between Archaic sculptures and Egyptian ones, there were also noticeable differences. One prominent contrasting feature was that these new Greek statues were freestanding—the first freestanding sculptures of the time– unlike the Egyptian ones which were shaped as a part of the stone. This is because even though the Greeks were focused on durability, they were more focused on depicting the human figures in motion.
This was an extraordinary advancement of the Archaic period because previously, artists weren’t able to create sculptures that were moving because that would go against the formulaic canon of proportions and would be too difficult to carry out. They also needed to figure out how a figure that wasn’t attached to anything could support its own weight.
Artists would accomplish this by using columns, sticks, etc. for support. The Kouros statue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is an example of this technique to create freestanding sculptures because it was given huge, over-exaggerated feet in order to support the statue’s weight. One can say the Greeks wanted to figuratively and literally break away from their old traditional ways of sculpting through the new freestanding statues.
The female version of the Kouros statues, Kore, is also intriguing. Just the fact that they included females in their art is a big change. Unlike the male Kouros, the female Kore were clothed. The figures are depicted wearing draped clothing, such as peplos, chiton, and himation, which concealed the whole body except the feet, arms, and head. Draped clothing being depicted was significant because the folds had to be carved into the stone and the maidens were often depicted holding their chiton, which gave the statues a more realistic feel.
During the Archaic period, the Greeks switched from using abstract, geometric subjects and motifs to a more naturalistic style (Department). This was when they started to create art that more closely resembled humans with realistic features and proportions, as opposed to the sculptures from the Orientalizing and Geometric periods. This “new” style was once again influenced by Egyptian and Near Eastern art, but it was still a step up in their society nonetheless.
The sculptures now weren’t as unnaturally shaped as before, but still had a few inaccurate features to fix such as the unusually braided geometric hair, flatness of the face, and “the pointed arch of the rib cage, for example, echoes the V-shaped ridge of the hips, which suggests but does not accurately reproduce the rounded flesh and muscle of the human body” (Gardner’s). These flaws were to be fixed and then the human body could finally be perfected in the next periods to come such as Classical and Hellenistic.
Furthermore, statues became much more realistic and lively than sculptures from previous time periods. Besides attributes such as draped clothing and contrapposto, facial expressions played a huge part in making the statues seem more like a living, breathing thing rather than just pieces of stone. Emotions are a human feature and applying that to life-size artwork, makes them more lifelike.
The most notable was the Archaic smile, as shown in the Calf Bearer sculpture. Although these clown-like grins weren’t the most accurate, they were the first expressions of emotions in sculptures of that time. This improvement once again made it possible for the human body, as well as its facial expressions, to be perfected during the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
Moreover, the Archaic period was an amazing period for art. Many new techniques and innovations were created this time, which led future works to improve upon. It’s incredible to understand how important these advances were because of how easily we can create those attributes now. It was a significant point in history because of the fact that these inventions served as the basis for future artwork.
Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Greek Art in the Archaic Period”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/argk/hd_argk.htm (October 2003)
Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, Richard G. Tansey. Art Through The Ages, 11th Edition. Forth Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001.