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Archaic Age


The Archaic Age

The poverty and depopulation of the Dark Age forced the Greeks to cooperate to defend themselves. Greeks during this period produced startling innovations: the self-governing city-state, (poleis, or singular polis), imaginative types of art and architecture, and the poetry of Homer. Trade would be revived and social structure would emerge. As the economy improved in the Archaic Age, the population grew rapidly. Greeks had founded numerous colonies to the east, south Italy, North Africa, and along the Black Sea (Woodford).

The poleis extended their trade with the peoples and cultures of Egypt and the Near East. The Greeks were astonished with these ancient civilizations because they were brilliant and literate. They were impressed by their rich and accomplished art forms awed. They were eager to learn. Many of the Greeks would gain the knowledge of the two skills needed to produce literature and sculpture. This acquired knowledge of writing and carving stone would later make them famous (Woodford).

Political structure would take place with localized political dictators in extremely large numbers who would each center on an individual town or city. Politically and culturally these were important because each one guarded its political independence jealously. The benevolent dictators called "tyrants" would be beneficial in regards to the Greek arts. They became popular from their competitiveness in trying to promote and outdo one another in trade, and to champion the scale and splendor of their public building programme. Individual artistic styles and traditions would also be developed by each one (Burn).

Each polis was distinctively different and fiercely independent. There was Corinth, a great trading centre that was rich and luxurious; there was a military society in Sparta; there was a polis that produced one after another outstanding bronze-casters in Argos; and gifted foreigners were attracted to Athens that encouraged individual achievement. The creation of the finest drama, art, and poetry was in Athens (Woodford).

A common religion and shared language linked these independent poleis. Competitions from different poleis in athletics, poetry, and music in honor of the gods were held at the famous panhellenic sanctuaries like Delphi and Olympia. Wars among the poleis were constant. The only time a truce was held was during these competitions (Woodford).

To unite them, it took a great threat. The Greek world was under the growing threat of being dominated by the Persian Empire. In 546 B.C., the Greek cities of Asia Minor would fall under Persian rule. In 499 B.C., Athens and Eretria would unite with them to rise up against Persian rule only to be brutally suppressed. The rebellion from other Greek poleis from the mainland would rise up. The Persians wanted to conquer the rebellion and launched a mission for punishment (Woodford). In 490 B.C., in retaliation, king Darius invaded Greece. Eretria was burned to the ground (Burn). The Athenian army would primarily defeat the Persians on the plains of Marathon. A war of total conquest was the Persian king's resolution (Woodford). back to top


Archaic Sculpture

A description of the following prehistoric scenario was written in a Greek poem. At large in the Aegean is the God Apollo. For his own worship, he goes in search of new sites and new followers who will look over those sites. Because he is protean, he can readily assume different shapes. Apollo appears before a vessel of mariners in the guise of a dolphin and leads them from Knossos in Crete to one of his own sites. At the sanctuary itself, he first stages an epiphany and then swiftly shows himself to the crew. He chooses the guise of a man, hair flowing over shoulders, quick and well-built, and in the full bloom of youth. He calls out to the sailors in greeting, but he resembles one of the deathless gods and they are now sure how to respond to this stranger. Nervous badinage is what the sailors settle for as Apollo proclaims his divine identity and for his cult, appropriate instructions are issued (Spivey).

A great deal of significance is in this episode the Homeric Hymns to Apollo (line388.ff). The Archaic description of Apollo as an athletic, long-haired young man relates to the appearance of the Archaic Greek Kouroi. The early discoverers called the Archaic Greek Kouroi "Apollos" (Spivey).

The Archaic sculptures were based on the Greeks' religious practices and beliefs. The two principle types of Archaic free-standing statues are the standing, clothed female figure called a Kore (meaning "young woman";plural, korai), and the standing nude male called a Kouros (meaning "young man"; plural, kouroi). Most korai and kouroi served as dedications in sanctuaries, although some stood over graves as markers. For the most part, they did not represent specific individuals, but rather ideal figures of youth and beautiful objects that might please the gods to whom they were offered (Burn).

There were three phases in the Archaic statues during the Archaic Age which shows the transitions in Greek sculpture. The Egyptian tradition contributed greatly, but Greek sculpture would gradually fade away from Egyptian origins. The Greeks used the Egyptians' methods and their system of proportions. The Greek sculpture was designed to be a thing of beauty and to also look like a man based on their beliefs. Three elements of design were imposed to achieve this: (1) symmetry (2) repetition of shapes was exact and (3) on different scales, they used the same shapes (Woodford). back to top

Early Archaic Phase

The first Kourai sculpture has Egyptian influence that is visible of the nude youth. The Greek sculptors had an appreciation of the human body's natural symmetry including its eyes, ears, arms, and legs. The figure faces forward and the weight on both legs are evenly distributed to stress this symmetry. The sculpture avoided spoiling the symmetry by not creating any twists, turns, or bends in the pose. You can see the stiffness of the arms at each side and the hands are making a clenched fist. There is obvious display of rigidity, no realism, or an idealized human figure. Little by little Greek sculptors would make the changes to increase a more naturalistic look to the kourai (Woodford).

New York Kouros. Ca. 615-590 B.C. Marble, ht. 73 1/2". Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Dating back to the beginning of the sixth century B.C., the New York Kouros is one of many similar statues (Matthews).        

                                                                                                            New York Kouros


The Auxerre Kore, 675-600 B.C. It is made of limestone. The Auxerre Kore represents the fairly early development of this female form. It is is about 29 1/2" high and suggests that it may have been part of a burial rite. To make it appear lifelike, it was once painted which you can see the traces of red pigment on the bust of this kore (Matthews).



Middle Archaic Phase

As in earlier kouroi, a frontal pose still remains. Greek sculptors were moreAnavyssos Kouros interested in individual features. The "Anavyssos Kouros" displays greater realism than did their Egyptian predecessors. Traits of Egyptian influence are still visible. This is a splendid figure, full of life and was created as a grave marker (Woodford). Their concept has changed and expresses the statue as a beautiful living male body. To reproduce convincing qualities of an Olympic competitor, the body is taut with a massive torso. The best-known feature is the subtle, enigmatic smile (Matthews). The artificial, stiff, bead-like hair clashes with the body's swelling, natural forms (Woodford).

The Anavyssos Kouros, c. 540-515 BC is polychromed (painted) marble. Athens National Museum. back to top

Late Archaic Phase

By the end of the Archaic Age, artists had begun to pay more attention to the shape of the body beneath the folds and to render figures with greater individuality. This phase captures splendidly the further changes. The pose on the kouroi has been changed to eliminate the look of stiffness and rigidity (Woodford). The smile has been perfected and idealized human realism and grace is now displayed. The Kore would be clothed while the Kouros remained nude during the Archaic Age and would remain in this manner well into the Hellenic Age (Matthews).

peploscolourThe "Peplos Kore" c. 535-530 BC is marble and 48" in height. Acropolis Museum, Athens. The Peplos Kore represents the highest achievement in the art of the kore. Sappho's love lyrics may have been inspired by the expectancy of the countenance, the elegance of the dress, and the beauty of the face of this maiden (Matthews).

As you can see, over her upper torso she is wearing a chiton, or tunic and a belted peplos. She has a more graceful pose and shows no sign of the rigidity that was displayed in the preceding phases. Around her neck you can see traces of a painted necklace. Her smile is rendered to perfection (Matthews).

She is made of polychromed marble. back to top

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