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
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).
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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).
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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
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 more 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
The Anavyssos Kouros, c. 540-515 BC is polychromed (painted)
marble. Athens National Museum.
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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
The "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
She is made of polychromed marble.
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