The Archaic Period (c. 600-480 BCE)



Towards the end of the seventh century, the Daedalic style was abandoned and larger, bolder, more monumental figures suddenly appear, probably under the influence from Egypt. Large-scale standing marble statues appear as dedications in sanctuaries and as funeral monuments. The figures are given conventional names:

  • Kouroi, for nude males (singular Kouros)
  • Korai, for draped females (singular Kore)

Characteristics of the Archaic style:

  1. A reliance on schemata. The shapes, postures, movements, and gestures of Archaic figures adhere to a notion of order and convention, and follow fixed visual formulae. Figures conform to a stereotype (not unlike a Platonic idea) and their forms are limited and typical and generalized. The schema, or stock image, gives manageable shape to the endless complexity and irregularity of natural forms.
  2. An impulse to pattern. A trait related to the reliance on schemata and best seen in the artificial and usually symmetrical rendering of such details as musculature, drapery, and hair. In Archaic art there is a constant tension between the real appearances of things and the desire to pattern them. Like that of schema, the role of pattern in Archaic art can be considered a symptom of a larger Greek demand for regularity and order, which extends into architecture, poetry, and philosophy.
  3. The domination of surface and plane. An acceptance of surface - the curving surface of a vase, the surface of a statue - as the foundation of form. In sculpture, the figures are four-sided and remain "bound" by the original surfaces of the block out of which they were carved. This leads to a rigid, unbending frontality. In vase painting, the figures and compositions adhere evenly to the surface or are arranged on planes uniformly parallel to the surface. The Archaic image is regulated by surface and is essentially flat.
  4. Linearity. Lines divide up the surface and indicate, rather than define, form. They are obvious and clearly defined. Vase painting is more draughtsmanship (line-drawing) than "painting."
  5. Ornamentality. The Archaic style is highly decorative, and serves largely decorative purposes. Embellishment and lavish display, not simplicity and austerity, are Archaic ideals. The impulse is not only to pattern, but also to make those patterns intricate, variegated, and rich.
  6. Explicitness and impassivity. Little in Archaic art can considered subjective or implicit. Actions usually shown at their violent climaxes. However, despite the violence and death in Archaic art, there is almost no suffering or pain. Archaic figures not very emotional: grief, desire, fear, and happiness expressed not through facial expressions but through conventional gestures. Motivation and response do not seem to come from within the figures. No interest in characterization or the depiction of mental life. Little psychological depth, just an objectively treated, detached, and impassive exterior.

  • Kore - standing, clothed female figure

  • Kouros - standing nude male figure

© Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe