600-480 BCE – Archaic Period

Kouros, from Attica, Greece, ca. 600 BCE.  Marble, 6′ 1/2″ high.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This marble kouros (which is Greek for “youth”) is one of the earliest Greek examples of life-size statuary and emulates the Egyptian  statue’s prototype.  It stood over a grave in Attica since statues like this one replaced the huge vases of Geometric times as the preferred grave marker.  Kouroi (the plural of “kouros”) such as this one differed from the Egyptian model in two ways; first, the figures are liberated from the stone block since the Greeks were more preoccupied with representing motion rather than stability in their statues.  Second, the kouroi are nude and have no distinguishing attributes.  The triangular shape of the head and hair and the flatness of the face are hallmarks of the earlier Daedalic style; there is a definite front, side and back on the head.  The slim waist and clear love of pattern is similar to earlier Greek statues as well.

Calf bearer, dedicated by Rhonbos on the Acropolis, Athens, Greece, ca. 560 BCE.  Marble, restored height 5′ 5″; fragment 3′ 11 1/2″ high.  Acropolis Museum, Athens.

This statue of a moschophoros (“calf bearer”) was found in fragments on the Athenian Acropolis and has a base with an inscription stating that a man named Rhonbos dedicated the statue to Athena in thanksgiving for his prosperity.  He has the same left-foot-forward manner as the kouros above but has a beard which implies he is no longer young.  The thin cloak included on the statue does not represent any realistic style of the Greeks of this time but is a way for the sculptor to maintain the artistic convention of male nudity while indicating that a mature, respectable gentleman would be clothed.  The face is drastically different from earlier Greek statues in the fact that he appears to be smiling.  This smile is an indicator of things to come for the Greeks as other Archaic Greek statues will always smile.  The Archaic smile is at times inappropriate for the context but seems to be the sculptor’s way of indicating that the person portrayed is alive, furthering the progression away from Egyptian influence.

Kroisos, from Anavysos, Greece, ca. 530 BCE.  Marble, 6′ 4″ high.  National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

“Sometime around 530 BCE, a young man named Kriosos died a hero’s death in battle, and his family erected a kouros statue over his grave at Anavysos, not far from Athens.”  The base reads “stay and mourn at the tomb of dead Kriosos, whom raging Ares destroyed one day as he fought in the foremost ranks.”  The statue, which still carries some the paint, is not a portrait of a specific person any more than the earlier kouros, but is far more naturalistic.  The head is more proportional to its body and the face is much more rounded.  The hair falls naturally over the back and he has rounded, fleshy hips.

Peplos Kore, from the Acropolis, Athens, Greece, ca. 530 BCE.  Marble, 4′ high.  Acropolis Museum, Athens.

This kore is traditionally known as the Peplos Kore because scholars believed she wore a peplos, which is a simple, long, woolen belted garment.  It has been revealed, however, that she wears layers of four different garments, one of which only goddesses wore.  Since her left hand is missing, it’s unclear which goddess she is as whatever she held would have instantly identified her.  The kore’s garment conceals the entire body, leaving only her head, hands, and feet showing but the softer, more nature depiction is drastically different from earlier female Greek statues.  So much paint remains because she was buried for more than two millennia.  The Persians knocked over the statue when they attacked the Acropolis in 480 BCE and the Athenians buried all the damaged statues.

Kore in Ionian dress, from the Acropolis, Athens, Greece, ca. 520-510 BCE.  Marble, 1′ 9″ high.  Acropolis Museum, Athens.

This Kore is shown in the height of Greek fashion by the late sixth century BCE, the light linen Ionian chiton, worn in conjunction with a heavier himation (“mantle”).  The sculptors of korai would have truly enjoyed rendering the intricate patterns and folds created by the light fabric and the asymmetry of the folds helps the figure to appear more lifelike than the typical kouros.  Also adding to the realism is the (missing) left hand grasping the left side of her chiton in order to move forward.

EUTHYMIDES, Three revelers (Athenian red-figure amphora), from Vulci, Italy, ca. 510 BCE.  2′ high.  Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich.

By the mid-sixth century BCE, the Athenians had learned the black-figure technique from the Corinthians and taken over the export market for fine painted ceramics.  Exekias had perfected the black-figure technique by 540 BCE and his pupil the Andokides Painter had successfully experimented in red-figure painting by 525 BCE, revolutionizing the art of drawing.  Fifteen years later, two painters, Euphronios and Euthymides, would battle it out to to become the top painter of their time in a series of increasingly intricate and remarkable vases which would quickly become the norm for red-figure painting.  This one is the pride and joy of Euthymides who decided to create this vase as an independent figure study.  The figures are three tipsy revelers  whose torsos are foreshortened to show realistic movement and depth.  The central figure is the real star, being shown from the rear with a twisting spinal column and buttocks.  Euthymides showed his pride by adding to the formulaic signature “Euthymides painted me” the phrase “as never Euphronios [could do]!”

ONESIMOS, Girl preparing to bathe (interior of an Athenian red-figure kylix), from Chiusi, Italy, ca. 490 BCE.  Tondo 6″ in diameter.  Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels.

Onesimos worked in Euphronios’ workshop and explores both of the themes of Euphronios and Euthymides.  This painting is actually the interior of a kylix (drinking cup) and is unique because of its subject matter: a nude servant girl in a domestic setting.  Its an early example of a successful foreshortening of a woman’s breasts and torso.  This painting is only acceptable because it was for private viewing.

Dying warrior, from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Aegina, Greece, ca. 480 BCE.  Marble, 6′ 1″ long.  Glyptothek, Munich.

The Temple of Aphaia was an example of the progress Greek architects had reached as far as the construction of the columns and the attractiveness of the facade.  Most striking, though, is the juxtaposition of the pedimental statues put in place after construction had been completed.  On the west side, the statues were still conceived in the Archaic mode, with inappropriate smiles and rigid frontal views.  They resemble mannequins rather than thinking and feeling human beings.  In contrast, the east side is comprised of figures like this dying warrior.  His posture is more natural and indicative of a warrior who knows he is dying but is still struggling to get to his feet.  He is looking down at the ground and using his shield to support his upper body’s weight.  This dying warrior is not of the Archaic world but constitutes a radical change in the conception of the nature of statuary.  He is proof that the Classical Greek revolution in sculpture and painting has occurred.

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