The Archaic period of Greek art lasted from about 600 B.C. to 480 B.C -- a period recognized as a time of great achievement. It was a time of assimilation as the Greek empire expanded and artists incorporated foreign styles from the Near East and Egypt into their work. Sculpture provides a platform from which to consider the elements of form and style that dominated the Greek Archaic period.
Patterned and Naturalistic
Throughout the Archaic period, Greek artists began to focus more and more carefully on the anatomical representation of the human body. “Inscrutable Smiles: Viewing Greek Art” notes that Archaic artwork displayed an impulse for pattern. Artists continued to sculpt forms that honored a tradition of balanced patterns in the rendering of musculature and bones. Human representations from this period were symmetrical, and little variety existed in posture and gesture.
Freed from Stone
One element of Archaic sculpture is that the arms and legs have been freed from stone. As in Egyptian sculpture, one leg is often in front of the other. Unlike Egyptian sculpture, in which the arms and legs are rendered in high relief, Greek Archaic sculptors completely cut away the stone between the figure's limbs and body. Artists sculpted large-scale forms for temple exteriors in addition to freestanding statues. Most Archaic Greek sculptures were life-size or larger; were made of white marble; and were originally painted in bright, naturalistic colors.
Young Men and Women
Two types of statues were especially dominant: the male kouros, or “young man,” and the female kore, or “young woman.” The Archaic korai represented deities, priestesses or nymphs. The kouroi were almost always nude and represented gods, warriors and athletes. Nudity removed the figure from a specific place, time or social class.
A Smile Without Emotion
The faces of human figures in Greek Archaic art were telling: the eyes were large, almond shaped and wide open. The mouth was shaped into a strange closed smile called the Archaic smile. This smile transcended emotion and cast the figure into a realm of permanence.