Archaic Sculpture in Ancient Greece
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Archaic Sculpture

As the Greeks came out of the Dark Ages, about 1000 BC, they began to produce life-size stone sculpture for the first time since the Cycladic statues of the Stone Age.

This time, Greek sculptors wanted their statues to stand up, not lean against walls. They learned how to make standing statues from the Egyptians. At this time many Greek men were working in Egypt as mercenary soldiers, and so they had a chance to see Egyptian statues and learn how they were made.

peplos kore
Peplos Kore (Athens)

One Egyptian technique is to have a triangle for the face and two upside-down triangles for the hair. This makes the hair help support the neck, which otherwise might be too thin to hold up the head (because it's a piece of limestone, not a real neck with muscles).

Another Egyptian idea is to have one foot a little in front of the other, which also helps the statue to stand up and not fall over. One difference is that the Greeks always made their statues nude (without clothes), while the Egyptian statues always wore clothes. This is because the Greeks thought that men's bodies were sacred and that the gods liked to see them. But in the Archaic period, Greek statues of women wore clothes. Wearing skirts all the way to the ground made it easier for the girl statues to stand up. Athenian sculptors showed girls standing still, quiet, but Spartan sculptors showed girls running.

running girl
Spartan girl running (ca. 500 BC)

Greek sculptors called their statues of men "kouros" (KOOR-ohs) which means "boy" and they called statues of girls "kore" (CORE-eh) which means "girl". At first, they didn't know much about sculpting muscles and bones, but by about 500 BC, they had learned more about it.

Like Egyptian statues, all of these Greek statues were originally painted, like store mannequins today, to look more like real people.

Learn by doing: make a small clay statue of a person that stands up
More about Severe Style Greek sculpture

Bibliography and further reading about Archaic Greek sculpture:


Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period, by John Boardman (reprinted 1985). The standard reference for college students.

The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction, by William R. Biers (1996). Biers writes very clearly and has a lot of good pictures.

Greek Art and Archaeology (3rd Edition), by John G. Pedley (2002). This has a lot of good information and is pretty readable. Plus, the author is really an expert in this field.

Severe Style Greek Sculpture
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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