Sculpture of the Archaic Period
(600 - 480 B.C.)

 From the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The Kouros statues dominate the Archaic period of Greek Art. All of the Kouros (male) and Kore (female) statues represent state sponsored subjects or are designed as decorations of religious buildings, or as immortal reminders of the virtues of a deceased. However, secularism begins to become evident with Archaic Greek art and culture in a subtle way as the artist,s and art patron's names appear carved on some sculptures, and also in the way that the personal virtues of affluent individuals become the underlying subject of archaic statues temples and sanctuaries.

Sounio Kouros,
Marble, 3m tall, circa 600 B.C.
Found in a pit at the temple of Poseidon at Sounio along with parts of four other destroyed kouroi.

Kore (Phrasikleia) by Ariston of Paros
and Kouros,
lifesize, circa 550 B.C.
Found in a pit at Merenda in Attica in 1972.
The base of Phrasikleia has been known since 1729 and it reads:

"Marker of Phrasikleia
I could be called kore (maiden)
for ever instead of wedded
by the gods thus being named
[Aris]tion of Paros created me"
(Translated by

Behind the Phrasikleia Kore in the picture from the National Museum of Athens we see a Sphinx found at Spata in Attica. Marble, circa 570 B.C.
Sphinxes were used to top funeral stele in Attica until 530 B.C.

Lifesize, circa 550 B.C.
From the island of Melos.

Marble, lifesize, circa 540 B.C.
Found at the cemetery of Anavysos
On the base a verse was carved:
"Stand and grieve at the tomb of Kroisos the dead,
in the front line slain by the wild Ares"
(Translated by

Formally the Kouros statues follow a carving formula that divides the human body into proportionally pleasing geometric entities. The stylization of the different figure planes along with the rigid poses allow the sculptor an easy way to create the human figure since all he has to do is follow a well established traditional formula in order to represent the different parts that comprise a human figure.

The frontal pose, the left foot extended forward, the arms attached or close to the hips, the rigid pose, and the mysterious smile are all characteristics of the Kouros and Kore statues of the Archaic period. The sculpture of the Archaic Greek style is evidently influenced by ancient Egypt as the commerce between the two countries was flourishing.

During this period the sculptor worked almost exclusively with "point" chisels, punches and stone abrasives to create the statues, and this technique did not allow for much flexibility in regards to the pose or surface qualities. As a result of this technique, all marble statues from the Archaic period have an opaque appearance despite marble being a somewhat translucent material. This is a result of the repeated vertical blows to the surface with a point chisel which sends concentrated shock waves deep inside the stone, shuttering thus the marble crystals in considerable depth.

The surface of the marble or its translucent qualities were not a concern of the ancient sculptors however. All statues of ancient Greece were in fact painted with vivid colors and the technique of the vertical blows actually keyed the surface for the pigments.

While the poses and techniques of art creation did not allow for much deviation from the rigidly posed figure, the preoccupation of the ancient Greek culture with secular matters is betrayed in the linguistic elements that accompany the statues (writing on the base, epitaphs, descriptions,) and in the context in which much Archaic art is presented. The intervention of the supernatural for matters of earthly convenience is often evident in the dedication of artifacts to deities.

The ancient Greeks had no obsession with the afterlife, but were mostly concerned with the comfort of their earthly existence, and they often sought to immortalize their own actions and beliefs through art. This attitude towards secularism and the focus on ones' self as a living being paved the way for the development of classical Greek thought which in turn became the foundation of the western civilization as it developed to our day.

Archaic art is a silent witness to the extraordinary development western society was about to undertake. The Kouros and Kore statues stand before a cultural revolution, all muscles tense, like a spring about to burst with energy into an extraordinary wave of classical thought. They stand with smiles frozen with meaning as if they knew what was about to occur: the classical era and the Golden Age of Greek thought.




Greek Sculpture The Archaic Period
by John Boardman

Greek Art, World of Art
by John Boardman

Archaic Times to the End of the Peloponnesian War
by Charles W. Fornar
Buy this book from
Click for details and current price

National Museum
by Spyros Meletzis and Helen Papadakis
Art Editions S. Meletzis & H. Papadakis, 1980

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National Museum of Athens


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