Archaic Greek Art until the Greco-Persian Wars III: Early Greek statuary

The secret of the admirable and never surpassed beauty of the Greek statuary resides in the fixity of its “types”. The Doric art schools of mainland Greece were mainly focused in the male figure and managed to interpret the human anatomy by representing images of athletes as naked young men that, during the archaic period, were first represented totally rigid but that gradually acquired movement when they were represented with their legs slightly apart. In early Greece, each of these male statues was a heroic and idealized portrait placed on a monument. They were portraits of young athletes, beardless, some of them with long hair which showed that they had not reached adult age as Greek young men did not cut their hair until reaching full maturity. These “archaic Apollos” are known as Kouroi*” (plural of Kouros, the Greek word meaning young man).

The Kouros of Milos, ca. 550 BCE. (National Museum of Athens).

We know that these Kouroi were heroic portraits because around their heads they wore long bands or ribbons, a kind of symbolic crown the Greeks called stéfanos, the distinguishing symbol of their heroic semi-god character. A law or custom observed in early Greece forbade the representation of characters that were not of divine or semi-divine nature (meaning heroes). This “law” was strictly observed in the eighth and seventh centuries BCE which explains the abundance of these young athlete figures or Kouroi.

The Kouros of Anavyssos or Kroisos Kouros (National Museum of Athens), monumental marble sculpture of 1.94 m.

These Kouroi were heroes because otherwise they would not wore the crown or ribbon that indisputably characterized them as immortals. By winning the hundred-meter race at Olympia, these young men gained the status of heroes. The young men that won this race had the right to have their own statues. They were considered heroes. If they won the same race three times then, besides the right of the statue, they had the right of a portrait and their statues actually had the factions of the portrayed hero. Without this triple victory the statue was identified only with an inscription. Thus there was a statue for every athlete winner of each Olympiad. These statues were erected in the Heroon a sacred place located by the main gates of the boy’s hometown. The statues of athletes are especially abundant in early Greek art because images representing gods were scarce at this time.

Ancient Greek texts and traditions mentioned wooden fetishes that were worshiped which were called by the Greeks xoana* (singular xoanon). These images were worshiped until Classical times. All these fetishes represented female divinities. This explains the existence of female virgins representations or Korai* parallel to that of the Kuroi. These female statues also represented young women with almost heroic character as they were also crowned with diadems.

The “Lady of Auxerre” (Louvre), ca. 650 BCE, it represents one of the first versions in stone of the primitive wooden xoana.

Some of these statues were dressed in the Ionian fashion which consisted of a short tunic called in Greek chiton a sewn garment wore over one shoulder across the chest and that fell at knee height. Over the chiton was worn a mantle or robe called himation* which was grabbed with the left hand. Other Korai were dressed in the Doric fashion, a draped garment consisting of a long tunic reaching the feet and the peplos* a square piece of wool held over the shoulders by two brooches or fibula* and falling flat covering back and front until the waist. The rigid tunics and peplum of Doric fashion completely wrapped the female figure, and so their bodies appeared like a smooth trunk. Apparently, artists tried to imitate the wooden xoanon, although in some Korai dressed in Ionian fashion we can identify a reminiscent of a cylindrical trunk resembling the pillar worshiped during pre-Hellenic times-the Minoan pillar. In fact, many of these statues looked like columns, like the famous Hera of Samos at the Louvre Museum which is almost a xoanon, or the Lady of Auxerre, also at the Louvre, with one arm alongside her body and the other bent over her chest and almost forming a cylindrical block.

The Kore with chiton and mantle (Acropolis Museum, Athens), ca. 450 BCE.
5. Korai
The Euthydikos Kore, ca. 500 BCE. (Acropolis Museum, Athens).













These two main types of early Greek sculpture, the type of young male athletes and the young females with mantle, maintained certain features that persisted throughout the archaic period. The male type showed how Greeks interpreted the naked human body by subdividing it into plans stressing the main lines of the chest, waist, and hips. The figure was seen from a frontal position and had great symmetry in its movements as they appeared to move the left leg forward while their arms were placed in balance. A very similar model can be seen in older Egyptian statues.

The female type was always dressed, but the clothes fell in parallel folds tailored to the body. At first the human form is hardly recognizable, we don’t see more than the cylinder of the statue. Later on, the opposite occurred, and the dress fitted perfectly the body as if the fabric was wet.

The Antenor Kore (Acropolis Museum, Athens), it stands 2.55 m height.

The heads of both, female and male type sculptures had small skulls with spherical shapes, the forehead was reduced, the almond-shaped eyes were slightly slanted and slightly put aside as seen frontally, and the smile, called archaic, was stereotyped.

Other male type different from the mere athlete is seen in the statue known as the Moschophoros a figure of a young man carrying on his shoulders a small calf.  The Moschophoros wears a dress adapted to his body so his muscular forms are smoothed by this fine garment. This type of early Greek art suggests by association of ideas the representation of the Good Shepherd that in centuries to come will be a common feature of early Christian art.

The Moschophoros (Calf-bearer), (Acropolis Museum, Athens), ca. 470 BCE.
The Winged Goddess of Delos (National Museum of Athens), was the work of Akermos of Chios and Milkiades, marble, ca. 588 BCE. Iconographically, winged mythical creatures have their origin in Eastern cultures, but the Greeks associated them with victory hence the “Nike” name (meaning Victory). This Nike naively bends her knees and represents one of the first artistic attempts to inspire motion by trying to make the statue looking as if it is ready to fly.
The Rampin Rider or Rampin Horseman (Acropolis Museum, Athens), was probably the winner of a riding show as evidenced by his head crowned with laurel leaves. His slightly tilted head marks the abandonment of the principle of archaic frontality, which represents an important aesthetic change, while his smile and organized beard are still archaic. Ca. 550 BCE.


Fibula: A brooch or pin for fastening garments. The fibula developed in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety-pin principle. Technically, the Latin term, fibulae, refers to Roman brooches; however, the term is widely used to refer to brooches from the entire ancient and early medieval world that continue Roman forms. Nevertheless, its use in English is more restricted than in other languages, and in particular post-Roman brooches from the British Isles are just called brooches, where in German they would probably be fibulae. Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae were not only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten clothing. Fibulae replaced straight pins that were used to fasten clothing in the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. In turn, fibulae were replaced as clothing fasteners by buttons in the Middle Ages.

Good Shepherd: An image used in the pericope (or set of verses) of John 10:1-21, in which Jesus Christ is depicted as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the (His) sheep. Similar imagery is used in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd is also discussed in the other gospels, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the First Epistle of Peter and the Book of Revelation. The image of the Good Shepherd has been in used continually by Christian art and iconography since the Early Christian period.


Himation: A type of clothing, a mantle or wrap worn by ancient Greek men and women from the Archaic through the Hellenistic periods (c. 750–30 BCE). It was usually worn over a chiton and/or peplos, but was made of heavier drape and played the role of a cloak or shawl. When the himation was used alone (without a chiton), and served both as a chiton and as a cloak, it was called an achiton. The himation was markedly less voluminous than the Roman toga. It was usually a large rectangular piece of woollen cloth. The himation continued into the Byzantine era as “iconographic dress” used in art, worn by Christ, the Virgin Mary, and Biblical figures.

Kore: (Greek for “maiden”; plural korai). Refers to a type of free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of the Archaic period depicting female figures, always of a young age. Kouroi are the youthful male equivalent of kore statues. Korai show the restrained “archaic smile,” which did not demonstrate emotion. It was the symbol of the ideal, transcending above the hardships of the world. Unlike the nude kouroi, korai are depicted in thick and sometimes elaborate drapery. Over time, korai went from the heavy peplos to lighter garments such as the chiton. Their posture is rigid and column-like, sometimes with an extended arm.

Kouros: (from the Ancient Greek meaning “youth, boy, especially of noble rank”; plural kouroi). Refers to free-standing ancient Greek sculptures that first appear in the Archaic period in Greece and represent nude male youths. These free-standing sculptures were typically marble, but the form is also rendered in limestone, wood, bronze, ivory and terracotta. They are typically life-sized, though early colossal examples are up to 3 meters tall. The female sculptural counterpart of the kouros is the kore.

Peplos: A body-length garment established as typical attire for women in ancient Greece by 500 BCE (the Classical period). It was a long, tubular cloth with the top edge folded down about halfway, so that what was the top of the tube was now draped below the waist, and the bottom of the tube was at the ankle. The garment was then gathered about the waist and the folded top edge pinned over the shoulders. The folded-down top of the tube provided the appearance of a second piece of clothing.

Xoanon: (plural xoana, from the Greek verb xeein, to carve or scrape wood). Refers to an Archaic wooden cult image of Ancient Greece. Classical Greeks associated such cult objects with the legendary Daedalus, a skillful craftsman and artist. Many such cult images were preserved into historical times, though none are known to have survived to the modern day, except where their image was copied in stone or marble.