Archaic Greek Sculpture: Characteristics & Overview

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  • 0:02 Background
  • 0:24 Emergence from the Dark Ages
  • 0:58 Types of Figures:…
  • 1:51 Striving for Idealism
  • 2:21 Materials
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Cassie Beyer

Cassie holds a master's degree in history and has spent five years teaching history and the humanities from ancient times to the Renaissance.

Learn about what makes Greek sculpture from the Archaic period distinctive. Also, learn how it relates to other points in Greek history such as the Greek Dark Ages and the more famous Classical period.


The Archaic time period of Greek history stretches from the 8th to 5th centuries BC, and it was followed by the more well-known Classical period. During the Archaic period, Greek culture became a flourishing civilization, marked by established cities, art, and literature. It is at this point the Greeks began their quest for life-sized, realistic sculpture.

Emergence from the Dark Ages

The time period in Greece prior to the 8th century BC was known as the Greek Dark Ages. During this time, there were no cities or literature, and art was limited to minor examples, such as abstract pottery decorations. However, by the 8th century, important cities such as Athens had been established, and citizens had the time and resources to invest in non-necessities such as art. Although this happened across many different art forms, it was their innovations in sculpture for which they are most well-known. Here we see Greek and Egyptian statues in a similar stance. The Greek example is on the right.

Types of Figures: Kouros and Kore

Much of Archaic free-standing sculpture falls into one of two categories: kouros and kore figures.

Kouros statues were nude male statues. While they were used as funerary monuments, they never depicted specific people. They were also sometimes used as gifts to the god Apollo. Very early on, these statues were life-sized or nearly so, standing five to six feet tall. Kouros figures get their general stance from Egyptian artwork in which standing figures have their arms straight down at their sides and with one leg forward. However, the Egyptians never depicted their figures as nude, and they were not interested in the realistic details of the Greeks.

Kore figures were female figures dedicated to the goddess Athena. They were never nude and were often shorter than kouros figures. Details are often lacking, particularly in older examples, with clothing laying unrealistically stiff and flat over a non-existent human form.

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