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Greek Art of the Geometric & Archaic Periods

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  • 0:01 Greek Art
  • 0:42 The Geometric Period
  • 2:40 Archaic Art
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore two artistic periods in Greek art that saw the foundations of Greek styles emerge. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Greek Art

The culture of ancient Greece is one we often hear about. The Greeks developed philosophy, math, and government that we still respect today. And art. The Greeks were great artists, creating masterpieces in marble, bronze, clay, and paint.

But Greek art wasn't developed overnight. It wasn't like the Greeks just appeared out of nowhere and thought, 'Hey, let's make some sweet art.' Greek artists developed their style over years and years, refining and adjusting over time. And they had to start somewhere. Two of the earliest periods of recognizably Greek art, meaning art produced with a uniquely Greek style, were the Geometric and the Archaic.

The Geometric Period

The oldest style of truly Greek art is the Geometric, a period lasting roughly from 900 to 600 BC. This era saw the development of the powerful Greek cities, signaling the rise of Classical Greek civilization. The Geometric Period in art is characterized by - you guessed it - a high use of geometric shapes, particularly on vases.

Vases were a major form of art in the Geometric Period. As Greek cities began trading across the Mediterranean, their vases became a major trade commodity, and artists spent more and more time decorating them. Vases of the Geometric Period were covered in geometric designs - abstract and ornamental designs with little or no narrative function.

This period also saw another artistic change, the return of human figures. For years, Greek art did not feature many human figures, but in the Geometric Period, people begin to reappear among the geometric patterns. However, their appearance was largely abstract, and human figures were also composed of basic geometric shapes.

Another form of art that became popular in the Geometric Period was small bronze sculpture. These little statues, generally only a few inches tall, were solid pieces of bronze, cast in a mold. Typically, these statues featured two combatants, facing each other, and locked in hand-to-hand struggle.

Typical style of Greek bronze from the Geometric Period
Greek figure in bronze

In this little statue, one of the two figures doesn't look quite… human. And that's because he's not. This is a centaur, a mythical creature from ancient Greek culture. There is not a lot of implied movement here and the figures are clearly abstract, although we can tell that both are bearded with helmets. They are also both nudes, reflecting an appreciation of the human form that will characterize Greek art for centuries. Some scholars believe that this may represent a scene from Greek mythology in which Hercules fought a centaur named Nessos, indicating that the art does have a narrative function.

Archaic Art

As Greece became more of an economic power in the Mediterranean, they came into more frequent contact with other cultures, resulting in changing artistic styles. The Archaic Period, lasting from roughly 600 to 480 BC, saw many changes to Greek art.

In terms of pottery, the Archaic Period saw a great development in vase painting, using the natural red color of the clay and a black colored slip to create silhouetted figures in scenes of battle or recreation. Vases in this style are called Black Figure, and this was the technique used to create those earlier geometric designs as well.

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