IT ALWAYS GO BACK TO THE CLASSICS
With its architecture, pottery, design, and sculpture, the Ancient Greece time period is known for truly captivating art history. Acknowledging civilizations and artisan craft, historians see the innovative trials and successes the Greeks had in capturing human form through art. Though before the seventh century, figures were small, not realistic and bronze, ivory, or wood. During the Archaic period, sculpture emerged by portraying the human body with subtle expression and motionless posture. The early monumental statues were all celebratory to either votive or funerary subjects (Boardman 20). Also, there was an increasing interest in idealizing youth, which alone was the most prestigious form of representation until the Classical era (II Freestanding Sculpture 26). Archaic sculptors had developed an interest in materials. Most of their work was used with bronze or marble. Two examples of a marble statue are the Peplos Kore and the Berlin Kore. The Peplos Kore is defined specifically with its title. A kore or kourai is the Greek word for “young women” and a peplos is a distinctive long heavy garment worn by women, pinned at the shoulders, usually worn over a chiton (Grossman 76). Throughout the Ancient Greek era, it is evident that sculpture shaped gender representation and antiquity with its original artisan of freestanding figures.
Marble is a rock that forms from fine to grainy limestone. It is flexible to work with, extremely dense, and is often smoothed to a high finish. It is suited for making the human form lifelike, a subject that was vital to western sculpture from ancient times through the nineteenth century (Grossman 67). The production rests solely on the artist’s craft. Techniques are largely debated and it is known that there were many ways that sculptors were creating work. Whether it was carving or modeling, tools were essential components of the final form. Chisels, hammers, and knives were used with softer stone and early tasks of the process. The next step was carving from a block with finer tools and techniques such as a pick-hammer, lighter punches, a drove, or a tooth chisel (Barletta 101). The marble's location was crucial to the artist’s creation and the ability to transportation was another disadvantage. Most artists selected marble nearest to their site. The three islands of Paros, Naxos, Thasos, and other locations in Attica were abundant in supply and the earliest locations of marble (Classical Greek Sculpture: Methods: Marble). Regional differences didn’t emerge prominently until after 600 when local studios developed their own independent style and remained dependent on their island’s sources of stone (Boardman 23). Throughout Greece, the marble's rock source was usually found at the sculptor’s studio and that help developed independent regional styles (Boardman 27). Works had to have quality and craft. The final step is smoothing the surface. The paint was often applied to the final piece, but it's rarely preserved today. Today when visitors enter museums, they notice the scale and timeless effect that marble has.
The Peplos Kore is not only a hallmark example of the Archaic Period, but also an early marble sculpture in general. It was found in the Acropolis, in Athens, Greece circa 530 BCE. The Acropolis of Athens was known to have many votive statues as a place of sanctuary. The context is debatable. Could she be a deity representation? Is she a cult statue? There are different theories. Standing in a frontal stiff static position, the artist delivers a more rounded feminine figure. She is modest and clothed. Her face possesses a natural gaze. Her left forearm is missing and it looks like it would be attached to a second piece (Costello). The original paint on her body and clothing made her naturalistic. It is hard to imagine the kore covered and richly painted but a small amount of faded paint remains and that leaves a lasting impression. Color remains in some pieces and that leads us to believe that it was a frequent occurrence (Boardman 80). The peplos and chiton emphasize her frame. The chiton is made of thin material and it can be seen through the crinkled folds at the bottom, and some at the sleeves (Ridgway 59). When identifying the significance of the drapery, it is important for the items to not be identified but more so described with expressive meaning (Dillion 131). Combining both elements of idealism and naturalism, the Peplos Kore possesses unique qualities that describe her originality. She is ideal for being modest and her Archaic smile makes her more individualized and less conventionalized (Stockstad 170). The Greeks always considered the young nude male to be “ideal.” Most of the statues from the Archaic period were produced to be a commemoration for the dead, a sanctuary or a grave marker (Boardman 63). For the female’s case, it was typical that they were appropriately dressed, a dedication to a deity or even a representation of a young woman getting married. The Peplos Kore is important because it is rare. Evidence shows that this could be the latest example of a peplos that art historians have, therefore it is considered to be a relic (Costello).
An even more conventional marble sculpture example of a kourai could be dated back to 570-560 B.C.E. with the Berlin Kore. Found in Attica, Greece this six-foot tall full-bodied statue is also shown in drapery clothing. She is wearing a thick robe and a tasseled cloak that is symmetrically balanced and parallel throughout her entire body (Stockstad 115). Even though the cloak is covering her body, viewers see curving lines and that hints her feminine feature. Like the Peplos Kore, the Berlin Kore is wearing a peplos, which appears very straight and evenly proportioned. Although the Berlin Kore is elaborately decorated with a painted crown, jewelry on her ears, neck, and wrists and the clothing. It is hard to make out her frame beside her hips. It seems like the sculptor concentrated the marble in the “ideal” rather than the naturalistic format. However, one attribute she possesses is the Archaic smile. Once again, the indication of red paint indicates that the sculpture was once painted. The figure is less ambiguous than the Peplos Kore because instead of a missing arm, there is a pomegranate in her right hand, which could be a symbol of Persephone or of marriage (Stockstad 115). Being a young bride was the pinnacle of a woman’s life, so the fact the sculptor decided to sculpt this “ideal” is a sense of establishment (Costello). It would be the ideal subject matter for any sculptor.
Peplos Kore and the Berlin Kore are strong examples of the Archaic period. They are relevant to the social context of deities, idealism, and materialism. Both characterize the techniques sculptors did to create the unique form and the women being symbolized. The Greeks invested much of their time into perfecting and reforming their techniques to achieve the ultimate goal. Evidently, this “ideal” goal wasn’t ultimately reached until the High Classical Period, but with the right amount of resources and knowledge about the work, they were able to produce what brought us the Archaic Period. Whether it is with the Archaic smile, the structure of their faces or their clothing, it is clear that the Archaic period has solidified itself throughout art history as a positive time.
- Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print.
- Boardman, John, Mary C. Sturgeon, Barbara A. Barletta, Peter Higgs, Carol C. Mattusch, and Norman Herz. Greek Sculpture. Ed. Olga Palagia. New York, New York: Cambridge UP, 2006. Print.
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- Costello, Sarah. “Archaic Sculpture & Vase Painting.” October 1, 2012. University of Houston.
- Dillion, Sheila. "Review of "The Emergence of the Classical Style in Greek Sculpture"Art Bulletin 94.1 (March 2012): 130-32. Print.
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- Izzet, Vedia, Robert Shorrock, and John Taylor, eds. "II Freestanding Sculpture." Greece & Rome Second 57 (2010): 24-50. Print.
- Ridgeway, Brunilde S. "The Peplos Kore, Akropolis 679." The Walters Art Museum 36 (1977): 49-61. Print.
- Sakoulas, Thomas. "Greek Art: Kore." Ancient-Greece.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2012.
- Stockstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle City, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002. Print.
- Stockstad, Marilyn, and Michael W. Cothren. Art History: Ancient Art. 4th ed. Upper Saddle City, New Jersey: Pearson Education, 2011. Print. Book One.