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Introduction to Greek Art I: The Archaic Period (CLASSICS 161)


The class considers the development of Greek art from 1000-480 and poses the question, how Greek was Greek art? In the beginning, as Greece emerges from 200 years of Dark Ages, their art is cautious, conservative and more abstract than life-like, closer to Calder than Michelangelo. While Homer describes the rippling muscles (and egos) of Bronze Age heroes, his fellow painters and sculptors prefer abstraction. This changes in the 7th century, when travel to and trade with the Near East transform Greek culture. What had been an insular society becomes cosmopolitan, enriched by the sophisticated artistic traditions of lands beyond the Aegean "frog pond." Imported Near Eastern bronzes and ivories awaken Greek artists to a wider range of subjects, techniques and ambitions. Later in the century, Greeks in Egypt learn to quarry and carve hard stone from Egyptian masters. Throughout the 6th century, Greek artists absorb what they had borrowed, compete with one another, defy their teachers, test the tolerance of the gods and eventually produce works of art that speak with a Greek accent. By the end of the archaic period, images of gods and mortals bear little trace of alien influence or imprint, yet without the contributions of Egypt and the Near East, Greek art as we know it would have been unthinkable.