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Archaic Greek Art, Linking Ancient to Modern Art (Podcast #30)

Let’s look at Greek art, but specifically art from the Archaic period (about 800-500 BC). It’s an interesting period that led to the Golden Age of Greece and the Roman Empire. The Archaic period forms a link between Ancient Egyptian art and Classical Roman art. We chat about this connection when it comes to Greek sculptures and pottery (since so much of it has lasted these thousands of years), but we leave a discussion of architecture for episode #32. We have a conversation about nudity in art and how to handle it in class and at home. Finally, we chat about the Drawing Greek Gods Upside Down lesson plan and provide some tips for making it go smoothly.

Stay tuned for all the episodes in this Drawing Ancient Art series!

Interested in learning more about art history?

Anyone Can Teach Art Podcast #13

We cover a little bit of art history in this episode to help us get our bearings as we look at the Archaic Greek period. For a big-picture look at art history and a handy (free) time chart of art history, see:

When was the Archaic Greek Period?

In order to properly place the Archaic Greek period in history, let’s do a little review of the timeline:

  • Mycenaeans: (1400 – 1200/1100) After the advanced Minoan culture on Crete was weakened by a nearby volcanic eruption, it was conquered by the Mycenaeans around 1450 BCE. The Mycenaeans (now called the Greeks) spread out and won a famous battle with Tory. Then, there was a time of prosperity and beautifully painted pottery with heavy Cretan influence. This is sometimes called the “Age of Heroes.”
  • Greek Dark Ages (1200/1100 – 800 BCE): Next Greece fell into a “Dark Ages,” meaning we now have very little recorded history from this period. Historians are not totally certain why this time period was so dark (remember, “dark” only means we now have very little recorded history from this time period), but suspect it was because of the invasion of the war-like Dorians and other unknown factors.
  • Archaic Period (800-500 BCE): Around 800 BCE, the people in Greece, started recording their history using the Phoenician alphabet, ending the dark age. The Greek city-states started colonizing the land around the Mediterranean Sea and growing rich again. We call this the Archaic Period.
  • Golden Age of Greece (500-300 BCE): Athens and Sparta grew strong, and when the Persians tried to invade, Athens and Sparta fought hard to maintain their freedom (499-449 BCE). The Greeks had a strong fleet, advanced battle methods, and the Spartan fighting mentality that helped them win an underdog victory. Athens, the political center, became the center of the Greek world. Sparta was jealous of Athens and eventually invaded Athens in what we now call the Peloponnesian wars (432-404 BCE). Athens eventually admitted defeat but really both sides lost because they were left weak and vulnerable. Still, this was a good time for art and plays, so it’s generally included in the ‘Golden Age’ years.
  • Alexander the Great (336 BCE): From Macedonia, Alexander the Great came and conquered the weakened Greeks around 336 BCE. Alexander’s empire merged Eastern Buddhist ideas with Greek ideas, which can be seen in their art.
  • Roman Empire (146 BCE): Soon, in 146 BCE, the Roman Empire would re-conquer the area. However, the Greek culture remained and was eventually spread by the Romans.

Kouroi & Korai Statues and Pottery

The best and most numerous samples of art from the Arachic period (besides architecture) are statues and pottery. When we compare these works of art to similar works in other art periods we can start to see the influence Egyptian art had on Classical Roman art and therefore all Western art.

For example, we can see this progression of art when looking at ancient Egyptian statues like this limestone statue of Nenkheftka or this Egyptian guardian figure, then Archaic Greek statues like this kourus, then Classical Greek statues like these marble funerary statues, and finally Roman statues like Augustus of Prima Porta.

Mentioned on the Podcast

Wanna Go Deeper?

  • Learn about Greek and Roman architecture with our resources
  • Dig into Greek Art and Philosophy- I suggest Nancy Pearcey’s book, Saving Leonardo, Francis Schaeffer’s book, How Should We Then Live, and Gene Veith’s book, State of the Arts! (can you tell I also love philosophy?)

Cool Quotes

  • Vase painting told stories about gods and heroes of Greek myths as well as such contemporary subjects as warfare and drinking parties. The earliest (c. 800 B.C.) vase design was called the Geometric Style, because the figures and ornaments were primarily geometric shapes. The later Archaic Period was the great age of vase painting. In the black-figured style at the outset of this period, black forms stood out against a reddish clay background. The artist scratched in details with a needle, to expose the red beneath. The red-figured style, starting around 530 B.C., reversed this color scheme.”  – Henry M. Sayre in A World of Art, 4th Ed, (c) 1994 by Pearson Education
  • “No living human body is as perfectly proportioned as a Greek statue. That’s because these statues do not represent particular individuals but universal ideals or types. Philosophers of the classical age gave priority to the ideal over the real, the universal over the individual. They did not assign any dignity or value to the features that make each person unique. What mattered were the shared features that made up universal human nature. Individuality was regarded as nothing more than an aberration, an irregularity, a departure from the ideal. ‘ Consciously or not, classical art was reflecting classical philosophy.” – Nancy Pearcey in Saving Leonardo, p79, © 2010

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