Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period - John Boardman (2016)
Chapter 3. Archaic Greek Art
The 6th century sees the consolidation of the prosperity of the states of mainland Greece with the rule of benevolent tyrants (or at least not ‘tyrannical’ in our sense of the word) giving place by the end of the century, though only in Athens, to something approaching a democratic constitution. Only the East Greeks suffered seriously, first from the Lydians, then the Persians, but this hardly diminished the activity of their artists, and the diaspora of many of them to the west, to Greece and Etruria, proved productive. Tyrants were good patrons of the arts: major projects enhanced their status and gave employment to the possibly discontented. The city-states remain independent of each other, and often at war, but there was a growing sense of nationality, of the difference between the Greeks and the rest – to them the bar-bar talkers, the barbarians. The new prosperity went hand-in-hand with vigorous trading round the shores of the Mediterranean, and the rapid growth of the colonies – in Sicily, Italy and on the shores of the Black Sea – which had been founded in past generations to ease problems of land at home. One result of all this was that the Greeks made some enemies overseas, as Greeks (although there were always fellow travellers) and not simply as individual states. In the west there were the Carthaginians and the Etruscans, their rivals and customers in trade, and in the east the new Empire of Persia. In the early 5th century they had to face these enemies with force of arms. They survived the encounters and made sure that for a while at least their troubles would be, as was usually the case, with their fellows rather than with foreigners. In the century or more leading up to this the arts of the Greek world and its different schools also moved closer to a common style, usually under the influence of the dominant cities in each craft – Athens for pottery, the Peloponnesian cities for metalwork. Regional differences are still readily perceptible, however, and one of the features of 6th-century art is the contribution made by East Greek artists working away from home, many no doubt as refugees from the Persians.
The new monumental arts of architecture and sculpture present the most striking remains of this, as of succeeding centuries; indeed the sheer size of some building projects in the East Greek cities remained unrivalled until after the Classical period. We can embark now on consideration of what is most generally regarded as Archaic and Classical Greek art, but there is an important issue which must be faced squarely…
A white marble statue of Queen Elizabeth II was recently unveiled to popular acclaim. If it had been realistically coloured it would not have been taken so seriously, but consigned to the status of ‘popular art’ or for the likes of a waxworks museum. All coloured sculpture today is so regarded however skilfully made (e.g. by Jeff Koons, or even the occasional selection for the Royal Academy). This is because the Renaissance’s knowledge of ‘classical sculpture’ was of marbles robbed of all colour by time, or blackened bronzes. So it has remained. When archaic sculpture which had not been long buried in antiquity was found coloured (as our [78, 80, 83]) it seemed not too inappropriate to its apparently unsophisticated (i.e. not totally realistic) style. Research over the last fifty years has demonstrated without any doubt that all classical marble sculpture, down well into the Roman period, was realistically painted, that different alloys of bronze could create sunburned and paler effects, and that classical architecture too, even columns and walls, was coloured. Ancient Athens was not the scrubbed clean and crisp city of popular imagination and scholarly reconstruction, but a riot of colour, however hard this may be for us to stomach. Medieval European art was not without colour. One 19th-century English artist recognized the truth, but seldom dared follow the ‘right’ path .
65 A version of Praxiteles’ Venus with body colour added and placed in a classical shrine, by John Gibson, about 1851–56. (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery)
The only public buildings of any importance, which might have encouraged elaboration of design and display, had been temples, and we cannot say whether other states emulated the palatial scale of the early Lefkandi building  for what was presumably a ruling family. Otherwise the Greeks had been used to fairly simple brick or stone structures with no decorative elaboration beyond the occasional use of a narrow sculptural frieze on walls, in the Eastern manner. In Egypt they saw massive stone architecture and stone columns with carved capitals, all highly coloured.
In Greece already at least one temple (on Samos) had been given an encircling stone colonnade in the 7th century and the Greeks were not slow to take the hint about the elaboration of a feature which had emerged as an integral element in their architecture in the Lefkandi building. In origin it perhaps did no more than distinguish the building as a house of the god and provide a covered ambulatory round the walls of the one-roomed cella which held the cult statue. In practical terms it could support overhanging thatch or eaves and provide a covered area from which to watch processions, like later stoai. The Eastern contribution was in the patterns of stone bases and furniture which were copied by Ionian architects, and in the occasional use of figures in the place of columns in temple porches.
The beginnings of the major stone orders of architecture in Greece [66, 67] can be traced back to the 7th century. In mainland Greece the Doric order was evolved, with simple columns, reminiscent of both Mycenaean and Egyptian types, having cushion capitals, fluted shafts and no bases. The upper works were divided rhythmically into a frieze of triglyphs (the vertical bands) and metopes (at first painted, later sculptured) which were a free adaptation of the woodwork in these parts of earlier buildings. A triglyph was normally centred over a column below, which could prove awkward in designing the corners; I suspect the Greeks worried less about this ‘triglyph problem’ than modern scholars. In East Greece and the islands the other major order of stone architecture, the Ionic, borrowed its decorative forms from the repertory of Orientalizing art, with volutes and florals which in the Near East had never graced anything larger than wooden or bronze furniture, or – like the volute capitals of Cyprus and Phoenicia – had never formed an element of any true architectural order. The first capitals (known at Smyrna  and Phocaea) are bell-shaped with lotus and overlapping leaf patterns in relief upon them. They are followed by the Aeolic capitals, with the volutes springing from the shafts , which give way to the broader Ionic, with the volutes eventually linked. The column shafts have more flutes than the Doric, with, in time, flat ridges between them. There are bases too – swelling tori and discs, elaborately fluted like the carefully turned wooden furniture which inspired them. Some of the earliest Ionic columns served as bases for votive statues, such as the sphinx dedications made by Naxians at Delphi  and on Delos. On Ionic buildings the upper works over the colonnades are simpler than the Doric, but an important feature is the continuous frieze, which is sometimes decorated with figures, or plain with carved beam-ends (dentils). Altogether there is much more variety in the Ionic order, more superficial ornament and decoration . It seems ornate and fussy beside the Doric, and the contrast was one happily exploited by architects of the Classical period and in the Western colonies.
66 The Orders. The Doric order was developed by about 600 BC. In Ionic architecture, from the mid-6th century, the frieze is either sculpted (A) or a row of dentils over decorative mouldings (B). Both may appear in different places on one building (the Erechtheion) and from the 4th century on may be combined
67 The Doric temple of Hera (the so-called Basilica) at Paestum in central Italy. A good example of the early cigar-shaped columns with bulging capitals. Mid-6th century BC
68 Column capital from the unfinished Temple of Athena at Old Smyrna, overthrown by the Lydians about 600 BC. Carved in leaf patterns which appear still between the volutes of later Ionic capitals. Height 62 cm. (Izmir)
69 Aeolic capital from Lesbos. About 560 BC. Height 58 cm. (Istanbul 985)
70 The Naxian sphinx at Delphi. Columns often support dedications in the Archaic period, especially sphinxes or korai. This has one of the earliest Ionic capitals with wide-set, concave volutes. About 560 BC. Height of sphinx 2.25 m. (Delphi)
71 Restored drawing (by F. Krischen) of the side front of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Designed in the 540s, completed a century later. The relief drums on the columns should possibly be placed at their tops
The overlapping leaf pattern of the early capitals was important. The rounded leaf with the tips of leaves between became the ovolo or egg-and-dart (nothing to do with eggs, pace Ruskin), the ivy-shaped leaves leaf-and-dart; and the profiles of these mouldings echoed the shape of the leaves – rounded for ovolo, S-shaped for leaf-and-dart (cyma recta or reversa, depending on whether the concave or convex element protrudes). The origins are Ionic but the mouldings invade Doric too, where the only regular straight mouldings were flat (decorated then in a rectilinear way, with meander) or the Egyptian overhanging cavetto (decorated with round-topped tongues).
The orders were applied to the exteriors of temples, which retained their simple plan, of porch and hall (cella), but were now regularly surrounded by a colonnade or at least a columnar façade. Smaller structures, the pavilions or treasuries set up by individual states at the national sanctuaries, have columns at the front only and on Ionic treasuries at Delphi we find statues of women replacing the columns in the porch. The largest buildings, on the other hand, might double the rows of columns at the sides and even treble those at the front (as at Samos and Ephesus). Inside the cella more columns helped to support the roof, first axially down the centre, then in two rows to provide a nave-like approach to the cult statue. Altars stood outside the front door of the temple, normally to the east, and were either simple rectangular blocks with carved upper parts, or, in East Greece, monumental structures with broad flights of steps leading up to the sacrificial platform. Where wood was still used on the exterior of temples it was protected by painted clay revetments, and large clay roof tiles had been invented in the 7th century, but generally walls are all stone now, of precisely jointed rectangular ashlars, or, for some house and terrace walls, of polygonal blocks, sometimes with curved edges (the so-called Lesbian), which are no less precisely fitted. Ionic buildings especially were decorated with elaborately carved mouldings round doors, along the tops of walls , on gutters and over the columns, sometimes even on the columns. Similar floral and volute mouldings are repeated in many minor works of bronze or clay, and in painting, and they are Hellenized successors to the Orientalizing florals of the 7th century. Occasionally a circular or apsidal plan was adopted, as on Chios, where we also find front-column bases in the form of giant lion-paws – a feature borrowed from the eastern ornamentation of furniture. The mouldings, and the orders, survived longer than the building types for which they had been designed – to the present day.
72 Carved frieze of leaf-and-dart, bead-and-reel, and lotus and palmette, from an Archaic Treasury at Delphi. Late 6th century BC. (Delphi)
The sculptural decoration of temples will be discussed later in this chapter. We have of necessity so far spoken only of temples. It was for these houses of the gods that the elaboration of the stone orders was reserved, and not for private houses, which probably boasted little more than painted wooden exteriors. Some tyrants may have fared better. The colonnade shelters (stoai) and entrance gates to sanctuaries were also treated in the grand manner, but only in the succeeding period do public buildings, law courts and theatres regularly attract this attention.
Of the statuary in the round the kouros figures of naked youths, with their set, symmetrical stance, hands clenched at the sides, one foot advanced, remain unchanged in pose throughout our period [73, 74], and so serve as a useful standard on which to observe the advances in technique and treatment which are registered in different ways on other figures.
73 Marble kouros from Tenea in south Greece. About 550 BC. Height 1.35 m. (Munich 168)
74 Marble kouros from a cemetery near Athens (Anavysos). On the base was inscribed the verse, ‘Stop and grieve at the tomb of the dead Kroisos, slain by wild Ares in the front rank of battle.’ About 530 BC. Height 1.94 m. (Athens 3851)
They were long known as Apollos, but few can represent this or any other deity; most are dedicated as attendants to a god, and early ones can be of colossal size, while others stand as memorials – not portraits – over graves. Their individuality is expressed in the inscriptions on them or on their bases, so that these are in their way idealized figures, undifferentiated by age or profession. Through the 6th century we can observe that a growing confidence in the carving of marble led to the disappearance of the block-like character of the earliest in the series. There were also new tools. The Egyptians had used copper claw-chisels on soft stone; made of Greek iron the chisels could work marble, and they were adopted some time after the other Egyptianizing traits described in the last chapter, which are by now mainly abandoned except for some minor borrowed poses. Anatomical details become more realistically treated and are better related to the mass and structure of the body. The Archaic smile , which came into fashion in the second quarter of the century, is relaxed into a straighter, sometimes sulky expression. The convention had given an impression of strained cheer-fulness which the artist may have appreciated, but which was usually quite alien to what we expect of Greek funerary or votive art, and which cannot fairly be added to the few instances of emotion expressed in the features of Archaic statues. Progress was not deliberate but by a form of natural selection of those forms which seemed better to express the function of the figures; the selection naturally tended to the more realistic  and by the end of the period the live model was being more closely observed. Life was beginning to be as important a factor as geometry. The figure was at last conceived as a whole and not as a sum of parts, which was an approach imposed by the cutting-back techniques. The new manner could only be developed by modelling techniques, creating the figures from the inside out, not from the outside in. These were encouraged by the desire to cast large figures in bronze, which start as modelled figures in clay, and models created in the same way could as readily be translated into stone, by various measuring techniques, producing a dramatically different effect from that of earlier works in stone. The casting technique will be remarked on later in this chapter. This is where the Classical revolution begins, but we have first to chart the century that led to it in works other than the kouroi.
There are other free-standing statues of men which do not observe the kouros pose: from the Acropolis at Athens comes the famous calf-bearer  and a series of horsemen. In the head of one of these – the Rampin Horseman  – we observe the Archaic smile and the exquisitely precise carving of the marble in curving planes meeting in sharp ridges which would have been picked out even more dramatically with colour and in brilliant sunshine. The meticulous treatment of the curls and locks of this young Athenian cavalier dandy adds to the effect. His oak wreath tells of his success in the games. Here too strict frontality is relaxed. The head is inclined down and to one side, towards the spectator who would be passing across the front of the horse.
75 Marble figure of a man carrying a calf, the dedication of one Rhombos on the Athenian Acropolis. About 560 BC. Restored height of whole figure 1.65 m. (Acr. 62)
76 The Rampin Horseman, a dedication on the Athenian Acropolis. The head was removed from Athens to Paris before the excavations which yielded the horseman’s body. Mid-6th century BC. Height of head 29 cm. (Louvre 3104, Acr. 590)
We have seen the way in which the artist treated the male body almost as an exercise in pattern and composition. In a country and society in which women were not seen in public as much undressed as today, it is not wholly surprising that female figure studies were not common in statuary until command of technique allowed a successful suggestion of more sensuous qualities. In vase painting it is otherwise, as we shall see. To the Archaic sculptor, however, women were little more than clothes-hangers. Faces are rarely any prettier or more appealing than those of the men, the hair not always more ornate. Patterns of folds, heavy and straight, fanning out across the body, or gathering into a zigzag hemline, exercised the sculptor’s imagination and taste for variety of pattern, answering his other interest in the patterns of male anatomy. Breasts are admitted to exist, but not much admired. On later korai (maidens) the material is drawn tightly round the legs to show them and the buttocks as though bare, but the gesture and motif were designed at first simply to offer a pattern of diagonal folds across the lower half of the figure. One early statue from Attica  is, as a statue of a woman, gaunt and clumsy, redeemed only by the bold carving and simple drapery. The outer garment is the heavy peplos . This is the dress of what is perhaps the finest of the ladies from Athens, the Peplos Kore , but it was not a garment which fully satisfied the Archaic artist’s love of pattern. A new fashion and a new sculptural treatment of dress had arrived together from overseas. At this time in East Greece sculptors were experimenting with ways of diversifying the surface of the carved drapery, suggesting the folds by incised wavy lines or close-set, shallowly carved grooves. The lighter and more voluminous chiton, which Athenian korai had sometimes worn as an undershift, lent itself more to this sort of treatment, offering full sleeves and skirts which could be gathered into a multiplicity of folds. These were further varied by drawing aside the skirt, in the manner which later showed off the legs, by slinging the himation cloak diagonally across the upper body to answer the folds across the legs, and by painting the elaborate patterns of embroidered hems. These new chiton-korai have their effect on the series known to us from the finds on the Athenian Acropolis from about the mid-6th century on , and there is evidence from signed bases and the style of some pieces that East Greek artists (such as Archermos of Chios) were at work in the city. Under the influence of these men (mainly Ionians and islanders) some of the kore heads even begin to look feminine. Towards the end of the Archaic period more attention is paid to the form of the body beneath the drapery and the features change, as did those of the kouroi. The only female type apart from the kore is the novel winged Victory (Nike)  which proves a popular subject for commemorative monuments for centuries to come.
77 The Berlin Goddess from an Attic countryside cemetery (Keratea). She holds a pomegranate and wears the polos headdress. About 570–560 BC. Height 1.9 m. (Berlin 1800)
78 The Peplos Kore from the Athenian Acropolis. A bronze wreath and earrings had been added separately. Her hair and lips are painted red, lashes and brows black, and the pattern on her dress green. About 530 BC. Three-quarters lifesize. (Acr. 679)
79 Styles of Archaic dress
80 A kore from the Athenian Acropolis, the work of an Ionian artist, probably from Chios. She wears a chiton and himation. The chiton was blue, and red and blue were used on dress patterns, earrings and necklet. About 525 BC. Half lifesize. (Acr. 675)
81 Nike from Delos, the earliest of the winged Victories. She had wings at her back and heels, wears a peplos and chiton fastened by disc brooches. The inscribed base reads, ‘Farshooter [Apollo, receive this] fine figure [… worked by] the skills of Archermos, from the Chian Mikkiades …’. Archermos was a Chian sculptor who also worked in Athens. About 550 BC. Height 90 cm. (Athens 21)
All these statues in the round are very much set-pieces offering no variety of pose. There were many active regional schools making such figures, not necessarily determined by the styles of East Greeks or Athenians. The role of the former has been remarked. Their penchant for dressed kouroi and spherical heads was not one that travelled, but they were otherwise more influential than Athens from the mid-6th century on.
For more ambitious sculptural compositions we have to look for work in relief, especially on buildings. The arts of sculpture and architecture in Greece were inspired by the same source and always went hand-in-hand. The architecture was never simply the vehicle for the sculpture, nor was the sculpture merely decoration: its position enhanced and helped to articulate parts of the building and its themes added something to the sanctity of the temple, sometimes carrying profound religious and political messages. On Doric buildings the sculptor filled the rectangular metopes with individual groups of two or more figures. Fights are a natural choice but pursuits are found too, and occasionally the action is carried across from one metope to the next. Series of metopes may be linked by a theme like the Argonaut stories on the Sicyonian building at Delphi , or the deeds of Theseus and Heracles on the Athenian Treasury there. Some of the early metope compositions are the most bold, with frontal views of horsemen, the proud march of the heroes turned cattle-rustlers, and the duels of men, or man and monster.
82 A metope from a Sicyonian building at Delphi. Castor and Polydeuces (the Dioscuri), Idas and Lynceus (missing here), stole cattle in the course of the Argonaut expedition. Heroes and cattle march in step, the beasts penned in by the spears. Names were painted on the background. About 560 BC. Height 62 cm. (Delphi)
The low triangles at the ends of gabled roofs – pediments – offered an awkward field. At first they are filled by an imposing central figure, flanked by other figures or groups at different scales, out towards the corners. Our earliest complete example is from the Temple of Artemis in Corfu, with a big central Gorgon. Sometimes a single theme or story occupies the composition, but the diminishing scale away from the centre does not make for unity, and in some instances looks rather ridiculous. Prostrate bodies or fish- and snake-tailed monsters were favourites for corners, such as the entwined heroes or demons with snake tails from Athena’s Temple on the Acropolis at Athens . These, like many other early architectural sculptures, are carved in limestone, which was, if necessary, covered with a coat of stucco to provide a smooth surface, and was brilliantly painted. The backgrounds were painted deep blue or red to help the lighter figures stand out from the shadows of the gables. By the end of the Archaic period unity of scale was observed for all the figures in the pediment, except the central divinity, and battle scenes (at Aegina and Athens) provided the sort of stooping, falling or recumbent figures which could fill the awkward frame [84, 85].
83 A limestone group in the corner of the pediment of the Temple of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis. Three male torsos, winged and with entwined serpent bodies. They have been variously interpreted in the light of the symbols they hold – water, corn, a bird. Hair and beards are blue, eyes black, skin yellow, and there is red and black on the feathers and scaly stripes. About 550–540 BC. Height of foremost figure 71 cm. (Acr.)
84 Restored east pediment from the Temple of Aphaea on Aegina. Athena at the centre supervises a battle at Troy, perhaps the earlier encounter where Heracles took part. The fighting figures are carved in the round and their struggling poses well suit the awkward field. About 490–480 BC. Height at centre 4.2 m. (Munich)
85 Heracles, wearing a lion-head helmet, from the east pediment at Aegina . Height 79 cm. (Munich)
The sculptures on Ionic buildings are applied according to less rigid rules – or rather, individual and local tastes were given free expression. From the massive Temple of Artemis at Ephesus we have only scraps of relief figures which decorated drums of the columns and friezes from the gutter and, perhaps, the cella wall. A better example is afforded by the Treasury dedicated by the islanders of Siphnos at Delphi in about 525 BC. Here the porch columns are replaced by korai, there are rich floral carvings round the door and at the gutter, and figure friezes run on all sides just below the roof. They offer very different answers to the problem of composing a narrative frieze; and the hands of two artists of strongly differing temperament can be detected (east and north by one; west and south by the other). On the north there is the battle of gods and giants , surging across the frieze in such a way as to obscure the divisions between individual duels and encounters; on the west there is the tripartite treatment of the Judgment of Paris (answering the three gaps on the building’s façade), each goddess with her chariot, in which the story is conveyed by telling details of gesture; on the east a Trojan episode, where on one half we see the gods sitting in council on Olympus to judge the duel of heroes on the Trojan plain that appears in the other half; on the south a fragmentary processional which may include a mythical occasion.
86 From the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi. Battle of gods and giants. The gods fight from the left (the usual Greek convention for victors). The figures were named. The figure with an animal skin is Dionysus, then Themis in her lion-chariot with Apollo and Artemis before it. About 525 BC. Height 63 cm. (Delphi)
Finally, there are the acroteria which appear on both Doric and Ionic buildings – figures in the round at gable corners and crown, generally of monsters, sphinxes, griffins or gorgons, sometimes simply massive floral complexes.
The sculpture on these buildings is almost in the round, wholly so in pediments by the end of the period, but the poses and groups are far more ambitious than any for free-standing statuary. There are a few free-standing groups of Archaic figures, mainly East Greek; they stand shoulder-to-shoulder, like American football teams, and do not interact. We have rather to compare the figure drawing on vases, and in fact most Archaic relief sculpture is readily explained in terms of the line drawing on the uncut block, from which the sculptor started. Where the relief was shallow it meant that all the detail was brought to the front plane, even though the figures were shown as overlapping. Only on the very high relief of some metopes and pediments, where the figures are mainly or wholly detached from the background, do we have works carved properly in the round, allowing intelligible three-quarter views. But the compositions remain the same, uninhibited by the greater difficulties presented by the carving.
Shallow relief, picked out in colour, was used for another class of monuments – gravestones. We know best those in Athens and the countryside. At the start of the 6th century the gravestones were tall shafts (stelai) topped by sphinxes , but soon the shaft was carved in relief with a representation of the dead. Youths are shown as athletes, shouldering a discus or holding their oil-bottles, and men as warriors , all in an upright stance, like profile views of the kouroi they so much resemble in the detail of their carving. A youth is once shown with his young sister, another fragmentary stone has a mother holding her child, but it is unusual for the tall thin shafts to carry more than one figure. These reliefs represent the dead without being real portraits, but they do admit more differentiation of age and profession than did the grave kouroi. The distinctions between adolescence (athletes), maturity (warriors) and advanced age (leaning on a staff, with a dog) come to be observed and what might be called generalized portraiture is seen in the puffy features of a boxer .
87 Marble sphinx from the top of a gravestone in a cemetery near Athens (Spata). She wears a polos. About 550 BC. Height 46 cm. (Athens 28)
88 Gravestone of Aristion from Attica (Velanideza), signed by the artist Aristocles. The background was painted red and there are traces of red and blue on the figure, while patterns on the corselet show where colour had been. About 510 BC. Height without base 2.4 m. (Athens 29)
89 Fragment of a gravestone from Athens with the head of a boxer, his ears bruised, his hands bound. About 540 BC. Height 23 cm. (Athens, Ker.)
After about 530 the sphinxes on gravestones had been replaced by simpler palmette finials. This is another example of East Greek influence in Athens, for the type had been known in Ionia for a generation already, although the shafts there were not normally carved. The type with the slim tall shaft was abandoned in Athens before the Persian Wars, but persisted in the islands.
Reliefs appear on other monuments as well. Statue and stele bases may be so decorated. Several of these have been found in Athens’ main cemetery, carved with scenes of athletes  or young men taking their ease. They also served as votive offerings in sanctuaries. These votive reliefs may be carved with representations of the deity, or of an act of worship in which the dedicator may be thought to figure among the worshippers and some show the dedicator alone. The best of these reliefs were set in the rock or stood upon pillars. Indeed, apart from the temple itself, the greater part of the decoration of a Greek sanctuary was made up of private dedications set in positions of honour or obscurity according to their size or merit, or to the relative importance and popularity of the dedicator. A special class of votive is represented by the figures of lions (Delos) or seated figures (Didyma) which flanked processional ways in the Egyptian manner. Lions too could serve as tomb-markers, and, as a change from the threatening Eastern type, the more domestic Egyptian beast is copied by some East Greek artists, with fine regard for the quality of heavy pelt and pattern of mane . It is easy to forget how good Greek artists can be at animals. Such personal or state commissions to architects and sculptors are an important feature of Archaic Greece. The artist is hired to do a job, to please or impress mortals or divinities.
90 Relief on the base of a statue marking a grave in Athens. It had been built into Athens’ walls in the hurried refortification after the Persian Wars. Athletes are training: a runner in the starting position; wrestlers; a youth testing the point of his javelin. About 510 BC. Length 82 cm. (Athens 3476)
91 A marble lion from the cemetery at Miletus. Lions served as grave-markers from the late 7th century on. About 550 BC. Length 1.76 m. (Berlin 1790)
With these monumental arts already so well established in Greece in the Archaic period it is inevitable that they take pride of place over what is still our most bountiful source of information about Greek art and taste – vase painting.
Decorating clay vases seldom called for high art, though some of the artists so occupied were consummate draughtsmen. Their wares were not expensive (a day’s wage for a decent small vase) but some specialist production, first in Corinth and later in Athens, won markets all over and beyond the Greek world. It must have looked as unusual and desirable to many as Chinese porcelain did at first to Europeans. It was not quite as novel everywhere, and regional schools in Greece are busy through much of the 6th century, but Athenian potters won rich markets in Etruria and the Western Greek colonies, and held them until local competition in South Italy provided a real alternative. What attracted must have been the quality of the potting, with its fine black gloss paint, and the narrative entertainment of the figure decoration. Such a massive trade in breakables must have made a lot of money for the middlemen. Its survival qualities make it important for us as a field for study in its own right and for what it may teach about other and senior crafts.
By the end of the 7th century the Athenian vase painter had adopted wholeheartedly the black-figure technique, which had already been practised at Corinth for a century. With it came also the animal frieze style of Corinth, and for a generation or more the greater part of Athens’ vases is covered with rows of animals – lions, goats, boars, sphinxes. But the monumental character of Athens’ pottery had not been forgotten, and while at Corinth the gross creatures wandered lost in a maze of filling rosettes in a repetitive, mass-produced style, the Athenian beasts were better managed. The Nessos Painter was one of the first to use black figure in Athens. He still painted large funeral vases, and beasts upon them are commensurately massive, precisely and boldly drawn in a manner not matched in Corinth. And the narrative scenes persist beside the animals on many vases, generally taking the prior position. The success of this new style in Athenian black-figure pottery is shown by the way it penetrates markets hitherto served only by Corinth.
92 Sarcophagus from the Troad. The man buried within it seeks to equate his tomb with the one taken to be that of Achilles nearby. It shows the sacrifice of the Trojan princess Polyxena at Achilles’ tomb mound: a bid for association with the ‘heroic’ past. (Cesme)
I called the artist the Nessos Painter. A few ancient painters and potters signed a small proportion of their work, but the nature of the drawing, highly stylized and surviving in significant quantity, makes it possible to attribute groups to individual hands on the basis of their ‘handwriting’, usually the rendering of trivial details, and the correctness of the exercise can be proved by those few already signed. This adds an important dimension to the study, but we have often to use sobriquets, like the Nessos Painter, rather than real names.
The Nessos Painter was succeeded, early in the 6th century, by others who worked in the animal frieze style  as well as with narrative scenes, but by about 570 Athenian interest in figure scenes rather than animals is beginning to win the day. The François Vase [94, 95], a wine-mixing-bowl (crater) found in an Etruscan grave, carries six figured friezes on either side, of which only one is occupied by animals – fighting and posed heraldically over florals, while on the rest and on the handles more than two hundred figures act out mythological scenes. Almost all the figures, and some objects, are labelled with their names and both potter and painter, Ergotimos and Kleitias, signed their work, twice. From now on animal friezes and florals are suppressed to subsidiary positions and the painter increases his repertory of mythological themes. Even the gorgoneion which serves to fill many circular fields in cups or on plates in the 6th century is the product of a mythical adventure, also shown on vases – Perseus’ encounter with the Gorgon-Medusa and his removal of her (literally) petrifying head. The same head appears often as an appropriate device on shields. The new dedication to the depiction of myth leads to massive Athenian production, much of it, it seems, in a lively style for the export market .
93 Detail of an Athenian amphora by the Gorgon Painter, pupil of the Nessos Painter. Early 6th century BC. (Louvre E 187)
94 The François Vase, a volute crater, the earliest well-preserved example of an Athenian vase almost wholly devoted to myth scenes. From Chiusi. About 570 BC. Height 66 cm.
95 Detail shows the ship coming to pick up Theseus and the Athenians he had rescued from the Minotaur. One eager sailor swims ashore and at the right the victory dance begins. The figures are unusually animated for the period. (Florence 4209)
96 Athenian black-figure amphora, the so-called Tyrrhenian type which seems to have been an export model for Etruria. Zeus, seated right, bears Athena, emerging from his head, attended by goddesses of childbirth. Behind are Hermes, Hephaistos who had cleaved Zeus’ head with his axe, and Dionysus; all named. (Berlin F 1704)
New artists set high standards in painting table vases (the big funeral vases had gone out of fashion). The Amasis Painter’s lithe figures  show an unexpected, vivid humour. His potter-work is equally individual and it is likely that we have here to deal with a painter-potter of rare distinction. His contemporary (of the mid-century and after) Exekias offers a strong contrast in an almost Classical style with figures of dignity and presence . The vases these artists decorate are wine- or olive-oil-jars (amphorae), water-jars (hydriae) or wine-mixing-bowls (craters). On cups we find a more miniaturist style reminiscent of Protocorinthian. Greek cups generally have two horizontal side handles. The Corinthian type, with a deep bowl, was replaced in Athens by varieties with a broad shallow bowl set on a high splaying stem, like that of a wine-glass. These may have their lips plain (lip cups) with small figures or groups decorating them, or black (band cups) with figures in the band between the handles. Inside there may be a figure or group within a circle, and the rest of the vase is painted with the fine, lustrous black paint which is one of the most appealing features of all good Athenian vases. Their artists are the so-called Little Masters .
97 Athenian amphora by the Amasis Painter. Dionysus with dancing nymphs and youths. About 530 BC. Height 44 cm. (Basel)
98 An Athenian black-figure amphora by Exekias. Achilles kills the Amazon queen Penthesilea at Troy. From Vulci. About 540 BC. (London 1836,0224.127)
99 Athenian Little Master band cup detail, with lions and leopards attacking a bull and a mule. About 540 BC. (Oxford)
The painters of the later part of the 6th century offer a somewhat racier, sometimes sketchy, style. It occasionally succeeds in combining the precision of Exekias with the new verve, but the influence is now that of another vase painting technique, red figure, to which we must turn in a moment. Before we do, it should be admitted that not all the fine black-figure vases of the 6th century are Athenian. The Corinthians continued in brisk competition to around 550, emulating and in some respects still even inspiring the figure scenes and shapes of Athenian vases. They achieve a decorative effect in colour which the Athenian seldom looked for, preferring detailed drawing by incision and freer composition. But the output of painted pottery for export seems to have been an important factor in Corinth’s potters’ quarter, especially the colourful craters which were sent west to Etruria . Why the Corinthians stopped decorating vases in this manner is rather a mystery; their quality was as good as ever and it cannot all be a matter of Athenian competition. Soon, however, Athenian potters (such as Nikosthenes) sought out the new markets with export models especially designed for them, copying shapes familiar to the Etruscan customers.
100 Corinthian crater showing a married couple in a chariot. Red and white are used freely and the detail on the white is painted, not incised. The background has been reddened to heighten the polychrome effect. By the Three Maidens Painter. From Cerveteri. About 560 BC. Height 42.5 cm. (Vatican MGE 126)
Other schools, dependent in varying degrees upon Corinth and Athens, produced black-figure vases for their local markets. Spartan cups had some success overseas but their figures are stiff and lifeless though often very precisely drawn. Such East Greek schools as were not ringing the changes on the old outline style of the Wild Goats also produced black figure, generally fussy and highly coloured, but also some delicate cups of great charm and originality [101, 102]. On these, and the Spartan cups, we often see whirling compositions, or scenes which own no top or bottom, such as the Athenian artists generally eschewed, and more of the interior is filled with the scene . In South Italy Chalcidian potters had set up shop perhaps in Rhegium (Reggio) and had some success in Italy and Sicily with vases on which the finer motifs of the other schools were combined with a superb decorative sensibility and telling economy of line . Emigrant artists from East Greece had some success in Etruria and promoted distinguished local schools of black figure. An Ionian artist working in Caere (Cerveteri) made a series of superbly colourful hydriae which were in some demand locally. He shows a rare sense of humour as well as imagination in his treatment of myth , and sometimes the story is outside the usual vase painters’ repertory: perhaps more dependent on painting traditions in his eastern home which were not expressed on pottery.
101 A chalice, made in Chios. The shape, thin walls and fine surface are distinctive of the class, which was widely exported. This is from a Greek colony (Taucheira) in Libya. About 560 BC. Height 18 cm. (Tocra)
102 An East Greek Little Master cup, probably made in Samos, but found in Etruria. The detail is not incised but reserved. A man dances between trees; to the left a bird brings food to fledgelings, approached by a snake and a locust. About 550 BC. Diameter 23 cm. (Louvre F 68)
103 Spartan black-figure cup. Bellerophon attacks the Chimaera which is posed over him opposite the hero’s mount, Pegasus. About 570–565 BC. Diameter 14 cm. (Malibu 85.AE.121)
104 Chalcidian black-figure column crater with cocks and snakes and a characteristically plump bud frieze. From Vulci. About 530 BC. Height 37 cm. (Würzburg 147)
105 A Caeretan hydria, made by a Greek artist in Etruria. Heracles delivers the hound of Hades, Cerberus, to Eurystheus, who has jumped terrified into a storage jar. About 510 BC. Height 43 cm. (Louvre E 701)
Although the individuality of these schools, and of the different artists in Athens, can be appreciated at a glance, there were fairly rigidly observed conventions in black figure, and an overall unity of style which developed slowly. The black silhouette with incised detail remained the basic element. Red was used more often than in the 7th century – for hair and beards, on drapery, and for a while in early black figure to show masculine sunburnt faces. Women’s faces and bodies are in white, painted over the black silhouette which showed through the incised details, and white appears on drapery patterns. The male-red, female-white convention was observed in Egyptian art, and is, after all, an approximation to life. The figures are shown in a strictly profile view although it was usually found easier to show the chest frontal, especially in moving figures. For running or flying the figures appear as kneeling with elbows thrown high. The eye too is frontal even in a profile head, a disc for men, almond shape for women, on Athenian vases. Frontal heads and bodies are rare except for grotesque or horrific creatures like satyrs, centaurs and gorgons, or human figures who seem to be appealing to the viewer for sympathy. The representation of drapery changes from flat enveloping folds to elaborately patterned pleats and zigzag hems, exactly like the carving of the marble korai after the mid-century. Emotion is expressed by gesture – hands tearing hair in grief, gestures of farewell, of animated conversation, of abandoned joy; rarely a facial detail like a furrowed brow or clenched teeth. The women are ageless, with only the occasional matron. For the men a beard marks maturity or status, and white hair or partial baldness and bent shoulders old age.
Conventions, too, govern the way in which the more popular scenes are shown, and the accepted way of depicting, for instance, the Judgment of Paris or the departure of a warrior, is rarely changed or abandoned by artists. The formulae in fact help to tell the story. The composition of a scene need not be bound by time or space. By expressing the roles of the actors through attribute or pose something more than an event can be expressed, and the viewer may be reminded of earlier events and the outcome. This technique is often called ‘synoptic’ but this implies a deliberate choice of significant detail by the artist, which was probably seldom the case. It is common to many places and periods; even film has not rendered it altogether obsolete. Sometimes even a seemingly non-narrative symmetrical or heraldic composition reveals a deeper intention. Thus, a bronze plaque from Olympia shows a warrior between centaurs, but is resolved into Kaineus being beaten into the ground by them; or a Spartan vase where two monsters rear over a hero, which becomes a Bellerophon with Pegasus fighting the Chimaera , an alternative to the more natural confrontation. But within these conventions individual skill and imagination could still be expressed. Scenes of myth predominate, especially the deeds of popular heroes like Heracles . There are also more formal studies of the gods, alone or in groups. Many of the vases are designed to serve a drinking-party, and scenes with the god of wine, Dionysus, are naturally common. In his entourage is one of the most engaging figures of Archaic art – the satyr. An earlier poet had called satyrs ‘unemployable layabouts’. Not until the 6th century did artists look for a way of showing these creatures, and decided to use them both in the service of the wine god Dionysus and to demonstrate embarrassingly human weaknesses and some uninhibited wish-fulfillment. This is a characteristically Greek way of expressing through the supernatural some of the less admirable aspects of contemporary behaviour, and especially male problems in the sex war. The satyrs’ role becomes a subtle commentary on the human, a means of expressing views about behaviour, sex, and even religion that did not come easily to media other than images [107–110]. The centaur type, part man, part horse, may have suggested their physical form, since the satyr is little more than an abbreviated centaur, with shaggy head, horse’s ears and tail, and two human or horse’s legs. The centaurs had shown a fondness for wine and women; the satyrs added song, and in Dionysus’ service they even play a part in the early development of the Greek theatre.
106 Detail of an Athenian black-figure amphora, by Psiax (who also painted red figure). Heracles has to wrestle the Nemean Lion which cannot be hurt by weapons. From Vulci. About 520 BC. (Brescia)
107 Red-figure cup signed by Phintias. A large satyr is being assaulted by a naked woman. About 510 BC. (Karlsruhe 63.104)
It is easy to interpret all these mythological scenes as expressions of no more than Greek love of colourful narrative. Certainly, few seem to express any deeper religious feeling. But in other ancient cultures, and in later Classical art and literature, myth is freely used metaphorically to comment on contemporary problems of life or politics. In the absence of explicit references in texts it is not possible to be sure that this was also true of the Archaic period, but we may suspect that Heracles, as favourite of Athena, was exploited by Athens’ rulers, who naturally claimed Athena’s patronage, and could use or even invent mythical (but to the Greeks, historical) occasions to illustrate events, or justify new policies. Peisistratus once returned to power with a charade in which he was driven in a chariot by a mock-Athena back to the Acropolis, an event surely inspired by scenes of Athena’s introduction of Heracles to Olympus by chariot. And after the 6th century, although Heracles was bound to remain popular, he had to yield to a new and rather more overtly political interest in a rival, local hero Theseus, who symbolized the new democracy. All these contemporary messages can be read in the vase paintings of the day.
Besides these scenes of myth, everyday life was not neglected – weddings, burials, gossip at the fountain, courtship and love, and, of course, the drinking-party; but some of the finest examples of these subjects, and an even greater range of them, are to be found on Athenian vases painted in the new technique which was to oust black figure – red figure.
The black-figure vases were still being made in the 5th century but in their last phase they take second place – except for some traditional prize vases which perpetuate the old technique (the Panathenaic amphorae) – to vases painted in what we call the red-figure style. This had been introduced in Athens about 530 BC. It is an exact reversal of black figure. The background now, and not the figure, is painted black, and so the figures appear in the red of the clay ground (the colour may be heightened), and the details are painted upon them in line detail where before they had been incised. In fact we are back with the outline drawings of the Orientalizing period, which had never been quite forgotten, even by some black-figure artists (such as Sophilos and the Amasis Painter). The brush is a more subtle implement than the incising point, and although at first treatment of figures and detail is not much different from black figure, in time the more flowing line assists a more realistic rendering of anatomy and drapery. The fact that the outline of the figure is limited by a line, and not the outer edge of the silhouette mass, also has its effect. Colour now plays virtually no part, and only the lightest touches of red and white – even occasionally gilding – appear, but variety is admitted by the use of thinned paint for light anatomical detail, fine drapery or hair, and a relief line of brilliance and body for more important outlines and strokes. Men and women have to be distinguished by features, dress and anatomy now, not colour. The line of the body is sketched through the intricate drapery patterns and there are plenty of brilliant and perceptive studies of the female nude, which we look for in vain in sculpture of this date. The musculature of the male body is more accurately observed; the abrupt transition between frontal chest and profile hips is managed plausibly, and even back three-quarter views and bold foreshortening of limbs are soon brought off. The eye is gradually shown in a proper profile view, but frontal heads are still avoided, and three-quarter views of heads seldom attempted. There are even a few examples of light shading which helps to lend an illusion of mass to the linear drawing of objects. Within a generation the new technique effected greater advances in the graphic arts than black figure had achieved in over a century.
The earliest of the red-figure artists, the Andocides Painter , decorated vases which also carried scenes in the old black-figure technique (done by him or a companion) and other artists produced these bilinguals. The new style had its effect on the old – quite apart from the way in which it gradually stifled it. For example, the silhouette is more often now defined by a line, incised . Subjects and stories remain unchanged but there is a shift of emphasis in the representations of some myths, many more genre scenes of athletics or drinking parties, and we see rather more specialization among the painters, who are attracted to work on either large or small vases (usually cups). The first half-century of red figure produced most of its great masters. Artists like Euphronios  and Euthymides were working before 500 in a classic style which owed something to the work of Exekias and for its precision and command of line can compare with the very best in contemporary statuary. These so-called Pioneers specialized in larger vases. Euthymides is probably also the master of a larger work, a clay plaque from the Acropolis, with a warrior painted part in outline, part in black figure . Among contemporaries, working on smaller vases generally, are Oltos, a robust, economical draughtsman, and Epiktetos, whose figures are closer to those on the large vases but more delicately conceived . At the end of our period the greatest names (or pseudonyms) are the Berlin Painter and the Kleophrades Painter. The Berlin Painter appreciated the effect that could be made with single figure studies or small groups. His is perhaps the most skilful use of this strange technique which forces all the figures to the foreground, before an inky backdrop . The Kleophrades Painter, more an intellectual to judge from his themes, lacked nothing in sober strength, but many of his subjects are treated with an originality and verve  that we associate more with the cup-painters. Of these there are several artists of the first rank working in Athens in the opening years of the 5th century. Their cups are the new, high-stemmed kylikes, with a shallow open bowl which offered a circular field for decoration within (appearing to the drinker through his wine), and two broad arcs on the outside for frieze compositions which were best appreciated when the cup was hanging on the wall (the foot carefully sized so as not to obscure the drawing). Onesimos delicately ranged from residual Archaic vigour  to the dignity which is to typify the succeeding period, and which is especially characteristic of his later work. Douris, a rather finicky but expressive artist, also had a long career. His vase shown here is a psykter or cooler . Filled with wine it would stand in a bigger bowl full of ice-cold water or snow. The Brygos Painter’s notable output included a magnificently full series of Dionysiac  and drinking-party scenes with shrewd characterizations of drunkenness, excitement or lassitude, as well as more formal mythological scenes in the grand manner.
108 Interior of a red-figure cup by Onesimos. An excited satyr squats on a pointed wine amphora. From Orvieto. About 500 BC. (Boston 10. 179)
109 A red-figure psykter (wine-cooler) by Douris. Satyrs at a party. From Cerveteri. About 480 BC. Height 29 cm. (London 1868,0606.7)
110 Red-figure cup by the Brygos Painter. Satyrs move to assault the goddess Hera. Hermes intervenes cautiously but Heracles threatens them with force. From Capua. About 480 BC. Diameter 27.5 cm. (London 1873,0820.376)
111 Detail from an Athenian red-figure amphora by the Andocides Painter, with the goddess Artemis wearing chiton, himation, wreath and earrings. Incision is still used, round her hair. She holds a formal flower while watching, unconcerned, a contest between her brother Apollo and Heracles. From Vulci. About 525 BC. (Berlin F 2159)
112 Red-figure calyx crater by Euphronios. One athlete binds up his penis, another practises with a discus before a trainer, another folds clothes. About 510 BC. Width 44.4 cm. (Berlin 2180)
113 Clay plaque from the Athenian Acropolis, probably painted by Euthymides, a known vase painter. It bore the motto ‘Megacles is handsome’ but the name was erased and Glaucytes substituted, probably after Megacles was ostracized. About 500 BC. Width 50 cm. (Acr. 1037)
114 Red-figure plate by Epiktetos. From Vulci. About 510 BC. Diameter 18.7 cm. (London 1867,0508.1022)
115 Detail from an amphora by the Berlin Painter with Heracles wearing lionskin, with club, bow and quiver. Notice the difference between the strong relief line and thinned lines for anatomy and on dress, and the relief ringlets in hair and beard. About 480 BC. (Basel BS 456)
116 The head of a dancing maenad from an amphora by the Kleophrades Painter. She wears an animal skin, painted in a pale wash, over chiton and shawl. A snake winds up one arm and she holds a thyrsos, a reed with cluster of ivy leaves at the top. From Vulci. About 490 BC. (Munich 2344)
It will be realized that painting is a misnomer for the art of red figure. There is hardly any colour, and no more variety of intensity in the painting than can be copied in line drawing with a pencil. Euthymides’ plaque  shows what work on a larger scale might have looked like. The light background would have been the rule for any painting on walls or wooden panels, of which hardly any have survived  and we have to look to work on the periphery of the Greek world – in Italy and Anatolia  – to get some idea of what contemporary major painting must have looked like. For its conventions it seems likely that it was little different from vase painting writ large but enjoying the added realism of the light background and a greater range of colour.
117 Painted wooden votive plaque from a cave at Pitsa, near Corinth, in Corinthian style and with Corinthian inscriptions. A scene of sacrifice. About 530 BC. Length 30 cm. (Athens)
118 Tomb painting at Elmali, in Persian-dominated Lycia (southwest Turkey). The subjects are part eastern, part Greek, and the style must be that of other major painting in the East Greek world, not otherwise well preserved. About 500 BC
There are countless smaller objects, in clay, bronze or more precious materials, upon which the artists lavished their skills. Generally the style and subject-matter of the decoration is as that of the major or better documented arts such as sculpture and vase painting, but occasionally the special demands of material, technique or purpose, or the inspiration of different foreign models, produced original and new art forms. The customers were not always the very rich, it seems.
Figurines in clay, mass-produced from a mould and generally painted before being fired, are common dedications in sanctuaries, but they were naturally not accorded any place of honour and were from time to time swept out or buried to make way for more. The same figures, of men, women, gods or animals, could serve as offerings in a grave, toys for children or household decoration. The original models, from which the moulds were made, were often fine works of miniature sculpture, to which the decorative figurines which abound on sites and in museums rarely do justice. A different class is the hollow figure-vase serving as a perfume-flask . The type had been known in the 7th century and is further elaborated in the 6th. Clay figures in the round or in relief also serve as revetments, acroteria or gutter terminals on the smaller buildings, and some of these are notable works of art, especially those from Western Greek sites (in Sicily and South Italy) . Here there was no fine white marble and techniques of minor and major clay statuary were soon highly developed.
119 Clay antefix for a roof from Gela in Sicily. Satyrs are by this time often shown with human ears, but these are still animal. Early 5th century BC. Height 19.5 cm. (Gela)
120 Clay figure-vase of a youth binding his hair. Probably Athenian, and from Athens. About 530 BC. Height 25.5 cm. (Agora P 1231)
Sheet bronze with incised or hammered detail was an important medium for figure decoration on a variety of objects: on the bands fastening the handles inside hoplite shields – a southern Greek speciality  – or the pectoral from Samos  which preserves precious evidence for East Greek narrative styles.
121 Drawing of a bronze shield-band relief, an important field for myth scenes in the 6th century, representing subjects current in south Greece, not always quite the same as those familiar from Athenian vases. Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are murdering Agamemnon. From Olympia. About 560 BC. Width 7.2 cm. (Olympia)
122 Hollow-cast (direct method) bronze Apollo from Piraeus, found with a cache of later statues, probably en route to Italy but overtaken by Sulla’s sack of the town in 86 BC. He held a bow in his left hand, a phiale in his right. A classical in date but archaizing work in the style of the late 6th century. Height 1.92 m. (Piraeus)
123 Bronze pectoral from Samos showing Heracles fighting the three-bodied Geryon. East Greek artists were freer with myth scenes on their bronzes (few preserved) than on their vases. About 610 BC. (Samos 2518)
Figurines in bronze are cast solid from models similar to those from which moulds for clay figures were made, but finer (of wax, not clay) and, except in rare instances where moulds were kept for re-use, they were singletons which were destroyed in the casting. Larger statuary up to lifesize was being made in bronze by the end of the Archaic period , using the cire perdue method which also required a finished full-size model in clay. This model was lost when the figure was cast direct onto it, but by the indirect method moulds were made and could be reused for repairs or for other, adjusted figures. The method produced light, hollow figures with a thin fabric. The casting replaced the wax which had coated the inside of the moulds (not the outside of the model) with bronze, the body of the figure being filled with a core which could be chipped out. We have already noted the importance of this major modelling technique in the history of Greek art, and the flexibility of design that it allowed.
The bronze figurines  are sometimes independent works – votive or decorative – but more often were applied to other objects, especially bronze vases. These were naturally more valuable than the clay vessels, but few have survived. The great mixing-bowls (craters) had hammered bowls to which were applied cast-bronze figures – the volute handles fashioned with gorgons at the point of attachment to the bowl, elaborately moulded hoops for the lip and foot, and sometimes relief figures of animals, warriors or horsemen round the neck but no decoration on the body where the clay vases have their figure scenes. The finest of these bronzes are found in the export market; the largest complete being from as far away as Vix, on the Seine, where the nearly six-foot-high vessel lay in the grave of a Celtic princess . Smaller bronze vessels may have patterns incised on their bodies, but their handles are cast, with heads, animals or palmettes at either end, sometimes the whole body of an animal or a youth serving as the handle of a jug. From Egypt came the idea of using a human figure as the handle for a mirror or dish. The ladies supporting the Greek mirrors (the reflecting discs were burnished or silvered bronze) are sometimes naked, like their Egyptian kin. The style and shapes of this bronzework were as readily rendered in silver , which has naturally survived less well. With the advent of coinage silver acquired a bullion role, but also became more familiar on the tables of the rich to the point of being disparaged for its hubristic display in the Classical period.
124 Bronze solid cast figure of a man at a feast, from the rim of a bronze vessel. About 520 BC. Length 10 cm. (London 1954,1018.1)
125 Bronze crater from Vix (France). The handles, rim, foot and figures on the neck were cast separately and labelled for assembly on arrival. The style is Spartan. About 530 BC. Height 1.64 m. (Châtillon-sur-Seine)
126 Silver jug with cast handle from a Lydian tomb in Turkey. About 525 BC. Height 18 cm. (Ankara, returned from New York)
In the art of gem-engraving there are striking innovations in materials and technique. Harder stones – carnelian, chalcedony and agate – are introduced from the Near East, and with them the use of a cutting-wheel on a lathe which managed tougher material more easily and had not been used in Greece since the Bronze Age. Scarab seals become the most popular shape, the Egyptian form with a beetle carved on the back, the stone being set in a pendant or on a swivel as a finger ring. This new phase in Greek gem-engraving seems to have been initiated by East Greek artists, probably in Cyprus where the Phoenicians and Phoenician art were to be found. The Eastern influence, beyond the material and technique, was minimal, and very soon local schools can be distinguished in East Greece producing exquisite intaglio devices in the purest Late Archaic styles [127, 129]. The cutting of dies for coins is a craft akin to that of the gem-engraver . Electrum (white gold) coins were struck first in Asia Minor and East Greece, probably by the early 6th century, and by the end of the Archaic period most Greek cities of importance (except Sparta, who abjured this root of all evil) had their own issues of silver coinage. Some of the types are as delicately conceived as those on the best gems, though they lack the miniaturist detail, and once a coin device is established for a city a natural conservative tendency made against rapid changes of style or type. In this respect smaller states were often able to afford greater variety and originality in their coin design. As on the scarabs, with their oval fields, so the circular field of a coin presented special difficulties of composition which the Greek artist triumphantly faced, as he had done in the tondo centrepieces of painted cups. These miniaturist arts can sometimes offer works of major importance, although they are frequently ignored in favour of the more traditional or spectacular subjects.
127 Intaglio from an amethyst scarab. A satyr carries a woman. From S. Russia. About 530 BC. Height 14 mm. (St Petersburg, Hermitage 533)
128 Silver coin from Naxos in Sicily with a head of Dionysus; and an electrum coin with a winged woman from Cyzicus in the Propontis. Late 6th century BC
129 Intaglio from an agate scarab with a reclining satyr with cup and bowl. About 530 BC. Length 2.2 cm. (London 1865,0712.106)
By the early 5th century all the major arts which are to characterize Classical Greece had been established and the techniques mastered. Indeed, a great many of the special features of Classical art, particularly its peculiar blend of idealism and realism, are anticipated. If the main breakthrough in sculpture is the rejection of the kouros’ fearful symmetry, then this had happened already by the time of the Persian Wars; not in the lively poses of relief and architectural sculpture, but in figures like the Critian Boy from the Athenian Acropolis , who is still a standing frontal youth – similar to a kouros – but relaxed, with his weight shifted onto one leg, head inclined, hip raised, body gently curved: the work of a sculptor who could now express his understanding of the human body as a structure of bones and flesh, rather than a stiff-limbed puppet.
130 The Critian Boy, so named for the similarity of the head to that of the Tyrannicide Harmodius in the group by Critios and Nesiotes . From the Athenian Acropolis. About 480 BC. Height 86 cm. (Acr. 698)
When the Persian generals left their treasures behind in their tents after defeat on the battlefield of Plataea (479 BC), the Eastern objets de luxe offered bullion, but few new art forms to excite Greek artists, and soon Greece was to repay in full, and more, its debt to those Eastern crafts whose effect we have observed in the last two chapters.