Archaic Period

Greece’s Archaic period lasted from 600 to 480 BCE, in which the Greek culture expanded. The population in Greece began to rise and the Greeks began to colonize along the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The poleis at this time were typically ruled by a single ruler who commanded the city by force.

For the city of Athens, this led to the creation of democracy. Several city-states emerged as major powers, including Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. These poleis were often warring with each other, and formed coalitions to gain power and allies. The Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BCE marked the end of the Archaic period. During the Archaic Period, Delphi was an important cult site for Apollo and was home to many treasuries that housed the community’s offerings to the god.


By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the form, content, and context of key Archaic works
  • Define critical terms related to Archaic art
  • Discuss characteristics of Archaic pottery, statuary, and architecture
  • Discuss the significance of Kourous and Kore figures


The ancient site of Delphi, located in central Greece on the slope of Mt. Parnassus, was known for its Sanctuary of Apollo, the Delphic Oracle, and the Pythian Games. Delphi was home to the dragon Python who protected the navel of the earth. Apollo slew the Python, establishing his presence at the site. The Panhellenic Pythian games that were held every four years, along with musical compositions, commemorated Apollo’s victory over the beast. Not only was the site the main place of worship for the god Apollo, but it was also the home of an oracle. The oracle was a sibyl or priestess known as a Pythia.

According to myth, when Apollo slew the Python, the creature’s body fell into a fissure and began decomposing. The oracle would place her tripod seat over the fissure, inhale the fumes, and then would be possessed by Apollo, allowing him to speak through her. The Delphic Oracle was an essential part of Greek life and was consulted for matters public and private, small and large, and so had commanding power over the lives of the Greeks. The oracle’s prophecies were usually unintelligible and would be translated into poetic meter by priests.

Temple of Apollo

The site of Delphi is dominated by a central Temple of Apollo, a fourth-century BCE replacement of the Archaic sixth-century temple. One peristyle of Doric columns (the order used in Archaic architecture) surrounded the perimeter of the stylobate that rested atop two steps. Inside the Temple of Apollo was the seat of the Pythia, in a small restricted room in the back of the naos, known as an adyton, which translates to English as not to be entered.



This is a current-day photo of the Temple of Apollo. It shows the temple's foundations along with several Doric columns made of stone.
Temple of Apollo: Reconstructed Doric columns mark the east end (front) of the temple.

There was also a large theatre built into the hillside located just above the Temple of Apollo. The theatre was first built in the fourth century BCE and renovated multiple times in the following centuries. It could seat 5,000 spectators and offered a view of the entire sanctuary site and the valley.


The road leading up to the sanctuary site of Apollo was lined with votive statues and treasuries. The treasuries were built by different poleis to honour the oracle, thank her for her advice, and commemorate military victories. These small, temple-like structures held the votives and offerings made to Apollo as well as a small proportion of the spoils won in battle from each polis. Because the buildings held a wealth of materials and goods, they are known as treasuries. These buildings were single-room naosoi (plural of naos) fronted by two columns in antis and decorated in either the Doric or Ionic style.

Siphnian Treasury

The Siphnian Treasury was built for the polis of Siphnos, a city-state that occupied a Cycladic island. The Siphnians had large gold and silver mines, from which they profited enormously, and they used the profits to erect their treasury at Delphi. The treasury housed their gold and silver gifts to the gods. The Siphian Treasury was the first structure built entirely from marble when it was erected in 530 BCE and was elaborately decorated.

The two columns in the antis were not typical columns but caryatids, support columns that took the shape of women. A continuous Ionic frieze that wrapped around the top of the treasury beneath the pediment depicted scenes from Greek mythology, including a gigantomachy on the north side, the Judgment of Paris on the west side, and gods watching the sack of Troy by the Greeks on the south and east sides.

The east pediment recounts the story of Herakles stealing Apollo’s tripod, which visually connects the pediment and the treasury to the oracle site at the Temple of Apollo.



This is a photo of the east pediment of the Siphnian Treasury in Delphi, Greece.
Herakles and Apollo: Herakles stealing the tripod of Apollo. From the east pediment of the Siphnian Treasury. Marble. c. 530 BCE. Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, Greece.
This is a photo of the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury in Delphi, Greece. It depicts a struggle between the giants and gods.
Gigantomachy: A gigantomachy scene depicted on the north frieze of the Siphnian Treasury. Marble. c. 530 BCE. Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, Greece.

The figures are carved in an Archaic style and in high relief, and they are almost, but not entirely, free from the wall of the frieze. While the figures appear to be in motion, with wide stances and arms open wide for battle, the majority of them stand with both feet flat on the ground. This inhibits the sense of motion given by the rest of their bodies.

The pedimental figures are especially rigid and linear, although the figures are no longer scaled to fit into the small corners of the pediment. When looking at these figures, from the front they appear to appropriately model the body, while from the side the figures appear block-like, emphasizing the fact that they were carved from stone.

Athenian Treasury

The Athenian Treasury at Delphi was built between 510 and 480 BCE to commemorate the Athenian victory over the Persians during the Battle of Marathon. Like the Siphnian Treasury, the Athenian Treasury was constructed entirely of marble. The treasury has Doric columns and a frieze of triglyphs and thirty metopes that depict scenes from the life of Theseus, an Athenian mythological hero, and Herakles. The metopes also display the development of Archaic relief and temple decoration. The figures do not feel forced into their frame but instead, begin to fill out the scene.

Most of the scenes consist of only two characters and few scenes, such as Herakles fighting the Ceryean Hind (an enormous deer), display a new sense of ingenuity. The figure of Herakles breaks out of the frame as he leans on the hind’s back, trying to catch it. Furthermore, the figures, unlike those on the Siphnian pediment, appear modelled from all sides, as opposed to just frontally.



This is a photo from the Treasury of Athens at Delphi, Greece. It is a metope that shows Herakles catching the Ceryean Hind (the hind end of Diana's pet deer).
Herakles and Ceryean Hind: A metope depicting Herakles and Ceryean Hind. Marble. c. 510-480 BCE. Treasury of Athens, Delphi, Greece.
This is a color photo of the current-day exterior of the Athenian Treasury in Delphi, Greece. It is a columned structure with marble pillars.
Athenian treasury:  Marble. c. 510–490 BCE, Delphi, Greece.

Temple Architecture in the Greek Archaic Period

The temples of the Archaic period are the first stone temples built in Greece. They demonstrate a developing knowledge of stone building through their use of decorative spaces on buildings.

Temples of the Archaic Period

Stone temples were first built during the Archaic period in ancient Greece. Before this, they were constructed out of mud-brick and wood—simple structures that were rectangular or semi-circular in shape—that may have been enhanced with a few columns and a porch. The Archaic stone temples took their essential shape and structure from these wooden temples and the shape of a Mycenaean megaron.

Temple Design

The standard form of a Greek temple was established and then refined through the Archaic and Classical periods. Most temples were rectilinear in shape and stood on a raised stone platform, known as the stylobates, which usually had two or three stairs.



These illustrations are various examples of Greek temple plans. The standard form of a Greek temple was established and then refined through the Archaic and Classical periods. Pictured are the round Tholos, then eight examples of various rectangular temple plans.
Temple plans: These illustrations show various examples of Greek temples.

The main portion of the temple was the naos. To the front of the naos was the pronaos, or front porch. A door between the naos and pronaos provided access to the cult statue. Columns, known as prostyle, often stood in front of the pronaos. These were often aligned with moulded projections to the end of the pronaos’s wall, called the anta (plural antae). Such aligned columns were referred to as columns in antis.

A rear room, called the opisthodomos, was on the other side of the temple and naos. A wall separated the naos and opisthodomos completely. The opisthodomos was used as a treasury and held the votives and offerings left at the temple for the god or goddess. It also had a set of prostyle columns in antis that completed the symmetrical appearance of the temple.

Other Temple Plans

While this describes the standard design of Greek temples, it is not the most common form found. One notable exception to this standard was the circular tholos, dedicated to Apollo at Delphi. Columns were placed on the edge of the stylobate in a line or colonnade, which was peripteral and ran around the naos (an inner chamber that holds a cult statue) and its porches. The first stone temples varied significantly as architects and engineers were forced to determine how to properly support a roof with such a wide span. Later architects, such as Iktinos and Kallikrates who designed the Parthenon, tweaked aspects of basic temple structure to better accommodate the cult statue.

Mathematical Scale

All temples, however, were built on a mathematical scale and every aspect of them is related to one another through ratios. For instance, most Greek temples (except the earliest) followed the equation 2x + 1 = y when determining the number of columns used in the peripteral colonnade. In this equation, x stands for the number of columns across the front, the shorter end, while y designates the columns down the sides. The number of columns used along the length of the temple was twice the number plus one the number of columns across the front. Due to these mathematical ratios, we are able to accurately reconstruct temples from small fragments.

Doric Order

The style of Greek temples is divided into three different and distinct orders, the earliest of which is the Doric order. These temples had columns that rested directly on the stylobate without a base. Their shafts were fluted with twenty parallel grooves that tapered to a sharp point. The capitals of Doric columns had a simple, unadorned square abacus and a flared echinus that was often short and squashed. Doric columns are also noted for the presence of entasisor bulges in the middle of the column shaft. This was perhaps a way to create an optical illusion or to emphasize the weight of the entablature above, held up by the columns.



This is a drawing that illustrates the stylistic differences between the Doric and Ionic order.
Doric and Ionic orders: This drawing illustrates the stylistic differences between the Doric and Ionic orders. 

The Doric entablature was also unique to this style of temples. The frieze was decorated with alternating panels of triglyphs and metopes. The triglyphs were decorative panels with three grooves or glyphs that gave the panel its name. The stone triglyphs mimicked the head of wooden beams used in earlier temples. Between the triglyphs were the metopes.

Decorative Spaces

Sculptors used the metope spaces to depict mythological occurrences, often with historical or cultural links to the site on which the temple stood.



Photo depicts a metope of Herakles fighting a bull. Pieces of Herakles' limbs and body have broken off the metope.
Herakles fights the Cretan Bull: This is one of the metopes from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. It is one of the Twelve Labors depicted on the temple.

On the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (constructed between 470 BCE and 456 BCE), the choice to sculpt the Twelve Labors of Herakles was in direct correlation with the site’s Olympic Games and the spirit of triumph in a physical challenge. Most sculptors attempted to use the limited and angular space of metopes to show distinct moments that filled the shape, but not all were successful in doing so.

Another space used for decoration was the pediment at each end of the temple. Due to the larger space afforded by these sections, the sculptors often chose to depict larger and more eventful scenes.



Photo of sculptures from the pediment that show Greek warriors and Trojan warriors at battle, wielding shields, spears and bows.
The sculptures from the pediments on the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina: These scenes show fight scenes between Greeks and Trojans, such as those described in Homer’s Iliad.

The shape of the pediment made it difficult to arrange figures in a coherent and cohesive scene, so the sculptors placed the most prominent ones in the apex (the highest point of the triangle). All of these decorative sculptures would be painted in bright colours and recognizable to onlookers.

Paestum, Italy

The Greek colony at Poseidonia (now Paestum) in Italy, built two Archaic Doric temples that are still standing today.



This is a color photograph of the Temple of Hera II and Temple of Hera I, in Paestum, Italy. It shows the columns and foundations of the structures.
Temple of Hera II and Temple of Hera I: The Greek colony at Poseidonia (now Paestum) in Italy, built two Archaic Doric temples that are still standing today. Paestum, Italy. c. 500–460 BCE.

The first, the Temple of Hera I, was built in 550 BCE and differs from the standard Greek temple model dramatically. It is peripteral, with nine columns across its short ends and 18 columns along each side. The opisthodomos is accessed through the naos by two doors. There are three columns in antis across the pronaos. Inside the naos is a row of central columns, built to support the roof. The cult statue is placed at the back, in the center, and is blocked from view by the row of columns. When examining the columns, they are large, heavy, and spaced very close together. This further denotes the Greeks’ unease with building in stone and the need to properly support a stone entablature and heavy roof. The capitals of the columns are round, flat, and pancake-like.

The Temple of Hera II built almost a century later in 460 BCE, began to show the structural changes that demonstrated the Greek’s comfort and developing an understanding of building in stone, as well as the beginnings of a Classical temple style. In this example, the temple was fronted by six columns, with 14 columns along its length. The opisthodomos was separated from the naos and had its own entrance and set of columns in antis. A central flight of stairs led from the pronaos to the naos and the doors opened to look upon a central cult statue. There were still interior columns; however, they were moved to the side, permitting a prominent display of the cult statue.


The temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina is an example of Archaic Greek temple design as well as of the shift in sculptural style between the Archaic and Classical periods. Aegina is a small island in the Saronic Gulf within view of Athens; in fact, Aegina and Athens were rivals. While the temple was dedicated to the local god Aphaia, the temple’s pediments depicted scenes of the Trojan War to promote the greatness of the island. These scenes involve the Greek heroes who fought at Troy—Telamon and Peleus, the fathers of Ajax and Achilles. In an antagonistic move, the battle scenes on the pediments are overseen by Athena, and the temple’s dedicated deity, Aphaia, does not appear on the pediment at all. While very little paint remains now, the entire pediment scene, triglyphs and metopes, and other parts of the temple would have been painted in bright colours.



This is a photograph of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina. It shows the remaining stepped foundation and columns of the structure.
Temple of Aphaia at Aegina: c. 500–490 BCE. The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina, as it stands today.

Temple Design

The Temple of Aphaia is one of the last temples with a design that did not conform to standards of the time. Its colonnade has six columns across its width and twelve columns down its length. The columns have become more widely spaced and also more slender. Both the pronaos and opisthodomos have two prostyle (free-standing) columns in antis and exterior access, although both lead into the temple’s naos. Despite the connection between the opisthodomos and the naos, the doorway between them is much smaller than the doorway between the naos and the pronaos.

As in the Temple of Hera II, there are two rows of columns on either side of the temple’s interior. In this case, there are five on each side, and each colonnade has two stories. A small ramp interrupts the stylobate at the center of the temple’s main entrance.



The ground plan of the Temple of Aphaia and the surrounding area.
Plan of the sanctuary of the Temple of Aphaia: Ground plan of the Temple of Aphaia and the surrounding area.

Sculpture in the Greek Archaic Period

Sculpture during the Archaic period became increasingly naturalistic, although this varies depending on the gender of the subject. Sculpture in the Archaic Period developed rapidly from its early influences, becoming more natural and showing a developing understanding of the body, specifically the musculature and the skin. Close examination of the style’s development allows for precise dating. Most statues were commissioned as memorials and votive offerings or as grave markers, replacing the vast amphora (two-handled, narrow-necked jars used for wine and oils) and kraters (wide-mouthed vessels) of the previous periods, yet still typically painted in vivid colours.


Kouroi statues (singular, kouros ), depicting idealized, nude male youths, were first seen during this period. Carved in the round, often from marble, kouroi are thought to be associated with Apollo; many were found at his shrines and some even depict him. Emulating the statues of Egyptian pharaohs, the figure strides forward on flat feet, arms held stiffly at its side with fists clenched. However, there are some important differences: kouroi are nude, mostly without identifying attributes and are free-standing.

Early kouroi figures share similarities with Geometric and Orientalizing sculpture, despite their larger scale. For instance, their hair is stylized and patterned, either held back with a headband or under a cap. The New York Kouros strikes a rigid stance and his facial features are blank and expressionless. The body is slightly moulded and the musculature is reliant on incised lines.



Color photograph of a marble statue of nude male Greek youth. The youth stands straight with his hands at his side and either wears a headpiece or has stylized hair.
New York Kouros: c. 600 BCE. New York Kouros. Marble. Origin unknown.

As kouroi figures developed, they began to lose their Egyptian rigidity and became increasingly naturalistic. The kouros figure of Kroisos, an Athenian youth killed in battle, still depicts a young man with an idealized body. This time though, the body’s form shows realistic modelling. The muscles of the legs, abdomen, chest and arms appear to actually exist and seem to function and work together. Kroisos’s hair, while still stylized, falls naturally over his neck and onto his back, unlike that of the New York Kouros, which falls down stiffly and in a single sheet. The reddish appearance of his hair reminds the viewer that these sculptures were once painted.



Color photo of a nude free-standing male sculpture. The face bears a slight smile.
Kroisos: c. 530 BCE. Kroisos, from the Anavysos Group. Marble. Greece.

Archaic Smile

Kroisos’s face also appears more naturalistic when compared to the earlier New York Kouros. His cheeks are round and his chin bulbous; however, his smile seems out of place. This is typical of this period and is known as the Archaic smile. It appears to have been added to infuse the sculpture with a sense of being alive and to add a sense of realism.


A kore (plural korai) sculpture depicts a female youth. Whereas kouroi depict athletic, nude young men, the female korai are fully-clothed, in the idealized image of decorous women. Unlike men—whose bodies were perceived as public, belonging to the state—women’s bodies were deemed private and belonged to their fathers (if unmarried) or husbands.

However, they also have Archaic smiles, with arms either at their sides or with an arm extended, holding an offering. The figures are stiff and retain more block-like characteristics than their male counterparts. Their hair is also stylized, depicted in long strands or braids that cascade down the back or over the shoulder.

The Peplos Kore (c. 530 BCE) depicts a young woman wearing a peplos, a heavy wool garment that drapes over the whole body, obscuring most of it. A slight indentation between the legs, a division between her torso and legs, and the protrusion of her breasts merely hint at the form of the body underneath.

Remnants of paint on her dress tell us that it was painted yellow with details in blue and red that may have included images of animals. The presence of animals on her dress may indicate that she is the image of a goddess, perhaps Artemis, but she may also just be a nameless maiden.

Later korai figures also show stylistic development, although the bodies are still overshadowed by their clothing. The example of a Kore (520–510 BCE) from the Athenian Acropolis shows a bit more shape in the body, such as defined hips instead of a dramatic belted waistline, although the primary focus of the kore is on the clothing and the drapery. This kore figure wears a chiton (a woollen tunic), a himation (a lightweight undergarment), and a mantle (a cloak). Her facial features are still generic and blank, and she has an Archaic smile. Even with the finer clothes and additional adornments such as jewelry, the figure depicts the idealized Greek female, fully clothed and demure.



This is a photo of the Acropolis Kore statue, which depicts a woman wearing a one-shouldered draped garment and a draped cloak.
Acropolis Kore, c. 520–510 BCE: This figure is depicted wearing a chiton and himation. Marble. Athens, Greece.

Pedimental Sculpture: The Temple of Artemis at Corfu

This sculpture, initially designed to fit into the space of the pediment, underwent dramatic changes during the Archaic period, seen later at Aegina. The west pediment at the Temple of Artemis at Corfu depicts not the goddess of the hunt, but the Gorgon Medusa with her children; Pegasus, a winged horse; and Chrysaor, a giant wielding a golden sword surrounded by heraldic lions. Medusa faces outwards in a challenging position, believed to be apotropaic (warding off evil). Additional scenes include Zeus fighting a Titan, and the slaying of Priam, the king of Troy, by Neoptolemos. These figures are scaled down in order to fit into the shrinking space provided in the pediment.



Photo of pediment depicting Medusa in a formulaic, stylized fashion. There are two snakes wrapped around her waist like a belt. She is flanked by panthers.
Pediment of the Temple of Artemis at Corfu, c. 600–580 BCE: Sculpture and reconstruction of the west pediment. Limestone. Corfu, Greece.

Pedimental Sculpture: The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina

Sculpted approximately one century later, the pedimental sculptures on the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina gradually grew more naturalistic than their predecessors at Corfu. The dying warrior on the west pediment (c. 490 BCE)  is a prime example of Archaic sculpture. The male warrior is depicted nude, with a muscular body that shows the Greeks’ understanding of the musculature of the human body. His hair remains stylized with round, geometric curls and textured patterns.

However, despite the naturalistic characteristics of the body, the body does not seem to react to its environment or circumstances. The warrior props himself up with an arm, and his whole body is tense, despite the fact that he has been struck by an arrow in his chest. His face, with its Archaic smile, and his posture conflict with the reality that he is dying.



This is a black and white photo of the pediment with the Dying Warrior statue. The warrior lies on his side with his leg crossed over his knee and his hand on his chest. His face bears an archaic smile.
Dying Warrior, c. 490 BCE: Marble, west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina.

Aegina: Transition between Styles

The dying warrior on the east pediment (c. 480 BCE) marks a transition to the new Classical style. Although he bears a slight Archaic smile, this warrior actually reacts to his circumstances. Nearly every part of him appears to be dying.

Instead of propping himself up on an arm, his body responds to the gravity pulling on his dying body, hanging from his shield and attempting to support himself with his other arm. He also attempts to hold himself up with his legs, but one leg has fallen over the pediment’s edge and protrudes into the viewer’s space. His muscles are contracted and limp, depending on which ones they are, and they seem to strain under the weight of the man as he dies.



This is a black and white photo of the Dying Warrior statue on the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina. The soldier clings to his shield, lying on his side as he dies.
Dying Warrior, c. 480 BCE: Marble, East Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina.

Ceramics in the Greek Archaic Period

Archaic black- and red-figure painting began to depict more naturalistic bodies by conveying form and movement. The Archaic period saw a shift in styles of pottery decoration, from the repeating patterns of the Geometric period, through the Eastern-influenced Orientalizing style, to the more naturalistic black- and red-figure techniques. During this time, figures became more dynamic and defined by more organic—as opposed to geometric—elements.

Black-Figure Painting

Black-figure painting, which derives its name from the black figures painted on red backgrounds, was developed by the Corinthians in the seventh century BCE and became popular throughout the Greek world during the Archaic period. As painters became more confident working in the medium, human figures began to appear on vases and painters and potters began signing their creations.

The François Vase

One of the most famous early Athenian black-figure pots is a large volute krater by the potter Ergotimos and the painter Kleitias, known as the François Vase. The krater, named for the man who discovered it in the nineteenth century, depicts 270 figures on the six registers that wrap around the krater.

Unlike the monumental vases of the Geometric period, this krater stands at 66 cm (2.17 feet) tall. The surface depicts various mythological scenes with many figures labelled by name. On one side of the krater’s neck are scenes from the Calydonian Boar hunt, in which several men and a powerful woman named Atalanta hunted and killed a monstrous boar sent by Artemis to terrorize the region of Calydon after the king offended her.

The other side depicts Theseus, who slew the Minotaur, with Athenian youths and his wife Ariadne. Other registers depict scenes of the Trojan War and Peleus with his son Achilles. The detail and skill demonstrate new styles of Archaic vase painting, shifting away from past centuries’ animal motifs and geometric patterns.

Instead of filling negative space with patterns and geometric designs, Kleitias leaves areas empty. The people and horses are depicted differently than Oriental and Geometric prototypes. Bodies are more accurately rendered and less dependent on geometric shapes, although profile views dominate, and sharp lines provide texture for musculature and clothing. While many figures still stand flat-footed, the limbs of people, horses, and centaurs show movement and are dramatic compositions within the confines of the style.



This is a color photo of the Francois Vase, a volute krater decorated with black figures.
Francois Vase: Made by Kleitias and Ergotimos. The François Vase is an Athenian black-figure volute krater, c. 570 BCE, Chiusi, Italy.


Exekias, considered the most prominent black-figure painter of his time, worked between 545 and 530 BCE in Athens. He is regarded by art historians as an artistic visionary whose masterful use of incision and psychologically sensitive compositions mark him as one of the greatest of all Attic vase painters. His vessels display attention to detail and precise, intricate lines. Exekias is also well-known for reinterpreting mythologies. Instead of providing the entire story, as Kleitias did on the François Vase, he paints single scenes and relies on the viewer to interpret and understand the narrative.

One example is an amphora that depicts the Greek warriors Achilles and Ajax playing dice. Both men are decorated with finely incised details, showing elaborate textile patterns and almost every hair in place. As they wait for the next battle with the Trojans, their game foreshadows their fates. The inscribed text allows the two figures to speak: “Achilles has rolled a four, while Ajax rolled a three.” Both men will die during the Trojan War, but Achilles dies a hero while Ajax is consistently considered second best, eventually committing suicide.



This is a photo of pottery decorated with a scene of Achilles and Ajax playing a game in their war armor.
Achilles and Ajax: By Exekias, Achilles and Ajax Playing a Dice Game. Athenian Black-figure amphora, c. 540–530 BCE. Vulci, Italy.

Red-Figure Painting

Red-figure painting developed in Athens in 530 BCE and remained popular into the Classical period. The technique is similar to black-figure painting but with key differences. Instead of painting a figure with black slip and using a burin to scrape away the slip to create details, red-figure painting has the background painted black and the figures left the red colour of the terra cotta. A black slip was painted with a brush to add detail.

Brushes could achieve more fluid lines than a burin, so details were better rendered and figures became livelier than the black-figure silhouettes. The black slip could also be diluted with water to create shades for modelling bodies or clothing. Overall, the technique allowed vase painters to create compositions that rendered the body more naturally.

Bilingual Painting

Bilingual vase painting became popular with the advent of red-figure painting. These vases were painted with a single scene on each side of the vessel, usually, the same scene rendered twice. One side depicts the scene in black-figure and the other side depicts the scene in red-figure.

The Andokides Painter is credited as the inventor of red-figure style and its early production on bilingual vases. Several of his bilingual amphorae mimic some of Exekias’s most famous subjects, such as Achilles and Ajax playing dice. These similarities lead many scholars to conclude that he was Exekias’s student. A score of vases with black figures, whose attribution is disputed by some researchers, show that the Andokides painter gradually attained greater control and virtuosity in the technique. Earlier examples appear a little stiff. Later, the artist exploits the benefits inherent in the technique and utilizes a range of colours from red to dark brown.

The Andokides painter marked the arrival of the red-figure style that was later used by many artists. The painter’s most favoured subject matter was a wide range of mythological scenes that depicted the gods and heroes. Heracles was his favourite character.



This is a color photo of pottery decorated with a scene depicting Herakles and Athena in the red figure style.
Herakles and Athena: Herakles and Athena. Red-figure side of a bilingual amphora, c. 520–510 BCE, Vulci, Italy.
This is a color photo of pottery decorated with a scene of Herakles and Athena in the black figure style.
Herakles and Athena: Herakles and Athena. Black-figure side of a bilingual amphora, c. 520–510 BCE, Vulci, Italy.

Additional Red-Figure Painters

Additional red-figure painting can be seen in the work of the rivals Euthymides and Euphronios. Euthymides is known as a pioneer of red-figure painting. His vessels depict people in movement and he attempted perspective by showing figures with foreshortened limbs. The Revelers Vase is an amphora that depicts three drunk men dancing. While the figures do not overlap, the bodies are shown in profile, three-quarter view, and from behind.

Breaking the traditional rigidity of contemporary Archaic statues and paintings, the revellers are in dynamic postures. The two outer figures stand in active stances, with their legs and hands in motion. The middle figure is in a twisted position, with his back to the viewer and his head looking over his left shoulder. The use of foreshortening, although rudimentary, gives the entire composition a more natural and believable feel. It is perhaps the use of this relatively untried technique that led Euthymides to write on his vase, “As never Euphronios [could do!]” as a taunt to his contemporary and rival.



This is a color photo of Euthymides' Revelers Vase, a red-figure amphora decorated with a scene of three nude partygoers reveling.
Euthymides. Revellers Vase: A red-figure amphora, c. 510 BCE.

The painter Euphronios is also recognized for his dramatic and complex compositions. He used diluted clay slip to create a range of shades to colour his figures, making them appear energetic and present in three-dimensional space. A scene of Herakles and Antaios wrestling conveys the bodies of both men with previously unseen naturalism. The men’s bodies bend and twist and their limbs overlap, disappear and reappear, which helps achieve naturalism, as well as a sense of space.



This is a photo of Herakles Wrestling Antaios. It is a piece of Greek pottery depicting a wrestling contest between Herakles and Antaios.
Herakles and Antaios: Euphronios. Herakles Wrestling Antaios. Athenian Red-figure calyx krater. (C. 510 BCE. Cervetri, Italy.)


  • As the main cult site for Apollo, Delphi was an essential city and sanctuary site for the Greeks. It was also the home of the Delphic Oracle and the Panhellenic games, known as the Python Games, which honoured Apollo’s slaying of the Python.
  • The design of Greek stone temples was influenced by Mycenaean megarons (a porch with columns in antis and a central room) and their earlier wooden temples. Many decorative elements, such as the triglyphs, replicated the visual design of wooden temples in stone.
  • During the Archaic period, the Greeks began to develop the ideal temple design. It included a central naos surrounded on two ends by an opisthodomos and a pronaos but accessed only through the pronaos. These rooms were surrounded by a peripteral colonnade on a raised platform with two or three steps.
  • The Doric order is the oldest Greek classification of architecture. It is identified by its columns and its frieze. The columns had no base, a bulge in the middle of their shaft, and squashed, flared capitals. The frieze was divided by triglyphs and metopes.
  • The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina is one of the last temples whose design did not conform to the architectural standards of the time.
  • Dedicatory male kouroi figures were originally based on Egyptian statues and over the Archaic period these figures developed more naturalistic nude bodies. The athletic body was an ideal form for a young Greek male and is comparable to the ideal body of the god Apollo.
  • Instead of focusing on the body, female korai statues were clothed and throughout the Archaic period artists spent more time elaborating on the detailed folds and drapery of a woman’s clothing. This reflected the Greek ideals for women, who were supposed to be fully clothed, modest, and demure.
  • To add an additional naturalistic element to the body, the typical Archaic smile was added to both male and female statues. While today the smile seems false, to the ancient Greeks it added a level of realism.
  • Pedimental sculpture in the Archaic period was often scaled to fit into the space of the pediment and served an apotropaic instead of a decorative function.
  • Pedimental sculptures from the Temple of Aphaia at Aegina show a gradual move toward the naturalism of the Classical style that followed the Archaic.
  • Black-figure painting was used throughout the Archaic period before diminishing under the popularity of red-figure painting.
  • Exekias is considered one of the most talented and influential black-figure painters due to his ability to convey emotion, use intricate lines, and create scenes that trusted the viewer to comprehend the scene.
  • Red-figure painting was developed in 530 BCE by the Andokides Painter, a style that allows for more naturalism in the body due to the use of a brush.
  • The first red-figure paintings were produced on bilingual vases, depicting one scene on each side, one in black figure and the other in red-figure.
  • The painters Euthyides and Euphronios were two of the most talented Archaic red-figure painters, with their vessels depict space, movement, and naturalism.

Adapted from “Boundless Art History” License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike 



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Art and Visual Culture: Prehistory to Renaissance Copyright © by Alena Buis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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