Classical artists put great emphasis on the human figure. At first human beings were shown in an ideal or
heroic form, but then they became more particularized in the portraits and genre scenes of late Greek and
Roman art. We often associate nudity with classical art. Until the fourth century BCE, only males are shown
nude, and this is most likely related to the fact that men exercised in the nude. Women were expected to
exhibit modesty, so when females are depicted nude, there is almost always an erotic quality to the work.
There are many similarities between Greek and Roman sculpture because the Romans admired and copied
Greek art. However, Roman sculpture is often more focused on the individual.
THE ARCHAIC PERIOD
The Greeks were influenced by other cultures in the western Mediterranean region. They particularly
admired the Egyptians, and Archaic sculpture from the 6th century BCE shares many characteristics with
Egyptian sculpture. The Greek kouros was usually a monument marking the grave of a young man who may
have been an athlete, a warrior, or a hero in some other way. The kouros is always completely nude,
standing in a tense, upright position, his fists clenched at his side. His left foot steps forward, but because
there is no bend to his knees, the movement seems stiff. This pose is exactly like the conventional pose for
standing figures in Ancient Egypt.
The female kore maintains a similar, stiff pose; because the kore is always dressed in a long robe, however,
the forward movement of her leg is not visible. The kore would have stood in a temple, a representation
of a guardian or attendant to the god of the temple; often one of her arms reaches forward to hold an
offering. Both the kouros and the kore were given tight smiles, as if the artist was trying to give the figure
a sense of life. This Archaic smile is one of the most recognizable characteristics of sculpture made in the
sixth and early fifth centuries BCE. The smile disappeared when artists discovered other ways to give
movement and life to the entire body.