Daedalic Greek Sculpture
Characteristics, Kouros Standing Figure, Kore Statue, Origins, History.

Greek Sculpture: Daedalic Period (c.650-600)


Kouroi and Korai Statues
Relief Sculpture
Origins and History


The first stage of Greek sculpture (c.650-600) is usually called Daedalic (after Daedalus, a legendary founder of the art). Its style is based on a simple formula which remained dominant, though with evolutionary modifications, for about two generations, before evolving into the Archaic style.

The principal view is frontal, so much so that in statues the side elevation can be compressed unnaturally and in reliefs full-face heads are common - in notable contrast to the rule in contemporary vase painting and in the succeeding stage of Archaic sculpture. The face is a long triangle with a low horizontal forehead, big eyes and nose, and initially a straightish mouth. The cranium too is low; the ears either are omitted or project at right angles; and the hair (rather like a full-bottomed wig) falls in solid masses at the front and back, relieved by horizontal grooving and sometimes a row of curls over the forehead, or less often it is divided into thick vertical locks.

The body is still more perfunctory in its modelling and detail, with very long legs and high narrow waist, which is usually decorated with a deep belt. Apart from this belt male figures are naked, but females normally wear a heavy dress (the so-called 'peplos'), which fits closely above the waist and becomes a more or less rectangular sheath below, and sometimes there is also a short cape over the shoulders. The other distinctions between male and female are in the genitals, sometimes in the breast, and probably in the length of the hair. But since the bodice of the peplos is skin-tight, it is often difficult or impossible to determine the gender of a Daedalic torso or, if the hair is broken off, that of a head.

[Note: For biographies of important sculptors from ancient Greece, see: Phidias (488-431 BCE), Myron (Active 480-444), Polykleitos/Polyclitus (5th century), Callimachus (Active 432-408), Skopas/Scopas (Active 395-350), Lysippos/Lysippus (c.395-305), Praxiteles (Active 375-335), Leochares (Active 340-320).]

The general trend exhibited by the art of classical antiquity was towards a sort of natural realism, and the development of the Daedalic style proceeded chronologically. Gradual changes occurred in the shape, proportions and in the modelling of bodies. Three types of statue were common - all symmetrically and frontally composed - the standing naked male, the standing draped female, and the seated draped figure (presumably also female).

Kouroi and Korai Statues

The standing naked male is typically beardless and stand with his arms by his sides and his left leg advanced; this type, which lasted throughout the Archaic period, is now known as the 'kouros' type (plural: kouroi). The standing draped female is similarly called 'kore' (plural: korai), with feet together and one or both of its arms crossing the body. So far, no naked female statue has turned up, though there are naked females on reliefs and the type is common for terracotta plaques and figurines of Daedalic style. One may guess that a naked female figure set up in a public place would have offended Greek respectability. The seated figure is unsuitable for simple shallow molds and so appears rarely and awkwardly among the small terracottas. Nor is the sculptural type much better, with its unconvincing right angle bend from body to legs and the forearms resting flatly along the thighs. Among the Daedalic terracottas, female figures greatly outnumber the male and in sculpture too they seem to be more common, perhaps because the comparable Syrian figurines are mostly female and also that drapery conveniently cloaks inexperience in anatomy. There is no need or reason to suppose that in the seventh century the Greeks took a much greater interest in female deities than they did in the sixth.

For a list of the best statues, statuettes and reliefs produced during the period of Classical Antiquity, see: Greatest Sculptures Ever. For Neoclassicism, see: Neoclassical sculptors.

Relief Sculpture

There is more variety in reliefs. Some contain only a frontal head, some a single frontal figure of a type regular for statues, some a simple group. For instance a large limestone relief from Gortyn in Crete exhibits a naked male (with frontal head and chest but profile hips and legs) embracing two naked frontal women, a subject hard to interpret canonically. Another piece shows a woman whose body is in right profile, though she turns her face to the spectator and not to the action in which she takes part. Other panels show two creatures with feline legs lifting a rigid male corpse and male figures apparently fighting. For figures in action Daedalic sculptures kept to the convenient formula of Geometric vase painting (and most early art), that is frontal chest and profile hips and legs with an abrupt ninety degree swivel at the waist; only, unlike both their precursors and successors, the head tends to be frontal. This frontality, which is abnormal in Egyptian and Syrian as well as in earlier Greek reliefs, is suggestive for the origin of Daedalic sculpture.

[Note: For information about ceramics from ancient Greece, including the Geometric, Black-figure, Red-figure and White-ground technique, see: Greek Pottery: History & Styles.]

So far Daedalic sculptures in stone (but no bronze works) have been found at several sites in Minoan Crete, at Sparta, Tegea, Mycenae and Sicyon, in eastern Locris, in Delos (then an important sanctuary for the Aegean), in Samos and in Etruria. These finds are mostly isolated so that the grand total is very small. Daedalic terracottas, though, are numerous but not ubiquitous. In Argas and Athens the local terracottas were in a different and unformed style; for Naxos, Paras and the other Cycladic islands there is not yet enough material. Samos had a weak Daedalic school, and Crete, Sparta, Corinth and Rhodes had vigorous schools, of which the Corinthian is the highest in quality. The Daedalic style was used too for fine miniature work in metal and ivory, perhaps more widely.

Origins and History

In what Greek region or city Daedalic sculpture began may never be known. Much later traditions suggested that Daedalus, who worked in Crete, was the first Greek sculptor and that Dipoinos and Skyllis, who were born in Crete but migrated to Sicyon, were the first to become famous. But Greek traditions were conflicting and often manufactured or manipulated, so that they cannot be trusted. Still Crete always has an attraction, and some art history students claim that island as the original home of Daedalic sculpture, partly because of these traditions and partly because Crete was open very early to Oriental art. Besides, more Daedalic sculptures have turned up in Crete than in any other region (though they are still too few for useful statistics) while the island also had flourishing Daedalic schools for terracottas and finer small-scale work. Others prefer the north-east Peloponnese or more specifically Corinth, which was at the time the dominating centre for orientalizing vase painting and possibly for the Doric style of architecture. Yet other ancient art historians argue for Naxos, since the Daedalic statues found at Delos and probably the Samos statue too are made of Naxian marble and one anyhow was dedicated by a Naxian. Wherever Daedalic sculpture was invented, it seems that the choice of marble for its material can be credited to Naxos. (For information about architectural building art in Ancient Greece, see: Greek Architecture.)

The dating of Daedalic sculpture is a little safer. It is tied to that of the Daedalic terracottas, which are numerous enough to show a detailed stylistic development, and these in turn tie in with Corinthian vase painting. Although the conventions of the two arts do not allow much direct comparison, since one insists on frontal and the other on profile heads, there are a few painted vases which also carry plastic decoration in the form of Daedalic or slightly later heads. So Daedalic sculpture can be fitted fairly comfortably into the relative chronology for seventh-century Greek art, though of course the absolute dates are not so reliable.

One may admire the severe principles of Daedalic sculpture, but they did not leave much room for development. Not much later the formula passed away and perhaps because specimens were rare it never caught the fancy of archaizing sculptors or connoisseurs. What remained were the kouros and kore types, the habit of working to an intellectually conceived ideal without direct imitation of nature, and some ability to carve marble.

For articles about the art of classical antiquity in Ancient Greece, see:

Sculpture of Ancient Greece (Introduction)
Greek Painting Archaic Period (c.600-480)
Greek Sculpture Early Classical Period (c.480-450 BCE)
Greek Sculpture High Classical Period (c.450-400 BCE)
Greek Sculpture Late Classical Period (c.400-323 BCE)
Greek Painting Classical Era (c.480-323 BCE)
Greek Sculpture of the Hellenistic Period (c.323-27 BCE)
Hellenistic Style Statues and Reliefs (c.323-27 BCE)
Greek Painting of the Hellenistic Period (c.323-27 BCE)
Greek Painting Legacy
Greek Metalwork Art (8th century BCE onwards)

• For a list of the world's best ever stone/wood-carvers, see: Greatest Sculptors.
• For a detailed chronology, see: Timeline, History of Art.
• For more about Daedalic sculpture in Ancient Greece, see: Homepage.

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