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The Archaic Smile: It’s No Laughing Matter (AIA)

Jeffrey M. Hurwit (History of Art and Architecture and Classics, University of Oregon)
Jeffrey Hurwit
Friday, April 9, 2021 - 7:30pm

Undoubtedly the most familiar and recognizable feature on the faces of figures carved in the round or in relief during the Greek Archaic period (c. 750-480 BCE) is a shallow, inscrutable smile that, like the Mona Lisa’s, has defied explanation. The lecture surveys the origin and history of the “Archaic Smile” as well as the history of its interpretation. It is often thought a stylistic “import” from the sculpture of Egypt or the Near East, and it has been variously considered a sign of life, or happiness, or status, or divinity, or even an “optical refinement.” But although certain theories can be eliminated from the discussion and others added, there may in fact be no single, universal explanation for the Smile at all.

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