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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Amathus Sarcophagus (MET)

Limestone sarcophagus- the Amathus sarcophagus MET DT352

Amathus Sarcophagus

This marble statue of a Kouros or youth is one of the earliest sculptures of a human figure carved in Athens during 590–580 B.C. The statue was used to mark the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat. Kouros means youth, or boy, especially of noble rank, in ancient Greek.

The rigid stance with the left leg forward and arms straight down the side was derived and influenced by monumental Egyptian statues. The Egyptian figures usually wear loincloth or clothing and typically represent only the Kings of Egypt. The Greek innovation was that sculpture is cut away from the stone and was not embedded in rock. There is no stone holding the legs together, and there is some space between the arms and the chest. This figure was freed from the stone.

This pose provided a simple style that was used by Greek sculptors in the 6th century B.C. as they learnt the art of sculpting human figures. This early sculpture features geometric forms and anatomical details which are rendered in beautiful proportional patterns.

Greek marble nude sculpture evolved, and in the classical period of the next century, Greeks made figures that stand in contrapposto, representing a more natural turned waist where the weight is shifted to one leg, and the whole body becomes asymmetrical and more natural. Greek statues became more natural and were copied extensively by the Romans.

The nude first became significant in art through Ancient Greece. Athletic competitions influenced Greek culture at religious festivals which celebrated the human body. The athletes competed in the nude, and the Greeks considered that the athletes represented the ideal in humanity and culture. The Ancient Greeks associated the male nude form with triumph, glory, and moral excellence. Images of naked athletes stood as offerings to the Gods in holy sanctuaries, and athletic nudes portrayed the gods of Greek religion.

Western art, through Roman copies of Greek nude sculpture, borrowed the artistic language of the nude to portray the perfected ideal conceptually and to move the mind and the passions. The Laocoön Statues influenced Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel nudes. And the Laocoön originated and evolved from the Statue of a Kouros. So this Statue of a Kouros was the beginning and birth of the Western art tradition of many of the masterpieces that we see in Art Museums.

Reflections

  • When this sculpture was made, Egyptian culture was already older than the Greek civilisation. How much do you think this statue copies what the Greeks learnt from Egyptian sculptures?
  • How did the Greek artist improve on Egyptian sculpture?
  • Does this figure of youth or a Kouros look more natural than Egyptian sculptures?
  • Why did the Greek artist make the human form their principal focus?
  • Does Greek nude sculpture communicate moral excellence, which was one of their aims?

Explore Greek and Roman Art Collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Statue of a Kouros

  • Title:               Statue of a Kouros
  • Date:              ca. 590–580 B.C.
  • Period:           Archaic
  • Culture:          Greek, Attic
  • Medium:        Marble, Naxian
  • Dimensions:   H: 76  in. (195 cm); W:  20 in. (52 cm)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET, New York, USA

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“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way, and nothing stays fixed.”
– Heraclitus

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Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Futons_of_Rock” [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 

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