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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Statue of a Kouros (MET)

WLA metmuseum Marble statue of a kouros youth 2

Statue of a Kouros

This marble statue of a Kouros is one of the earliest sculptures of a human figure carved in Athens from 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 wore loincloths or other clothing and typically represented 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 also no stone holding the legs together. There is more free space between the arms and the chest. In essence, this figure was freed from the rock.

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

Greek marble nude sculpture evolved with experimentation. In the classical period a century after this figure, Greeks made figures that stood in contrapposto. Contrapposto was a more natural pose with a turned waist where the weight is shifted to one leg. The body became asymmetrical and more natural.

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. Nudity portrayed the perfected ideal conceptually and moved the mind and the passions.

The famous Laocoön Statues influenced Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel nudes. The Laocoön statues originated and evolved from the Statue of a Kouros. This Statue of a Kouros was the beginning and birth of the Western art tradition of many of the sculptural masterpieces that we see in Art Museums today.

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

A Tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

MET European Paintings Collection

MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection

MET Greek and Roman Art Collection

MET Egyptian Art Collection

MET Asian Art Collection

MET Ancient Near Eastern Art Collection

MET American Wing Collection

MET Islamic Art Collection

MET Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

MET European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Collection

MET Medieval Art Collection

MET Drawings and Prints Collection

MET Costume Institute Collection

MET Arms and Armor Collection

MET Photograph Collection

MET Musical Instrument Collection

Explore

Reflections

  • When this sculpture was made, Egyptian culture was already older than the Greek civilization. How much do you think this statue copies what the Greeks learned 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?

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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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