The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Statue of a Kouros

WLA metmuseum Marble statue of a kouros youth 2

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

The rigid stance with the left leg forward and arms straight down the side, was derived and influenced from Egyptian monumental statues. If you have visited the Egyptian Galleries at the MET you would have seen Egyptian statues that look very similar. The Egyptian figures usually wear loincloth or clothing and usually represent only the Kings of Egypt. The Greek innovation was that Greek statue is cut away from the stone and was not embedded in a stone. This figure is free from the stone. There is no stone holding the legs together and there is some space between the the arms and the chest.

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 clearly 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. Below is an example of a marble statue at the MET of a youthful Hercules made 68–98 CE which is a direct evolution of the early Kouros Statues.

Metropolitan youthful Hercules Roman 1C AD

The nude first became significant in art through Ancient Greece. Greek culture was influenced by athletic competitions 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 in 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 conceptually portray the perfected ideal and to move the mind and the passions. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel nudes were influenced by The Laocoön Statues. 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 the Western art tradition of many of the masterpieces that we see in Art Museums.

Other Ancient Greek masterpieces featured in “Joy of Museums”include:

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Essential Facts:

  • 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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Acknowledgement: This page is dedicated to Terry.

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Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Futons_of_Rock” [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 2) See page for author [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons