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
- “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco
- “Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez
- “Camille Monet on a Garden Bench” by Claude Monet
- “View of Toledo” by El Greco
- “The Musicians” by Caravaggio
- “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- “Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers
- “The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)” by Claude Monet
- “Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne
- “The Fortune Teller” by Georges de La Tour
- “The Allegory of Faith” by Johannes Vermeer
- “Garden at Sainte-Adresse” by Claude Monet
- “Wheat Field with Cypresses” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Repast of the Lion” by Henri Rousseau
- “The Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur
- “Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Caspar David Friedrich
- “Boy with a Greyhound” by Paolo Veronese
- “A Windy Day on the Pont des Arts” by Jean Béraud
- “Sunday at the Church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, Paris” by Jean Béraud
- “The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning” by Camille Pissarro
- “The Sorrow of Telemachus” by Angelica Kauffman
MET Modern and Contemporary Art Collection
- “Reclining Nude” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love II)” by Wassily Kandinsky
- “Jeanne Hébuterne” by Amedeo Modigliani
- “The Card Players” by Paul Cézanne
- “Bathers” by Paul Cézanne
MET Greek and Roman Art Collection
MET Egyptian Art Collection
MET Asian Art Collection
- Luohan – Yixian Glazed Ceramic Sculpture
- Pillow with Landscape Scenes – Zhang Family Workshop
- Jar with Dragon
- Fine Wind, Clear Morning by Katsushika Hokusai
MET Ancient Near Eastern Art Collection
- Sumerian Standing Male Worshiper
- Head of a Beardless Royal Attendant – Eunuch
- Human-Headed Winged Bull (Lamassu)
MET American Wing Collection
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “Portrait of Madame X” by John Singer Sargent
- “Mother and Child” by Mary Cassatt
- “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” by George Caleb Bingham
- “The Gulf Stream” by Winslow Homer
- “The Parthenon” by Frederic Edwin Church
- “The Aegean Sea” by Frederic Edwin Church
- “Alexander Hamilton” by John Trumbull
- “Lady at the Tea Table” by Mary Cassatt
MET Islamic Art Collection
MET Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection
- Benin Ivory Mask
- African Face Mask – Kpeliye’e
- Sican Funerary Mask – Peru
- Ceremonial Axe – Papua New Guinea
MET European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Collection
- “Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle
- “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Auguste Rodin
- “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” by Antonio Canova
- “The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” by Edgar Degas
MET Medieval Art Collection
- “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio
- Plaque with the Journey to Emmaus and Noli Me Tangere
- Doorway from the Church of San Nicolò, San Gemini
MET Drawings and Prints Collection
- Album of Tournaments and Parades in Nuremberg
- “Canvassing for Votes” by William Hogarth
- “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt
- Fine Wind, Clear Morning by Katsushika Hokusai
MET Costume Institute Collection
MET Arms and Armor Collection
MET Photograph Collection
MET Musical Instrument Collection
- Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
- The MET Cloisters
- Met Breuer
- Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
- 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?
“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way, and nothing stays fixed.”
Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Futons_of_Rock” [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons