De Kouros beelden

ouzo on the rocks

apartment, excursions and art historical guide

Peloponnese, Greece

The kouroi


In the early archaic period (650 tot 580 BC) the kouroi (plural form of kouros) were depicted strictly frontal with the left foot slightly forward, arms a little bent but connected to the body and fists clenched to the upper legs. Different from the Egyptian sculptures the kouroi were placed free in space and the male were naked. In Egypt the male statues were pklaced with their back to a wall and they wore a loincloth. The Greek korai (plural form of korè) were always dressed up.

Their clothing showed in the beginning no foldings and the arms were also tightly against the body. There are seated versions of both male and female statues. These seated versions are very much like the Egyptian statues. They are depicted stiff and frontal, feet flat on the ground and hands flat on the legs. Clothing had no foldings.

To depict a person running, the Greek use a original technique: This person is depicted with one leg kneeling and one arm in the air. The legs are shown from the side but the chest and upper part is depicted frontal. Thus we have a difficult point in the waist. The problem is hidden by clothing and a belt.


Below I will show you more pictures. I will leave the details out of this chapter, but do notice the evaluation or change from the stiffness in the beginning to the anatomical accuracy later and the appearnace of motion, expression and emotions in the end. In the beginning the weight of the body is equally divided on both legs. But after some time the artist uses a standing leg and a resting leg. This posture is called "contraposto". The pelvis is slightly tilted and later the chest is slightly turned to one side while the head looks the other way. I will start now with the explanation of the kouros. If you want to know more about Greek sculpture start reading the books of John Boardman. These black and white pictures are not of a very good quality, but I show them anyway because they illustrate the subject very good.

Here are the first five kouroi (above, from left to right)

the kouros of Sounion (615-590 BC, Nat Arch Museum Athens),

the kouros of New York (615-590 BC, Metropolitan Museum, New York)

the kouroi Kleobis and Biton (600-590 BC, Museum at the archaeological site of Delphi)

the kouros of Tenea (575-550 BC, Antikensammlung, Munich)

These examples show very well the influence of the Egyptians, especially in hairstyle.It is still a little difficult to depict the (abdominal) muscles and joints anatically right, especially the knees.

Above from left to right:

the kouros of Volomandra (575-550 BC, Nat Arch Museum, Athens)

the kouros of Melos (555-540 BC, Nat Arch Museum, Athens)

the kouros of Attica (540-515 BC, Antikensammlung, Munich)

the Anavysos kouros (540-515 BC, Nat Arch Museum, Athens)

It clearly shows that the sculptors of the two kouroi on the right gave special attention to the depiction of the chest and the abdominal muscles (the now known six-pack). The second to last kouros has a different hairstyle. He no longer wears his hair the same way the Egyptians did.


Below on the left you see a kouros with the left leg forward and his arms apart from the body. His hair is long but this Apollo from Piraeus doesn't wear it the Egyptian way. He dates from 530-520 BC and is to be seen at the Nat Arch Museum in Athens.

Next to Apollo is a kouros who was found on Mount Ptoon in the region of Boeotia, north west of Athens. The sculptor did his best to reach anatomically accuracy. The complete body is more than before one whole. It was only a summation of loose parts, now it is a whole. You can see this statue from 515-500 BC at the Nat Arch Museum in Athens.

Then next is an important sculpture known as the the Kritios Youth (490-480 BC, Akropolis Museum, Athens). It is the first time that the sculptor decides to depict the kouros not strictly frontal. The head is slightly turned to the right and the ax of the hips is no longer exactly horizontal. The right hip is a little lower than the left, wich provides a standing and a resting leg. Notice the importance of the development. In only 100 years we come from an Egyptian like kouros of Sounion to this Greek youth.

Or the right we see the so called Omphalos Apollo, a Roman copy from a Greek original dating from 460-450 BC on show at Nat Arch Museum in Athens. This is a younger but even a better example of the contraposto or unequal distribution of the weight. The pelvis turns one way, the upper body the other

Now we come to two other sculptures which show more motion.

The left is Apollo from the pediment of the temple of Zeus in Olympia (465-457 BC, Museum at the archaeological site of Olympia). His head is turned to the right and his right arm is stretched sideways.

The other sculpture is known as the Diskobolos of Myron and shows the ultimate motion of a sportsman. This is a Roman copy exposed at the Therme Museum in Rome, but the original was made around 460-450 BC. One aimed for a perect rendering of reality. Anatomically it is a lot better than his predecessors but is still not completely accurate.

And then we come to the art of Polyclitus, one of the most important sculptors in ancient Greece. I will give more details of his work in the next chapter, but for now it is important to notice the attempt of the artist to create another balance. See the left and the middle sculpture below.

If the right leg shows tension and carries the body weight, the right arm is relatively resting. And if the left leg is resting, the left arm carries the javelin. If the left hip is tilted downwards, the right shoulder is a little lower than the left. If the torso is turned to the right, the head turns left. Balance is the keyword.

Left we see the Diskobolos (original 450-440 BC, Roman copy from the Nat Museum, Naples). Next to him the Diadoumenos or Athlete with the fillet (440-44-30 BC, Nat Arch Museum, Athens). On the right you see a statue of the successor of Polyclitus, Praxitels. It is Apollo looking at a lizard on the tree trunk and dates from 350-330 BC and is in the collection of the Vatican Museum in Rome. Notice the natural posture and because of the different proportions the sculpture looks more impressive than the older statues. I will explain the differences later.

Whether Praxiteles actually was the creator of the Hermes and the little Dionysos) is not known for sure, but it is surely based on his style. Because of the fact that Hermes raises his right arm the sculpture invites us to look at it from different sides. You can see this Hermes at the museum at the archaeological site in Olympia. It dates back to 350-330 BC.

The same effect we find with the bronze statue of the boy (in the middle below). It is called the boy from Marathon, because it was found in the bay close to Marathon. It was made between 340 and 330 BC and is to be seen at the Nat Arch Museum in Athens.

And on the right is a picture of a Roman copy of a schulpture that was probably made by Skopas. It is called Pothos, or Desire and was created around 350 BC. You can find this Roman copy at the Conservatori Museum in Rome. For the first time we see a little expression in the face and in the posture.

Below left is a picture of a Roman copy of a sculpture by Lysippos; it is called the Apoxyomenos, or the boy who scrapes the sweat and dirt of his body. The anatomy is rather well. The posture is very natural. He only misses the expression in his face (325-300 BC, Vatican Museum, Rome).

The Agias, see the picture in the middle, is probably made by a student of Lysippos around 325-300 BC (Museum at the archaeological site in Delphi) and shows a perfect anatomy of the body. There is stil no expression on the face, but it is a lot more individual than his predecessors. And the same goes for the sculpture on the right, the Paris of Antikythira (350-330 BC, Nat Arch Museum, Athens).

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