Statue of a draped Kouros
Period: Archaic Greek (eastern Greece), third quarter of the 6th century B.C. (ca. 540-530 B.C.)
Dimensions: Height: 135 cm
Ex-German private collection, 1980’s.
Statue carved from a monolithic block of limestone. Remarkably preserved, but the lower legs and the left half of the face now lost; partially chipped, in particular on the left shoulder blade, buttock and thigh. The surface shows superficial wear, but the volumes are still perfectly visible and reveal the pure style and sensitive work of the artist; the top of the head still retains rare blue-colored (and possibly reddish brown) traces of what might be an ancient polychromy.
This life-size (or slightly larger) statue represents a youthful man. Despite the presence of the drapery (which is rare, yet attested in other examples), this figure belongs to one of the most famous and important types in the development of Archaic Greek sculpture, namely the kouros (young man in Greek; this term indicates a type of sculpture representing the figure of a male youth, usually nude, standing head-on, with one leg forward and the arms hanging along the body).
Although limestone is used instead of marble, this statue can be compared stylistically to the great masterpieces of Greek sculpture dated to the second half of the 6th century B.C. The attitude of the young man is perfectly depicted; he stands upright with one leg slightly forward, his arms at his sides, while his clenched hands are placed on his thighs. The proportions are elegant, the volumes well rendered, the body shapes finely modeled. The fabrics, represented with realism and sensuality, both suggest a delicate texture and reveal the vigor and nuances of the sculpture (see especially the legs, the arms and the chest).
The youth of the figure is suggested by the body proportions, the well developed musculature, not yet comparable to that of an athlete, and the features of the beardless face, which (despite the current breaks) convey an idealized serene expression.
The young man is dressed in a masculine outfit that includes three elements and is already documented in the first half of the 6th century in the eastern part of the Greek world (see, for instance, the Geneleos group from Samos): a) a chiton (a draped garment, mostly visible on the legs), which certainly reached the ankles; b) over the chiton, an ependytes (a kind of pullover), whose edges are beautifully decorated with finely incised meanders (it might have been originally embellished with colors), that can be seen on the upper left arm and just under the hands, especially on the left; c) a himation (an ample cloak) fastened on the left shoulder and covering the entire right arm, the wrist and a large part of the back. On the body, both on the chest and in the back, the himation forms concentric folds marked only by light incisions. As in other related examples, the edge of the fabric, which descends vertically from the left shoulder, is highlighted; here, the sculptor has simply engraved a long line, without any further details (the decoration was probably painted). The right hand of the young man may be seen to lift the cloak at thigh level.
The hair, also of the Ionian type, is first composed of flat, wide locks dressed backwards from the forehead. At the back and on the shoulders, the hair falls in long, thick and regular braids; incised vertical lines and molded undulations differentiate the locks and perfectly render the volume of the hair. Atop the head, a simply pitted surface suggests that an element, made of metal perhaps, would have been inlaid.
Stylistically and chronologically, this work can be confidently classified in an eastern Greek context, primarily by the comparison with three famous figures of dressed kouroi, namely the young man from Foneas (Tigani Museum, Samos) and the slightly earlier statue of Dionysermos (Louvre, Paris), as well as the more recent example from Myus (Staatliche Museen, Berlin). These figures wear the same clothes, but their himation is arranged differently, since, fastened on the left shoulder, it then passes across the front of the neck and under the opposite armpit. Although they are less prevalent than on the aforementioned kouroi, the soft and rounded shapes of the outlines of our figure’s body are still present. The facial type and shape also argue in favor of an eastern Greek origin and have close parallels in many contemporary works from these regions.
Like korai, their female counterparts, statues of kouroi represented the idea of youth. Nowadays, it is thought that they had three purposes: they were used as funerary statues, as dedications to the gods in sanctuaries or, more rarely, as cult statues (of Apollo especially). An inscription may indicate the name of the dedicator and his origin (see, for example, the statue of Dionysermos in the Louvre).
The elaborate and rich manner in which this kouros is dressed clearly indicates that the commissioner of the work belonged to a high, probably aristocratic social rank (according to R. Özgan, the presence of the ependytes would indicate belonging to the aristocracy). The exact reason why a few rare figures of kouroi are sometimes represented this way remains unclear; perhaps it was just a fashion phenomenon. In carefully reviewing the issue, and especially the clothing and attitude of the statue from Foneas, H. Kyrieleis recently suggested that this image could represent a young dancer (richly dressed, this kouros is also depicted on tiptoe and raises his himation with his hand, facilitating his movements), certainly a member of a wealthy family having to participate in a ritual dance, during religious or civic festivals, for instance.
This hypothesis could also apply to our statue, but the preserved elements (the legs are missing and the hand gesture is unclear) are unfortunately not sufficient to judge.
On kouroi as a sculptural type in general, see:
BUSCHOR E., Frühgriechische Jünglinge, Munich, 1950.
RICHTER G.M.A., Kouroi: Archaic Greek Youths, New York, 1988.
On the classification of this work, see:
BLÜMEL C., Die archaisch-griechischen Skulpturen der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, 1963, pp. 36-37, no. 26, fig. 70-73; p. 58, no. 60, fig. 169-176; p. 64, no. 69, fig. 217-219 (statue from Myus).
FREYER-SCHAUENBURG B., Bildwerke der archaischen Zeit und des strengen Stils, Bonn, 1974, pp. 88 ff., nos. 47-48, pl. 30-34; pp. 150 ff., no. 72, pl. 60.
RICHTER G.M.A., Kouroi: Archaic Greek Youths, New York, 1988, p. 155, no. 124a, fig. 616-619 (Dionysermos, Louvre); pp. 155-156, no. 124b, fig. 624-627 (statue from Foneas); on the face, see: p. 110, no. 127, fig. 369-370 (Istanbul); pp. 110-111, no. 128, fig. 371-372 (London).
On dressed dancers, see:
KYRIELEIS H., Der Tänzer vom Kap Phoneas, in Istanbuler Mitteilungen, 46, 1996, pp. 111-121.
On male outfits in Ionia and on the ependytes as an aristocratic symbol, see:
ÖZGAN R., Untersuchungen zur archaischen Plastik Ioniens, Bonn, 1978, pp. 98-123.