Art Historical Background
First off, a kouros is a type of statuary from Ancient Greece, not one identifiable statue. The AP committee specifically picked the Anavysos Kouros but quiet honestly, you can use any kouros to teach this image. A kouros (pl. kouroi) is a standing male youth who represents the idea of youth and strength in Archaic Greece. The form for all these different kouroi doesn’t change very much: left foot extended, stiff-limbed, with braided hair down the back and an expressionless face with an “Archaic smile” looking forward but beyond the viewer. The anatomy is pretty stylized and idealized. The Ancient Greeks associate physical beauty with moral beauty, called arete. So to be idealized as a nude statue says something about what the kouros is supposed to signify morally.
The Anavysos Kouros (right) was made during the Archaic Period of Greek art, which roughly occurred from 1050-700 BCE. The style of this period is indicative of Greek seafaring trade with the Ancient Near East and Egypt. The stiffness of the body is reminiscent of Ancient Egyptian sculpture and indicates cultural and artistic exchange between these two great civilizations. You can see in this side by side image above of an Egyptian statue and a kouros. Note that their limbs are both stiff and they stand unnaturally “walking” forward yet their knees do not bend and their hips do not sway. Trust me if you tried to walk like this you would look like a tin soldier (I actually have my kids walk around the classroom without bending their knees and hips every year and it’s hilarious!).
By the end of the Archaic period the Greeks loss their emulation of the Egyptian canon in favor of a more realistic, yet still idealistic, human form: contropposto (which you will see in my discussion of the Doryphoros). You can some of that naturalism beginning to creep in the form of the Anavysos Kouros versus the earlier “New York Kouros.”
There could be two different functions for kouroi: dedication the gods or a grave monument, especially a marker for a youth fallen in battle. Although they were usually paid for by aristocratic families with an epitaph on the bottom, they were not portraits of individuals like we think of portraits today. There was an inscribed base found near the Anayvos Kouros (that may or may not below to this statue in particular) and that inscription reads: “Stay and mourn at the monument of dead Kroisos who raging Ares slew as he fought in the front ranks.” Kroisos would be the name of the dead young man and Ares is the Greek god of war.
Also, fun fact this sculpture would have been painted, as would have all Ancient Greek statuary that we have come to love with thier stark whitened marble. Imagine what a graveyard would have been like with fully painted standing male nudes…freaky!
*Note: Great AP Art History connection to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.! This can open up a deep conversation about the ways we commemorate soldiers who have died.
- J. Paul Getty Museum: Kouros
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Kouros
- The Metropolitan Museum of art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Marble statue of a kouros (youth)
- Great Art and Archaeology (ARTH 232): Anavysos Kouros
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Nude in Western Art and Its Beginnings in Antiquity
- Khan Academy: New York Kouros (video)
- Khan Academy: Marble Statue of a kouros (video)
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Death, Burial, and the Afterlife in Ancient Greece
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Contexts for the Display of Statues in Classical Antiquity
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: Greek Art in the Archaic Period
- Khan Academy: Anayvsos Kouros (video)
- Ancient-Greece.org: Kouros
- Greek Art and Archeology by John Griffiths Pedley, pg. 172-176
- Perspectives on Western Art, Vol. 1, pg. 65-66
- History of Beauty, pg. 37-41
- 10,000 Years of Art, pg. 70
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- Image of the Anayvos Kourus from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kroisos_Kouros