If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

New York Kouros

Marble Statue of a Kouros (New York Kouros), c. 590–580 B.C.E. (Attic, archaic), Naxian marble, 194.6 x 51.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

 .
Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leaf grey style avatar for user Shlomo Fingerer
    Why would ancient Greeks want to use a portrait of a young man as a grave marker?
    (18 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user arya468
      Although the source was from a wikipedia page, which is not always credible, in this case it is. I took a few art history classes and the information that shlomofingerer1 brings up is accurate with what I've been taught. The Greeks admired youth and beauty, which is why much of their art is youthful. War veterans and Olympic winners were honored with a Kouros statue for their strength, youthfulness, and achievements in life. In many cases the statues would eventually be used to mark their grave.
      (24 votes)
  • female robot ada style avatar for user Danielle Miles-Langaigne
    Why do they show their "private part"? Why not, not include it in the sculpture?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user khewitt2015
      They show him nude(not naked, naked is like going to the shower but nude is for art) because that was the style and if they didn't show his private parts, it would look a little odd if it showed him nakedd but just without a part. They also showed 'it' because they want him to look at though he really would posing for a nude sculpture. Hope that helped!
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user miro
    Why would a man have braided hair?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf grey style avatar for user Christopher
      Possibly a symbol of socioeconomic status. Certain hairstyles are worn by different parts of a caste system. On Guam (my home island), the men higher in the caste system wore shaved heads with top knots. That was the fastest and easiest way to differentiate between who was a peer and who was part of a wealthier more powerful family.

      You can look at it in the same way that aristocrats and royalty wore cosmetic wigs from the 16-18th century as a mark of status.
      (3 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Jared Parviz
    What do they mean when they say this doesn't make sense from all sides?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • old spice man green style avatar for user TerryMHogan
      I don't really agree with this. I think it looks fine from the back and sides. Is there some sort of more "Quantitative" reason for it being labelled "frontal"? (I know it's art, don't try to quantify it, but could someone be a little more specific?)
      (3 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Tanpaw
    Are they always with no clothes on?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user bob
    What type of material is he made from ?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Rozalyn Hardy
    At , it says that the sculptor was a man. Would that have been the case? Were women formally or generally barred from creating these objects?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user sarah makarem
    why the left foot forward then? why not the right?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf blue style avatar for user Jeffrey A. Becker
      There are deeply rooted teleological explanations for the contrapposto stance (A teleology is an account of the purpose/use of a given thing or object or, in this case, body part). Based on archaic Greek philosophy, the right side of the body is to be preferred, thus placing the weight on the right leg is preferred by early Classical period artists who innovated the contrapposto. It has also been discussed that the emergence of the kouros type may also be linked to their exposure to the conventions of ancient Egyptian sculpture. You might seek out the work of Guy P.R. Métraux for more on anatomy and philosophy in Greek sculpture.
      (5 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Joi
    Would these statues as grave markers have been painted?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jason Acacio
    Is the way the sculpture is standing due to balance issues, so as not to fall over had its arms spread wide like in Roman art or renaissance? I am thinking that in this period that they have not figured out distributing weight as well as the sculptors after their time did.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Jasmine Spencer
      sculpting of the Kouros statues did change with time, the definition of the body and the shape of the spine became more life-like as the sculptors became more skilled, later Kouros statues show different and more complex muscle patterns and greater attention to the curvature of the spine, so it may be that the posture as it is in this kouros is a result of artistic inability rather than a balance issue
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

(soft piano music) - [Voiceover] We're in the room in The Metropolitan Museum of Art that's devoted to archaic Greek sculpture. - [Voiceover] Most of it funerary so sculpture meant to mark graves. - [Voiceover] But I just saw a man walk over to this 2,600 year old sculpture and put his hand as a kind of caress against her backside. Of course, this is wrong in so many ways but what happened is, for him, 2,600 years collapsed. That sculpture was this sensuous female figure. - [Voiceover] That man walking through the Met felt something that the Ancient Greeks felt when they made these sculpture. They were a lot of other things but they were also deeply sensual. - [Voiceover] We came into this room to look at a kouros. A funerary sculpture of a young man. It's a life size marble-- - [Voiceover] And we should say a nude young man because as we've just learned, although the female figure is clothed, and when the Greeks made these the female figures were clothed and the male figures were nude both were equally sensual. - [Voiceover] The only thing he's wearing is a little choker around his neck and a headband to fill it but what struck me was that the man who sculpted this kouros figure was creating something that was meant to trespass lifetimes to exist longer than any individual. - [Voiceover] It's made of stone and it endured for millenia and it was made to mark a tomb. So, indeed it was meant to last and to serve as a reminder not only of his life but of his connection to his family of his family's lineage across time. - [Voiceover] It's important to note that this would have been made for an aristocratic family but it's also important to note that this is not a portrait in the way that we think of that in a modern era. It's not in any way a likeness. It is, instead, a symbol. - [Voiceover] An ideal of manhood, of perfection. I'm interested in the way that in the sixth century we have sculpture during this archaic period that's made largely for aristocratic families for the elite in Athens and the surrounding area. When we move into the fifth century with the developments towards democracy we have sculptures that are made and commissioned for the state and by the state and that are very different than what we see during the archaic period. This early Greek image, so clearly dependent on the Ancient Egyptians. We could go through the Ancient Egyptian galleries and see figures very much like this. Usually, they're wearing a loin cloth or some kind of clothing representing the Pharaoh, representing the kings of Egypt. - [Voiceover] But there's a real distinction here which is that this figure is cut away from the stone. The stone between his legs is removed. There is no stone backing. He stands upright in this gallery, in the middle of the room, completely unaided by anything but his own two legs and there is a kind of extraordinary autonomy that results. - [Voiceover] Well, autonomy and so much more because when the Egyptians embedded that figure in the stone they gave it a sense of transcendence of timelessness, of being godlike in some way. By freeing the figure from the stone, we immediately have a sense of him being much more like us, much more human. - [Voiceover] Existing in our space. - [Voiceover] Exactly and moving into our space, of striding forward. - [Voiceover] Look at his stance. His shoulders are squared, his hips are squared, his leg is forward. - [Voiceover] There's a sense of movement but no real movement. - [Voiceover] Those limbs are locked in place even as they're representing symbolically the forward movement of the figure. - [Voiceover] So during the classical period, in the next century, the Greeks would make figures that stand in contrapposto that is they've shifted their weight. Their weight is firmly on one leg. One knee is bent and the whole body becomes asymmetrical. Here, really aside from that one foot being forward the figure is very symmetrical. It occupies a very strange place between being here present with us and also being absent from us and that's in the gaze too. There's a way that he looks past us. He doesn't engage us. - [Voiceover] The lack of contrapposto, the symmetry, does place him in some ways firmly in a world that is not ours. A kind of ideal, perfect world. - [Voiceover] His features have been reduced to geometric shapes, even his body parts are very geometric. - [Voiceover] As a result, very much isolated from each other so you have an arm which seems distinct from the torso as opposed to creating a smooth transition. In fact, you might even look at this sculpture and see it as very cubic, perhaps even referencing the four sides of the stone that this was carved from. One can imagine a block of marble that this sculpturer is approaching from four different sides. - [Voiceover] Actually, drawing the figure on those four sides and then cutting the stone away and using a system of proportions, very much like the Egyptians did. - [Voiceover] The sculpturer has been really careful about creating a kind of alternation between flat areas, for instance, of the face against much more complex and deeply carved areas, the braided or beaded hair, which creates this beautiful frame for the face. - [Voiceover] Mm-hmm. - [Voiceover] Now, this is a huge block of stone. It weights about 2,000 pounds. It's about a ton of stone that remains. It really is a tremendous feat that they've been able to create a sculpture that is balanced and supported on essentially two narrow angles. - [Voiceover] Without falling over. - [Voiceover] But you'll notice that the sculptor has left a little bit of a bridge between the clenched fists at his side and his hips to help support those arms because if they were free hanging they would be too fragile. - [Voiceover] And even so, you can see that this sculpture is 2,600 years old and it was obviously put back together by the museum. Over time it broke and it's always interesting to look for that and to notice what maybe a reconstruction and what's original. Although here, I think everything that we're seeing is original. (soft piano music)