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Peplos Kore from the Acropolis

The Peplos Kore, an ancient Greek sculpture, was initially thought to represent a young woman wearing a peplos. However, recent research suggests it might depict a goddess like Artemis or Athena. The figure's unique clothing and possible accessories, such as a bow and arrow, contribute to this debate. The sculpture showcases the archaic smile, symbolizing well-being and transcending worldly emotions. Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Steven Zucker and Beth Harris.

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Video transcript

Voiceover: We're looking at a figure known as the Peplos Kore in the Acropolis Museum in Athens. Now this is one of the funny things that happens in art history. Things get named based on original thoughts about something. But then when later research is done that name doesn't really work anymore. Voiceover: But we keep the name because everybody knows it by that name. Voiceover: Exactly Voiceover: So this is know as the Peplos Kore because we originally thought she was simply wearing a peplos which is an ancient Greek costume, a rectangle of cloth often linen that is pinned at the shoulders and then falls down. Voiceover: A kore is a type of figure that was found throughout ancient Greece. It's a female figure that's clothed and the counterpart to the male kouros who was nude. Voiceover: Kore simply means young woman in Greek. Voiceover: Both korai and kouroi were found in great numbers during the archaic period which is the period just before the classical. Voiceover: It's a small sculpture and it was found on the Acropolis. Voiceover: Korai figures were generally offerings to the goddess Athena brought interestingly in many cases by men. Voiceover: But recent research suggests that this may not be a representation of a young woman at all. This might be a goddess. Voiceover: This figure is clothed in a very unusual way. Voiceover: Among all of the sculptures of young women that were found on the Acropolis, this is the only one dressed in this way. Now art historians are actively arguing about what it is that she's wearing. Some still hold to the idea of the peplos. Some suggest that it is a ketan underneath the peplos. Some say that there's a cape above. So there's any number of possibilities. It has also been researched into the original coloration of the figure which helps us understand her costume. Voiceover: Because what she is wearing is so unusual and is similar to sculptures of goddesses, there is some conjecture recently, very carefully researched conjecture that this may in fact not be an offering which is what's true of most korai on the Acropolis. But that this is a goddess herself, perhaps Artemis or Athena. Voiceover: Well Artemis is really important. She was the goddess of the hunt. Voiceover: And she often carried a bow and arrow. And what's so frustrating about this sculpture is that we don't have what she was carrying which would settle once and for all a lot of questions about who she was. Voiceover: Well clearly she had her left arm straight out, bent at the elbow. Voiceover: Which was characteristic of most of the representations of these young women. Voiceover: But in this case we think she might have been holding a bow with her left hand and we can see in her right hand a fist which is drilled in such a way that it could easily have held an arrow and so she may well be Artemis, the goddess the Romans would later call Diana. Let's take a close look at the figure. We can see that there are a lot of holes crowning her head. She probably wore a metal diadem, a kind of metal crown with rays that would have come up which certainly suggests her divinity. Voiceover: And it wasn't unusual for these female figures to wear crowns or to wear other kinds of jewelry that were represented either in paint or as metal that was applied to the sculpture. Voice over: We can also see that there's a rod that rises right out of top of her head and some art historians have suggested that there might have been a crescent above the diadem. And as you said, we can see holes for bronze earrings which would have been there originally. Her face would have been more complexly painted. Only the red really survives but we think that there was likely some black around the eyes and around the eyebrows as well as red and perhaps some more subtle colors as well. Voiceover: The sculpture has indicated not only her breasts and her waist but also a subtle sense of her legs underneath that very heavy drapery. There's a little bit of a sense of movement in the figure. Voiceover: This is very much an archaic figure. Voiceover: She does wear that archaic smile. Voiceover: But we have to remember that that smile was not meant to be an expression of emotion of happiness but rather a symbol of well being. Voiceover: And that smile gives us the figure a sense of being transcendent, a sense of being ideal, of not engaging in the world of emotion and difficulty but somehow rising above all that and so that makes sense for a figure that was a goddess or a figure that represented ideal femininity. Voiceover: And I think that was probably really beautifully expressed when this sculpture was new and still brightly painted. We found traces of paint in the band at the bottom of the cloth that hangs down over her abdomen. And then in the front of her garment it seems to part just in the middle of her torso. Voiceover: We see representation of embroidery of decorative patterns and of animals. Voiceover: Right, we see sphinx. We see horses. There are representations of perhaps goats. All of which is visible only under special lighting and is no longer visible to the eye. Voiceover: And perhaps suggests fecundity or fertility. It's very difficult to know. Voiceover: What we do know is that she is one of the most exceptional figures from the archaic period. We're lucky she survived for all of these years.