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Marble Statue of a kouros

Met curator Joan R. Mertens on self-reliance in Marble Statue of a kouros (youth), c. 590–580 B.C.E. from the Attic culture of ancient Greece.

This kouros is one of the earliest marble statues of a human figure carved in Attica. The rigid stance, with the left leg forward and arms at the side, was derived from Egyptian art. The pose provided a clear, simple formula that was used by Greek sculptors throughout the sixth century B.C.E. In this early figure, geometric, almost abstract forms predominate, and anatomical details are rendered in beautiful analogous patterns. The statue marked the grave of a young Athenian aristocrat.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

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Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Video transcript

The young man stands with his left foot advanced, and his arms held to either side. He stands without the benefit of any support. The fact that the artist was able to balance 2,000 pounds of solid marble on these very slim ankles is a major technical achievement. He literally stands on his own two feet. He’s self-reliant and self-sufficient. He would have originally stood on a base that gave his name and identified his function as a tomb sculpture or as a dedication in a sanctuary. The kouros is naked, except for a narrow band around his neck and a ribbon that ties his beautifully groomed hair. This is a very … stripped-down kind of representation. There is nothing that tells us where he’s been and where he’s going. And so our complete focus is on his body and his mind. Looking at yourself in front of a mirror tends to undermine one's feeling of confidence or of dignity. The kouros is in no way diminished. On the contrary, his power resides in his beautiful body and the steadfast gaze. This combination of poise and nudity became a visual expression of sovereignty, and it lived on in Roman art and beyond. If you stop and look, more than once, maybe, I feel he will lead you in the most extraordinary directions.