Naxian marble; H. without plinth 76 in. (193.04 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1932 (32.11.1)
This noble figure of a youth is one of the earliest freestanding marble statues from Attica, the region around Athens. It is a type of sculpture known as a kouros (male youth), characteristically depicted nude with the left leg striding forward and hands clenched at the side. Most kouroi were made in the Archaic period, between the late seventh and early fifth centuries B.C., and are believed to have served as grave markers or as dedications in the sanctuary of a god.
The Greeks learned to quarry stone and plan the execution of large-scale statues from the Egyptians, who had been working very hard stones for centuries. The pose of the kouros, a clear and simple formula, derives from Egyptian art and was used by Greek sculptors for more than a hundred years. From the very beginning, however, the Greeks depicted their male figures in the nude, while the Egyptians were normally skirted. The Greek artist also evenly distributed the weight of the figure as though in the act of walking, eliminating the rectangular pillar of stone that is found on the back of Egyptian statues. Although this Greek kouros looks stiff and unnaturalistic to us, it exemplifies two important aspects of Archaic Greek artan interest in lifelike vitality and a concern with design.
In this early figure, geometric almost abstract forms predominate, and complex anatomical details, such as the chest muscles and pelvic arch, are rendered in beautiful analogous patterns. Some of the formulas, such as that used for the knees and wrists, are borrowed from Egyptian art. On the head, all the features are placed on the front plane, leaving flat sides with an ear placed much too far back, although the artist has made a beautiful design of the complex structure of the ear itself. The long curly hair is rendered as lovely strings of beads, and other details were added in paint, as traces on the figure reveal.