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Kouros , also Kuros , ( ancient Greek κοῦρος ; plural Kouroi "boy, young man") is the modern name for the statue of a young man in the Greek art of the Archaic period . The female counterpart is called a kore . The scheme of the usually unclothed kouros was widespread throughout the Greek cultural area and before the 8th century BC. Known. The 54 cm high figure of the " Kouros of Palaikastro ", found on Crete from 1987 to 1990 , shows that the actual scheme was used before the island was conquered by the Mycenaeans and thus before the Dark Centuries . The Kouros scheme remained one of the leitmotifs of Greek art until the onset of the strict style around 490/80 BC. BC, who introduced classical art .

The archaic Kouros is characterized by an almost strict symmetry and frontality , as represented by the axis system of the so-called Dipylon Master . The head posture is directed towards the viewer. Turns of the head from the frontal view can only be found in the Kouroi or Koren in the late period. The extremities are little moved. Often the statues show what appears to be a striding position, for example in the case of the colossal statue of the so-called Sounion-Kouros . The faces of the archaic Kouroi appear relatively stereotypical. Characteristic of the archaic kouroi, as for the archaic sculpture in general, is the fine, almost imperceptible smile, which is known as the " archaic smile ".

The statues were mostly made of marble , but were also implemented in limestone, wood, bronze, ivory and terracotta, but then did not reach life size. Early specimens reached a height of up to 3 meters. Presumably the statues were painted. At least the blond head from the Acropolis, which was created at the same time as the so-called Kritios boy , could be an indication of this, on whose hairline there are residues of paint.

Kouroi can be found on the one hand in shrines as votive offerings , on the other hand they were placed on graves. Alone in the sanctuary of Apollo of Ptoion in Boiotia were discovered more than a hundred.

The kouros scheme

The great kouros of Samos (Samos, Archaeological Museum)

A kouros is mostly a statue of a standing, unclothed young man. He is broad-shouldered and has a pronounced waist. He stands upright with one leg, usually the left one, forward. Arms hang down on either side, hands clenched into fists. The hands are less often placed on the legs. Similar to Greek temples, the elements of which have a comprehensible function in carrying and loading, the effect of opposing forces can be seen in the figure of the Kouros. You can see a clear swelling of the legs, the load-bearing element, which carry the weight-bearing element, the tapered upper body.

Kouroi have long been interpreted as statues of Apollos and named as such, because it was assumed that they all represent the god Apollo. This may apply to individual statues, but not to all, because they were often labeled with other names and were either as Burial objects used or found in temples of other deities. Kouroi often represented the Greek ideal of the competition winner.

The oldest free-standing monumental statues come from Delos. The Kouroi from Delos coincide with the beginning of close contacts between Greece and Egypt. Greece had loose connections with Egypt as early as the 2nd half of the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC Then Greek settlements were founded in Egypt, of which Herodotus reports. Psammetichos I made free spaces available to the Ionians and Carians to the left and right of the Nile.

Through this contact with the old high culture, which had long erected huge monumental statues, Greek sculptors began to make their own free-standing life-size and larger-than-life-size statues, especially on Crete and the Aegean islands. To do this, they initially used white island marble, which was mainly obtained on the Cycladic islands of Paros and Naxos.

Egyptian influences

According to Herodotus, the Egyptian ruler Psammetichos I invited Ionians and Carians to settle in Egypt . They were the first foreigners allowed to settle in Egypt. Around 650 BC Then, large marble sculptures began to replace the small wooden figures ( xoana ) in the temples that had been in use until then . The kouroi also emerged during this time of Egyptian influence and many properties were adopted from Egyptian sculptures and later further developed in Greece. Greek kouroi have the same posture, also stand upright and with no torsion of the body. The head is erect and angular, with a flat face, a thin waist and broad shoulders. One leg is stretched out like the Egyptian pharaohs . The fists are clenched, often with a small piece of stone in the fist. The same 'wig-like' hair is worn by the Egyptian statues. Applying the muscle structure as a decorative pattern, with the knees, shins and calves highlighted, is taken directly from the Egyptian statues.

Differences to the Egyptian predecessors

Kouros of Sounion (Athens, National Archaeological Museum)

In contrast to the Egyptian figure, which is fused with the stone, the Greek figure detaches from the stone and stands free. This free standing is the body's own energy and it emphasizes parts of the body that have a function, such as the knee. Three-dimensionality, the interplay of the limbs and the ability to move can now be further worked on.

Another important difference between Egyptian and Greek statues is the nudity of the Greek kouroi. Egyptian statues were always dressed in a skirt or loincloth.

In the picture of the unclothed young man, on the other hand, the human being is represented as such in the best, super-individual appearance of the young man. While the Greek kouros embodies a general ethical and aesthetic ideal (of aristocratic society), the exemplary Egyptian statues represent the various castes of Egyptian society.

Kouros (Thebes, Archaeological Museum )

Another distinctive difference is the "archaic smile", which in Greece especially in the second half of the 6th century BC. Appears. It should give the lively impression of a healthy youth, express the ideal state of a young and harmonious person. The modeling still looks quite flat and unnatural, but is seen as a development towards naturalism . For the first time in the history of Western art, free-standing statues were made; the Egyptian ones were usually supported on the back by a stone pillar.

Individual Greek sculptors based themselves on the Egyptian models, but deviated in details. Very early statues resemble the Egyptian forerunners even more, while over time the Greek sculptors strive for a more differentiated modeling and develop a more lively expression. The Egyptian statues hardly changed in the course of time, while the Greek sculptors exchanged ideas all over the country and thus took up suggestions from different provinces and workshops and thus quickly developed their art. Last but not least, the invention of the iron chisel around 500 BC also contributed. Chr. Contributed to a technical progress, whereby the marble could be hewn better.


Kouros by Tenea , Glyptothek, Munich

8th century BC Chr. Bronze statuettes from the Geometric period (8th c.) Are already showing naked male figures with broad shoulders and thin waist. One foot is usually already stretched out, but since the arms are cast from metal, they are not put on. The figures have a very simple structure, show no anatomical details and the proportions are incorrect.

1st half of the 7th century BC Chr. Among the finds from Olympia is also a warrior statue from the 7th century., Which already has more lifelike proportions. It is geometric in that the chest is perfectly flat and the legs are round.

Middle of the 7th century BC More naturalistic figures were found in Dreros in Crete. The cult figures (Apollo, Leto and Artemis ) from the middle of the 7th century are anatomically correctly constructed, but the proportions are not yet correct. The head is much too big in relation to the body.

2nd half of the 7th century BC BC Although the correct proportions have not yet been found in the bronze statuettes from Delphi and anatomical details are very small, the overall shape is now more consistent.


unfinished kouros near Melanes on Naxos
unfinished kouros from Apollonas on Naxos

Marble was the most common material used to make kouroi. Mainly island marble (from Naxos or Paros ) was used, but marble from local quarries was also used. The early Attic kouroi ( Sounion-Kouroi , New York Kouros and the Kouros of the Holy Gate ) are all made of Naxian marble . For Kouroi from the first half of the 6th century BC The bluish-gray Hymettian marble was used.

Although limestone is soft and therefore easy to work with, it was rarely used for kouroi. However, as early as the 7th century BC, Greek sculptors had No difficulties to work hard rock types well. The own white marble was probably preferred to all other types of stone.

Although very few bronze statues have survived, there must have been very many, but they were melted down because of the high material value. The Sphyrelaton technique described by Pausanias ( small bronze plates hammered onto a wooden core) was mainly used before the 6th century BC. Used (Dreros-Kouros, statuettes from Samos). When the hollow casting process was invented in the 7th century , there was an upswing. That in the 6th century BC The Kouroi from Piraeus show that this procedure was well mastered . Throughout the centuries, statues, especially smaller ones, have always been made from one piece.

Although clay is abundant in Greece, free-standing statues have rarely been made from terracotta . The Greek sculptors were obviously more interested in creating in bronze and stone.

Ivory statuettes have always been made, including smaller kouroi. Of gold or silver does not Kouroi remain. Only very small statuettes were made from lead .


Kore 594 with remains of painting ( Athens , Acropolis Museum )

The Greek kouroi were painted throughout. Because on the kouroi there are paint residues, for example on the blond head from the Acropolis in Athens, but also on the calf carrier from the same place of discovery. However, not only emphasized body parts such as lips or hair, but also the skin were painted. The reason for today's “paleness” of the Kouroi and the different preservation of colored surfaces lies in the colors themselves, some of which reacted with the marble and were thus permanently fixed.


Especially for the production of Marmorkouroi were hammer , tooth iron , pointed chisel , flat chisel , gouge and rasp the most commonly used tools. The pointed chisel was used through all periods. Around 570 BC The tooth iron was demonstrably one of the tools of the stonemasons. In archaic times flat chisels and gouges were mainly used for hair and clothing. All other surfaces were machined with either a pointed chisel or a tooth iron. The final sanding was done with sandpaper or stone.

In order to work a kouros from a block of stone, a two-dimensional picture of the kouros was painted on each side. The sculptor then slowly chiseled out of the four two-dimensional images in the center and then slowly rounded the stone into a three-dimensional statue.


  • Gisela MA Richter : Kouroi. Archaic Greek youths. A study of the development of the kouros type in Greek sculpture . 3. Edition. Phaidon, London 1970. (Reprinted by Hacker, New York 1988, ISBN 0-87817-317-X )
  • Helmut Kyrieleis : The great Kuros of Samos . Habelt, Bonn 1996, ISBN 3-7749-2771-5 . (Samos, vol. 10)
  • Detlev Kreikenbom : Mature archaic sculpture . In: Peter C. Bol (ed.) The history of ancient sculpture. Vol. 1. Early Greek sculpture , Zabern, Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-8053-2869-9 , pp. 133-170.
  • Wolfram Martini : The archaic sculpture of the Greeks. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1990, ISBN 3-534-03175-X , p. 125.
  • Christiane Vorster : Early Archaic Sculpture. In: Peter C. Bol (ed.): The history of ancient sculpture. Vol. 1. Early Greek sculpture. Zabern, Mainz 2002, ISBN 3-8053-2869-9 , pp. 97-132.
  • Vinzenz Brinkmann : The polychromy of archaic and early classical sculpture (= studies of ancient painting and coloring. Vol. 5). Biering & Brinkmann, Munich 2003, ISBN 3-930609-19-3 .
  • Marion Meyer , Nora Brüggemann: Kore and Kouros. Consecrations to the gods. Phoibos Verlag, Vienna 2007, ISBN 3-901232-80-X .
  • Jürgen Franssen: Votive and Representation. Statuary dedications from the archaic period from Samos and Attica (= archeology and history. Vol. 13). Verlag Archeology and History, Heidelberg 2011, ISBN 978-3-935289-36-8 .

Web links

Commons : Kouros  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Herodotus, Histories I.
  2. Wolfram Martini: The archaic sculpture of the Greeks . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1990, p. 125.
  3. Pausanias 3:17 , 6.