Head of a Kouros

From the Greek islands
ca. 550/540 BC

Height 21 cm



Because of its damaged surface, this face of a young man looks as if it were covered by a veil. However, the deep lateral surfaces and small areas around the mouth and between the eyes and nose are very well preserved. As a result, the tension-filled forms are clearly apparent, as are the delicate smile and the gentle expression of the eyes, which are open wide.

It is highly probable that this head originally belonged to a smaller-than-life-size statue of a nude young man. The early Greek sculptors of the seventh and sixth centuries BC adopted the typical stance of the figures of Egyptian pharaohs for their sculptures. In strict walking pose, the arms hang down straight at the body’s side. Contemporary scholarship refers to this type of nude young man as a “kouros”, the ancient Greek word for “boy”. We do not know, however, if the ancients themselves had a name for this type of statue. Kouroi stood in shrines, where they often represented the god Apollo. At grave sites, they function as a kind of early portrait, representing the deceased. Their presence there indicates that the latter had died before marrying, so that their death was premature and hence especially tragic.

Certain distinctive features of the head reveal its origins. In the sixth centuryBC, it is possible to distinguish between the many workshops on the basis of stylistic peculiarities. The deep lateral surfaces of the face, the powerful forms, the coiled tresses on forehead and temple belong to the formal repertoire of the sculptors who worked on the two great Greek marble islands, Paros and Naxos. Thanks to the rich and especially beautiful marble deposits on these islands in the middle of the Aegean, local masters very early achieved a level of renown that extended beyond the boundaries of the region.