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The New York Kouros: Style, Function, and Context

A Kouros is a term given to a free-standing ancient Greek sculpture that made its first appearance during the archaic period in Greece. The sculpture is a representation of a nude male youth (Von Bothmer 616). The name Kouros in Greek refers to a young boy, particularly of noble rank. Even though there have been many Kouroi in the ancient Greek regions, the majority of them have been widely spread in the areas of Boiotia and Attica (Von Bothmer 616). The word Kouros was first anticipated for what was previously known to be the representation of Appolo by V.I. Leonardos in 1895 (Von Bothmer 616). Therefore, the representation was closely related with young individuals dying in Keratea which was later taken up by Henry Lechat referring to a general expression of the curved male statue.

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As a Greek youth marble statue, the New York Kouros was curved in Attica. The statue is named for its current location, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (Von Bothmer 616). Statues such as the New York Kouros are widely spread among the Greek-speaking regions. The prevalence of these statues was only found in Apollo sanctuaries with more than one hundred of them from the sanctuary of Boeotia, and Apollo Ptoion alone (Von Bothmer 616). The sculptures were typically marbled and free-standing. However, their form is created from a combination of terracotta, ivory, bronze, wood, and limestone (Von Bothmer 616). Additionally, they are typically life-sized with a height of about three meters. The counterpart female Kouros sculptural is known as the Kore.


Originally, the archeologists believed that the New York Kouros was a representation of Apollo. This is because the Greeks artist viewed god as a youthful person without beards (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). However, various inscriptions and spots on the Kouros point out that the sculpture was not a representation of Apollo’s cult statues or any other deity. Various scholars have also made proposals that such Kouroi were a representation of heroes, warriors, the aristocracy, victors in athletic games, family ancestors, or provided homosexual titillation (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). However, these allegations lack written proof and exact context to back up the probable meanings.

The New York Kouroi sculpture functioned as a grave markers or votive offerings. Although the statues were not used as cult statues, they were still kept outside of the temples as a representation of a votive offering for honoring gods (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). The New York Kouroi was created by the ancient Greeks for expressing gratitude to deities because of their good deeds and answering their prayers. Moreover, both men and women and other groups committed to the New York Kouros and placed their statues in their sacred precincts for both female and male deities (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). The New York Kouroi was found by the archeologists in the sanctuaries of Artemis, Athena, Hera, Poseidon, and Apollo.

When a Kouros statue was designed for funeral purposes, it was positioned above the site where the man was being buried. The statue was not a representative of the physical appearance of the person but a sign of remembrance of the man (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). Archeologists such as Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway propose that the New York Kouros served double functions in a funeral context. This is because the statues not only honored the deceased person’s life but also served as a symbol of Apollo who was viewed as the protector of the dead (Papadopoulou and Gazi 118). The New York Kouros is not a piece of art as viewed in the contemporary age, but acted as a fulfillment of reasonable functions in Greek society. Therefore, the New York Kouros in museum context is viewed as an early object of life-sized statuary in Greece.


The New York Kouros statue is the same as the Mentuemhet statue and symbolizes the style of daedal statuary. Therefore, designing of the New York Kouros is not representative but stylized (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). The style of the statue uses a lot of geometry, with its body being abstracted and idealized, particularly the areas around joints and in the muscles. The face and the eyes of the New York Kouros statue are not real compared to how a person ought to look. This is because the statue tries not to be naturally observational (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). The New York Kouros appears stiff, linear, and rigid with little movement representation (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). Additionally, the fingers do not make contact with any part of the whole body outline (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). Moreover, the statue’s left foot is ahead of the right one. This implies that the New York Kouros has been curved in a walking posture.


The curving of the New York Kouros statues was done during the Ancient Greek archaic period. Additionally, the Greeks were creating lots of natural depictions of human shapes during the 6th century BC (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). During this period, Greece was moving from the period of orientalizing when it was experiencing higher influence from a wide range of southern and eastern cultures (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). This is one of the reasons why the statue applies a wide range of natural looks compared to the previous Greek art. However, the statues still preserve those orientalizing features such as the influence from the Egyptians with whom they had close relations.

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The New York Kouroi statues were widely used as dedications to gods and for marking graves. Such statues had a high influence from Egyptian culture where the harms are positioned to the side and the left leg placed forward. Traditionally, there are various pieces of evidence signifying that the Greeks were familiar with the technical procedures of the Egyptians (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). Moreover, the influence of the colossal Egyptian statuary on the Greeks who visited Egypt made Greek sculptors take on the Egyptian styles and enhanced theirs. The Greeks used the knowledge acquired in Egypt to design the stone screens joining the arms and legs. They also used the upright slab alongside where the Egyptian statues were normally positioned, and to strip the statue down to the nude (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). Therefore, this knowledge acquired from the Egyptians was used by the Greeks when creating the New York Kouros.


The Roman and Greek Art Department at the Metropolitan Art Museum stated in Greek Art in the Archaic Period that through the statue’s proportion and posture, the New York Kouros shows great Egyptian influence (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). Just like other statues, the stance and the pose of the New York Kouros is from Egyptian art, which explains its resemblance to other statues such as the Mentuemhet statue and other symbols behind the same posture and stance. The creation of the New York Kouros statue was done by a person with an Attic culture and was used to mark the grave of a youthful Athenian Aristocrat person (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). This is evidence because, in the Athenian culture, such funerary monuments were used to mark graves belonging to persons who died in their youthful stage (Kaplan and Durugönül 57). However, the statues were never meant to portray their appearance. Therefore, this statue is very distinctive from the Greek Kouroi of the time.

Works Cited

Kaplan, Deniz, and Serra Durugönül. “Head of a Kouros from the Hinterland of Tarsus Belonging to the Period of the Syennessis Dynasty.” Olba 28.XXVIII (2020): 57-68.

Papadopoulou, Maria, and Andromache Gazi. “The Role of Authenticity in Decisions Informing the Conservation of Ancient Greek Sculpture.” What is the essence of conservation? Materials for discussion, 2019, pp. 118-126.

Von Bothmer, Dietrich. The Head of an Archaic Greek Kouros. De Gruyter, 2020.

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