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Home > Auctions > 21st February 2017 > Eastern Greek Youthful Head of a Kouros

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LOT 0047

GBP (£) 50,000 - 70,000
EUR (€) 59,190 - 82,870
USD ($) 63,830 - 89,370

575-550 BC
13 3/4" (35 kg, 35cm).

A carved marble youthful head of a Kouros with close-fitting cap, band of curls to the forehead, braided hair falling to the shoulders, broad brow and cheeks, large lentoid eyes, pert lips held in an enigmatic smile; with steel mounting socket to the underside.

Property of a Hampshire gentleman; previously in the Collins collection; acquired from the McKenna family collection in 1998; formerly from a collection in Geneva, having been sent to America in the 1980s for exhibition by Harri Burki of Zurich.

Cf. Richter, G.M.A. Korai: Archaic Greek Maidens, (London, 1968) fig.368, for similar treatment of the hair, fig.128 for parallel; Guralnik, E. (1978) ‘The Proportions of Kouroi’, American Journal of Archaeology 82.4, p.461-472; Payne & Young: Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis, p.37; also Sounion Kouros, NAM Athens,; Saite figure, Louvre, Paris,; for a colourful kore, see see the sculpture known as ‘Kore 675’, NAM Athens; the ‘Nikandre Kore’, NAM Athens,; ‘Antenor Kore’, Acropolis Museum, Athens,; the ‘Rayet Head’, Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, Copenhagen,; similar kore, Acropolis Museum, Athens,

The earliest monumental marble sculpture to be found in Greece is that depicting the kouros (pl.kouroi) meaning 'youth', and his female counterpart, the kore (pl. korai), meaning 'maiden.' They are attested across the Greek mainland and islands, as well as in some of the colonies founded by the Greeks, and stand as one of the Archaic period’s most iconic art forms. They appear to have had a dual purpose as either grave markers or temple dedications, in common with most major statuary of the Archaic period. As grave markers they show a degree of personal or family wealth from the city states whose economic resources remained concentrated within a small group of wealthy, aristocratic families. The quality of dedications from temples was partly determined by the splendours of the sanctuary in which they stood and which they had to match. The monumental early sixth century BC kouros discovered at the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, Attica, is an excellent example of such equivalence. Standing at over 3 metres tall in its restored state, and exquisitely sculpted, it was most appropriate to stand in a prominent temple much used by seafarers from across the Greek-speaking world.

Kouroi and korai first appeared in the middle of the seventh century BC and seem to be partly influenced by Egyptian art styles that were encountered by Greek settlers in Egypt, at such places as Naukratis, an early Greek trading post, where they formed a militia within the Egyptian army and actively traded across Egypt and the Mediterranean. Indeed, many of the early kouroi clearly display Egyptian art styles in the rendering of the body, hair and facial features. Many kouroi and korai display a hairstyle arranged both in front of and behind the shoulders, reminiscent of an Egyptian tripartite wig. The characteristic striding stance had been typical of Egyptian figurative sculpture for over a millennium and was still prominent in the sculpture of the Saite period (664-525 BC), roughly contemporary with the kouroi and korai. The figure of a Saite official, now held in Paris, shows particularly close parallels to the kouros type, not least in proportion and the treatment of facial features. Eleanor Guralnik, using stereophotogrammetric analysis, showed very close similarities in the proportions of both Greek and Egyptian sculptures of this period. It is attested that Saite-period Egyptian sculptors used a grid system of twenty-one and a quarter squares, with twenty one squares used for the majority of the sculpture- the feet to the eyes. The grid was applied to the block due to be carved. It is entirely plausible that visiting Greek sculptors, passing through Naucratis, would have seen and learned this simple system, taking it back to their own workshops.

By the sixth century BC, the kouros type continued to display the same pose and proportions as earlier examples but developed increasingly naturalistic facial features, with parts of the body becoming more accurately rendered, particularly the musculature. By the late sixth century the more recognisable elements of early Classical art could be discerned in a more fluid representation of form. The Kouros statues of the late Archaic period can in fact be seen as precursors to the Classical athlete statues, such as Myron’s iconic Diskobolos and in particular Polykleitos’ Doryphoros, which shows a dynamic progression from the kouros’ typical striding pose.

The specific feminine variation on the kouros-type, the kore, showed a marked variation from her male counterpart in that she was invariably represented fully clothed rather than an athletic nude, in keeping with Greek culture’s specifically gendered social roles. Where the kouroi were often associated with Apollo, the korai became linked to his twin sister Artemis, a chaste, virginal goddess, and the weight of their clothing was emblematic of modesty and virtue. It was typically brightly decorated, and some korai retain their colourful decoration to this day.

From the earliest forms, in which the kore’s drapery amounted to little more than a solid column, as seen on the ‘Nikandre Kore’, the treatment of the clothing progressed in keeping with the kouros’ increasingly naturalistic musculature. By the late sixth century BC, sculptures such as the ‘Antenor Kore’ show a sophisticated level of sculptural skill in their drapery. The clothing of the ‘Antenor’ pre-empts the fine, transparent-seeming outfits of later classical sculptures in the deftly-worked folds of the mantle, the hand gathering the garment into pleats, and thenarrow skirt appearing to cling to the young woman’s legs.

The soft features of the face of our example and the treatment of the hair would suggest a date in the late Archaic period, the second half of the sixth century BC. With its large, almond-shaped eyes,soft, regularly-arranged curls, and full, fleshy cheeks, it bears notable similarities to the 'Rayet' kouros head from Athens, dating to 520 BC. The treatment of the eyes and hair also has parallels with a kore head held in Athens, which has been speculated to have been carved by the same sculptor as the Rayet head, a man possibly named Endoios (see Payne and Young).