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Articles About Art - The Archaic Kore

Art Information > Art Articles > The Archaic Kore

The Archaic Kore*

The kore is the female equivalent of the kouros. She makes her appearance at the beginning of
Greek monumental sculpture (c. 660-650 BC) and the type continues to the end of the archaic
period (c. 480 BC).

Stylistic development was more gradual than in the Greek kouros, since social conditions
dictated that the female figure be clothed. For the typical stance of the Greek kore and the rendering of the folds of drapery, we do, however, find some Egyptian prototypes, especially in
the New Kingdom. The vivid polychromy of the Egyptian palette, the red and blue (now often
turned green), yellow, brown, black, white and green was also adopted by the Greeks. Initially the
Greek sculptor was intimidated by the social prejudice of dress, but he soon began to develop
ways and means of overcoming this handicap.

During the Archaic period of about two hundred years, the kore type remained basically the same, a draped female figure standing erect, either with feet close together or one leg, usually the
left, a little advanced, the arms pendant at the sides, or one brought close to the front of the body,
or extended and holding an offering, the other lowered and clasping a fold of drapery. Richter observes that in this period the stylistic evolution of the rendering of the kore, within a formalised scheme, was identical all over Greece. This is primarily observable in the rendering of drapery, anatomical features, hands, feet and hair.

The technique of carving a more or less life-size figure from a marble block was largely the
same as that used for the kouros.

In contrast to the kouroi, of which only isolated large stone examples have survived from the
third quarter of the seventh century, there are many korai that can be dated to this period and a
little later. A study of korai can, therefore, start at about 650 BC.

The frontal appearance of the Nikandre (c. 650 BC) is square and blocklike, the profile
planklike and narrow. The arms are close to the body and the hands are clenched with the thumbs
in front. In both hands are holes into which some object must have fitted. She wears a closely
fitting peplos, girded at the waist. The shod feet protrude from the bottom of the garment beneath
an archlike opening. Her long hair falls down the back in a solid mass, with four tresses on either
side of the head in the front. Down the left side of the statue is an inscription incised vertically.

It has been suggested that this statue and the Auxerre Kore, both with columnar bodies, recall the earlier figurines of the plastic tradition rather than the glyptic tradition. The Nikandre is quarried into a noncommittal columnar shape. She is heavily clad and the bodily volumes are entirely unarticulated, except for the head, arms and feet. There is absolutely no Indication of anatomical features below the robe. Not even the folds of the garment are indicated in the usual linear manner.

In the Auxerre Kore (of the last third of the seventh century, despite its rigid stance,
its rectangular shape and unnatural proportions, an increased tendency towards natural appear-
ance can be observed. This can be seen in the swelling of the breasts, the rounded torso above the
narrow waist, the full hips, the right hand placed between the breasts, and the left arm pendant at
the side but separated from the body at the waist. No folds are indicated, but down the front of the
garment and along its bottom there is an incised meander pattern in the archaic linear manner.

The hair is arranged in Daedalic fashion. It falls down the back in six tresses divided
horizontally and terminating in knobs. Four similar tresses are placed on either side of the face.
Above the forehead is a row of spiral curls.

The feet protrude from beneath the peplos from an archlike opening. The toes are represented
parallel to one another as are the fingers, and the thumbs are very short.

In the Hera of Samos, dedicated by Cheramyes (c. 575-550 BC) and created some years before the Peplos Kore, the lower part from the base to the hip still appears as a cylinder or an Ionic column with a closely fluted surface, otherwise totally inarticulated, and leaving an archlike opening for the feet. At the top the cylinder expands into a more rectangular section over which the Ionic himation is draped from the right shoulder to below the left armpit. She also wears a foldless epiblema, which hangs down her back and along the sides. One edge of it is grasped by the right hand, while the other is tucked into the belt. The folds of the himation are indicated by gentle diagonally-placed ridges, carved slightly deeper than in the chiton and more widely spaced, indicating the curving forms of arms and breasts. When compared to the Nikandre, the Hera of Samos, seen in profile, shows a far greater attempt to model the outlines of the torso, the back and the buttocks. Once the sculptor comprehended the underlying structure, he could direct his attention to such details as the surface forms and the drapery covering this structure.

An even greater advance towards naturalism is made in the famous Peplos Kore (c. 535-530 BC). The figure is still structurally simple and regular. The sculptor has adhered to plane-sided volumes which are easily intelligible. The main volumes are still arranged symmetrically around a vertical axis. The lower part of the body appears as an unarticulated cylinder on to which a few folds (for instance, at the right elbow, under the left arm, as well as the ends of the belt) are flatly modelled in a linear manner.

What distinguishes this figure from the Nikandre, for instance, is the fact that internal forces
have helped to shape the surface. It is a figure conceived from the inside, particularly in the upper
part of the body. The peplos is stretched across the breasts like a tight skin, emphasising the tension created by internal forces pushing against it. The thrust creates focal points in the form of
gentle swellings on the surface on the main volumes, such as the breasts and the bulge below the
peplos. Despite the maintenance of a square appearance, the transitions are soft and the highlines
diffused. The volumes of the body no longer appear as an assemblage of isolated pieces, but are organically integrated and related. This impression is extended to the facial features, marked by
soft transitions. The mouth, although still carved out deeply, is slightly upturned at the corners,
resulting in the enigmatic archaic smile. The more naturally-waving hair falls in three tresses to
the front on either side of the face, emphasising the curvature of the breasts.

At this point in stylistic development it becomes clear that the Greek sculptor was primarily
concerned with the human form and not with the texture of the drapery. His interest was in the
living body within the inanimate garment. In both the Lyons Kore (c. middle of sixth century BC) and the Hera of Samos, there is already a strong indication of the naked body beneath the closely clinging garments. The drapery is used increasingly to reveal rather than to conceal bodily forms. From the early sixth century it can be said that when the sculptor cut the four-sided block into its initial shape, the nude body served as his guide. This can be observed particularly in the headless marble statue of the last quarter of the sixth century BC in the Acropolis Museum, in which the underlying nude structure is clearly communicated beneath the transparent chiton, particularly at the back and around the legs. The folds of the chtiton are merely incised on the already shaped body, while the himation falls in evenly spaced, vertically placed grooves and ridges over the breasts and the back. The folds are shallow and are modelled regularly, appearing as symmetrical chevrons over the shoulders. The evenness of the alternating hollows and rounded prominences gives an impression of equilibrium and calm.

A similar treatment of transparent drapery can be observed in one of the best preserved korai
in the Acropolis Museum ( 525 BC) as well as in kore 685 (early sixth century).

Carpenter makes the following observation about this:

What was of real and lasting significance was the discovery that drapery could be ancillary
to the living form and need not be treated as an unrelated and uncorporeal accessory.

It could be argued, on the other hand, that the early Greeks must have realised this long
before, but were unable to integrate body and drapery before they understood organic unity and
the integration of substructure with surface forms within a unified composition.

Neither is it impossible to assume that the early Greek sculptor draped the female figure in
this particular manner in order to study the relationship between body and garment. Social
prejudice prevented the sculptor from studying the female nude freely. So her bodily forms were
only revealed very gradually - first the torso and later the legs!

Only in the second quarter of the fifth century did sculptors, in their quest for natural
appearance, begin to study the anatomical structure of cloth itself. During the Hellenistic period
this interest gradually developed into an obsession which caused the sculptor finally to lose
ontrol almost entirely over the bodily form beneath the cloth, as for instance in the Nike of
Samothrace.

* Drawn from notes compiled by R Becker & E Basson for the University of South Africa

 




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