Kore (Greek: κόρη "maiden"; plural korai) is the modern term given to a type of free-standing ancient Greek sculpture of the Archaic period depicting female figures, always of a young age. Kouroi are the youthful male equivalent of kore statues.
Korai show the restrained "archaic smile," which did not demonstrate emotion. It was the symbol of the ideal, transcending above the hardships of the world. Unlike the nude kouroi, korai are depicted in thick and sometimes elaborate drapery. As fashions changed, so did the type of clothing they wore. Over time, korai went from the heavy peplos to lighter garments such as the chiton. Their posture is rigid and column-like, sometimes with an extended arm. Some korai were painted colorfully to enhance the visual impact of the garments and narrative purposes.
The duration of the Archaic korai lasted between about seventh century to fifth century BCE. Similar to the kouroi, historians believe that the korai was influenced by Egyptian convention. Since ancient Greeks and Egyptians had relations with one another, it was possible for artistic influence. Korai have been found throughout Greece, such as in Athens, Ionia, Cyclades, and Corinth. This demonstrates that korai were not regionally isolated. The largest excavation of korai was at the Acropolis of Athens in the 1880s. They served their purpose as votive offerings to the patron goddess, Athena, on the Acropolis throughout the sixth and early fifth century. However, in 480/479 BCE, Persians attacked and desecrated the city of Athens. This included the Acropolis and many of the statues that were there. After the attack, the Athenians buried the korai, whether they were broken or not, in "graveyards" on the Acropolis. It was believed they did this to rid the reminder of the act of barbarianism done by the Persians and allow Athens to rebuild into a new era.
The kore statue had two main purposes. Korai were used as votive offerings to deities, mainly goddesses such as Athena and Artemis. Votive offerings are gifts given to the deities for worship or payment for favors. Both men and women offered the kore statues. Korai not only acted as an offering to a deity, but could be used to show off economic and social standing within a polis. How elaborate the statue was varied between each one. Korai demonstrated individual wealth and status because they were fairly expensive to create and limited to the upper class. To indicate their wealth, elite Greeks had their statues be decorated in paint and jewels. An example of a kore used as a votive offering is the Antenor Kore which was dedicated by Nearkhos.
Ancient Greeks also used korai for funerary purposes. They were grave markers and offerings for the deceased. It is suggested by historians that the funerary kore portray the appearance of the dead. This became evident with their names being inscribed on the bases of the statues. An example would be the statue of Phrasikleia unearthed from the Meogeia plain in Attica. The statue marked the grave of a young unwed girl according to the inscription found on the base.
Whether korai were given as votive offerings or grave markers, according to historian Robin Osborne, they were allegoric symbols as “tokens of exchange.” Unlike the nude and distant kouroi, korai are completely clothed and engage with their viewer. Their arm is extended and offers gifts of fruit, flowers, and birds. Patrons used korai as offerings to the gods or the dead. Korai symbolize their function by narrating the scene of exchange.
Theories on Identity
Identification has not been an easy task because of time or the lack of context for many korai. It has been difficult for historians and scholars to determine the identities of the korai statues, but they have theories of who they might be. There are two theories that many historians are in agreement on for identification: the “divinities" theory and “agalmata” theory.
The “divinities” theory suggests that the korai represent goddesses, nymphs, and other types of female deities. This theory could only be true for some of the statues. The problem historians have with this theory is that not all of the statues share similar characteristics. If they represented a specific deity, then each kore would share traits to identify them as that particular individual. This became evident to the korai found at the Acropolis in Athens. Not all of the korai could be identified as Athena, the patron goddess, because of how unique each statue looks. No two korai look the same in appearance. They each have individual characteristics. According to Henri Lechat, in order for all of the korai to be goddesses, they would all be different female deities. That would be more divine beings than Greeks have in their pantheon. However, some of the korai are actually divine figures, such as the Nikandre Kore as a statue of Artemis.
The “agalmata” theory proposes that many korai are generic maidens who represent the Archaic ideal of female beauty. Those maidens could be the priestesses, the donor of the statue, or young girls who served the goddess. The nice thing about this theory is that it does not really clash with other theories about identification. It accepts that some of the korai could be goddesses or other female divinities, but not all of them. Art historian, Jeffery M. Hurwit, suggests that the generic maidens were symbols for ideal beauty that embellished the sanctuaries and pleased the deities. Their presence is mainly meant to be a delightful gift for spectators to gaze upon. That was their identity above anything else. Korai were meant to bring delight and pleasure. The main idea for the patrons was that if the korai were pleasurable to look at, then it would also please the deity as well.
Polychromy and Korai
It is important for those who study korai and other ancient Greek art to understand that many of the works were once colored. There is an aesthetic preconception that the sculptures were pure white marble. The marble is only the skeleton of the sculpture, not the complete piece. Ignoring the polychrome of a sculpture will only show half of the context behind it.
Since the times of Michelangelo, it has been believed that ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were sculpted to be only white marble. This stereotype influenced many viewers of ancient art and created biases. Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who pioneered the study of Greco-Roman art history in 1755, held strongly the belief that color in ancient sculpture was inferior and spoils the purely white marble. His bias has been believed even today. Scientists and art historians try to counter this belief by providing evidence of visible remaining colors (mainly reds and blues that survive) and scientific research: microscopy and pigment analysis, ultraviolet fluorescence and reflection, and raking light. Vinzenz Brinkmann and his colleagues have been working to recreate these ancient works to represent their former glory in color. Scientists have been able to loosely determine colors used and possible appearances of sculptures when colored. However, most of the appearances that have been determined by researchers are only rough possibilities as seen with the Peplos Kore. Art historians debate who the Peplos Kore is. They believe the sculpture is either Artemis or the patron goddess of the Acropolis, Athena. Evidence leans towards the possibility of Artemis more. However, without the true coloring, it is difficult to say for sure.
Greeks used color to depict narrative values in korai. Color did more than allow the artists to achieve a more life-like appearance. Color gave artists the ability to characterize individuals and create meaning behind it. They could create patterns on the clothing of the korai. One example of patterning is seen on an ependytes, which is an Oriental prestige garment. This is seen on the Peplos Kore. Historians originally believed that the Peplos Kore was wearing a regular peplos, but in fact was wearing an ependytes with animal friezes. This type of garment was usually for goddesses. Without the colors, the context of the Peplos Kore was lost. The motifs used in the clothing could be used to identify which goddess it was supposed to be.
The Phrasikleia Kore is another example of polychromy being an important part of the korai. When the sculptor designed this kore, he incised into the marble, creating a light relief of a pattern. This is evident with the rosette and meander patterning in the dress. The technique used was common among sculptors when planning out the coloring of the finished product. Evidently, this shows that color was not just an afterthought for the artists. They used it with a purpose.
Color was also an indicator of wealth. The more prestigious the use of color indicated a higher social position due to the high cost of dyes. Clothes in bright colors were more expensive. In addition, color was used to depict jewelry or gems on a kore. If the patron was wealthy, they could use actual jewelry and metals with their sculpture.
Examples of Korai
- Phrasikleia Kore (550-540 BCE, Athens) functioned as a grave marker for Phrasikleia. The inscription states that she died at a young age and forever will be a "maiden." The sculptor of this kore was Aristion of Paros.
- Peplos Kore (530-520 BCE, Athens) received its name from the type of clothing it is wearing. It is strongly believed by historians that this kore is a goddess. However, it has been difficult to identify whether it is Athena or Artemis.
- Antenor Kore (530-520 BCE, Athens) was named after its sculptor, Antenor, who also created the Tyrannicides. It was commissioned and dedicated by Nearchos to Athenian Acropolis. Historians believe that this kore is possibly a goddess.
- Kore of Lyons (540s BCE, Athens) is part of the Korai of the Acropolis in Athens. It is an example of the Ionian style, supporting the relationship and influence between Athens and Ionia. Though it is unclear to historians of its function, the Kore of Lyons may have been a caryatid or a votive offering. There is debate among historians of who the kore is supposed to be. One theory is that the kore is Aphrodite because it is holding a dove, which is a symbol of the goddess.
- Nikandre Kore (650 BCE, Naxos) was discovered at the sanctuary of Artemis on Delos. It is one of the earliest statues to depict women in a life-size scale from the previous Geometric statuettes. The Nikandre Kore was a dedication by Nikandre of Naxos to Artemis.
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