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Seth Cassel
October 2005

The Differences Between the Kouros and Poseidon Sculptures And Why the Differences Exist

The kouros and Poseidon sculptures were created at two different times in history when Greek societies were near polar opposites, a fact that is reflected in their appearance. There are many different kouros sculptures, all of which have characteristics in common. Most kouroi (plural of kouros) were created during the Archaic period of Greek history (700 B.C.E.-500 B.C.E), and they are similar to the Egyptian statues that preceded them. 1 The Poseidon statue was created in the early Classical period (500 B.C.E -300 B.C.E)also known as the Classical Revolution. 2 It reflects the severe style3 that was popular at the time of Pericles, whose work helped Athens become one of the most progressive of the city-states, with an active society of scientists, philosophers, poets, dramatists, artists, and architects. 4 This progression of Greek history is echoed in the change from the kouros to the Poseidon sculptures.

The kouros sculpture, made sometime during 650 B.C.E. to 525 B.C.E.5, shows the Greek idea of what male "physical perfection"6 looked like at this time in Greek history. These Archaic period Greek sculptures were influenced by Egyptian art, both in their geometric proportioning and appearance.7 Kouros sculptures were produced in large quantities at the time, ranging from small bronze figures to huge marble statues.8 During the Archaic period in Greek history when kouroi were popular, there was a harsh separation between the wealthy aristocrats and the lower classes. Only the aristocrats could afford to have the kouros sculptures made for them, and they used them for votive and funerary purposes. The kouros sculptures were "emblems of ruling class-virtues such as excellence and the ideal fusion of the beautiful and the good."9 They were also "considered a perfect embodiment of the aristocratic ideal of athletic male prowess and warrior-like virtue that permeated the strata of Greek society wealthy enough to commission sculpture."10 The aristocracy used kouros sculptures to show their wealth and status during this period and to display many qualities valued by the aristocracy at the time.

The lower classes of Athens soon became angry at their position in society and threatened a war with the aristocrats.11 However, an aristocrat named Solon compromised with them, giving the people more opportunity and limiting the power of the aristocrats. After some time, others reformed the system until a democracy was formed. During this period of Greek history, the Persian Wars occurred in 500 B.C.E to 479 B.C.E. The Persians destroyed the city of Athens and with it went much of the "old style sculpture of the city."12 Soon afterwards, a very popular leader, Pericles, came into power in Athens and was in control from 461 B.C.E. to 429 B.C.E.13 Pericles encouraged building programs, science, philosophy, art, and other elements of society, thus rebuilding Athens. It was during this time that the Poseidon sculpture was created.14 After the Persian Wars, and during the reign of Pericles, Greek art was changed completely. The new focus was on human action and expressions, beginning what is called the Classical Revolution.15 The Poseidon sculpture itself is nearly seven feet tall and cast in bronze. It was cast sometime between 460 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E.16 using the very complex and tedious "indirect lost-wax technique"17 in the Early Classical (severe) style. Some historians think that the sculpture could be of Zeus instead of Poseidon, in which case the trident that he appears to be throwing would be a thunderbolt. However, there is no clear answer as to the identification of the sculpture. The ability to cast such large objects with bronze, a light metal, was new at the time and enabled artists to portray action in their sculptures.18 Also, along with this new technique comes an attempt at accurately modeling the sculptures after humans. This is evident on the Poseidon sculpture, in the fine detail on his beard, the realistic contour of his muscles, and the fact that he is nonsymmetrical, his hands and legs are in different positions. The sculpture of Poseidon was influenced by the new idea of casting in bronze, and an artistic revolution from which a change in preference was produced.

On first glance, the sculptures of the kouros from the Archaic period and of the Poseidon from the Classical period seem to be somewhat similar. They both are of nude males produced by the same civilization within a comparatively short amount of time. However, when looked at more closely it becomes clear that they are very different. The kouros is made from marble while the Poseidon is made from bronze. The kouros is stiff and rigid, but the Poseidon statue is in motion and is very loose. There are two major events that explain the differences between the two sculptures: the Persian Wars and the rule of Pericles.19 Numerous changes in Greek society, and specifically in their art, occurred in between the making of the two sculptures including the destruction of much of the Archaic art during the Persian Wars and the increased importance given to art during the reign of Pericles in Athens. One change that was evident in the Classical period, during the time of Pericles, was a new phenomenon that was not present in the Archaic style, a more realistic depiction of humans and their mobility, action, and body expression.20 The Poseidon sculpture has a very intricate beard and posed for action with very defined muscles, while the kouros sculpture is cruder and less detailed. Also between the creations of the statues, the Greeks created a new way of bronze casting using master molds that helped them make large-scale statues such as the Poseidon.21 This indirect lost-wax bronze casting method was new at the time and was characteristic of other innovative developments happening at the same time in Greek society. This method also allowed the artist to reuse the same mold multiple times and enabled sculptors to build bigger pieces such as the Poseidon, compared to the kouros sculpture.

The kouros and Poseidon statues are two very different pieces that were created before and after very pivotal events in Greek history that changed their art in very profound ways. Greek sculpture progressed much from the Archaic period to the Classical period during Greek history. This change "owed much to historical and political chance and circumstances and changes in the society it served."22 The kouros was sculpted in a time when all kouros sculptures looked similar, and they did not accurately depict the human body, instead focusing more on geometric equality similar to that of the Egyptians. Kouroi were used as a symbol of aristocrats' wealth and power. After the Persian Wars and during the reign of Pericles, the aristocrats lost a significant amount of power, thus changing the face of Greek society. Athens, the centerpiece of Greek society at the time, flourished and became a democratic state. A renaissance occurred there and society benefited in many ways, including advances in science, philosophy, and art.23 The Poseidon statue was sculpted during this time of new ideas and advances in Greek society. It also was being sculpted during a type of revitalization in terms of art, when art depicting humans was becoming much more realistic. The new method of indirect lost-wax bronze casting that was used to make the Poseidon sculpture continued to be applied for centuries afterwards.24 This statue, compared with the earlier kouros statue, represents a shift in Greek art that progressed from a degree of simplicity to sophistication, similar to what was occurring in their society at the time.

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