BMCR 2004.09.15

Archaic Korai

, Archaic korai. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003. 187 pages, 278 pages of plates : illustrations (some color), map ; 33 cm. ISBN 0892366990 $125.00.

This book clearly has a complex history. The verso of the title page mentions a German edition (by Hirmer Verlag) in 2001, a text copyrighted by the author in 2002, an English translation (by the J. Paul Getty Trust) and a first publication in the United States both dated 2003; but the publicity blurb accompanying this review copy gives March 2004 as publication date. With this “pedigree,” one expects an outstanding volume.

To be sure, the large format, the truly marvelous photographs, both in black-and-white and in color, and the heavy paper make this an exemplary coffee-table ornament, to be displayed with pride. Yet this is also a schizophrenic book whose lengthy text is far too dense for the casual reader and too heavily riddled with imperfections for the scholar. I shall begin with the positive aspects of the study and will then detail my objections.

On the positive side is, I repeat, the copious photographic documentation that includes even a view of the remarkable seventh-century kore discovered on Thera (Santorini) in November 2000. This is not the only unpublished item: others are cited (e.g., p. 47, pls. 37, 42), and a color reconstruction of Phrasikleia (Athens, NM4889, pls. 236-237) replicates the first attempts at recovering the statue’s polychromy, by the same author (cf. p. 123 n. 104). In addition, albeit mostly taken from Lermann’s 1907 publication, details of decorative patterns on garments are often shown in color next to pertinent Akropolis statues. By contrast, Gisela Richter’s Korai, Archaic Greek Maidens (1968), the only generally comparable book in existence, reproduced such patterns only in black-and-white.

Other advantages are also obvious. An approximate count against Richter’s listing reveals that Karakasi (henceforth cited as K.) has added 107 statues, either whole or in fragments.1 Moreover, Richter had catalogued the korai in chronological clusters, regardless of origin, whereas K. has adopted a regional analysis that usefully groups the korai by provenience and/or by sanctuary. Brief historical outlines and plans are added for each significant location. Also important is K.’s extensive bibliography; although the text is a revised version of a dissertation presented in Frankfurt in 1996, some entries date as late as 2000, in an effort to cite the most recent information. Finally, K. explicitly tries to answer some questions about the korai which, in her opinion, have not yet been sufficiently addressed: their meaning and function, their historical and cultural context, as much as can be derived from their distribution patterns. In order to do so, she creates elaborate charts (pp. 150-171) detailing chronology, size, ornamentation and other relevant details — including comparison with the contemporary male figures, the kouroi — which, when studied against local events, bring her to definite conclusions. Given the uncertainty still prevalent in our assessment of the korai, this methodology is certainly feasible, especially when used with proper caution. For instance, there are still many Archaic statues and fragments, both male and female, that have not yet been published, and even one new early find, like the above-mentioned kore from Thera, can upset the chronological picture and its relative meaning.

It is apparent that K. started working on the charts (here called Tables) before writing her commentary. It is only in the “Preface to the Tables” (p. 150), for instance, that we learn what her size categories are; yet she employs those criteria throughout her text. Likewise, we are first told there that she uses the numbers assigned to the korai by each first standard publication, adding A to the chronologically nearest number whenever a newly discovered item is included (e.g., no. 6A for the second Cheramyes Kore, where no. 6 is the well-known “Hera” of Samos in the Louvre).2 For as yet uncatalogued groups of korai K. provides her own numbers; and for isolated finds she cites the respective museum’s inventory number. This approach is somewhat confusing, to say the least. To be sure, K. is not writing a catalogue nor does she discuss every illustrated item; the reader is never told how many korai the author has examined personally, although it is obvious that some of them have been carefully scrutinized. Thus the categories of “marble” and “ornaments” are said to rely on available information, often uncertain or incomplete. Again, this methodology is defensible. But if the charts are not accurate, the resulting deductions are compromised. I limit myself to a few examples.

Table 5 gives an overview of the “Cyclades and other Regions” (which include Kyrene, Thasos, and Eretria!). Under “Delos” it lists (Athens) NM 12: yet the statue corresponding to that number is a kouros from the Ptoan Sanctuary, not a kore. The same mistake is repeated on Tables 6.1 (“Delos. Dates”), 6.2 (“Size”) and 6.3 (“Provenance,” by which a derivation from either Naxos or Paros is meant). Only Table 6.4 (“Find Spots”) corrects the number to NM 22, which is in fact an elaborate kore; and it lists it as coming from “near the Italian Agora.” What it does not specify is that this statue was found together with a group of divine images (the so-called Dodekatheon) sharing with it technical characteristics and clearly identified by their attributes: an aigis for Athena, an animal skin for Artemis, a kithara for Apollo, an enthroned Hera, and so on. Hence the kore in Athens, also in view of her veiled head and different layers of clothing and jewelry, has been generally considered to be Leto. K. knows of this theory, yet she believes the statue to be “a votive gift to Artemis,” in keeping with her opinion that all korai represent human beings.3

This same belief affects K.’s assessment of other sculptures that clearly are not generic korai. The most obvious is perhaps the helmeted head Akr. 661, which is instead described as wearing a diadem.4 Another is the so-called Peplos Kore, Akr. 679. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that the figure does not wear the traditional peplos and probably depicts Artemis or another deity (see below). But whether K. agrees with this or not, she certainly should not list it as “life size” (K.’s “Category II: 1.65 m.-1.40 m. tall”) when her next column correctly gives its height as 118 cm. without plinth.

That Akr. 679 wears an ependytes over a chiton and below a long garment open at front, with matching cape, has been established by a careful analysis of the original paint and mentioned in various lectures and publications by V. Brinkmann.5 The richly decorated ependytes, an item reserved for royalty and divinity, and the brilliant yellow of the upper clothing strengthen an identification of the figure already implied by its simplified form in contrast with its advanced date. And if this same attire is worn by the statuette from Eleusis, NM 5, also included by K., it too should not be described (Table 14) as a peplos.

Statistics and numbers are also problematic. K. states (p. 115, n. 1) that Langlotz’s great catalogue (1939) lists “some 297 torsos and fragments of korai” from the Akropolis. But that total includes also Nikai and seated figures. P. 117 mentions that “four larger than life-size statues come from the period 530/20” whereas only three appear for that span on Table 10.3. K.’s numbers for Akropolis korai with and without “meniskoi” (Table 10.4) differ from the figures I had reached in a 1990 study that she has overlooked, although my theories have since been both rejected and supported by other scholars.6

There are more substantial problems. K. seems convinced that tyrants and aristocrats have the greatest influence over the frequency and location of kore dedications. Yet her historical summaries do not always prove the point. In 1949, Richter attempted a similar correlation in her Archaic Greek Art against its Historical Background but the book seemed almost to disprove the point. Too little is known and even evidence changes with new excavations. Aristocracy is, moreover, a loose definition. A much more nuanced analysis, with reference to Attika, is now provided by a book that appeared too late to be taken into account by K., but which reaches opposite conclusions: C. Keesling, The Votive Statues of the Athenian Acropolis (2003), esp. 65-69. Proceeding from a careful analysis of dedicatory formulas and statue bases from the citadel, Keesling argues that its korai depict divinities, most often Athena, even when no helmet or other warlike attribute is present. The very gesture of the outstretched arm holding an offering is seen as part of divine iconography, despite traditional interpretations to the contrary. Because of Keesling’s more accurate and wide-ranging documentation, her suggestions seems more compelling than K.’s.7

It seems illogical, moreover, to apply the same criteria to all korai, regardless of their origin. Some of the Samian statues, identified by inscribed names, certainly depict humans, but this does not mean that all of them do, given the anthropomorphic appearance of Greek gods. Attributes can be misinterpreted: the birds held by some Ionic korai may be not offerings or pets but divine symbols of Anatolian derivation. Missing heads might have had revealing headdresses, and the fugitive colors could once have prompted different identifications. I find it surprising, moreover, that the charts (2.1-5) compare the Didyma korai to kouroi but not to the numerous seated female statues, which would have provided not only chronological but also stylistic and iconographic clues. If the korai are truly human votaries or funerary “portraits” why were none included in the family shrine on the Sacred Road from Didyma to Miletos, which comprised only seated figures and sphinxes?

If aristocracy and tyranny, or even democracy, influence the production of korai, how are we to explain their complete absence from the Peloponnesos on K.’s map, and from the entire north and northwest Greece? Not surveyed by K. are also Cyprus and the Magna Graecian colonies, which have however yielded a few examples, and it seems arbitrary to dismiss them because they “add essentially nothing to the overall picture” (p. 12). Over life-size must mean more than ostentation, wealth, or status on the part of the dedicant, yet K. explains even enormous sculptures in human terms; the very “colossal statue known as the Naxian Apollo [on Delos] … could also be the likeness of a specific mortal” (p. 77). Why would all the Naxians dedicate the image of a single individual?

K.’s text is a typical academic dissertation: stretching a specific interpretation beyond the evidence, overloaded with footnotes, full of direct quotations (which, surprisingly, are not given in their original language, so that their accuracy cannot be verified). The author, moreover, has not been well served by her editor and her translator: female scholars are given masculine pronouns, Greek names are transliterated in different ways, British terms are used instead of American, standard archaeological denominations are given in unfamiliar form, garments and attributes are occasionally wrongly named, book titles are italicized at random, bibliographic abbreviations are missing.8 For a Greek-speaking writer to have produced such an extensive work, first in German, and then in English, is a major achievement for which she is to be admired. Her command of other foreign languages is also attested by her various citations. Yet I cannot help wishing that K.’s industriousness and interest had been rewarded by closer supervision and better technical support.


1. Richter’s catalogue comprises 206 items, but of these only 114 are stone korai (some of them architectural, and some deities); the remaining 92 entries deal with figurines in bronze, wood, ivory, and terracotta. On the other hand, at least five true korai discussed by Richter are not included by K. Some discrepancy may occur also in attributing fragments to complete statues; e.g., K. accepts that a head in Copenhagen belongs to a body in Istanbul, from Lindos (p. 113, reconstruction on pl. 106); yet the two have been conclusively separated and assigned to different dates: P. J. Riis, ActA 56 (1985, publ. 1987) 184-190. And could the limestone kore torso also from Lindos (p. 114, pl. 107) have been made in Cyprus — a site K. excludes from her survey? Given its material, the number of Cypriot finds from Rhodes, and the existence of a similar kore from Cypriot Salamis (Richter, no. 154, figs. 495-498), this seems a likely suggestion.

2. This system, however, means that the daughters from the Geneleos family group are numbered 61 and 62, although they are placed chronologically after nos. 9 and 9A, and seem to imply a wide gap from the latest kore, no. 26, because the official publication ( Samos XI, 1974), catalogues groups after all the single sculptures.

3. The quotation comes from p. 73, where the statue is cited as NM12. Yet in the Museum Index the number is correctly given as NM22, and so it is on pp. 69, 72, 80 n. 2, and 87 n. 75. On p. 69 the epiblema of the Leto is compared to the “himation” of the Samian Cheramyes korai, whereas “veil” is meant.

4. Cf. Table 14, “Synoptic Overview of the Attic Korai”, pp. 168-169. Richter’s Korai, 83, no. 131, lists it as an Athena and correctly states: “The helmet is much injured but the neck-piece is clearly visible at the back.”

5. V. Brinkmann, “La polychromie de la sculpture archaïque en marbre,” PACT (Revue du groupe européen d’études pour les techniques physiques, chimiques et mathématiques appliquées à l’archéologie 17 (1987) 35-70, esp. 43-46 and figs. 5-6. See also his Die Polychromie der archaischen und frühklassischen Skulptur (2003) 75-78, no. 100; and Bunte Götter. Die Farbigkeit antiker Skulptur (2004) 53-59. Note that Brinkmann 2003, Cat. 174A, gives a thorough reconstruction of Phrasikleia’s colors that differs in several details from K.’s, and even from the official publication: N. Kaltsas, “Die Kore und der Kuros aus Myrrhinous,” AntP 28 (2002) 7-38, col. pl. 1.

6. B. S. Ridgway, ” Birds, ‘Meniskoi’, and Head attributes in Archaic Greece,” AJA 94 (1990) 583-612. P. Danner, ” Meniskoi und Obeloi. Zum Schutz von Statuen und Bauwerken vor den Vögeln,” ÖJh 62 (1993) 19-28, objects; Th. Schäfer, “Gepikt und Versteckt. Zur Bedeutung und Funktion aufgerauhter Oberflächen in der spätarchaischen und frühklassischen Plastik,” JdI 111 (1996) 25-74, esp. 43 and n. 70, acknowledges my theory and seems to accept it, even if only partially. U. Kron, “Götterkronen und Priesterdiademe. Zu den griechischen Ursprüngen der sog. Büstenkronen,” Festschrift für Jale Inan (1989, publ. 1991) 373-90, although not concerned with meniskoi as such, independently mentions some of the examples I cite for ornamented helmets, adds more, and reaches comparable conclusions. I regret that K. consistently uses the first edition of my The Archaic Style in Greek Sculpture (1977) instead of the greatly expanded second edition (1993) that takes into account the many discoveries and publications of the intervening 16 years.

7. Indicative of K.’s approach is the following passage (p. 138): “The kore figures are nevertheless not to be thought of as honorary statues in the later sense of the term. It is significant that they appear anonymously, and that in the inscription only the name of the dedicator is given. Funerary korai were different in that they represented deceased women from the private sphere. The listing of their names was a necessary part of their function as funerary monuments. By contrast, the korai of the Akropolis depicted living girls who stood in the public and sacred temenos. They were underage parthenoi and members of their fathers’ oikoi; it was their fathers who decided their fate and as a rule commissioned their statues. Unlike that of their ‘sisters’ on tombs, the identity of the Akropolis korai could be discovered only through the patronymic. Nevertheless it was probably clear to every Athenian which daughter from which house was represented.” Another book on korai, M. Stieber, The Poetics of Appearance in the Attic Korai, (2004) argues that the statues have realistic traits, but her definition of realism is best understood as characterization rather than as portraiture. She does, however, collect more literary references than K.

8. Female/male confusion: e.g., p. 15 and n. 28 (P. Karakatsanis), p. 40 (A. Peschlow-Bindokat), p. 104 (S. Kane; also cited as “idem” instead of “eadem”), etc. Greek names: e.g., Naoussa/Nausa (pp. 59, 71); Aegina/Aigina; Pallini, etc. Note also that “on the processional route” is not a literal translation of the Greek cited, although given within quotation marks (p. 50). — British terms: e.g., braids instead of tresses (p. 27, etc.). Other translation problems: p 22 n. 138: is “earlier” meant instead of “younger”? P. 36: Kore M4 cannot be “older” than M3, although it is probably the older of the two Milesian korai holding a bird (M4 and M11; cf. p. 37 and Table 3.1). — Archaeological denominations: e.g., “ante” (p. 46 n. 136); Italic/Italian Agora, for Agora of the Italians (p. 73 & passim), etc. — Garments: p. 69: see supra, n. 3; p. 104: a kore from Kyrene is first said to wear only a chiton, then the hem of her “himation” is described. — Incidentally, could the “skin-bottle or purse” in the right hand of kore M11 (p. 39, pl. 46a) be part of the front swag of her himation grasped together with her skirt? I seem to detect a weight at the tip of the rendering. Cf. also p. 54 and pl. 51a-c (Theangela Kore). attributes: p. 56, the “bird kore of Cheramyes (pls. 8-9)” holds a hare instead. — Bibliographical reference missing: e.g., p. 130 n. 205, Berlin 1997. P. 16, n. 59, for January 1999 read January 1991.