A great deal of Kore statues have been unearthed at the acropolis, most dating back to the beginning of the 6th c. BCE. In fact the Acropolis collection tends to monopolize the Kore discourse because of the large number and breadth of stylistic variety that have been unearthed at this site.
By definition, Kore (maiden) refers to statues depicting female figures, always of a young age, which were created during the Archaic period (600 – 480 BCE) either as votive or commemorative statues. Wealthy patrons commissioned them either to serve the deities in place of the patron, or as less often was the case, to become commemorative grave markers for members of a family. Many times their base (and sometimes on their dress) was inscribed with a short paragraph documenting the statue’s function, the patron, and the artist. According to the most accepted interpretations of the archaeological evidence, Kore statues never represented deities.
Korai statues are the female equivalent of Kouros. There are several distinct differences between the two, with the most significant one being the fact that Kouros statues were almost always portrayed in the nude, while Kore were always clothed. Consequently, when studying the statues, we tend to focus on the development of anatomy in Kouros, and on the development of the dress for the Kore along with the facial expression.
Most of the Kore statues are either life-size or a little smaller, and were developed with the same techniques and proportional conventions as the Kouros equivalents of the same era. With Kore statues, the human anatomy is acknowledged under the clothes but it is not emphasized. Instead, the lines of the drapery form smooth shapes that flow with ease creating a serene, almost hypnotic aura, which is duly complemented by the usual peaceful facial expression and the relative motionless body.
Kore statues were almost always standing, in a forward pose with the leg extended slightly forward (rarely with feet together), and with one hand pulling their dress as if not to step on it. The free hand was holding an offering to the god or goddess they served. Kore statues are depicted wearing either an Ionic chiton, or a heavier peplos as is the case with most statues from Attica, while some statues are shown wearing a peplos over a chiton. The sculptors took great pleasure creating rhythmic motifs with the dress as it draped over the obscurely developed human body underneath, and the carved in marble reveal the ornate quality of the garment’s edges, which was painted on the statues, or carved with the chisel.
Kore statues were thoroughly painted in ancient times in order to emphasize the life-likeness of the object by applying pigment in order to distinguish between surfaces (hair, flesh, eyes, cloth), and for ornate reasons, as was the case with the decorations painted on the garments. The color was applied to the surface of the stone by the encaustic technique. In this process, colored pigment was mixed with wax that was used as a bonding agent, and the mixture was applied to the sculpture after it was heated. Once cool, the waxed surface would seal the porous of the stone preventing thus its erosion. Ancient Greeks used this technique to apply color to create wall paintings, and to protect wooden panels and other architectural elements. It is the same process we employ today to preserve the surface of automobiles by “waxing’ it, except in this application the wax is not mixed with pigment.
Consequently, the material used to carve the statues was chosen more for its qualities in workmanship and its durability, and less for its color or translucently. In the early days most Kore and Kouros statues were made of limestone, which is relatively soft, and porous. As such, limestone is easy to carve and holds pigments well on its surface, but it deteriorates relatively fast when presented outdoors. When exposed to the elements, the details of a limestone statue could be lost even within the lifetime of the patrons who commissioned it. It is no surprise therefore that marble would be preferred since its hardness can resist erosion longer, even if it is harder to carve. The majority of the Kore sculptures were carved out of multiple stones, with the body usually carved out of one stone with cavities where arms could be doweled in place.
The Peplos Kore (c. 530 BCE)is a fine example of the Attica style, standing in a rigid pose, obedient and immobile as it were, yet bursting with strength and femininity through her soft arms, the kind features of her face, and the subtle suggestion of the curvature of her body under the heavy peplos. The ornate hair that drapes naturally on her shoulders, her measured “smile” and the pigmented iris bestow a sense of abundant vivacity and potential energy to the statue.
In contrast, the Chios Kore (c. 520 BCE) is presented ornate with a dazzling array of folds, textures, and colors on her chiton. The decorative nature, elegant features, and dress indicate that this was a statue made in Ionia (perhaps Chios), as it contrasts with the robust features and sparse vertical lines of the Peplos Kore.
The facial features developed over time from the naïve, and carefree expression of the early 7th century BCE, to the more austere gaze of the Late Archaic/Early classical era (compare the Korai pictures below).
No matter the expression or dress style however, one of the most important aspects of the Kore (and Kouros) statues of this era is the independent individuality that each statue emanates. In light of later developments in Greek culture and art, this representation of individualism cannot be attributed to mere mannerism in technique and process. Rather, it is indicative of a culture that begins to value the solitary human being as a distinct entity whose attributes of thinking, inquisition, and expression are worthy of the outmost attention and respect.
The Kore and Kouros of the Archaic time provide clues to a culture which was ripe to begin examining and explaining the physical world with inquisitive curiosity, a step which led to the philosophical, political, and cultural innovations of Classical Greece, innovations which themselves became the basis of western civilization.