Kritios Boy: Damaged by the Persians, Buried for 2,400 Years, Resurrected for the World to See
The Kritios Boy is an Early Classical Greek sculpture with an eventful history. He began his life in the world-renowned Acropolis of Athens 2,500 years ago, was damaged during a Persian onslaught in 480 BC, was buried to prevent further destruction, had its body rediscovered in rubble over two millennia later, and was reunited with its head after 23 years. He remains as a prime example of the artistic transition between the Archaic and Classical sculptural style of ancient Greece.
The Masterful Creation of Kritios
This famous sculpture, also known as the Kritian boy, was masterfully created out of marble, and is believed to have been sculpted in the early 5 th century BC. The Kritios Boy was named as such due to the belief that it was the work of the Athenian sculptor Kritios. This attribution was based on the resemblance between the head of this sculpture and that of Harmodius, another of Kritios’ work. The latter is a sculpture in a pair known as the Tyrannicides, and though the originals no longer exist, Roman copies of this work in marble have been found.
The head of Harmodius (right) bears a close similarity to Kritios boy ( virtusincertus / flickr )
Kritios Boy Discovered
The Kritios Boy was discovered in 1866 when excavations were being carried out on the Acropolis of Athens for the foundation of the Old Acropolis Museum. The marble sculpture was unearthed from amongst the Perserschutt (meaning ‘Persian debris’ or ‘Persian rubble’). In 480 BC, the Persians succeeded in capturing Athens, and they proceeded to sack and burn the city. As a result, many of the sacred temples were looted, vandalised, or destroyed. When the Athenians returned, they buried the desecrated objects ceremoniously. One of these was the Kritios Boy.
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The Kritios Boy sculpture ( Xuan Che / flickr )
Reunited with his Head
Whilst the body of the statue was found in 1866, its head was only unearthed 23 years later, in the area between the museum and the south wall of the Acropolis. The feet and the hands of the statue have not survived. Whilst the mutilation of the statue’s hands and feet may have been the work of the Persians, they may not necessarily have been responsible for its decapitation, as the Athenians were known to have occasionally beheaded their statues.
The Naturalistic Look of Kritios Boy
The Kritios Boy may be described to be a smaller than life-size sculpture, as it measures at a height of around 86 cm, thus a little smaller than an actual person. The most significant aspect of the Kritios Boy is its pose, which is known as contrapposto, an Italian term that may be translated to mean ‘counter-poise’.
The sculpture is significant for the fact that it is the earliest known Classical Greek sculpture to display the contrapposto. This pose is achieved by having more weight placed on one of the sculpture’s legs, which would cause the body to react to this shift in weight. As more weight is placed on the left leg, the left pelvis is pushed upwards, whilst the left shoulder falls downwards, so as to counteract the action of the pelvis. The opposite is also true for the right side. The result of this is a sculpture that has a more naturalistic look.
This naturalism was a novel innovation at that time, as the traditional kouroi (ancient Greek statues of young men) of the preceding Archaic period may be said to have been more abstract, rigid, and had a greater reliance on geometry. Apart from the contrapposto, there are several other features of the Kritios Boy that distinguish it from the kouroi. As an example, it has been pointed out that the rib cage is depicted as naturally expanded, as though the statue were in the act of breathing. In addition, whilst the kouroi of the Archaic period have a distinct smile, the Kritios Boy has a more austere expression, and his lips are rendered more accurately.
A sculpture from the Archaic period, which was more rigid and with a greater reliance on geometry. Myrrhinous Kouros (BC. 540 – 530). Credit: Egisto Sani / flickr
Although the contrapposto stance was eventually lost, it was re-discovered once more by the artists of the Italian Renaissance. Whilst the Kritios Boy may have been the first sculpture to have displayed this pose, it was later statues that contributed to this re-discovery, as it was hidden for several more centuries after that period. That being said, we are aware today of its importance, and the impact it made on subsequent generations of ancient Greek sculptors. Today, the Kritios Boy is displayed in the Acropolis Museum.
Top image: The Kritios Boy. Credit: Hellenic Art
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/greekpast/4714.html
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Available at: http://www.chs-fellows.org/2010/12/13/who-killed-the-kritios-boy/
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Available at: http://museum.classics.cam.ac.uk/collections/casts/kritios-boy
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