Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Kritios Boy

The Kritian Youth, c. 480 BCE

He is one of the most important pieces of art from the period. He inaugurates what has become known as the Early Classical Age of Greek art. However much he may resemble his ancestor kouroi figures of before, he resembles far more his later cousins. He is no longer Archaic, but Classical. All of his ancestors looked right past us into some never-never land.

By contrast, the ‘Kritios boy’ in the Acropolis Museum in Athens seems as if he might turn and ask you a question… The sculptor… broke with the 150-year-old kouros stance by shifting the seeming stress of the weight to the left leg while leaving the right leg, with the knee slightly bent, free to balance or propel. The displacement of the weight to the left leg raises the left hip and causes a slight unevenness of the axes of the torso. The head turns to the right, to complete the break with the rigidly frontal kouroi. The effect of these technical devices is to create a figure which seems to hesitate to be uncertain about what it is doing and where it will go. It seems conscious of its surroundings and faced with alternatives which ask for judgment and decision. In short, it seems to live and think” (Pollitt, 17-18).
In addition to the revolutionary new pose, known as contrapposto and found all over the art of the western world from this point on, the boy's face has lost the Archaic smile. He pouts, or looks "severe."

For this is indeed not merely a beardless male figure but a boy, whose soft flesh, trim but undeveloped musculature, and genitals are those of an adolescent. The greater specificity which the increasing richness of reference to the male form inevitably brought with it makes the fiction that this is a universal symbol impossible to sustain; rather than mirror the gaze of the viewer and enter the viewer’s story, this boy turns his head intent upon his own story in which the twist of his hips guarantees that he is an actor and not merely a spectator. No longer engaged, the viewer now searches for clues about that story, eyeing the boy up and down and appreciating the attractions of his youthful body. The world and delights of the symposion have here entered the religious sanctuary” (Osborne, 159).