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Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Kore of Nikandre

At first sight this seems an unremarkable statue.  If it offers another example of the Daedalic style, it can hardly compare on that score to the Lady of Auxerre, if only because of its badly worn condition.  In fact it is a significant piece, marking the passage, at least in the extant record, to a new material and a new scale.  At 5’9” it is life-size or over-life-size, and it is made of marble.  Thus it stands at the beginning of the great tradition of monumental marble sculpture in Greece.  In fact it is the earliest large-scale statue to have survived in any type of stone.  There is no telling whether it is earlier or later than the Lady of Auxerre.  The date is usually put at 650-625 BC. 

The statue was discovered in 1878 in the sanctuary of Artemis on the island of Delos, the island sacred to Artemis and her brother Apollo (it was, after all, their birthplace).  The findspot alone suggests that the statue was a dedication to Artemis.  But running along its left side is an inscription--one of the earliest in stone.  The words are written boustrophedon, i.e., from right to left and from left to right in alternating lines:

“Nikandre, the excellent daughter of Deinodikos of Naxos, sister of Deinomenes, now wife of Phraxos, dedicated me to the far-shooter, the pourer of arrows.”

The inscription confirms that the statue is a dedication to Artemis--the goddess is easily identified by the two archery-epithets.  And we learn a fair bit about Nikandre.  She defines herself by three men in her life: her father, brother, and husband.  But to whom does the pronoun “me” refer?  There are three possibilities:

  • Nikandre.  The statue is a likeness of its dedicator, left in the sanctuary as a worshipper in permanent attendance on the goddess.
  • Artemis.  The statue represents the recipient of the dedication, the goddess in whose sanctuary the offering is made.
  • Agalma.  The statue is merely an intermediary, a vehicle of the dedicator’s devotion to the goddess, perhaps a priestess. At all events, a “pleasing gift” (agalma).

This is a puzzle that cannot be solved.  There is a clue, but it leads nowhere: holes in the statue’s hands.  The holes were drilled there to hold accessories now lost.  What accessories?  Hypotheses abound.  If flowers or some other offering, then Nikandre.  If a bow and arrows or a leash for lions, then Artemis as archer-huntress or as Potnia Theron (Mistress of Animals: she is often depicted with a lion or other animal to either side).  But these are just guesses.  As for Nikandre herself, John Boardman (34) and Nigel Spivey (64) have suggested that she was a priestess at the sanctuary.  And “the last line of the inscription suggests that the statue was dedicated on the occasion of her wedding and release from service” (Hurwit 186).  Did the priestess leave the statue to mark the end of her service to the goddess?

The Kore of Nikandre follows the basic Daedalic pattern. The face is an inverted triangle. Little more can be said about it because it has been so battered, although it seems that its facial features were not so heavy as those of the Auxerre Kore. The hair falls in four segmented locks on either side, forming a larger triangular frame for the face. The arms are held stiffly at the sides. The kore wears a long robe divided by a belt. What appears to be a cape for the shoulders is material folded back (cf. the previous post on the Lady of Auxerre). The incised guidelines for the paint are worn off, as are all traces of the original colors. So we have to imagine how statue was decorated. The flesh was perhaps left in the color of the polished marble (whereas in limestone red was used for male flesh, white for female flesh). But the garment, the hair, and the details of the face were all picked out in color.

The form is severely frontal, not meant to be viewed from the side or from the back. The block is shallow, never more than about seven inches thick (see the image at the top of this post). Even when viewed from the front, the form retains the rectilinearity of the block from which it is carved. Hurwit thinks that the form recalls a centuries-long indigenous tradition of large-scale statues carved from wooden beams. The kore is plank-like because it renders in stone the form of the xoanon or bretas or kolossos: ancient wooden images “only barely human in form” (188). On the other hand, Boardman sees in the kore “a small terracotta writ large”: the technique borrowed from the East to make the Daedalic terracottas, whereby clay was pressed into the mold for the front only, was at first simply transposed to the new medium of marble (34).

The choice of material is nothing less than momentous.  For marble had not been used to make a statue in Greece for well over a millennium.  It was not that there was no marble to be had.  Nikandre hailed from Naxos, and Naxian marble was the best there was.  Naxos also yielded emery, the abrasive used to polish marble.  So why the long hiatus in marble sculpture?  For one thing, marble was very hard to carve, unlike, say, limestone.  Working marble was something of a lost art, requiring special tools and techniques.  So what induced the turn from soft to hard stone in the middle of the seventh century BC?  That is a great question.

For some, the answer is Egypt.  Andrew Stewart writes: “Archaic marble sculpture owed its inception to the Greeks’ rediscovery of Egypt” (108).  Likewise John Pedley: “Greek sculptors turned to a new material--marble--and a new scale.  As with architecture, the impetus for change came from Egypt” (148).  Greeks visiting that ancient land saw what could be done with hard stone (granite, basalt, porphyry, marble)--on a grand scale.  They resolved to give it a go themselves.  And they came back with more than just inspiration and carving know-how.  They also adopted the Egyptian canon or grid system, whereby grids were drawn on the blocks before carving to ensure uniformity in the representation of the human form.  An analysis of the proportions of the Kore of Nikandre shows a high degree of correlation (89%) with the Egyptian canon as revised in the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.  A coincidence?  Probably not.  Still, the Egyptian hypothesis has had its detractors: see the article by R. M. Cook).  We will return to this question when we come to look at the rise of the kouros.

  • Boardman, John, ed.  The Oxford History of Classical Art.  1993.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M.  The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 BC.  1985.
  • Pedley, John Griffiths.  Greek Art and Archaeology.  3rd ed.  2002.
  • Robertson, Martin.  A History of Greek Art.  2 Vols.  1975.
  • Spivey, Nigel.  Greek Sculpture.  2013.
  • Stansbury-O’Donnell, Mark D.  A History of Greek Art.  2015.
  • Stewart, Andrew.  Greek Sculpture.  2 Vols.  1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe

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