Some of the loveliest works of Archaic art were the Athenian korai—sculptures of beautiful young women presenting offerings to the goddess Athena that stood on the Acropolis. Sculpted in the sixth and early fifth centuries B.C., they served as votives until Persians sacked the citadel in 480/79 B.C. Subsequently, they were buried as a group and forgotten for nearly twenty-four centuries, until archaeologists excavated them in the 1880s. Today, they are among the treasures of the Acropolis Museum.
Mary Stieber takes a fresh look at the Attic korai in this book. Challenging the longstanding view that the sculptures are generic female images, she persuasively argues that they are instead highly individualized, mimetically realistic representations of Archaic young women, perhaps even portraits of real people. Marshalling a wide array of visual and literary evidence to support her claims, she shows that while the korai lack the naturalism that characterizes later Classical art, they display a wealth and realism of detail that makes it impossible to view them as generic, idealized images. This iconoclastic interpretation of the Attic korai adds a new dimension to our understanding of Archaic art and to the distinction between realism and naturalism in the art of all periods.