The kouros stands, left foot forward, looking straight ahead, arms at his sides, thumbs foremost. With a faint smile on his lips, he embodies ‘youth’ and ‘male beauty’, ideals of aristocratic culture in Archaic Greece.
To create this flawless athlete, ancient sculptors used canons—sets of “perfect” mathematical ratios and proportions—to depict the human form. The canon or “rule of thumb” was originally applied by the Egyptians and later the ancient Greeks to measure various parts of the human body in relation to each other.
The earliest known canons were derived by the Egyptians, whose grid-based proportions influenced Greek sculptors in the Archaic period (700-480 B.C.). Over time, sculptors and painters sought to develop a rule of thumb that would allow them to depict the perfect human body – not a body based on a real person but a body based on a defined harmony among parts.
Sculptors of kouroi drew grids onto blocks of stone to help them maintain a proportion among a figure’s parts as they began carving the sculpture.
Using the rule of thumb applied to kouroi on a real person, one would measure the distance from the top of that person’s head to the bottom of his chin and multiply that measurement by 6.5 to find how tall that person would be by ancient standards. Similarly, one would measure the length of his thumb, from knuckle to end of flesh, and multiply that by 6.5 to get the ideal length of arm.