The Legacy of Ancient Greece

Greek Art


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390 B. C).] an Athenian as assigning to Polyclitus a preeminence in sculpture like that of Homer in epic poetry and that of Sophocles in tragedy; and Strabo[Footnote: VIII., page 372 (written about 18 A. D.).] pronounced his gold and ivory statues in the Temple of Hera near Argos the finest in artistic merit among all such works, though inferior to those of Phidias in size and costliness. But probably the more usual verdict was that reported by Quintilian, [Footnote: De Institutione Oratoria XII, 10, 7 (written about 90 A. D.).] which, applauding as unrivaled his rendering of the human form, found his divinities lacking in majesty.

In view of the exalted rank assigned to Polyclitus by Greek and Roman judgment, his identifiable works are a little disappointing. His Doryphorus, a bronze figure of a young athlete holding a spear such as was used in the pentathlon (cf. page 168), exists in numerous copies. The Naples copy (Fig. 137), found in Pompeii in 1797, is the best preserved, being substantially antique throughout, but is of indifferent workmanship. The young man, of massive build, stands supporting his weight on the right leg; the left is bent backward from the knee, the foot touching the ground only in front. Thus the body is a good deal curved. This attitude is an advance upon any standing motive attained in the "Transitional period" (cf. page 165). It was much used by Polyclitus, and is one of the marks by which statues of his may be recognized. The head of the Doryphorus, as seen from the side, is more nearly rectangular than the usual Attic heads of the period, e.g., in the Parthenon frieze. For the characteristic face our best guide is a bronze copy of the head from Herculaneum (Fig. 138), to which our illustration does less than justice.

A strong likeness to the Doryphorus exists in a whole series of youthful athletes, which are therefore with probability traced to Polyclitus as their author or inspirer. Such is a statue of a boy in Dresden, of which the head is shown in Fig. 139. One of these obviously allied works can be identified with a statue by Polyclitus known to us from our literary sources. It is the so- called Diadumenos, a youth binding the fillet of victory about his head. This exists in several copies, the best of which has been recently found on the island of Delos and is not yet published.

An interesting statue of a different order, very often attributed to Polyclitus, may with less of confidence be accepted as his. Our illustration (Fig. 140) is taken from the Berlin copy of this statue, in which the arms, pillar, nose, and feet are modern, but are guaranteed by other existing copies. It is the figure of an Amazon, who has been wounded in the right breast. She leans upon a support at her left side and raises her right hand to her head in an attitude perhaps intended to suggest exhaustion, yet hardly suitable to the position of the wound. The attitude of the figure, especially the legs, is very like that of the Doryphorus, and the face is thought by many to show a family likeness to his. There are three other types of Amazon which seem to be connected with this one, but the mutual relations of the four types are too perplexing to be here discussed.

It is a welcome change to turn from copies to originals. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has carried on excavations (1890-95) on the site of the famous sanctuary of Hera near Argos, and has uncovered the foundations both of the earlier temple, burned in 423, and of the later temple, in which stood the gold and ivory image by Polyclitus, as well as of adjacent buildings. Besides many other objects of interest, there have been brought to light several fragments of the metopes of the second temple, which, together with a few fragments from the same source found earlier, form a precious collection of materials for the study of the Argive school of sculpture of about 420. Still more interesting, at least to such as are not specialists, is a head which was found on the same site (Fig. 141), and which, to judge by its style, must date from the same period. It is a good illustration of the uncertainty which besets the attempt to classify extant Greek sculptures into local schools that this head has been claimed with equal confidence as Argive [Footnote: So by Professor Charles Waldstein, who directed the excavations.] and as Attic in style. In truth, Argive and Attic art had so acted and reacted upon one another that it is small wonder if their productions are in some cases indistinguishable by us.

The last remark applies also to the bronze statue shown in Fig. 142, which is believed by high authorities to be an original Greek work and which has been claimed both for Athens and for Argos. The standing position, while not identical with that of the Doryphorus, the Diadumenos, and the wounded Amazon, is strikingly similar, as is also the form of the head. At all events, the statue is a fine example of apparently unstudied ease, of that consummate art which conceals itself.

The only sculptor of the fifth century who is at once known to us from literary tradition and represented by an authenticated and original work is Paeonius of Mende in Thrace. He was an artist of secondary rank, if we may judge from the fact that his name occurs only in Pausanias; but in the brilliant period of Greek history even secondary artists were capable of work which less fortunate ages could not rival. Pausanias mentions a Victory by Paeonius at Olympia, a votive offering of the Messenians for successes gained in war. Portions of the pedestal of this statue with the dedicatory inscription and the artist's signature were found on December 20, 1875, at the beginning of the German excavations, and the mutilated statue itself on the following day (Fig. 143). A restoration of the figure by a German sculptor (Fig. 144) may be trusted for nearly everything but the face. The goddess is represented in descending flight. Poised upon a triangular pedestal about thirty feet high, she seems all but independent of support. Her draperies, blown by the wind, form a background for her figure. An eagle at her feet suggests the element through which she moves. Never was a more audacious design executed in marble. Yet it does not impress us chiefly as a tour de force. The beholder forgets the triumph over material difficulties in the sense of buoyancy, speed, and grace which the figure inspires. Pausanias records that the Messenians of his day believed the statue to commemorate an event which happened in 425, while he himself preferred to connect it with an event of 453. The inscription on the pedestal is indecisive on this point. It runs in these terms: "The Messenians and Naupactians dedicated [this statue] to the Olympian Zeus, as a tithe [of the spoils] from their enemies. Paeonius of Mende made it; and he was victorious [over his competitors] in making the acroteria for the temple." The later of the two dates mentioned by Pausanias has been generally accepted, though not without recent protest. This would give about the year 423 for the completion and erection of this statue.

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