Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition.

Author:Lapatin, Kenneth D.S.
 
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Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. 375 pp.; 4 color ills., 430 b/w. $50.00

The Doryphoros of Polykleitos and Praxiteles' Knidian Aphrodite were two of the most famous statues of classical antiquity and remain among the most influential in the history of art. Every museum, it seems, has at least a Polykleitan torso or a Praxitelean figurine. We see these familiar bodies, often only fragments, in bronze and marble as well as terra cotta, in statues and statuettes, on reliefs, coins, gems, and jewelry, not to mention perfume bottles and television screens. These celebrated artworks of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. come to mind's eye without illustrations. But the original statues, cast and carved by master craftsmen, Polykleitos of Argos and Praxiteles of Athens, no longer exist. Ancient literary sources tell us that the marble (said to be Parian more often than Pentelic) Aphrodite was purchased in the middle of the 4th century B.C. by the inhabitants of Knidos, on the western coast of Asia Minor, having been rejected by their neighbors on the island of Kos, who favored another Praxitelean statue of the goddess clothed rather than nude. Later sources inform us that the Knidia was lost in a fire that ravaged the Palace of Lausos at Constantinople in A.D. 476: it disappeared together with one of its few rivals for fame, Pheidias' chryselephantine Zeus Olympios, which, along with other masterpieces of art, ancient even then, figured in Lausos' Christian allegorical program.(1) Of the Doryphoros, both its beginnings and end are unknown: Where was it sited? Whom did it represent? What purpose did it serve beyond, as we are told, illustrating in bronze the proportional system enumerated in its sculptor's treatise, the Canon, or "Rule"?

Despite their loss, these statues continue to exert tremendous visual power. As they offered compelling models of ideal bodies, they were widely copied, imitated, and adapted both in antiquity and thereafter. The Greeks, no less than we today, were obsessed with the human body. Like us, they exercised and trained, toned, and even dieted - or, at least, freeborn males did.(2) Like some of us, moreover, they also assigned moral qualities to the beautiful body. In the early 4th century B.C., Xenophon, the Athenian general, sportsman, historian, and pupil of Socrates, recorded the latter's remark that "the softening of the body involves the serious weakening of the mind."(3) External states were often considered to reflect those internal; as Keats was later to observe, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty."

From their earliest experiments with direct lost-wax casting of bronze figurines in the so-called Geometric style of 8th century B.C., Greek sculptors sought to depict, indeed, to generate ideal male figures, a practice continued in Archaic monumental stone sculpture of the 7th and 6th centuries.(4) Only in the 5th century B.C., however, was the "Greek ideal" we recognize today created. Although some scholars have seen the gradual development toward the naturalistic depiction of the human body as conditioned by unchangeable evolutionary laws,(5) "advances" in the depiction of the human form have more traditionally been attributed to the hands of individual masters. In this practice of Meisterforschungen, the sculptor Polykleitos, a native of Argos in the northwestern Peloponnese, looms large. His very name, in fact, means "far-famed." Cited by the Hellenistic Laterculi Alexandrini as a sculptor of men (andriantopoios), as opposed to his contemporary Pheidias, a sculptor of gods (agalmatopoios), he ranked as one of the consummate sculptors of classical antiquity. Even in his lifetime, or soon after, Polykleitos did not escape the notice of intellectuals: Plato mentions him explicitly, while Xenophon, too, composed a dialogue in which Socrates interrogates a sculptor named Kleiton, perhaps a thinly veiled reference.(6)

Polykleitos himself has been touted as not just a sculptor but also a philosopher and theoretician on account of his written Canon, which survives only in enigmatic fragments quoted by other ancient authors, for example, "Perfection arises little by little [?] from many numbers," "the work is most difficult when the clay is on the nail." Although it, too, does not survive, the bronze version of the Canon, since the days of Winckelmann, has widely been considered to be the Doryphoros, or Spear-bearer, a statue of a manly youth (viriliter puerum) listed by ancient authors among Polykleitos' works. No ancient source, however, explicitly makes the connection between the Canon and the Doryphoros: the identification is dependent on the emendation of an intruding "and" from the text of the Elder Pliny (Natural History 34.55). Polykleitos' visual manifesto was only recognized in an actual surviving Roman marble by Karl Friederichs in 1863, and since that date no fewer than sixty-seven representations of the Doryphoros have been identified, mostly marble figures in the round, but also reliefs, bronzes, terra cottas, and even gems, almost exclusively of Roman date.(7)

In recent years, this ancient Canon has attracted considerable scholarly attention. Warren G. Moon's Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition stems from a symposium, held at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in October 1989, motivated by the acquisition of a marble copy of the Doryphoros by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. A major exhibition in Frankfurt in 1990 spawned a massive, well-illustrated catalogue (whose unavailability at the time they composed their papers many of Moon's eighteen contributing authors regret). Further German books and articles treating Polykleitos have been published since, and these can profitably be consulted alongside Moon's for their still more extensive pictorial inventories, as well as their texts.(8) Indeed, one of the few drawbacks of Moon's beautifully produced volume is its surprising failure to illustrate monuments, for which the reader is referred to the German volumes. This is especially odd because Moon's volume contains, by my count, 434 images, and especially frustrating because many of those images are not just duplicates, but even sextuplicates. Does the reader need to see the identical frontal view of the Minneapolis Doryphoros in (at least) six different places in the same volume: frontispiece, figs. 1.1, 5.1, 6.1, 6.67 (a cast!), and 12.38? To be sure, the reader is grateful for the wealth of details - hands, feet, abdominals, genitals, and so on - and not just of the Minneapolis exemplum, but are three identical views of that statue from the right, four from the left, two from the rear, not to mention five frontal views of the Vatican Doryphoros, as well as duplicates (at least) of Apollonios' bronze herm in Naples, the Munich Diomedes, the Delos Diadoumenos, the so-called Idolino, and Riace Bronze A all necessary? I, for my part, would have been willing to flip back a few pages for these images rather than to chase through the library for others that have been omitted.

The editor, however, is not to blame. Moon died unexpectedly in June 1992 at age forty-seven.(9) That work on this volume was well in hand is clear from his fluent preface, but it seems to me that some acknowledgment of his premature death beyond his birth and terminal dates on the title page, reference to him in the past tense on the back cover flap, and the tributes of individual authors buried in their notes was incumbent on the series editors who saw the book through the press. The contributors would also have benefited from such a statement, as the untimely death of the editor necessarily delayed the production of the volume, presenting their scholarship after the publication of much that it anticipated. This handsome book itself is marred by few, and only minor, typographical errors. Its extensive index is useful, if not as complete as the wealth of entries might lead one to assume. Assistance from the Getty Grant Program has kept the price of this volume down: it is a bargain by any standard.

That having been said, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition is an outstanding book, and a fitting, if unacknowledged memorial to its editor. Moon grouped its eighteen essays, covering a wealth of material, into four basic categories: 1) precedents and parallels for the intellectual and theoretical aspects of Polykleitos' work; 2) copies of the Doryphoros and the vexing question of how they relate to one another and to the lost original; 3) evidence for the oeuvre of Polykleitos as a whole; and 4) the reception, adaptation, and influence of the Polykleitan style in antiquity and postclassical Europe. These are meaty topics, and there is much here that is new. It is also telling to see in the disagreements of modern authorities just how many problems remain unresolved.

The collection opens with Jeffrey Hurwit's "The Doryphoros: Looking Backward," which asks, "Is there anything distinctively and essentially Argive about the Doryphoros?" (p. 3). Hurwit observes that while few extant works can securely be attributed to the vaunted "Argive School" of Classical sculpture, figures that have little to do with one another have been ascribed to it on the basis of find spot or style. He usefully assembles an appendix of pre-Polykleitan Argive sculptors and their works as known from literary sources, but concludes that "our notion of the Argive style of the Archaic and Early Classical periods is largely a product of hindsight, derived by extrapolating backward from the Doryphoros itself, conditioned by the assumption that this is the statue toward which Argive sculpture must always have been laboring" (p. 3).

In "The Canon of Polykleitos and Other Canons," J. J. Pollitt notes that although Polykleitos' might have been the first in a series of treatises on sculpture by an artist in Greece, architects had a long tradition of writing about their buildings. These texts, like the Canon, are...

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