Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition / Sculptors and Physicians in Fifth-Century Greece: A Perliminary Study / the Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art

By Kenneth D S Lapatin | The Art Bulletin, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition / Sculptors and Physicians in Fifth-Century Greece: A Perliminary Study / the Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art


Kenneth D S Lapatin, The Art Bulletin


WARREN G. MOON, ED. Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition

Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. 375 pp.; 4 color ills., 430 b/w. $50.00 GUY P. R. METRAUX

Sculptors and Physicians in FifthCentury Greece: A Preliminary Study Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995. 184 pp.; 19 b/w ills. $39.95 CHRISTINE MITCHELL HAVELOCK The Aphrodite of Knidos and Her Successors: A Historical Review of the Female Nude in Greek Art Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.194 pp., 39 b/w ills. $47.50 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 sth 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 Olympio.s, which, along with other masterpieces of art, ancient even then, figured in Lausos' Christian allegorical program.' 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. "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 flea.sterforschungen, 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 (and iantopoios), 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. …

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