Beckham of the British Museum; What Has an Ancient Greek Sculpture in Common with Our Sporting Hero? A Fine Figure on Show at an Olympic-Themed Discovery Trail Has the Answer

The Evening Standard (London, England), September 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Beckham of the British Museum; What Has an Ancient Greek Sculpture in Common with Our Sporting Hero? A Fine Figure on Show at an Olympic-Themed Discovery Trail Has the Answer


Byline: Brian Sewell

THE MOTYA CHARIOTEER British Museum, WC2 IMAGINE David Beckham naked within an ankle-length dress of gossamer linen designed by Mariano Fortuny, his sinuous contrapposto exaggerated by the clinging cloth, his genital mound and the muscles of his buttocks thrusting against it. I write of Beckham because he is by so many regarded as a sportsman of great physical beauty, setting a benchmark for the ordinary mortal of today, and on view in the British Museum there is, for the moment, an Olympian Beckham of more than two millennia ago, a benchmark of male beauty then. It is a sublime sculpture of such realism and sexuality, such serene pride and magnificence, such grandeur, nobility and even majesty, that I stood in awe of it for minutes, in a milling crowd yet quite alone -- and just as well, for in its presence I could not have spoken. It was for me a Stendhal moment.

I have never seen a sculpture like it. It is not of the ilk of the Elgin Marbles, nor of the Pergamon Altar, nor of the Laocoon and Apollo Belvedere, nor of the great bronze athletes here and there, and I fell to wondering how the history of art might have been different had Donatello and Michelangelo known of it instead of ancient Roman marbles, or had Lord Elgin found it instead of the sculptures of the Parthenon. It is Greek discovered in 1979 in Mozia, also known as Motya, the far western tip of Sicily, and dates from c350BC when it was part of Greater Greece. This standing figure, larger than life-size, broken off at the ankles, is a charioteer. His dress is no ordinary chiton, the standard male garment of the day, but one that falls full length to protect his body from the clouds of dust kicked up by horses' hooves. …

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