Friday, August 11, 2017

Survey and AP Level Art History: The "Doryphoros" by Polykleitos c.450 BCE


Form:  This frontally oriented sculpture of a young male figure is well over life sized, is idealized, and naturalistic.  Some of the features of the face, the musculature of the abdomen and above the genitals have been distorted to fit in with an ideal of physical beauty.  The hair, nose of the figure and eyebrows have a rather geometrically stylized aspect to them as does the overall anatomy of the figure.  There is still a hint of the archaic smile.

The figure stands in a life like contrapposto pose (contra- against posto- posture) in which the body takes on an over all "s" curve.  There is a shift of weight at the hips and a majority of the figure's weight is on one leg.  The torso is turned in a slight angle opposite to the angle of the hips. The pose looks almost as if the figure is in movement.

This is a marble sculpture made by Romans copied from a bronze original that used the hollow casting or the cire perdue or lost wax process.   The process is referred to as lost wax not because we have lost the process, but because the figure is originally sculpted from wax which is lost in the process.  The original is encased in clay.  Two drainage holes are placed in the clay and when the clay is heated, the wax runs out of the hole leaving a cavity.  Bronze is then poured into the cavity and when the bronze cools the clay mold is broken open revealing the bronze sculpture.  Since the bronze is a fairly soft metal, details can be etched and molded while the bronze is cool.
(go here for diagrams)


Iconography: This sculpture depicts a perfect and beautiful young man the essence of kalos.

In Greek epic poetry the hero is always described as handsome or beautiful and their physical appearance is a reflection of the character's virtue.  The idealism or beauty of the Greek figure is linked to the concept that you can judge a book by its cover.  The Greek term for beauty is kalos (calos).  The term kalos can also be interchanged with and is synonymous with goodness.  Therefore, to call someone or something beautiful also means that that thing is also "good."

The original sculpture was actually designed to be an icon that represented physical perfection of the human form and therefore a god-like kalos.  The Doryphoros by Polykleitos was considered so proportionately perfect that it was called the "canon"  (a set of rules or criterion or standard of judgment).

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The contrapposto pose serves the same purpose as the archaic smile.  Both were designed to give the work a more lifelike illusion.  In the case of the archaic smile, it almost as if there is the beginnings of movement in the face and the same is true of the contrapposto that seems as if the body is about to move.

Context: Schema and correction play heavily into this work.  There are elements derived from the original kouros figures, such as the step forward, the idealized form and the archaic smile, but, Polykleitos builds on the naturalism to make the sculpture more life-like.

Since this is a Roman marble copy after bronze original, this would make this yet another corrected view.  This copy of the work is the "correction" on the Greeks original "schema" and so its accuracy is in question.  Historians and Romans have often called this work the Canon.  This work was designed by Polykleitos to be his canon or his  treatise   (a complete guide of sorts) to making a perfect sculpture.  Unfortunately, neither his sculpture or his written texts survived but we do have Roman descriptions of the text and Roman copies of the sculpture and so the Romans referred to it as the "Canon."  The naming of this sculpture is complicated for this and other reasons.

It is thought that the original bronze carried a long spear and that is where he gets his name.  Doryphoros in Greek translates as "spear bearer."  This marble sculpture of the Doryphoros is a Roman copy of the first original bronze by Polykleitos.  We are lucky enough to have a sculpture that was made at the same time as the original Doryphoros referred to as the Riace Bronze or Young Warrior from Riace (c 460-450 BCE) that approximates what the original Doryphoros must have looked like.