Striving for Perfection in the Sculpted Human Form – Doryphoros by Polykleitos

Topics: Ancient Greece, Greek language, Sculpture Pages: 5 (1808 words) Published: August 13, 2008
This paper explores Doryphoros a Greek sculpture by Polykleitos in 450 BC, which made an invaluable contribution to the pursuit of perfection in the sculpted human form.
The Greek Classical Period (480-323 B.C) produced human sculptures known for their freedom of movement, expression and celebration of man’s independent being. It was in the Early and High Classical periods that sculptors strove to achieve perfection of the human form. One major reason touted for this revival of a desire to achieve more realism in the human form was the conceptualization of Democracy in Athens in the fifth century. With this, came a renewed creative spirit in Greece, producing architecture, art, drama and philosophy that have shaped Western civilization. The ancient Greeks believed that every mortal possessed a divine spark, thus perfecting the form and appearance of man was the focus for Greek artists, an aim that made profound advances after the defeat of the Persian invaders and the Greek discovery of individual worth and freedom. Polykleitos, was a Greek bronze sculptor of the fifth and early fourth century BC. He was born at Sikyon in about 480 BC, learned his craft at the school of Argos and was famous for statues of gods and athletes cast in bronze. Along with Phidias, he created the Classical Greek style, an essential element was the use of a relaxed and balanced pose. Furthermore, Polykleitos created a new approach to sculpture based on a “Canon of Proportion” that he devised, designing Doryphoros a male nude larger then life-size sculpture as an example to illustrate his aesthetic theories. However, no one knows what unit of measure he used, since neither his treatise nor his statue survived.

Doryphoros was sculpted by Polykleitos in 450 BC. The original does not exist today, probably because the bronze sculpture was melted down for many other uses, leaving us to appreciate his work from multiple Roman copies in marble. The statue is now known as “The Spear Bearer”, essentially because it is a sculpture of a naked Greek man, probably an athlete that is carrying a spear in his left hand. His left wrist is tilted inwards indicating that the spear was resting on his left shoulder. The spear is no longer present, probably because its shaft was made from wood that would have decayed with time, or the bronze spear tip might have been reused elsewhere. Male nudity in the sculpture is a common theme. Reason being, firstly, it was normal for men to exercise naked in public. A gymnasium is a place where people go for indoor exercise. This is related to the Greek word “gymnasion” which translated means, “a place where people go gymnos (naked)”. In fact, the availability of a gymnasium was what defined a place as a city in Greek terms. Secondly, the nude male was developed to represent ideal beauty and independence.

Looking at the Spear Bearer, we get an idea of the Classical depiction of the athlete’s ideal body. Firstly, his body is lean but well built. Exercise has bulked up his body, and he is not fat or has overly-huge muscles like today’s body builders. Secondly, his muscles are well defined with six-pack abdominals and cut pectorals and his torso reveals an iliac crest. An iliac crest is the sharp line running above the groin and up over the hip, which can only be revealed on an exceptionally lean body that has strong developed muscles. Thirdly, he has powerful thighs and his calves are sharply joined, both essential to attain the momentum necessary to hurl his spear. Fourthly, he has a small penis. This is in line with the most revered Greek principles which are moderation, balance and self-control. Therefore, it is possible that instead of excessively portraying a large penis, sculptors chose moderation and depicted it small, possibly depicting the desire of all Greeks to practice self control, since they knew the extremes of passion and the dangers that excess could bring to society. Lastly, he is a handsome young man,...

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