ARCHAIC GREEK ART AFTER THE GRECO-PERSIAN WARS. MYRON AND POLYKLEITOS

To complete the evolution of Greek sculpture, it is necessary to talk about two famous master artists who despite the novelty of their art techniques continued to maintain some traditional features from the archaic schools. They were Myron and Polykleitos. Myron, born in Eleuthera near Athens, began as a bronze sculptor and was considered the artist of movement: subsequent sculptors could not overcome his ability to express movement through attitudes. He broke with the old conventions by releasing his sculptures from immobility and resolved the problem of making his statues jump, run and move. Expression and psychology, and the individuality of his statues were a secondary feature to his work, where movement prevailed. To freely express movement, Myron had to take advantage of bronze which allowed him to sustain his metal statues in positions of unstable equilibrium caught in the act of performing a movement, like his famous Discobolus, an athletic boy in the act of throwing the discus. His entire body is pulled forward to later produce, with his spinning, the momentum that will help him throw the discus with his right hand. The left hand seems to rest on his knee, and the statue resembles the movements done in modern discus throw where the athletes turn one or two times before throwing the disc. The eyes of the Discobolus are looking back, focused in the disc he is ready to throw with his right hand.

A Roman bronze reduction of Myron’s Discobolus, 2nd century AD (Glyptothek, Munich).
A Roman marble copy of Discobolus from the original Greek bronze, ca. 450 B.C. (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome)

We also know Myron’s work by old copies of two magnificent statues representing Athena and the satyr Marsyas when the young goddess is surprised by the creature while she is inventing the flute. The Roman copyists always usually reproduced only the figure of the satyr. From the figure of Athena there is only one copy in Frankfurt: the goddess, standing to one side, hardly pays attention to the seven-note flute lying on the ground, whereas the satyr seems to be jumping of joy as befits to an untamed creature. All the surprise of a half human-half animal creature is perfectly manifested in the figure of the satyr. His face reveals surprise and astonishment, while looks with fascination that first invention of the goddess. Myron, who collected the most sensuous features from nature to be portrayed in his sculptures, represented animal figures with truly realism. In ancient times was much celebrated one of his bronzes depicting a cow, which according to the poets of the Anthology, was almost able to moo. For the first time in Art History we find an original and well documented personality. Myron was a prolific artist, and although most of his works are now lost, we know the vastness of his work thanks to the Classical writers who often spoke of his sculptures, mainly statues of gods and athletes.

Athena and Marsyas: the discovery of the aulos, a copy of the original bronze by Myron, ca. 460 BC. (Botanic Garden, Copenhagen).
Marsyas, a roman copy of the original bronze cast from the group of Athena and Marsyas by Myron (Vatican Museums, Rome).

A second master artist also very renown in antiquity was Polykleitos born in Argos or maybe in Sicyon, and famously known as the artist of the athletic beauty. Polykleitos works were mainly cast in bronze. The aesthetic beauty of his sculptures is especially portrayed in one of his works, knwon as the Canon or “measure”. It has been identified with the figure called Doryphoros who walks with a spear resting on his shoulder. It is the young man who has reached to his full male maturity, with all his muscular strength, with all his male features. In ancient times the Canon was regarded as the model for the proportions of the human body: the head was the right size, belly and chest had their proper development, arms and legs had their more desirable length. Thus the beauty of the Doryphoros consists not in his expression, but in his measures and proportion.

The Doryphoros, Roman marble copy of the original bronze statue by Polykleitos, ca. 440 BC. (Naples National Archaeological Museum).

In addition to the Canon, Polykleitos created several other sculptures known today by written references. From these sculptures, several reproductions in marble of two of them have been preserved to this day. One is called Diadumenos or “diadem-bearer”.  It is the figure of an athlete younger than the Doryphoros, although still constitutes a Kouros represented at the right time to wear on his head a ribbon, stéfanos or crown designated for the race winner and hence giving him a hero status. This attitude is appropriate to portray a serene, heroic figure, with his arms raised and calm body, although the legs are still swinging, something impatient, as if they could not remain still.

The Diadumenos, Roman marble copy of the original bronze by Polykleitos, ca. 420 BC. (Naples National Archaeological Museum).

The other Polykleitos’ statue with several known copies, is an standing Amazon wearing a tunic that barely covers her mutilated right breast. There are other statues of standing Amazons that have been believed to correspond to the sculptures made in competition for the temple of Ephesus by ​​Polykleitos, Phidias, and Kresilas. The Polykleitos’ Amazon leaned on her right leg as well as his Doryphoros and Diadumenos, and her left leg was free in a balancing position, whereas her right arm raised compensating the posture. The Phidias’ Amazon was the most feminine, that of Kresilas closely resembled that of Polykleitos as the most virile but leaned on her spear instead of the column or pedestal as Polykleitos’ Amazon did. Most of the Greek sculptures of this time are known only by Roman copies made in marble, since most of the original works were originally cast in bronze.

Statue of a wounded Amazon, marble Roman copy of an original bronze by Phidias, ca. 5th century BC. (Capitoline Museums, Palazzo Nuovo, Rome).
Roman copies of the three Canon Amazons: from left to right Polykleitos’, Phidias’, and Cresilas’.