Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Diskobolos, Myron

Diskobolos, The Discus-thrower, Myron, 460-50

Nobody doesn't know this work of art, though not always, perhaps, as a work of art. As with the Artemision Zeus, the artist - in this case identified as Myron - has sought, with enormous success, to capture a moment in time as it is expressed through the human form in action. Specifically, an athlete is poised just at the moment of greatest contortion before sending the discus on its way. The Discus-thrower, alas, only exists in relatively weak Roman copies. Unlike the Artemision Zeus, our attention is not drawn to where the event will happen, but to the fact that it will happen, and to the physical expression that makes possible our anticipation. We note the curious combinations of semi-circles - the patterning is most effective - and we may also begin to feel, through the sympathetic stretch of our own skeletal-muscular systems, something of the particular consciousness involved in the action. Such a reaction may derive from the skill with which the artist has rendered the body's features; the face itself is virtually expressionless.

Surface modeling is ... masterful. The muscles have just the right tautness and prominence, the flesh is firm and lively, major veins of hands and arms show their pulsing vigor, and all the contours of the body are beautifully proportioned in their rhythmic flow. The sweeping arc of arms is continued by the inner leg and counter-balanced by the torso’s curve in the opposite direction, completed by the outer thigh. The round discus is balanced by the circle of the head, at equal distance from the center of gravity on which the body pivots. The vertical line of the lower right leg provides dynamic contrast to these correlated curves, and is an element of stability and strength. It is paralleled by the vertical left foot, resting on its bent toes, and is given effective counterpoise by the horizontal line of the right foot and supporting base. This attention to intelligible pattern, to repetition and variety and pleasing inter-relationship of lines, is characteristic of the Greek mind in its best literature and art” (Schoder, #39).
Schoder speaks of the "harmonious symmetry and proportion" of the piece. Susan Woodford, on the other hand, locates both symmetry and the repetition of shapes as characteristic of the earlier Archaic ideal. Here, in the early Classical style, new patterns emerge.

The Greeks were concerned not only to make their statues resemble men but also to make them objects of aesthetic delight. In the archaic period, symmetry and repetition of shapes were used to produce beautiful effects. These were now out of fashion. In fact, they were systematically rejected in the design of the Discus-thrower. Notice how consistently symmetry is avoided. The right side of the statue is dominated by the sweep of a continuous, almost unbroken curve, the left by a jagged zigzag; the right side is closed, the left open; the right side is smooth, the left angular. The simplicity of the main forms, the great arc and the four straight lines meeting almost at right angles, bring harmony to the agitated figure. One sees the torso from the front and the legs from the side so that the most characteristic features of each are presented simultaneously. Both representation and design are marvelously clear.

But what of the problems that emerged from the active pose of the Zeus of Aremisium? Alas, they are still there, perhaps even in aggravated form. The torso is so little expressive of the actual action of the limbs that in the 18th century another copy of the Discus-thrower torso was taken to be part of a dying warrior and restored as such; and the side view, showing chest and legs each in their least characteristic aspects, is almost unrecognizable as a human figure.

It was up to the artists of the next generation, in the high classical period (about 450-420 BC), to try to solve these problems” (Woodford, 2004, 18)