Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Man and Centaur

This Lakonian group-one is tempted to call it laconic-from the middle of the 8th century BCE-around when Homer might have been at work-famously summons and defies interpretation. Clearly, a centaur and a human figure face each other. Is the human figure a mortal or an immortal? Probably, he represents a hero, though which hero--the young Achilles nurtured by Chiron, perhaps, which is my favorite, or the fighting Herakles getting in Nessos' face? The latter seems to be more probable, the man would have held a sword in his right hand, but further identification is merely speculative.

If the pottery wasn't sufficient to call this art geometric--and it is--this piece is can be called geometric par excellence. It is essentially an articulation of lines, horizontal and vertical, in a pleasing pattern. They look very much like the linear and triangular figures from geometric vases expressed in three dimensions.

You get the feeling from this piece--I get the feeling from this piece, at least--that the artist's hands were used to working on horses, and were trying out human forms with something of a more tentative approach. The lower half of the group, from both waists on down, bulges with curvy energy and poised expressiveness. The upper half, where the two engage, is less dexterous.

I was surprised not to find this piece in the splendid Art and Myth in Ancient Greece by T. H. Carpenter. He says,
Geometric refers to the period from about 900 to 700 BC when Greek art began to be revitalized after the stagnation of the 'dark ages' that followed the destruction of the Mycenaean world. The art of this period, mostly painted vases and small bronzes, is characterized by the use of geometric forms of decoration (as opposed to free forms). Stylized human figures in narrative scenes appear on vases by about 750 BC, but scenes from myth do not occur before the end of the century. (p. 8)
However, I feel certain that this piece does describe a scene from a myth, and that it probably dates to before the end of the 8th century. This, then, is no doubt one of the earliest depictions of myth we have. We do not know which myth is depicted, but it must be mythical.