Friday, April 13, 2007

The Rampin Horseman

The Rampin Horseman, 575-550 BCE

The familiar archaic smile is never more welcome than here, where the formulaic elements seem to spring out with energetic vitality. His eyes and eyelids and his smiling mouth are shaped to echo each other. The rhythmic patterns of his face so keenly image an actual face with all its expressive and moving parts, without any suggestion of portraiture, or even genuine emotion. Portraits are (apparently) a long way away. He wears a leafy wreath to signify his recent victory.

His torso is sleek and impressive (here its a cast); it marks a literal turn away from the predominant frontal view. The tilt of his head is engaging, and helps set off the energy in the linear and geometrical patterns of those facial features. He is on parade, but turns slightly to glimpse something that might be us.

A fine instance of the fully developed archaic style... [I]t has been found to belong to a marble now in the Acropolis Museum in Athens, and seemingly as part of a group of two horsemen—perhaps the Dioscuri Castor and Pollux (sons of Zeus and Leda) or possibly particular Athenian nobles of the sixth century. In any case, the artist has made every effort to represent the knights with impressive dignity. “The face is personal and expressive, with a pleasing humane refinement. The strong, clear lines of the nose, arching eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, firm chin, and slightly pursed lips produce a manly air which the ornate treatment of hair and beard embellishes without softening. A formal rhythm is maintained in the pattern of parted hair and beard. Traces remain of the paint which originally set off the eyes, lips, beard, hair, and wreath of ivy from the snowy Parian marble (Raymond V. Schoder, S.J, Masterpieces of Greek Art, New York Graphic Society, #19).

So, it might originally have been the Rampin Horsemen, possibly the Dioscuri, Castor and Polydeuces, who, after Polydeuces dies, take turns living and dying day by day; twins who will never live a day together again.

And I saw Leda, she who bore her husband,
Tyndareus, two stalwart sons: Castor,
horse-tamer, and the boxer Polydeuces.
The earth, giver of grain, now covers both.
But Zeus gave them a special dignity;
for each of them, though under the earth, is dead
one day, but lives the next, in turn. Those brothers
were gifted by their fate with godlike honor. The Odyssey Bk. 11, trans. Mandelbaum, 223)