Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bronze Youth from Antikythera

Bronze Youth from Antikythera, 350-330 BCE

Is it unfair to compare how much more successful is this piece to the stale and flat Belvedere Apollo? Well, yes. This is a bronze original, found at the site of a shipwreck. And it is, however fair or unfair, a much better realized work. Although it might not have changed Winkelmann's mind concerning the Belvedere Apollo, I think he would have appreciated this work.

He practically comes alive at every level: his step, his gesture, his head, his face, his posture, his physique, his hair, his eyelashes... The whole thing works. Although we don't know what round thing he might have held in his hand - is this Paris holding the golden apple out to Aphrodite? - is he an athlete with a ball? - the delicacy of gesture - an elaboration of the same sort of feeling we find in the Hegeso stele - and the concentration of his stare - animate the rest of the pose.

This artist understands much more about human anatomy - and rippling muscles - than earlier artists; it is more realistic and naturalistic than previous work, and yet retains that sense of what we call the "Greek ideal."

He is a personification of the Greek ideal of harmoniously developed body and firm inner forces of the spirit, a synthesis of lithe physical discipline and well-ordered psychological resources. The powerfully built body is subtly modulated in contours and muscle and flesh, but there is no exaggeration or worship of mere physical strength, such as is often seen in Roman statues and some later ones, particularly in the Renaissance. The head is manly yet refined and delicate, its clear features admirably proportioned, the hair a lively pattern that is realistically casual but not without a pleasing orderliness. (Schoder #58)
Contrapposto is by now, of course, the norm; the varieties of the pose have been explored and exploited, as here, to attain particular effects. Here the left foot bears the weight of the body as the right toe barely scrapes the ground. This sets off the contours of the body in an elegant curve which might - I don't know - derive from discoveries of the pose in the female form. Certainly Praxiteles exploited that curve, but here it seems both subtle and compelling at the same time, and not at all feminine.

The gesture of reaching out is especially fine. It breaks the plane, and helps to modify the contrapuntal rhythms of the contrapposto. Also, it sustains and enhances the boy's focus, bringing physical expression to a mental state, a technique or device that goes back to the Zeus of Artemision but which here is both more relaxed and more penetrating.