Statuette of a Girl in Munich, c. 400 BCE
Lord Clark points out that she is in the same contrapposto pose as that used by Polykleitos for his nude males:
the weight resting on the right leg, the left bent as if to move; and the girl in Munich is in this attitude. The pose was invented for the male figure, but by one of those happy accidents which often accompany the discoveries of genius, the female figure has drawn it a more lasting profit; for this disposition of balance has automatically created a contrast between the arc of one hip, sweeping up till it approaches the sphere of the breast, and the long, gentle undulation of the side that is relaxed; and it is to this beautiful balance of form that the female nude owes its plastic authority to the present day.
I remember when I first read this passage being struck by the "plastic authority" of the female nude; this was intriguing. Reading this passage, I think, and the one that follows, gave me a much better understanding of how the discovery of contrapposto meant something to artists. Before reading this I might have seen something about how contrapposto provided a way for artists to articulate their forms with a sense of lively energy. Here, I saw for the first time that it was something more than naturalism, that however real the piece might appear, it was more about beauty than about reality, and abstract beauty at that.
The swing of the hip, sweeping up till it approaches the sphere of the breast, and the long, gentle undulation of the side that is relaxed; and it is to this beautiful balance of form that the female nude owes its plastic authority to the present day. The swing of the hip, what the French call the dehanchement, is a motive of peculiar importance to the human mind, for by a single line, in an instant of perception, it unites and reveals the two sources of our understanding. It almost a geometric curve; and yet, as subsequent history shows, it is a vivid symbol of desire. This pose seems obvious enough to us now; yet such are the strange limitations of plastic intelligence that sculptors might have continued for thousands of years, as they did in Egypt and Mesopotamia, without ever discovering it. Yet as soon as it emerged, it became one of the dominant rhythms of humanist art, and carried some evidence of the Greek mental pattern far beyond the confines of Greek philosophy. Every art in which the motive appears has been touched by Hellenistic influence; and although the austere Polykleitos might shudder at the luxurious dehanchements of Amaravati, he is ultimately responsible for them” (Clark,123, 26).
Here, Clark's observations of "plastic intelligence," again struck me as revelatory. It was written far earlier than Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, [pdf] and seemed to take for granted the kind of thing that Gardner - who is very good on the recognition of creativity and artistry - conceived in his research.
Even more interesting, I find, is Lord Clark's positing of our "two sources of understanding" in geometry and desire. How interesting, if true... and also even if not true. I don't think here, though, it is simply a matter of truth; I can decide for myself, I believe, if the two sources of my understanding are going to be based on something like pattern and design or something like hunger and desire. For the moment, I'm thinking, why not?