Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wounded Niobid

Wounded Niobid, late 5th century (?)

Niobe has twelve children, six boys and six girls. This is one of the girls who, along with all of her siblings - the Niobids - are being slaughtered by Leto’s two children, Artemis (for the girls) and Apollo (for the boys). The slaughter avenges the insult Niobe hurled at Leto for only having two children, compared to her own twelve – another instance of human arrogance (and stupidity) in face of the implacable gods.

The theme in this case, however, is neither arrogance nor stupidity, but human pathos.

The arrow from Artemis’ bow has hit her in the back; she has stopped running, started to kneel, throw her head back, and open her mouth in a cry of pain. Her garment has slipped from off her shoulders and is draped ingloriously around her bended thigh. The garment, however, provides stability to the form, as it makes its way from this solid base up and up over the contours of her frame until it reaches the pinnacle created by her elbow on top. It is in the shape, roughly, of a pyramid.

This is an early experiment, then, with the female nude. It is done as narrative art, using the story to convey what the sensation of pain looks like on the female form. This is a beautiful young woman who is in the process of dying. Her death is painful, and as our eyes range over the young woman's charming anatomy we experience with her - almost - her pain, which, like the statue itself, mounts to a crescendo.

The Greeks have never shied away from the theme of dying, but it has been until now, usually, the deaths, rather, of clothed, male soldiers, not scantily draped women. Big difference.