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   Chapter 7 THE TRANSITIONAL PERIOD OF GREEK SCULPTURE. 480-450 B. C.

A History of Greek Art By F. B. Tarbell Characters: 25378

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


The term "Transitional period" is rather meaningless in itself, but has acquired considerable currency as denoting that stage in the history of Greek art in which the last steps were taken toward perfect freedom of style. It is convenient to reckon this period as extending from the year of the Persian invasion of Greece under Xerxes to the middle of the century. In the artistic as in the political history of this generation Athens held a position of commanding importance, while Sparta, the political rival of Athens, was as barren of art as of literature. The other principal artistic center was Argos, whose school of sculpture had been and was destined long to be widely influential. As for other local schools, the question of their centers and mutual relations is too perplexing and uncertain to be here discussed.

In the two preceding chapters we studied only original works, but from this time on we shall have to pay a good deal of attention to copies (cf. pages 114-16). We begin with two statues in Naples (Fig. 101). The story of this group-for the two statues were designed as a group-is interesting. The two friends, Harmodius and Aristogiton, who in 514 had formed a conspiracy to rid Athens of her tyrants, but who had succeeded only in killing one of them, came to be regarded after the expulsion of the remaining tyrant and his family in 510 as the liberators of the city. Their statues in bronze, the work of Antenor, were set up on a terrace above the market-place (cf. pages 124, 149). In 480 this group was carried off to Persia by Xerxes and there it remained for a hundred and fifty years or more when it was restored to Athens by Alexander the Great or one of his successors. Athens however had as promptly as possible repaired her loss. Critius and Nesiotes, two sculptors who worked habitually in partnership, were commissioned to make a second group, and this was set up in 477-6 on the same terrace where the first had been After the restoration of Antenor's statues toward the end of the fourth century the two groups stood side by side.

It was argued by a German archaeologist more than a generation ago that the two marble statues shown in Fig. 101 are copied from one of these bronze groups, and this identification has been all but universally accepted. The proof may be stated briefly, as follows. First several Athenian objects of various dates, from the fifth century B.C. onward, bear a design to which the Naples statues clearly correspond One of these is a relief on a marble throne formerly in Athens. Our illustration of this (Fig. 102) is taken from a "squeeze," or wet paper impression. This must then, have been an important group in Athens. Secondly, the style of the Naples statues points to a bronze original of the early fifth century. Thirdly, the attitudes of the figures are suitable for Harmodius and Aristogiton, and we do not know of any other group of that period for which they are suitable. This proof, though not quite as complete as we should like, is as good as we generally get in these matters. The only question that remains in serious doubt is whether our copies go back to the work of Antenor or to that of Critius and Nesiotes. Opinions have been much divided on this point but the prevailing tendency now is to connect them with the later artists. That is the view here adopted

In studying the two statues it is important to recognize the work of the modern "restorer." The figure of Aristogiton (the one on your left as you face the group) having been found in a headless condition, the restorer provided it with a head, which is antique, to be sure, but which is outrageously out of keeping, being of the style of a century later. The chief modern portions are the left hand of Aristogiton and the arms, right leg, and lower part of the left leg of Harmodius. As may be learned from the small copies, Aristogiton should be bearded, and the right arm of Harmodius should be in the act of being raised to bring down a stroke of the sword upon his antagonist. We have, then, to correct in imagination the restorer's misdoings, and also to omit the tree- trunk supports, which the bronze originals did not need. Further, the two figures should probably be advancing in the same direction, instead of in converging lines.

When these changes are made, the group cannot fail to command our admiration. It would be a mistake to fix our attention exclusively on the head of Harmodius. Seen in front view, the face, with its low forehead and heavy chin, looks dull, if not ignoble. But the bodies! In complete disregard of historic truth, the two men are represented in a state of ideal nudity, like the Aeginetan figures. The anatomy is carefully studied, the attitudes lifelike and vigorous. Finally, the composition is fairly successful. This is the earliest example preserved to us of a group of sculpture other than a pediment-group. The interlocking of the figures is not yet so close as it was destined to be in many a more advanced piece of Greek statuary. But already the figures are not merely juxtaposed; they share in a common action, and each is needed to complete the other.

Of about the same date, it would seem, or not much later, must have been a lost bronze statue, whose fame is attested by the existence of several marble copies. The best of these was found in 1862, in the course of excavating the great theater on the southern slope of the Athenian Acropolis (Fig. 103). The naming of this figure is doubtful. It has been commonly taken for Apollo, while another view sees in it a pugilist. Recently the suggestion has been thrown out that it is Heracles. Be that as it may, the figure is a fine example of youthful strength and beauty. In pose it shows a decided advance upon the Strangford "Apollo" (Fig. 100). The left leg is still slightly advanced, and both feet were planted flat on the ground; but more than half the weight of the body is thrown upon the right leg, with the result of giving a slight curve to the trunk, and the head is turned to one side. The upper part of the body is very powerful, the shoulders broad and held well back, the chest prominently developed. The face, in spite of its injuries, is one of singular refinement and sweetness. The long hair is arranged in two braids, as in Fig. 96, the only difference being that here the braids pass over instead of under the fringe of front hair. The rendering of the hair is in a freer style than in the case just cited, but of this difference a part may be chargeable to the copyist. Altogether we see here the stamp of an artistic manner very different from that of Critius and Nesiotes. Possibly, as some have conjectured, it is the manner of Calamis, an Attic sculptor of this period, whose eminence at any rate entitles him to a passing mention. But even the Attic origin of this statue is in dispute.

We now reach a name of commanding importance, and one with which we are fortunately able to associate some definite ideas. It is the name of Myron of Athens, who ranks among the six most illustrious sculptors of Greece. It is worth remarking, as an illustration of the scantiness of our knowledge regarding the lives of Greek artists, that Myron's name is not so much as mentioned in extant literature before the third century B.C. Except for a precise, but certainly false, notice in Pliny, who represents him as flourishing in 420-416, our literary sources yield only vague indications as to his date. These indications, such as they are, point to the "Transitional period." This inference is strengthened by the recent discovery on the Athenian Acropolis of a pair of pedestals inscribed with the name of Myron's son and probably datable about 446. Finally, the argument is clinched by the style of Myron's most certainly identifiable work.

Pliny makes Myron the pupil of an influential Argive master, Ageladas, who belongs in the late archaic period. Whether or not such a relation actually existed, the statement is useful as a reminder of the probability that Argos and Athens were artistically in touch with one another. Beyond this, we get no direct testimony as to the circumstances of Myron's life. We can only infer that his genius was widely recognized in his lifetime, seeing that commissions came to him, not from Athens only, but also from other cities of Greece proper, as well as from distant Samos and Ephesus. His chief material was bronze, and colossal figures of gold and ivory are also ascribed to him. So far as we know, he did not work in marble at all. His range of subjects included divinities, heroes, men, and animals. Of no work of his do we hear so often or in terms of such high praise as of a certain figure of a cow, which stood on or near the Athenian Acropolis. A large number of athlete statues from his hand were to be seen at Olympia, Delphi, and perhaps elsewhere, and this side of his activity was certainly an important one. Perhaps it is a mere accident that we hear less of his statues of divinities and heroes.

The starting point in any study of Myron must be his Discobolus (Discus-thrower). Fig. 104 reproduces the best copy. This statue was found in Rome in 1781, and is in an unusually good state of preservation. The head has never been broken from the body; the right arm has been broken off, but is substantially antique; and the only considerable restoration is the right leg from the knee to the ankle. The two other most important copies were found together in 1791 on the site of Hadrian's villa at Tibur (Tivoli). One of these is now in the British Museum, the other in the Vatican; neither has its original head. A fourth copy of the body, a good deal disguised by "restoration," exists in the Museum of the Capitol in Rome. There are also other copies of the head besides the one on the Lancellotti statue.

The proof that these statues and parts of statues were copied from Myron's Discobolus depends principally upon a passage in Lucian (about 160 A. D.). [Footnote: Philopseudes, Section 18.] He gives a circumstantial description of the attitude of that work, or rather of a copy of it, and his description agrees point for point with the statues in question. This agreement is the more decisive because the attitude is a very remarkable one, no other known figure showing anything in the least resembling it. Moreover, the style of the Lancellotti statue points to a bronze original of the "Transitional period," to which on historical grounds Myron is assigned.

Myron's statue represented a young Greek who had been victorious in the pentathlon, or group of five contests (running, leaping, wrestling, throwing the spear, and hurling the discus), but we have no clue as to where in the Greek world it was set up. The attitude of the figure seems a strange one at first sight, but other ancient representations, as well as modern experiments, leave little room for doubt that the sculptor has truthfully caught one of the rapidly changing positions which the exercise involved. Having passed the discus from his left hand to his right, the athlete has swung the missile as far back as possible. In the next instant he will hurl it forward, at the same time, of course, advancing his left foot and recovering his erect position. Thus Myron has preferred to the comparatively easy task of representing the athlete at rest, bearing some symbol of victory, the far more difficult problem of exhibiting him in action. It would seem that he delighted in the expression of movement. So his Ladas, known to us only from two epigrams in the Anthology, represented a runner panting toward the goal; and others of his athlete statues may have been similarly conceived. His temple- images, on the other hand, must have been as composed in attitude as the Discobolus is energetic.

The face of the Discobolus is rather typical than individual. If this is not immediately obvious to the reader, the comparison of a closely allied head may make it clear. Of the numerous works which have been brought into relation with Myron by reason of their likeness to the Discobolus, none is so unmistakable as a fine bust in Florence (Fig. 105). The general form of the head, the rendering of the hair, the anatomy of the forehead, the form of the nose and the angle it makes with the forehead-these and other features noted by Professor Furtwangler are alike in the Discobolus and the Riccardi head. These detailed resemblances cannot be verified without the help of casts or at least of good photographs taken from different points of view; but the general impression of likeness will be felt convincing, even without analysis. Now these two works repre

sent different persons, the Riccardi head being probably copied from the statue of some ideal hero. And the point to be especially illustrated is that in the Discobolus we have not a realistic portrait, but a generalized type. This is not the same as to say that the face bore no recognizable resemblance to the young man whom the statue commemorated. Portraiture admits of many degrees, from literal fidelity to an idealization in which the identity of the subject is all but lost. All that is meant is that the Discobolus belongs somewhere near the latter end of the scale. In this absence of individualization we have a trait, not of Myron alone, but of Greek sculpture generally in its rise and in the earlier stages of its perfection (cf. page 126).

Another work of Myron has been plausibly recognized in a statue of a satyr in the Lateran Museum (Fig. 106). The evidence for this is too complex to be stated here. If the identification is correct, the Lateran statue is copied from the figure of Marsyas in a bronze group of Athena and Marsyas which stood on the Athenian Acropolis The goddess was represented s having just flung down in disdain a pair of flutes; the satyr, advancing on tiptoe, hesitates between cupidity and the fear of Athena's displeasure. Marsyas has a lean and sinewy figure, coarse stiff hair and beard, a wrinkled forehead, a broad flat nose which makes a marked angle with the forehead, pointed ears (modern, but guaranteed by another copy of the head), and a short tail sprouting from the small of the back The arms, which were missing, have been incorrectly restored with castanets. The right should be held up, the left down, in a gesture of astonishment. In this work we see again Myron's skill in suggesting movement. We get a lively impression of an advance suddenly checked and changed to a recoil.

Thus far in this chapter we have been dealing with copies Our stock of original works of this period, however, is not small; it consists, as usual, largely of architectural sculpture. Fig. 107 shows four metopes from a temple at Selinus. They represent (beginning at the left) Heracles in combat with an Amazon, Hera unveiling herself before Zeus, Actaeon torn by his dogs in the presence of Artemis, and Athena overcoming the giant Enceladus. These reliefs would repay the most careful study, but the sculptures of another temple have still stronger claims to attention.

Olympia was one of the two most important religious centers of the Greek world, the other being Delphi. Olympia was sacred to Zeus, and the great Doric temple of Zeus was thus the chief among the group of religious buildings there assembled. The erection of this temple probably falls in the years just preceding and following 460 B.C. A slight exploration carried on by the French in 1829 and the thorough excavation of the site by the Germans in 1875-81 brought to light extensive remains of its sculptured decoration. This consisted of two pediment groups and twelve sculptured metopes, besides the acroteria. In the eastern pediment the subject is the preparation for the chariot-race of Pelops and Oenomaus. The legend ran that Oenomaus, king of Pisa in Elis, refused the hand of his daughter save to one who should beat him in a chariot-race. Suitor after suitor tried and failed, till at last Pelops, a young prince from over sea, succeeded In the pediment group Zeus, as arbiter of the impending contest, occupies the center. On one side of him stand Pelops and his destined bride, on the other Oenomaus and his wife, Sterope (Fig. 108). The chariots, with attendants and other more or less interested persons follow (Fig. 109). The moment chosen by the sculptor is one of expectancy rather than action, and the various figures are in consequence simply juxtaposed, not interlocked. Far different is the scene presented by the western pediment. The subject here is the combat between Lapiths and Centaurs, one of the favorite themes of Greek sculpture, as of Greek painting. The Centaurs, brutal creatures, partly human, partly equine, were fabled to have lived in Thessaly. There too was the home of the Lapiths, who were Greeks. At the wedding of Pirithous, king of the Lapiths, the Centaurs, who had been bidden as guests, became inflamed with wine and began to lay hands on the women. Hence a general metee, in which the Greeks were victorious. The sculptor has placed the god Apollo in the center (Fig. 110), undisturbed amid the wild tumult; his presence alone assures us what the issue is to he. The struggling groups (Figs. 111, 112) extend nearly to the corners, which are occupied each by two reclining female figures, spectators of the scene. In each pediment the composition is symmetrical, every figure having its corresponding figure on the opposite side. Yet the law of symmetry is interpreted much more freely than in the Aegina pediments of a generation earlier; the corresponding figures often differ from one another a good deal in attitude, and in one instance even in sex.

Our illustrations, which give a few representative specimens of these sculptures, suggest some comments. To begin with, the workmanship here displayed is rapid and far from faultless. Unlike the Aeginetan pediment-figures and those of the Parthenon, these figures are left rough at the back. Moreover, even in the visible portions there are surprising evidences of carelessness, as in the portentously long left thigh of the Lapith in Fig. 112. It is, again, evidence of rapid, though not exactly of faulty, execution, that the hair is in a good many cases only blocked out, the form of the mass being given, but its texture not indicated (e.g., Fig. 111). In the pose of the standing figures (e.g., Fig. 108), with the weight borne about equally by both legs, we see a modified survival of the usual archaic attitude. A lingering archaism may be seen in other features too; very plainly, for example, in the arrangement of Apollo's hair (Fig 110). The garments represent a thick woolen stuff, whose folds show very little pliancy. The drapery of Sterope (Fig. 108) should be especially noted, as it is a characteristic example for this period of a type which has a long history She wears the Doric chiton, a sleeveless woolen garment girded and pulled over the girdle and doubled over from the top. The formal, starched-looking folds of the archaic period have disappeared. The cloth lies pretty flat over the chest and waist; there is a rather arbitrary little fold at the neck. Below the girdle the drapery is divided vertically into two parts; on the one side it falls in straight folds to the ankle, on the other it is drawn smooth over the bent knee.

Another interesting fact about these sculptures is a certain tendency toward realism. The figures and faces and attitudes of the Greeks, not to speak of the Centaurs, are not all entirely beautiful and noble. This is illustrated by Fig. 109, a bald- headed man, rather fat. Here is realism of a very mild type, to be sure, in comparison with what we are accustomed to nowadays; but the old men of the Parthenon frieze bear no disfiguring marks of age. Again, in the face of the young Lapith whose arm is being bitten by a Centaur (Fig. 112), there is a marked attempt to express physical pain; the features are more distorted than in any other fifth century sculpture, except representations of Centaurs or other inferior creatures. In the other heads of imperiled men and women in this pediment, e.g., in that of the bride (Fig. 111), the ideal calm of the features is overspread with only a faint shadow of distress.

Lest what has been said should suggest that the sculptors of the Olympia pediment-figures were indifferent to beauty, attention may be drawn again to the superb head of the Lapith bride. Apollo, too (Fig. 110), though not that radiant god whom a later age conceived and bodied forth, has an austere beauty which only a dull eye can fail to appreciate.

The twelve sculptured metopes of the temple do not belong to the exterior frieze, whose metopes were plain, but to a second frieze, placed above the columns and antae of pronaos and opisthodomos. Their subjects are the twelve labors of Heracles, beginning with the slaying of the Nemean lion and ending with the cleansing of the Augean stables. The one selected for illustration is one of the two or three best preserved members of the series (Fig. 113). Its subject is the winning of the golden apples which grew in the garden of the Hesperides, near the spot where Atlas stood, evermore supporting on his shoulders the weight of the heavens. Heracles prevailed upon Atlas to go and fetch the coveted treasure, himself meanwhile assuming the burden. The moment chosen by the sculptor is that of the return of Atlas with the apples. In the middle stands Heracles, with a cushion, folded double, upon his shoulders, the sphere of the heavens being barely suggested at the top of the relief. Behind him is his companion and protectress, Athena, once recognizable by a lance in her right hand. [Footnote: Such at least seems to be the view adopted in the latest official publication on the subject "Olympia; Die Bildwerke in Stein und Thon," Pl. LXV.] With her left hand she seeks to ease a little the hero's heavy load. Before him stands Atlas, holding out the apples in both hands. The main lines of the composition are somewhat monotonous, but this is a consequence of the subject, not of any incapacity of the artist, as the other metopes testify. The figure of Athena should be compared with that of Sterope in the eastern pediment. There is a substantial resemblance in the drapery, even to the arbitrary little fold in the neck; but the garment here is entirely open on the right side, after the fashion followed by Spartan maidens, whereas there it is sewed together from the waist down; there is here no girdle; and the broad, flat expanse of cloth in front observable there is here narrowed by two folds falling from the breasts.

Fig. 114 is added as a last example of the severe beauty to be found in these sculptures. It will be observed that the hair of this head is not worked out in detail, except at the front. This summary treatment of the hair is, in fact, more general in the metopes than in the pediment-figures. The upper eyelid does not yet overlap the under eyelid at the outer corner (cf. Fig. 110).

The two pediment-groups and the metopes of this temple show such close resemblances of style among themselves that they must all be regarded as products of a single school of sculpture, if not as designed by a single man. Pausanias says nothing of the authorship of the metopes; but he tells us that the sculptures of the eastern pediment were the work of Paeonius of Mende, an indisputable statue by whom is known (cf. page 213), and those of the western by Alcamenes, who appears elsewhere in literary tradition as a pupil of Phidias. On various grounds it seems almost certain that Pausanias was misinformed on this point. Thus we are left without trustworthy testimony as to the affiliations of the artist or artists to whom the sculptured decoration of this temple was intrusted.

The so-called Hestia (Vesta) which formerly belonged to the Giustiniani family (Fig. 115), has of late years been inaccessible even to professional students. It must be one of the very best preserved of ancient statues in marble, as it is not reported to have anything modern about it except the index finger of the left hand. This hand originally held a scepter. The statue represents some goddess, it is uncertain what one. In view of the likeness in the drapery to some of the Olympia figures, no one can doubt that this is a product of the same period.

In regard to the bronze statue shown in Fig. 116 there is more room for doubt, but the weight of opinion is in favor of placing it here. It is confidently claimed by a high authority that this is an original Greek bronze. There exist also fragmentary copies of the same in marble and free imitations in marble and in bronze. The statue represents a boy of perhaps twelve, absorbed in pulling a thorn from his foot. We do not know the original purpose of the work; perhaps it commemorated a victory won in a foot-race of boys The left leg of the figure is held in a position which gives a somewhat ungraceful outline; Praxiteles would not have placed it so. But how delightful is the picture of childish innocence and self-forgetfulness! This statue might be regarded as an epitome of the artistic spirit and capacity of the age-its simplicity and purity and freshness of feeling, its not quite complete emancipation from the formalism of an earlier day.

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