that stands apart from the rest. It
must have been carved very shortly before the fateful year
480 B.C. This
remarkable work, which some have attributed to the Athenian
sculptor Kritios and which therefore has come to be known as
the Kritios Boy, differs subtly but importantly from
the Archaic Kouros figures we discussed above (figs.
it is the first
statue we know that stands in the full sense of the
word. Of course, the earlier figures also stand, but only in
the sense that they are in an upright position and are not
reclining, sitting, kneeling, or running. Their stance is
really an arrested walk, with the weight of the body resting
evenly on both legs. Thus, early Greek statues have an
unintentional military air, as if they were soldiers
standing at attention.
Among the statues excavated from the debris
the Persians had left behind on the Acropolis, there is one Kouros (fig.
The Kritios Boy, too, has one leg placed forward,
yet we never doubt for an instant that he is standing still.
Just as in military drill, this is simply a matter oi
allowing the weight of the body to shift from equal
distribution on both legs. When we compare the left and
right half of his body, we discover that the strict symmetry
of the Archaic Kouros has given way to a calculated
nonsymmetry. The knee of the forward leg is lower than the
other, the right hip is thrust down and inward, and the left
hip up and outward. If we trace the axis of the body, we
realize that it is not a straight vertical line but a faint,
S-like curve (or, to be exact, a reversed S-curve). Taken
together, all these small departures from symmetry tell us
that the weight of the body rests mainly on the left leg and
that the right leg plays the role of an elastic prop or
buttress to make sure that the body keeps its balance.
185. Standing Youth (Kritios
Boy), ñ. 480
B.C. Marble, height
34" (86.3 cm). Acropolis Museum,
186. Doryphorus (Spear Bearer).
Roman copy after an original of ñ. 450-440
B.C. by POLYCUTUS.
Marble, height 6'6"
(2 m). Museo Archeologico
157, 160, 163,
but it is somewhat mechanical and inflexible
in kind. We read it from the poses without really feeling
The Kritios Boy, then, not only
stands, he stands at ease. The artist has masterfully
observed the balanced nonsymmetry of this relaxed natural
stance. To describe it, we use the Italian word
contrapposto (counterpoise). The leg that carries the
main weight is commonly called the engaged leg; the other,
the free leg. These terms are a useful shorthand, for from
now on we shall have frequent occasion to mention
contrapposto. It was a very basic discovery. Only by
learning how to represent the body at rest could the Greek
sculptor gain the freedom to show it in motion. But is there
not plenty of motion in Archaic art? There is indeed (see
In the Kritios Boy, on the other hand, we sense
for the first time not only a new repose but an animation of
the body structure that evokes the experience we have of our
own body, for contrapposto brings about all kinds of subtle
curvatures: the bending of the free knee results in a slight
swiveling of the pelvis, a compensating curvature of the
spine, and an adjusting tilt of the shoulders. Like the
refined details of the Parthenon, these variations have
nothing to do with the statue's ability to maintain itself
erect but greatly enhance its lifelike impression. In repose, it will still seem capable of
motion, of maintaining its stability. Life now suffuses the
entire figure, so that the Archaic smile, the "sign of
life," is no longer needed. It has given way to a serious,
pensive expression characteristic of the early phase of
Classical sculpture (or, as it is often called, the Severe
style). Once the Greek statue was free to move, as it were,
it became free to think, not merely to act. The two are
inseparable aspects of Greek Classicism. The new
articulation of the body that appears in the Kritios Boy
was to reach its full development within half a century
in the mature Classical style of the Periclean era.
famous Kouros statue of that time, the Doryphorus
Bearer) by Polyclitus (fig.
is known to us only through Roman
copies, which must convey little of the beauty of the
original. Still, it makes an instructive comparison with the
Kritios Boy. The contrapposto is now much more
emphatic. The differentiation between the halves of the body can be
seen in every muscle, and the turn of the head, barely
hinted at in the Kritios Boy, is pronounced.
The "working" left arm is balanced by the "engaged" right leg
in the forward position, and the relaxed right arm by the
"free" left leg. This studied poise, the precise anatomical
details, and above all the harmonious proportions of the
figure made the Doryphorus renowned as the standard embodiment of the Classical ideal of beauty. According to one ancient writer, it was known simply as
the Canon (rule, measure). The
Doryphorus was not simply an exercise in abstract
geometry. It embodied not only symmetria
(proportion), but also rhythmos (composition,
movement), both fundamental aspects of Greek aesthetics
derived from philosophy and music, respectively. Moreover,
Polyclitus' faith in numbers had a moral dimension:
contemplation of harmonious proportions was equated with
contemplation of the good. To the Greeks, pose and
expression further reflected character and feeling, which
revealed the inner person. Rather than being opposed to
naturalism, this elevated conception was inseparably linked
to a more careful treatment of form. Classical Greek
sculpture appeals equally to the mind and the eye, so that
human and divine beauty become one. No wonder that figures
of victorious athletes have sometimes been mistaken for
Riace Warrior A, found in the sea off Riace.
B.C. Bronze, height
80" (203 cm).
Museo Archeologico, Reggio Calabria.
188. Riace Warrior
in the sea oft Riace. ñ.
450 B.C. Bronze, height 80" (203
Museo Archeologico, Reggio Calabria.
188). They owe their
importance to their fine workmanship and the extreme rarity
of intact monumental bronze statues from ancient Greece.
Miraculously, they still have their ivory and glass-paste
eyes, bronze eyelashes, and copper lips, which combine with
the detailed anatomy to create an astonishingly lifelike
presence. They challenge our understanding of Greek
sculpture in many ways. What or whom do these statues
represent? When and where were they made? What purpose did
they serve? To such questions we have as yet no certain
answers. From both the stylistic and technical evidence,
they would seem to have been made around the same time as
the Doryphorus. Although they have sometimes been
dated slightly earlier, our sculptor may well have been an
older artist who was accustomed to working in the Severe
style and had not fully adapted to the new Classicism.
(Compare the heads to that of Zeus in fig.
We can get some idea of what the Doryphorus might
have looked like in its bronze original from a pair of
impressive figures that created a sensation when they were
found in the sea near Riace, Italy, in
A tantalizing clue is provided by the statue in figure
conforms to a widespread type right down to the proportions.
(Examples of the second figure, however, are otherwise
unknown.) He is, it appears, a warrior rather than an
athlete, in contrast to the Doryphorus. Still to be
explained is the extraordinary realism of the heads, so out
of keeping with the idealization characteristic of Greek art
as a whole. Were they meant to commemorate two heroes? It is
tempting to think so. If that is the case, why were their
names not recorded by ancient historians? Moreover,
portraits are unknown from this time. Perhaps, then, their
features were varied merely to distinguish the two among a
larger group of unprecedented size. This might help to
explain why they seem to embody such a distinctive ethnic
type. Conceptually, they are not altogether satisfying: the
contrast between the individuality of the faces and the
generalized treatment of the bodies is
at once fascinating and disturbing. Were there
similar statues about which we are ignorant simply because
they have not survived? Our view of Greek sculpture may be
as distorted by the incomplete record as was that of the
poet Goethe, who could not accommodate the Aegina statues
into his understanding.
The splendid Charioteer from Delphi (fig.
189), one of the earliest surviving
large bronze statues in Greek art, shows why
the Severe style has been chosen as the term
to describe the character of Greek sculpture
during the years between about 480 and 450
B.C. It must have been made about a decade
later than the Kritios Boy, as a votive
offering after a race: the young victor
originally stood on a chariot drawn by four
Despite the long, heavy garment, we sense a
hint of contrapposto in the body. The feet
are carefully differentiated so as to inform
us that the left leg is the engaged one, and
the shoulders and head turn slightly to the
right. The garment is severely simple, yet
compared with Archaic drapery the folds seem
softer and more pliable. We
feel (probably for the first
time in the history of sculpture) that they
reflect the behavior of real cloth. Not only
the body but the drapery, too, has been
transformed by a new understanding of
functional relationships, so that every fold
is shaped by the forces that act upon it:
the downward pull of gravity, the shape of
the body underneath, and the belts or straps
that constrict its flow.
The face has the pensive, somewhat faraway
look we saw in the Kritios Boy, but
the color inlay of the eyes (fortunately
preserved in this instance), as well as the
slightly parted lips, give it a more
animated expression. The bearing of the
entire figure conveys the solemnity of the
event it commemorates, for chariot races and
similar contests at that time were
competitions for divine favor, not sporting
events in the modern sense.
Charioteer, from the Sanctuary of Apollo
ñ. 470 B.C.
Bronze, height 71" (1.8
Archaeological Museum, Delphi
TEMPLE OF ZEUS, OLYMPIA.
The greatest sculptural ensemble of the Severe style is the
pair of pediments of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, carved
about 460 B.C.
and now reassembled in the local museum. In the west
pediment, the more mature of the two, we see the victory of
the Lapiths over the Centaurs under the aegis of Apollo, who
forms the center of the composition (fig.
commanding figure is part of the drama and yet above it. The
outstretched right arm and the strong turn of the head show
his active intervention. He wills the victory but, as
befits a god, does not physically help to achieve it.
Nevertheless, there is a tenseness, a gathering of forces,
in this powerful body that makes its outward calm doubly
impressive. The forms themselves are massive and simple,
with soft contours and undulating, continuous surfaces. In
the group of the Centaur who has seized Hippodamia, bride of
the king of the Lapiths, we witness another achievement of
the Severe style. The passionate struggle is expressed not
only through action and gesture but through the emotions
mirrored in the face of the Centaur, whose pain and
desperate effort contrast vividly with the stoic calm on the
face of the woman.
Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, from
the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
ñ 460 B.C.
Marble, slightly over-lifesize. Archaeological Museum,
Temple of Zeus at Olympia.
B.C. Marble, slightly over-lifesize.
Archaeological Museum. Olympia
MOVEMENT IN STATUES.
No Archaic artist would have known how to combine the two
figures into a group so compact, so full of interlocking
movements. Strenuous action, of course, had already been
investigated in pedimental sculpture of the late Archaic
period (see figs. 163
However, such figures, although
technically carved in the round, are not free-standing. They
represent, rather, a kind of super-relief, since they are
designed to be seen against a background and from one
direction only. To infuse the same freedom of movement into
genuinely free-standing statues was a far greater challenge.
Not only did it run counter to an age-old tradition that
denied mobility to these figures, but also the unfreezing
had to be done in such a way as to safeguard their
all-around balance and self-sufficiency. The problem could
not really be tackled until the concept of contrapposto had
been established, but once this was done, the solution no
longer presented serious difficulties.
Large, free-standing statues in motion are the most
important achievement of the Severe style. The finest figure
of this kind was recovered from the sea near the coast of
Greece (fig. 191):
a magnificent nude bronze, almost
seven feet tall, probably of Zeus throwing a thunderbolt.
Here, stability in the midst of action becomes outright
grandeur. The pose is that of an athlete, yet it is not so
much the arrested phase of a continuous succession of
movements as an awe-inspiring gesture that reveals the power
of the god. Hurling a weapon thus becomes a divine attribute
here, rather than a specific act aimed at a particular
Zeus, ñ. 460-450
B.C. Bronze, height 6'10" (2.1
m). National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Some years after the Zeus, about
450 B.C., Myron
created his famous bronze statue of the Discobolus
(Discus Thrower), which came to enjoy a reputation
comparable to that of the Doryphorus. Like the
latter, it is known to us only from Roman copies (fig.
Here the problem of how to condense a
sequence of movements into a single pose without freezing it
is a much more complex one. It involves a violent twist of
the torso in order to bring the arms into the same plane as
the action of the legs. The pose conveys the essence of the
action by presenting the fully coiled figure in perfect
balance. (The copy makes the design seem harsher and less
poised than it was in the original.)
192. Discobolus (Discus
Roman marble copy after a bronze original of c.
450 B.C. by MYRON.
Lifesize. Museo delle Terme, Rome
The Discobolus brings us to the threshold of the
second half of the century, the era of the mature Classical
style. The conquest of movement in a free-standing statue
now exerted a liberating influence on pedimental sculpture
as well, endowing it with a new spaciousness, fluidity, and
balance. The Dying Niobid (fig.
193), a work
of the 440s, was carved for the pediment of a Doric temple
but is so richly three-dimensional, so self-contained, that
we hardly suspect her original context. Niobe, according to
legend, had humiliated the mother of Apollo and Artemis by
boasting of her seven sons and seven daughters, whereupon
the two gods killed all of Niobe's children. Our Niobid has
been shot in the back while running. Her strength broken,
she sinks to the ground while trying to extract the fatal
arrow. The violent movement of her arms has made her garment
slip off. Her nudity is thus a dramatic device, rather than
a necessary part of the story. The Niobid is the
earliest known large female nude in Greek art. The artist's
primary motive in devising it was to display a beautiful
female body in the kind of strenuous action hitherto
reserved for the male nude. Still, we must not misread the
intent. It was not a detached interest in the physical
aspect of the event alone but the desire to unite motion and
emotion and thus to make the beholder experience the
suffering of this victim of a cruel fate. Looking at the
face of the Niobid, we feel that here, for the first time,
human feeling is expressed as eloquently in the features as
in the rest of the figure.
Dying Niobid. c. 450-440 B.C.
Marble, height 59" (150 cm). Museo
delle Terme, Rome
A brief glance backward at the wounded warrior from
Aegina (fig. 163)
will show us how very differently the
agony of death had been conceived only half a century
before. What separates the Niobid from the world of
Archaic art is a quality summed up in the Greek word
pathos, which means suffering, but particularly
suffering conveyed with nobility and restraint so that it
touches rather than horrifies us. Late Archaic art may
approach it now and then, as
in the Eos and Memnon group (fig.
148). Yet the
full force of pathos can be felt only in Classical works
such as the Niobid. Perhaps, in order to measure the
astonishing development we have witnessed since the
beginnings of Greek monumental sculpture less than two
centuries before, we ought to compare the Niobid with
the earliest pedimental figure we came to know, the Gorgon
from Corfu (fig. 157).
As we do so, we suddenly realize that
these two, worlds apart as they may be, do in fact belong to
the same artistic tradition, for the Niobid, too,
shows the pin wheel stance, even though its meaning has been
radically reinterpreted. Once we recognize the ancient
origin of her pose, we understand better than before why the
Niobid, despite her suffering, remains so monumentally
Dionysus, from the east pediment of the Parthenon.
B.C. Marble, over-lifesize. British Museum, London
PHIDIAS AND THE PARTHENON.
The largest, as well as the greatest, group of Classical
sculptures at our disposal consists of the remains of the
marble decoration of the Parthenon, most of them,
unfortunately, in battered and fragmentary condition. Much
of the sculpture was removed between
1801 and 1803
by Lord Elgin; the Elgin Marbles are
today housed in the British Museum.) The centers of both
pediments are gone completely, and of the figures in the
corners only those from the east pediment are sufficiently
well preserved to convey something of the quality of the
ensemble. They represent various deities, most in sitting or
reclining poses, witnessing the birth of Athena from the
head of Zeus (figs. 194
(The west pediment was devoted to the
struggle of Athena and Poseidon for Athens.) Here, even more
than in the case of the Dying Niobid, we marvel at
the spaciousness, the complete ease of movement of these
statues even in repose. There is neither violence nor pathos
in them, indeed no specific action of any kind, only a
deeply felt poetry of being. We find it equally in the
relaxed masculine body of Dionysus and in the soft fullness
of the three goddesses, enveloped in thin drapery that seems
to share the qualities of a liquid substance as it flows and
eddies around the forms underneath. Though all are seated or
half-reclining, the turning of the bodies under the
elaborate folds of their costumes makes them seem anything
but static. Indeed, the "wet" drapery unites them in one
continuous action, so that they seem in the process of
Three Goddesses, from the east pediment of
the Parthenon, ñ.
438-432 B.C. Marble, over-lifesize.
British Museum, London
The figures are so freely conceived in depth that they
create their own aura of space. It is hard to imagine them
"shelved" upon the pediment. Evidently the great master who
achieved such lifelike figures also found this incongruous,
for the composition as a whole (fig.
that the triangular field is treated as no more than a
purely physical limit. For example, two horses' heads are
placed in the sharp angles at the corners at the feet of
Dionysus and the reclining goddesses. They are meant to
represent the chariots of the rising sun and the waning moon
emerging into and dipping below the pedimental space, but
visually the heads are merely two fragments arbitrarily cut
off by the frame. Clearly, we are approaching the moment
when the pediment will be rejected altogether as the focal
point of Greek architectural sculpture. In fact, the
sculptural decoration of later buildings tends to be placed
in areas where it would seem less boxed in, as well as more
JACQUES CARREY. Drawings of the east pediment of the
Parthenon. Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris
The frieze of the Parthenon, a continuous band
525 feet long (fig.
shows a procession honoring Athena in the
presence of the other Olympic gods. It is of the same high
rank as the pedimental sculptures. In a somewhat different
way it, too, suffered from its subordination to the
architectural setting, for it must have been poorly lit and
difficult to see, placed as it was immediately below the
ceiling. The depth of the carving and the concept of relief
are not radically different from the frieze of the Siphnian
Treasury (figs. 160
but the illusion of space and of
rounded form is now achieved with sovereign ease. The most
remarkable quality of the Parthenon frieze is the rhythmic
grace of the design, particularly striking in the spirited
movement of the groups of horsemen (fig.
The metopes, which date from the 440s, are very different
in character from the rest of the sculpture on the Parthenon
in showing violent action. We have encountered two of the
subjects before: the battle of Lapiths and Centaurs, and the
combat of the gods and giants (see figs.
161). It is
the other two subjects that provide the key to their
meaning. They are the Sack of Troy by the Greeks, and Greeks
fighting Amazons, who, according to legend, had desecrated
the Acropolis. The entire cycle forms an extended allegory
of the Athenian victory over the Persians, who likewise
destroyed the Acropolis. But rather than presenting the war
as historical fact, the Greek mind insisted on cloaking it
in the guise of myth and legend in order to explain the
outcome, as if preordained.
Although the metopes do not form a fully coherent program
and vary in the quality of their execution, the best of
them, such as our scene of a Lapith fighting a Centaur (fig.
have a compelling dramatic force that is
still grounded in the pediment at Olympia almost
20 years earlier (see
Our sculptor has been remarkably successful
in overcoming the obstacles presented by the metope. Because
it was placed high above the ground where it could barely be
seen, the figures fill as much of the limited field as
possible and are carved so deeply as to appear nearly in the
round. If the action seems somewhat forced in both pose and
expression, it has been beautifully choreographed for
maximum clarity and impact.
197. Horsemen, from
the west frieze of the Parthenon, ñ.
440 B.C. Marble, height 43" (109.3
cm). British Museum, London.
198. Lapith and Centaur, metope
from the south side of the Parthenon, c. 440
B.C. Marble, height 56" (142.2
cm). British Museum, London
Who was responsible for this magnificent array of
sculptures? They have long been associated with the name of
Phidias, the chief overseer of all artistic enterprises
sponsored by Pericles. According to ancient writers, Phidias
was particularly famous for a huge ivory-and-gold statue of
Athena he made for the cella of the Parthenon, a colossal
Zeus in the same technique for the temple of that god in
Olympia, and an equally large bronze statue of Athena that
stood on the Acropolis facing the Propylaea. None of these
survives, and small-scale representations of them in later
times are utterly inadequate to convey the artist's style.
It is hard to imagine that enormous statues of this sort,
burdened with the requirements of cult images and the
demands of a difficult technique, shared the vitality of the
Elgin Marbles. The admiration they elicited may have been
due to their size, the preciousness of the materials, and
the aura of religious awe surrounding them. Phidias'
personality thus remains oddly intangible. He may have been
simply a very able coordinator and supervisor, but more
likely he was a great genius, comparable to Imhotep,
capable of giving powerful expression to the
ideas that motivated his patron, Pericles. The term "Phidian
style" used to describe the Parthenon sculptures is no more
than a generic label; undoubtedly, a large number of masters
were involved, since the frieze and the two pediments were
executed in less than ten years (c.
440-432 B.C.). Albeit of questionable
accuracy, it is justified by its convenience. The Phidian
ideal was not merely artistic but no doubt extended to life
itself: it denotes a distinctive attitude in which the gods
are aware of, yet aloof from, human affairs as they fulfill
their cosmic roles.
It is hardly surprising that the Phidian style should
have dominated Athenian sculpture until the end of the fifth
century and beyond, even though large-scale sculptural
enterprises gradually came to a halt because of the
Peloponnesian War. The last of these was the balustrade
erected around the small Temple of Athena Nike about
410-407 B.C. Like the
Parthenon frieze, it shows a festive procession, but the
participants are winged Nike figures (personifications of
victory) rather than citizens of Athens. One Nike (fig.
is taking off her sandals in conformity with
an age-old tradition, indicating that she is about to step
on holy ground.
open, the other closed—are
effectively employed to help her keep her balance, so that
she performs this normally awkward act with consummate
elegance of movement. Her figure is more strongly detached
from the relief ground than are those on the Parthenon
frieze, and her garments, with their deeply cut folds, cling
to the body. (We have seen an earlier phase of this "wet"
drapery in the Three Goddesses of the Parthenon,
"Phidian," too, and also from the last years of the
century, is the beautiful Grave Stele of Hegeso (fig.
Memorials of this kind were produced in
large numbers by Athenian sculptors,
their export must have helped to spread the Phidian style
throughout the Greek world. Few of them, however, can match
the harmonious design and the gentle melancholy of our
example. The deceased is represented in a simple domestic
scene that was a standard subject for sculptured and painted
memorials of young women. She has picked a necklace from the
box held by the girl servant and seems to be contemplating
it as if it were a keepsake. The delicacy of the carving can
be seen especially well in the forms farthest removed from
the beholder, such as the servant's left arm supporting the
lid of the jewel box, or the veil behind Hegeso's right
shoulder. Here the relief merges almost imperceptibly with
the background, so that the ground no longer appears as a
solid surface but assumes something of the transparency of
empty space. This novel effect was probably inspired by
Nike, from the balustrade of the Temple of Athena Nike,
B.C. Marble, height
cm). Acropolis Museum, Athens.
200. Grave Stele of
410-400 B.C. Marble, height
59" (150 cm).
National Archaeological Museum. Athens