Thursday, August 26, 2010

On the Bronze God from Cape Artemision

I always was thinking that I had plenty of images, images of my own choosing, for the vantage point in particular, of this statue, but in fact (like the Charioteer at Delphi) he usually is surrounded by a busload of persons, and when I go through my collection of teaching materials I find that only a few of them are really good. On the other hand, except for Max Hirmer's, I don't really like those in books or on line, either.
It and the little jockey on the enormous horse are not the only statues in the NAM in Athens that come from the sea at Cape Artemision (on the northern tip of Euboea: zoom about halfway up the slide), but if you do a search you get twenty pages of these two statues. So, if my images are, here, not sharp and, there, not to your liking, go get more.
First, in my opinion, the statue stood on a fairly high base in the open, perhaps even as high as the one erected at Thermopylae by the Greek-Americans of Brooklyn, I was told. So, whether he held a thunderbolt or a trident in his right hand, it would NOT cut across his face; even the visitors standing at his feet by his lower base in the Athens museum would not see the shaft of a trident obscure his face. Usually I think of the Artemision God as Zeus, who tends to have more neatly combed hair (though not necessarily so at this date), but there are plenty of vase-paintings and statuettes and decorative plaques attesting to both gods, who, indeed, with Hades were regarded as brothers, the triad ruling sky, earth (with the sea), and the underworld. The little statuettes tend to be from Dodona and do represent Zeus, its god; they also have a more Archaic hair style. Here is one in Berlin:
If Zeus, the statue may have held his eagle on his left hand, as in falconry, but the pose may simply be based on balancing to hurl something. None of the small works has the pose so horizontally extended as the Artemision statue.
Like the Dodona statuette, the coins of Olympia itself (and several other mints), bronzes from before the Pelopponesos became part of the Roman Empire, may show Zeus himself, sometimes with the eagle on his outstretched left hand (as some specimens of this die-pair do):
03 12 10 AE21, 5.23g ~6:30h  Elis, Olympia.  Head of Apollo, laureate, to r.  Zeus hurling thunderbolt, eagle on his outstretched l. hand.
ref. BCD Olympia 293

The great emphasis on the horizontal arms and shoulders and the frontal torso certainly, I think, was of special importance to the sculptor. The vantage point at a diagonal (Schrägansicht) is fine for the modern warrior at Thermopylae, but this one is certainly designed parallel to his base. The back view is so good (if you like great art made of musculature), so perfectly complementary to the front, that I am confident that it was meant to be viewed from either front or back. Like the Discus Thrower by Myron of Eleutherai, known in many copies, though its flanks are beautifully considered, taken as a whole it does not invite your eye to take you around it, and the arms do not 'read' well in the side views. That fact does not make it 'conservative', and its perfect balance (balancing to hurl well) does not actually make it 'static'. It may seem obvious, but in fact it is unique. You will note, by the way, the so-called 'heroic scale', about 20% larger than life-size.
Newer photos, but not full-length:
These encourage our looking at and appreciating the effect of the simplified neck-muscle pattern at the same time as we realize the simplicity of the pronate, outstretched left arm in contrast to the rotation of the right arm, which looks as if it has been carefully studied from athletes (whereas that of the little statuette uses a serviceable Archaic formula). Indeed, this artistic generation is called Early Classical precisely because it very rapidly starts using nature as the raw material for formal ends and using that same taste for reasoned form that governs the development of the architectural Orders in the same period so as to make nature obedient, so to speak. It is the generation just before the Parthenon sculptures; mastery of drapery will ensue.
Closer views, whether digital color or from black-and-white negatives, reinforce looking at statues of the human body, as distinct from looking at photographs, except when the latter also work with the Greek Classical vision, which by fusing empirical study with visual reason effects a transmutation of the natural beauty of a well-grown human body into a work of art of art: we can all at once relish the beauty of our own species and see it embodying the divine. It can be as naked as it is here and inspire awe. I have tested this over and over; even ten-year-old children, even 13-year-old children, are not embarrassed by this statue.
Using a bit of zoom to photograph over the heads of visitors (or, in the case of the black-and-white photo, taken with the fixed-focus 50mm lens and during the winter when one might have the gallery to oneself, except for the guard counting his koumbologia), we can study details.

First, the liners of the eye sockets, which became finely clipped eyelashes, and the eyes themselves, usually made of ivory or other bone and of colored stone, are missing, and so is the layer of rolled pure copper for the color of the lips and the areoles around the nipples, by this date regularly so treated. A statue that had a headband might have gold or silver inlaid maeander patterns on it, and if the lips were parted might show a glimpse of teeth (as we see on the Delphi Charioteer, if you can find a recent enough photo, or on any photo of the head of Riace Warrior A). Again, we notice how the abstracted forms of the pectorals, the rectus abdominis, and the lateral oblique muscles over the arch of the pelvic girdle are simplified and made more clearly structural in formal terms: this is formal beauty utilizing nature, not despising it but certainly not merely imitating it. Greek sculpture always did dote on small parts; Archaic kouroi and korai have perfect fingers and toes even very early, and fingernails (like lions' claws) are a special pleasure. There was a period, Late Archaic, where we have to admit that young men used their razors to refine the shape of the pubic escutcheon, but not here: Zeus or Poseidon is not a boy, and this is not Late Archaic art. Anyway, something more rewarding (since we do not usually think of navels as ornaments—or we didn't when I was young), notice how perfectly studied and rendered the god's navel is, how neatly wrapped above, how perfectly integrated with the abdominal median.
Now, there is another statuary type that, I firmly believe, was created by the same sculptor as the Cape Artemision god. There are a number of copies, but two are practically complete. Englishmen tend to prefer the Choiseul-Gouffier statue in the British Museum, though John Boardman (Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period, nos. 66 and 67) agrees in calling it "duller" (Wiki ought not to call it a 'kouros'). I don't have a proper catalogue at hand, but I suppose that it was bought at Rome, in spite of Ch-G's time in Istambul. I should think that it wasn't made in Athens, where, yes, a number of "Roman Copies" were made. Copies made in Athens often show features that the studio could observe from statues actually standing there. The "Omphalos Apollo", though the omphalos found near by does NOT belong to the statue, was found in the Theater of Dionysos in Athens, and, though it is a marble copy, certainly from a bronze, its maker preserved the tense eleasticity of the body forms. Its face, too, though of a young god, is alert and unique, not generalized like that of the Ch-G Apollo.
Here are front views of the heads:

It is the "Omphalos" copy that renders the metallic character of the hair and the almost mischievous, quite particular, face of this Apollo. And notice the eyes; they aren't the heavy-lidded eyes of most Roman copies (remember that in taking molds they had to cover the inset eyes and eyelashes, so they always had to be done rather generically).
In profile, too, we see that the "Omphalos" copy is familiar with an original bronze:

It is true that the "Omphalos" has lost its nose, but just compare his smiling profile with the generically classical one of the Ch-G (the reason so many copies from Rome look like Canova is that the latter learned being Classical before he saw the Parthenon sculptures). Most of all, the Ch-G has hair rendered as if molded from cooky dough, whereas the carver of the "Omphalos" managed to make marble look rather like hair and wisps fade into the surface of the marble neck.
I don't have exactly comparable images of the whole statues, but here are what I can offer, and you can go to the Album for a few more.

What I can show you, I hope, is that the hair of the "Omphalos" copy is profoundly similar, in spite of being a marble copy, to that of the Cape Artemision god:

and the body is knit together in the same way (I don't know how else to describe it). Also, unless they have moved both statues again, you can stand against the wall behind the "Omphalos" Apollo and consider the back view of the Cape Artemision god about three meters away (you have to use wide-angle to record this at all). The back and the buttocks and the legs, especially the thigh-knee-calf articulation of the flexed leg are, in my opinion, just alike.
Now I notice that some of the professors' notes on .edu web pages try to tell you the name of the great sculptor who did the Cape Artemision god. But, for example, we aren't even sure which generation (before or after mid-century) Kalamis worked in. Onatas also is a famous name. So is Hegias. But the 'knowledge' that we have of them is purely verbal and awfully brief, like Facts on File stuff. It is safe to say that a great sculptor created the Cape Artemision god, but it is trivial at best to try to stick one of the names that we have on him. It is just as silly as arguing over whether he is Zeus or Poseidon (especially since we don't know where the statue stood before it was wrenched from its base and put on a ship).
Spend your time instead, I always said in lecture, in studying as many photographs as you can find of the statue and trying to get inside the mind of its maker, until you can go to Athens and see it (if you go in January, you might even have him to yourself for a few minutes, but remember that in the winter the museums keep shorter hours).
Finally, here is a detail from the big amphora that is the namepiece of the Achilles Painter; it represents, in fact, Achilles himself. It seems to me to have a similar ideal of character to the Artemision god.
(to avoid risk of copyright, not sure where my image came from, I have substituted a link to an archive that seems to use the same image).


  1. Only a quick skim through for now but looks brilliant.Shall return to absorb later, but have already encountered several facts worth pondering on. How do you write up all of these detailed notes this AND find time for the housework?!

  2. I forgot to say, though it seems obvious, that this 'exercise' also proves that with reasonably good pointed 'copies' (even in a different material and made in a different workshop) one CAN make valid comparisons, and even between copies and originals. Because, between the Ch-G and the "Omphalos" Apollos, the differences are plainly derived from one original, even though one of them seems more remote from it than the other.

  3. To all: at, please read Replies #3, ff.