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date: 23 March 2018

Polyclitus (2), Argive sculptor

Polyclitus (2), Argive sculptor, active c.460–410 bce. Supposedly a pupil of Hageladas, Polyclitus worked exclusively in metal; all his works were in bronze (inscriptions from Argos now date the chryselephantine Hera, attributed to him by Pausanias (3) 2. 17, to the 390s). He made gods, heroes, and athletes, and his statues of mortals were unsurpassed (Quint. 12. 10. 9). His reputation rested largely on a single work, the Doryphorus or Spearbearer; he also wrote a book called the Canon, or Rule, that explained the principles of his art, apparently basing it on this statue. In it, he stated that ‘perfection comes about little by little through many numbers’ (Philon (2) Mechanicus 4. 1, 49. 20), and described a system of proportion whereby, starting with the fingers and toes, every part of the body was related mathematically to every other and to the whole (Galen, De plac. Hipp. et Plat. 5, p. 3. 16 Kühn).

The Doryphorus (perhaps an Achilles) is nowhere described in detail; we only know that it was a nude, ‘virile boy’, ‘suitable for both war and athletics’, and ‘aimed at the mean’ (Plin. HN 34. 55; Quint. 5. 12. 21; Galen, De temperamentis, p. 566. 14 Kühn). Since 1863, however, it has been unanimously identified with a youth known in over 50 copies, the best in Naples (from Pompeii), Berlin, and Minneapolis. A bronze herm by Apollonius (6) is the best copy of the head. He stands on his right leg with his left relaxed; his right arm hangs limp and his left is flexed to hold the spear; his head turns and inclines somewhat to his right. This compositional scheme, which unifies the body by setting up cross-relationships between weight-bearing and relaxed limbs, is called chiastic after the Greek letter chi (χ‎‎), and thereafter becomes standard practice in Greek and Roman sculpture. His proportional scheme was equally influential (though no single reconstruction of it has yet gained universal acceptance), as was his system of modelling, which divided the musculature into grand (static) and minor (mobile) forms, alternating in ordered sequence throughout the body. Though sculptors such as Euphranor and Lysippus (2) introduced their own variations upon this ideal, the Polyclitan ideal remained widely influential, and was particularly popular in Roman imperial sculpture. This and the longevity of Polyclitus' own school accounts for Pliny (1)'s observation that later artists followed his work ‘like a law’ (HN 34. 55).

Varro criticized Polyclitus's work as being ‘virtually stereotyped’ (Plin. HN 34. 56—an inevitable consequence of a rigorously applied ideal), and a series of copies that apparently reproduce his other statues bear this out. These include his Diadoumenus (a victor binding a fillet around his head), Discophorus, Heracles, and Hermes; the ‘Westmacott Boy’ in the British Museum may copy his statue of the boy-boxer Cyniscus at Olympia. His Amazon, placed first in the contest at Ephesus, is plausibly identified in the Sosicles (Capitoline) type, who rests on a spear held in her right hand.


Boardman, Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period (1985), 205 f., 203 ff., figs. 160 ff., 191, 195.Find this resource:

A. F. Stewart, Greek Sculpture (1990), 75 f., 150 ff., 263 ff., figs. 378 ff..Find this resource:

H. Beck and others, Polyklet. Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik (1990).Find this resource:

W. G. Moon, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition (1995).Find this resource:

A. H. Borbein, in O. Palagia and J. J. Pollitt (eds.), Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture (1996), 66 ff..Find this resource:

A. Stewart, Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece (1997), 86 ff..Find this resource:

Supplementum epigraphicum Graecum 51. 410 (Hera); The Grove Encyclopedia of Classical Art and Architecture, q.v.Find this resource:

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