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13 / The Body

Doryphoros (Canon)
Doryphoros (Canon)
Artist / Origin After Polykleitos of Argos (Greek, ca. 480/475–415 BCE)
Region: Europe
Date 450–440 BCE
Period: 500 BCE - 1 CE
Material Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: approx. 84 in. (213 cm.)
Location Munich Museum, Munich, Germany
Credit Courtesy of the Munich Museum

expert perspective

Andrew StewartProfessor of the History of Art and Greek Studies, UC Berkeley

Doryphoros (Canon)

» After Polykleitos of Argos (Greek, ca. 480/475–415 BCE)

expert perspective

Andrew Stewart Andrew Stewart Professor of the History of Art and Greek Studies, UC Berkeley

The Greeks didn’t have a word for idealization. That’s not to say that Greek artists didn’t think quite hard before they carved a kouros or drew a naked guy on a pot. I’d say that essentially the standard image in the sixth-, fifth-, fourth-century art represents what they regarded as the highest common factor of humanity. And this highest common factor was arrived at by the notion of structure, of order, which uses mathematics and geometry, at least in sculpture it does, but is not restricted to that, in order to create ideal proportions, what each individual sculptor thought was ideal proportions. And then overlaying that mathematical geometric structure, that grid, with convincing simulacra for muscles and bones and flesh and so on and so forth.

Proportion manifests itself right at the very beginning of the intensive Greek engagement with the body in the eighth century. But the sculptor who really set it on a consistent footing, really took it to the next level, was Polykleitos of Argos. Polykleitos, we are told, created in his Canon, which was probably identical with the Doryphoros, a work of sculpture which other artists followed like a law, as a nommos, the Greeks would say. And there we are told quite unequivocally that he related every part to every other part and to the whole and used a mathematical formula in order to do so. What that formula was is a matter of conjecture. But, it’s beyond doubt that he did use a mathematical formula and applied it rigorously to the entire human body, even down to the fingernails and toenails. That we know as a fact. Antiquity never subsequently forgot what he had done. They tried to transcend it and his proportional scheme was adapted, adopted, adapted, changed, criticized and so forth. But right up to the end of the Roman Empire, we still find Polykleitan-style torsos and Polykleitan-style proportions. And then through the Roman copies we find them again in the art of the West from the Renaissance onwards, obviously not identical, but as it were, his shadow is extremely long and it still persists 'til today.” 

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