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Sunday, November 29, 2015



"L'atleta" is a Roman statue, Early imperial, AD 1-40. H.: 22 cm. Collezione di Leon Levy.

The athlete with headband is a variation on the so-called DISCOFORO of Polyclitus.

The athlete stands quietly with his weight on his right leg and his relaxed left flexed.

His weight-bearing hip is skewed far to the side.

His right arm is bent at the elbow.

The forearm is extended diagonally forward and outward.

His right hand -- fingers bent and tumb partly missing -- is extended with open palm.

The palm itself has an uneven surface from the attachment of some object.

His left arm hangs at his die.

A  circular hole for a now-missing object passes horizontally between his thumb and index finger.

The athlete's head is bent toward his active right hand, but oddly his eyes are cast upward.

A ribbon or fillet rings his head and is knotted in front.

A projection above and below the line of the ribbon might be either its ends or else a separate rectangular object of woor or metal.

The ribbon is probably a piece of athletic apparatus since the figure is nude.

Athletes frequently have their stephane knotted in front in fifth-century vase painting.

A votive inscription is incised on his right leg, "Publius Achaicus, having vowed, dedicated."

A six-rayed star is incised on his left leg.

Several abbreviations make the brief text somewhat puzzling.

The star is frequently an emblem of the Dioscuri, and possibly the statuette had its companion, in which case the group could have dedicated to this pair of divinities.

The inscription was cut after the statuette had ben cast.

Small lumps of material pushed up by the chisel can be seen at the end of the strokes of many letters.

The letters have a form found in Roman Imperial times.

The workmanhsip is highly clasical and refined.

The anatomy is elaborately articulated, and the  hair is built of a multitude of carefully striated J- and S-shaped locks.

In wave-like succession they march back alng his forehead, hooking outward along the lewft side and alternating inward and outward curls on the right.

The curling ends of the locks are given decorative emphasis by circular cavities, probably made by twirling the end of a pointed stick in the wax of the model.

With the exeption of the enormous eyes, the facial features are small and delicate.

Curiously, the soles of the feet do not follow a plane perpendicular to the axis of the figure.

The figure seems designed for a sloping base or mounting.

The composition is clearly derived from a famous lost statue known through many replicas and variant, universally attributed to Polyclius.

It has been conjectured that the fifth-century statue was an athlete carrying a discus.

Since many bronze statuettes of this type are equipped with the attributes of MERCURIO, some have argued that his was also the identity of the Polyclitan original.

However, rejecting the idea that any of the trappings of the ROMAN MERCURIO could go back to the fifth century, some have attempted to show that the prototype was a figure of TESEO.

The stance of the position of the limbs of the LEVY ATHLETE BRONZE generally agree with those of the putative classical model.

The squarish, sharply defined musculature of the torse and the curly locks of the hair are quintessentially Polyclitan.

The variations are themselves intereseting, as in a bronze statuette in Basel, the back is relatively broad and tall, and the hips are narrow.

The left shoulder is level with the right, rather than tilted upward as usual.

Most radically changed is the head.

The headband (without a knot) and the essentials of the hair arrangement are found in the marble variant of the DISCOFORO in Aphrodisias.

A headband with a central roundel appears in a DISCOFORO from Gaul.

The headband probably does not belong to the original, since it is present in only one of the full-sized marble versions of the figure.

The distant, upward cast of the eyes is seen in the famous bronze statuette in the LOUVRE, probably of Augustan date.

The sheer size of the LEVY bronze's eyes can be paralleled in the ASCLEPIUS found in VOLUBILIS, Morocco.

The meaning of the statuette is somewhat unclear, as it should.

Unlike most of the other other DISCOFORI, it does not seem to have been a MERCURIO.

No wings sprout fom the head, and it is very unlikely that the right hand held a moneybag.

It seems much more probably that the figure was simply a decorative creation evoking athletes of the fifth century BC.

It has much in common with one of the classicistic statuettes recovered from the Anticythera wreck of 75-50 BC.

The figure in question stands in a very similar pose, wears a headband and probably poured a libation fom a phiale in its outstretched right hand.

Its left seems to have once held an object that has not been reconstructed.

The refined workmanship in general and the sharply articulated overlya of well-defined locks in particular suggest a date in Julio-Claudian times.

The circular perforations marking the ends of curls are a decorative approach best paralleled from Tiberian times on, as in the bustd of a lady from Herculaneum.

Although the figure seems to lie in the tradition of the Anticythera statuettes, the elaborately emphatic detailing of its hair and anatomy is far from their sketchy simplicity.

The inscription's large, roughtly formed letters suggest re-use at a somewhat later date.

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