Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.10.13


Warren G. Moon (ed.), Polykleitos, the Doryphoros and Tradition. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995. Pp. xii, 363. ISBN 0-299-14310-4. $50.00.


Reviewed by Mark D. Fullerton, History of Art, The Ohio State University, fullerton.1@osu.edu.

The eighteen articles included in this volume were expanded, to varying degrees, from papers delivered at a similarly titled symposium held at Madison in October of 1989. The planning of this event was prompted by the acquisition and display in 1986 of an exceptionally well-preserved replica of the Doryphoros type by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; this statue takes center stage in several of the papers presented. The unfortunate delay in publication resulted from the tragic death of Warren Moon in 1992. The production of the volume is excellent; it is lavishly illustrated and the printing of photographs is of a consistently high quality. The papers are well-documented through footnotes which seem to have been composed within a year or so of the symposium, although additions were made as late as 1992. Some important recent publications on Polykleitos are therefore only incompletely, if at all, taken into account; nonetheless it is fair to say that the studies collected here give a representative overview of the range of issues connected to the study of this Classical Greek sculptor as well as a useful cross-section of the varying opinions and approaches which currently govern the study of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture. At the risk of doing injustice through brevity, I will begin by giving a summary synopsis of each contribution and conclude with a few general observations. As the editor has pointed out in the preface, the essays divide themselves into four groups; I will consider them according to these same categories.

Precedents and parallels for the intellectual and theoretical aspects of Polykleitos' work: In seeking to establish the tradition in which Polykleitos worked as a sculptor, Jeffrey Hurwit finds little direct evidence for an Argive school. He deems it more likely that Polykleitos was a pupil of Pythagoras than of (as Pliny has it) Hageladas, largely owing to the Rhegine sculptor's attested interest in rhythmos and symmetria. The connection with Hageladas is certainly suspect, and, insofar as one can answer these questions, the balance of likelihood favors Hurwit's suggestion. Reminding us that it is primarily the Canon that makes Polykleitos stand out among the known sculptors of Classical Greece, J.J. Pollitt outlines the tradition of such treatises, most of which were concerned with architecture. Pollitt suggests that the Canon was primarily a technical document intended for a professional audience, although it may also have drawn inspiration from the number-oriented philosophy of the Pythagoreans. That the Canon combined the traditions of craft and philosophy is a conclusion developed further in Ira Mark's paper, to whom it suggests an ambivalent status for this sculptor. Sculptors were craftsmen, and although such artisans were clearly capable of accumulating wealth, they were not of the same social level as those aristocrats for whom philosophy was considered an appropriate activity. If Polykleitos participated in both traditions, he represented a challenge to this social distinction, and references to such challenges can in fact be detected in Plato's Laws. The next two essays, by Gregory Leftwich and Richard Tobin deal with the relationship between the Doryphoros and contemporary medical treatises. Both scholars argue that Polykleitos was very aware of the teachings of Classical medicine and thoroughly understood the science of human anatomy and movement. Both apply minute observation of the contraction and relaxation of muscles and muscle groups, agree that the Doryphoros incorporates this polarity as a fundamental organizational principle, and seek thereby to identify the activity represented by the Doryphoros type. At this point opinions diverge. For Tobin, the type shows a figure "commencing very slow gait from a static position." Leftwich's analysis (the more convincing to this reviewer) is in agreement with the widely held view that the pose is an artificial construct, identifiable neither as walking or standing.

The copies of the Doryphoros and the vexed problem of how they relate to one another and to the original bronze: More succinctly termed Kopienkritik in German, this problem is of course at the core of virtually every study of Greek sculptors, although its successful resolution has already been assumed in the foregoing essays. How variations within the copy tradition are interpreted and reconciled can differ significantly, and such differences are not lacking here. Hugo Meyer, in what was to be the official publication of the Minneapolis statue, considers the variations in that piece sufficient to classify it as an interpretation rather than a copy. The Roman sculptor has, in Meyer's opinion, deliberately "rejuvenated" the Doryphoros type by fitting it out with certain late fifth century stylistic features -- most obviously a slight shift in the positioning of the feet. In contrast C.H. Hallett, while acknowledging the liberties taken by (and consequent "creativity" of) the Roman stonecarver, states that the variations are entirely within the range of acceptability for a copy. In this case it may simply have been altered to accommodate the specific circumstances of its display. Thus is underscored the fatal flaw in the very enterprise of Kopienforschung -- its subjectivity, and perhaps this explains Hallett's second contribution in which he seeks to validate the process of using copies in the study of Greek sculpture. Indeed, if the use of copies were rejected outright every paper in this collection (except perhaps the first three) would be rendered meaningless; nonetheless, the very existence of the symposium would seem to indicate that the threat is not so great as Hallett suggests. He is somewhat dismissive in his treatment of the serious problems raised by such scholars as Boardman and Ridgway, and continues to see the primary challenge as that of choosing features from among the copies which can be attributed to the original. His suggested solution ("I believe that features which seem designed to answer fifth-century needs are unlikely to have been introduced by a Roman copyist...") constitutes but a slight refinement of the common practice of identifying stylistic features actually documented by Classical works. While it would seem to address the problem of a virtually non-existent corpus of comparanda (Classical original bronzes), it increases rather than decreases the degree of subjectivity. On the other hand, I fully agree with Hallett's assertion that the stylistic dating of Roman Idealplastik (whether copy or something else) is grounded in circular reasoning and thus not very convincing. The limitation of Kopienkritik is also well-illustrated by K.J. Hartswick, whose study of the variations in detail among Doryphoros heads provides a focused example of the freedom displayed by the Roman carvers.

The evidence for the oeuvre of Polykleitos as a whole: Once we move beyond the Doryphoros, about which there seems to be universal agreement, and consider other works attributed to the sculptor, we encounter problems which are both more troublesome and more typical. Like most copy types connected with a "master's'" name, the Diadoumenos, Polykleitos' second most commonly agreed-upon work, is attributed on the basis of a passing mention in Pliny's list and a stylistic affinity to another statue (the Doryphoros), itself only tentatively identified (universal agreement is not the same as certainty). It is no surprise, therefore, that it is on this issue of Polykleitos' oeuvre that we find the greatest range of opinion. Angelos Delivorrias seeks to overturn several points of received wisdom concerning the oeuvre of Polykleitos -- that it exclusively or predominantly consisted of bronze images of male subjects and could not include works dating from the end of the century. Delivorrias goes through the evidence for Polykleitos' statues of females and "restores" as Polykleitan the Amazon (Sciarra type), Aphrodite at Amyklai ("Hera" Borghese), the Argive Hera ("unique copy" bust in Thessaloniki). Questions raised by other scholars about these attributions have had, I would have thought, more to do with lack of evidence than with the "mistaken misogyny" invoked by Delivorrias, whose use of the copy evidence (like his belief in stylistic dating, cf. n.18) would rank among the more traditional and positivistic approaches. In contrast, two far more skeptical and circumspect studies precede and follow Delivorrias' paper. Brunilde Ridgway provides a balanced and thorough account of the evidence at hand for works by Polykleitos, including a detailed inventory of newer evidence and approaches. She accepts a fragment preserving a section of hair from a bronze statue at Olympia as stylistically comparable to copies of the Doryphoros and endorses the commonly held identification of the Diadoumenos. Beyond that, in her view, the Polykleitan output is unknown, but as she reminds us, the situation for Polykleitos is nonetheless far better than for most other sculptors who remain names alone. Carmen Arnold-Biucchi brings the welcome expertise of the numismatist to the problem of identifying coin representations of Polykleitan works. Classical stylistic features and Doryphoros-like poses are certainly to be found on Greek and Roman coins, as in the other arts of the time, yet while they tell us much about numismatic art, they say next to nothing about Classical statuary. Her study, like the following paper by Carlos Picon concerning Polykleitan works in America, illustrate aspects of the diffusion of Polykleitan style and thus bring us to the final group of papers.

The reception, adaptation, and influence of the Polykleitan style in antiquity and in post-Classical Europe: Andrew Stewart considers the reception of Polykleitos' innovations up through the time of Alexander. He is not concerned here with the much-studied topic of Polykleitos' followers but rather with how the Doryphoros, as both representation of Achilles and the visual embodiment of equilibrium (physical, psychological, and moral), can be read as a referent in later creations. The Diomedes type, which dates soon after the Doryphoros, incorporates the general pose of the latter but rejects its balance and thereby its ambiguity and atemporality. Dictated by the statue's subject matter, this relationship marks one line of separation within the increasingly divergent stylistic trends which follow the era of Polykleitos and the Parthenon. Stewart traces similar instances of visual intertextuality through a sequence of monuments -- including both architectural sculpture and types reconstructed through copies -- culminating in the Lysippan Alexander with the Lance. As so often in Stewart's work, his application of Kopienforschung demands from the reader some suspension of disbelief, since the types he has chosen are not without controversy. However this suspension is rewarded by often brilliant insights into the ways in which images signify through relationships among one another. His theme is taken up by John Pollini in an equally masterful analysis of the significance of Polykleitan features in the Prima Porta Augustus. As Alexander's image reflects a not only updated but improved version of the Doryphoros' Achilles, so the Prima Porta portrays Augustus as the hero of and for the specific requirements of the nascent Roman Empire. The rhetorical parallel for such a creation is aemulatio. As literary sources make explicit, the Doryphoros was a model in a very literal sense, and the Prima Porta was designed, and functioned, as another sort of exemplum. The success of these two studies makes all the more obvious the lacuna they leave unconsidered -- the use and signifying function of Polykleitan classicism in Hellenistic times. Only by exploring this gap can we determine whether the Roman figures were intended to allude specifically to a fifth century source (as is all but universally assumed, including in Pollini's paper) or whether they were mobilizing a continuous tradition wherein certain forms bear certain associations (as I have elsewhere argued). Pollini mentions many Roman examples of Polykleitan poses in his investigation of the Prima Porta statue's meaning, but he does not mention what seems to me the most obvious referent of all -- the image of Divus Julius himself.

The last three papers bring us an increasing distance from the Polykleitan world. Warren Moon traces Classical stylistic features in the third-century A.C. synagogue paintings at Dura-Europus, wherein the Polykleitan scheme is ubiquitous. Phyllis Bober's consideration of the "letto di Policleto" once in Ghiberti's possession reassures us that our confusion over the identity and style of the Argive master is at least less than that which prevailed during the Quattrocento. The volume concludes with perhaps its most important contribution. In considering Winckelmann's treatment of Polykleitos, Alice Donohue brings us to a truly novel understanding of Winckelmann's method. In contrast to prevailing opinion, itself largely dependent on believing Winckelmann's own claims, his organization of Greek art into successive stylistic phases and the historical contextualization of these phases is seen to depend not on empirical observation of the monuments, but on preconceived schemes derived from ancient literary sources. In the light of the preceding studies, this conclusion goes far beyond historiographic concerns alone, since in seeing how Winckelmann's scheme resulted from a priori reasoning, we are reminded of the degree to which current scholarship tends to sort and interpret its object of study according to methods inherited from the tradition initiated by Winckelmann.

General Comments:

A primary result of studies like Donohue's -- and a central concern of what was once called the new Art History -- is methodological self-consciousness, a quality which is recurrent in this volume. This is, but is not merely, a feature of fashionable scholarship. When it comes to the questions addressed by these authors, much is demanded of a very small amount of evidence, and thus method is of primary importance. That most of the authors foreground (and sometimes defend) their approach rather than suppress it is a healthy development. In this way it is explicit when authors reach diverging opinions from similar methods (e.g., Leftwich and Tobin) and when these differing conclusions are all but methodologically predetermined (e.g., Ridgway and Delivorrias). Such a juxtaposition of methods within the demands of rather circumscribed objectives cannot help but underscore the potency of those methods; recognition of this fact, rather than startling new insights into questions surrounding Polykleitos, is clearly the primary value of this collection.

The use of copies to reconstruct Classical originals is absolutely essential if, as Hallett (p.125) says, "we wish to trace the history of Greek sculpture in the fifth century and to represent it as a continuous and intelligible artistic enterprise." But are the copies to be used to attain this objective or do we, in imitation of Winckelmann, assume the objective as established in order to evaluate the copies? There is a circularity in this as invasive as that in the stylistic dating of Roman Idealplastik. Some compelling questions have been posed in recent years concerning the copying issue which go far beyond the already vexing problems of Kopienkritik. Assuming that a type can be reconstructed on the basis of a copy sequence: (How) can we distinguish a Classical type from a later (Hellenistic or Roman) type in Classical style? If we can do this, how can we connect the type with a given artist and/or work on the basis of a brief mention in the literary record? These are serious questions and we cannot summarily push them aside simply because they stand between us and our objective. The tentative reconstructions of individual works and artists' oeuvres should always be pursued and presented as what they are -- speculative, even heuristic, enterprises, and they should not be used as a factual base for further speculation. I am reassured that this more skeptical branch of sculptural scholarship is now well enough established to have occasioned, in reaction, a backlash which itself constitutes revival of sorts. Yet I fear that this divergence is sufficiently sharp that we may develop deep schisms of communication; only through understanding one another's methods can we hope to bridge the gap.

Finally, there are complicating factors particular to the case of Polykleitos which I have not detected in any of the essays here. We know this artist best from literary sources and especially from the descriptions of his Canon; this we would know even if we could not associate the Canon with any extant image. We are told that the Canon was both intended to function and did function as a model for imitation by other sculptors both in Classical and in later times. If Polykleitos' objectives were realized, and there is no reason to believe they were not, there should have been many statues set up in all periods which, to a greater or lesser degree, incorporate features of the Canon. Moreover, if the Doryphoros was the Canon, it is clear (as demonstrated by many of the papers in this collection) that its chiastic stance took on a life and meaning of its own, recurring continuously into Late Antiquity and beyond. Given these facts, and given the admitted inexactitude of Kopienkritik, it would seem that Polykleitos' works would be precisely the most difficult to reconstruct by this method, if our main criterion is, as it seems to be, stylistic affinity to the Doryphoros. Paradoxically, the treatise that made Polykleitos' artistic personality the best known in antiquity might make it for us the most irretrievable.