Power and Pathos review – once-in-a-lifetime look at Greek bronze sculptures
Source:theguardian Author:Jordan Riefe Date: 2015-08-04 Size:
On the Greek Isle of Rhodes a 30-meter bronze statue of their patron god Helios, famously known as the Colossus, watched over the harbor for more than 50 years……

A sculpture titled Terme Boxer, 3rd –2nd century BC reveals the cuts and bruises fighters suffered and presented a less polished version of Greek life

On the Greek Isle of Rhodes a 30-meter bronze statue of their patron god Helios, famously known as the Colossus, watched over the harbor for more than 50 years, until it was felled by an earthquake in 226BC. Ptolemy III offered to rebuild it, but the oracle of Delphi said the people had offended Helios, and the bronze fragments remained where they lay for 800 years before they were hauled away.

No one knows where the Colossus stood or what it even looked like, which can be said of the vast majority of Greek bronzes from the period marked by the end of Alexander’s reign in 323BC to the beginning of the Roman empire. Colossus sculptor Chares of Lindos was a student of Lysippos – Alexander’s court sculptor –and was regarded as the finest in the medium, yet of his 1,500 works, none have survived.

Today, fewer than 200 large-scale bronzes of the era remain, and 47 of them are on display in Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. With loans from 34 museums in 12 countries, this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition includes numerous national treasures never before assembled in one place. The show stops in three cities only: it went to Florence in March, and travels to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC this December.

Kenneth Lapatin, associate curator at the J Paul Getty Museum

“It’s two terms that are meant to distill what Hellenistic sculpture is about. Ruler culture emerges as a genre in this period,” is how Getty curator of antiquities Jens Daehner explains the show’s title. Co-curator Kenneth Lapatin adds: “Pathos in Greek means a kind of lived experience, as opposed to the ideal figures.”

That last remark is part of what separates Hellenistic bronzes from their predecessors. Where earlier archaic and classical subjects were mainly mythical figures and demigods presented in idealized form, the Getty show features everyday people, noblemen, artisans and athletes, reflecting a new political reality framed by Alexander and his successors. Most finds are in secondary and tertiary locations, separate from their original bases describing the work. As such, the figures represented are mostly anonymous civic leaders, wealthy patrons, fellow citizens and the deceased.

Related: The top 10 ancient Greek artworks

Among the show’s highlights is the Terme Boxer, a rare and pristinely preserved large bronze excavated in 1885 on Quirinal Hill in Rome. Though he is missing his stone and glass inlaid eyes, teeth and the reddish hues meant to signify blood on his belted knuckles and open wounds, he is the very embodiment of the show’s title. His powerful though enervated frame and pain-wrenched expression exquisitely convey physical and mental exhaustion after a fight.

“It rewards the remote view with its sheer power and its intention and composition, but it also rewards a very close-up view where you can see details,” observes Daehner about the broken nose and flesh wounds, but more importantly the softly textured hair and beard. “It’s a kind of realism that is unusual.”

Statues from this period are mimetic, meant to be so realistic they could actually conjure the aura of the person represented. Bronze was ideal for detailed articulation because original models were carved in wax, affording artists greater malleability when sculpting delicate features. Composed of hollow casts, statues were lighter than marble, and the tensile strength of bronze afforded a greater range of physical expression.

A sculpture titled Athlete, The Croatian Apoxyomenos, Greek, 1st century BC

Due to corrosion over time, today most of the bronzes are black. But they originally bore a tone similar to that of Mediterranean skin, sometimes with silver fingernails, copper lips, ivory teeth, fine copper eyelashes, and often augmented with color to create a lifelike illusion.

While Hellenistic style is usually described as naturalist, it is a label that makes Daehner bristle. “Realism is a more practicable term. A face with wrinkles, you can call it naturalist, but the person you’re portraying doesn’t necessarily look like that,” he explains, listing the artist’s priorities at the time. “What the portrait does, sending a message, showing a person at a particular age, the social status of that person, the statue needs to convey that because that is more important than if they can capture a resemblance.”

Because many of the statues only survive as marble copies made in the early years of the Roman empire, many think of Hellenistic statues as rare surviving originals. Really there are no originals besides the wax and clay models around which molds were made. The only reason Lysippos could make 1,500 works was because he was forging parts from molds and existing pieces could be mixed and matched with newer ones.

The later marble copies of his works and that of fellow artists provide an echo of artistic accomplishments of the time. So popular was the form that it spread east, occasionally manifesting regional variations as with Eros Riding a Lion, discovered in Yemen in 1953, which was cast from a thicker mold and depicts a lion bearing a pointier mane than found on statues closer to Greece.

Related: Greek treasures at the Hellenic Museum tell 8,000 years of history – in pictures

“With the spread of classical culture to the near east we have a popular style and medium emulated by people across the world,” including pieces in Iran and Iraq, which are not part of the show, notes Lapatin. Discovered in Bulgaria in 2004, the Portrait of Seuthes III is a pristine head of the Odrysian ruler, noteworthy for its lifelike, almost watery-looking eyes and intricately carved hair. “The huge beard and very intense look, the technique is done in the Greek manner, no doubt an itinerant craftsman who is adapting his work to a local patron.”

Among the most famous bronzes from the period is Boy with Thorn, or Spinario, dating to 50BC. It has been copied numerous times over the centuries, notably a marble in the Medici collection, and provided inspiration to Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Masaccio.

“The Spinario has become a symbol of ancient Rome,” says Daehner of this lifelike portrait of an unassuming boy seated on a rock, examining the sole of his foot. “What intrigued artists for so many centuries was that it had this timeless quality, a moment of a boy being self-absorbed, and you’re allowed to witness what he’s doing while he doesn’t notice you are there.”

Aside from the near totemic number of reproductions, the Spinario might be the only bronze to survive 2,300 years above ground, noted first in the 1160s atop a column outside the Lateran Palace in Rome. As ubiquitous as bronzes were, most in the collection were saved by natural disasters that covered and protected them from eventually being melted down to make jewelry, coins and weaponry. The large number discovered underwater indicates frequent commercial transit and a thriving art scene similar to modern markets, with connoisseurs, commissions, dealers and patrons.

The Colossus of Rhodes was financed from a cache of weaponry abandoned by fleeing Cypriots after being routed by Ptolemy I’s forces in a fourth-century siege. In 653 AD, its pieces were sold to a merchant from Edessa (in modern-day Turkey) who is said to have loaded them on to 900 camels. No telling what happened to them after that, but chances are they were melted down and the Sixth Wonder of the Ancient World was reduced to jewelry, coins and weaponry.

[Editor] 张艳

    Artintern