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(The Spearbearer)
by Polykleitos of Sikyon
ca. 450–440 B.C.

The Doryphoros typifies the new approach to depicting the human form in the high Classical Period of Greek art. Artists placed increasing emphasis on the ideal man, who was depicted in heroic nudity with a young, athletic body that was naturalistic in musculature and pose. The Classical style is characterized by its idealism; faces are generic with no emotion or individualized features while bodies are smooth, muscular, and proportionate.

Unlike Archaic kouroi (see cast of the Tenea kouros in the Cast Gallery), which stand rigidly in an unnatural stance derived from Egyptian models, Classical statues have a sense of motion, achieved by a pose known as contrapposto. The Doryphoros stands in such a pose, bearing the weight on one straight leg, while the other is bent and relaxed. The legs are counterbalanced by the arms, one of which is flexed while the other hangs relaxed by the side. This movement, tension, and shifting weight create the impression of motion.

Many Greek statues, including the Doryphoros, were originally made of bronze. Bronze’s combination of tin and copper lent itself to life-like nude forms, which must have seemed like gleaming, suntanned skin when the metal was new. Hair, eyes, lips and teeth could be rendered in other colors or materials. Few original bronzes survive today but they were copied extensively in marble by Roman sculptors. Polykleitos’ original Doryphoros had a spear that rested on the left shoulder, and the statue would have been able to stand without any support. (A tree trunk, or other strut, was often added to marble copies for support.)

Polykleitos was from Sikyon but later moved to Argos, a center for bronze working in the northeast Peloponnesos. He was a contemporary of Pheidias, who also trained in the Argive school and later became the chief artist of Perikles, the famed Athenian statesman. The two sculptors were often compared; it was said that Pheidias was the best sculptor of gods, while Polykleitos was the best sculptor of men. Many of his subjects are male athletes, characterized by their heavy musculature and balanced poses.

As a reflective theoretician, Polykleitos was interested in the mathematical questions presented by the human form. He wrote an essay on the subject of human proportions titled the Kanon. Polykleitos crafted the Doryphoros as an illustration of his theories on the symmetria between the parts of the human body outlined in his treatise. His scientific approach created a simple but balanced figure, which quickly became an exemplary model of the Classical ideal. The Doryphoros was much copied and was probably the one work of Greek art that had the most influence on Roman and later art.

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