Polykleitos
Ancient Greek High Classical Sculptor, Noted for Doryphorus, Spear-Carrier; Kanon of Polykleitos.

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Doryphorus (c.440 BCE)
A marble Roman copy of the original
bronze statue by Polykleitos.
Museo Archeologico Naples.
A typical work of 5th century
High Classical Greek sculpture.

Polykleitos (Polyclitus) (5th century BCE)

A Greek sculptor of the High Classical Period, Polykleitos (Polyclitus) is considered one of the most important and greatest sculptors of classical antiquity, along with Phidias (488-431) and Myron (480-444). He created mainly bronze sculpture and his most famous works, none of which survive today except in replica, include his Kanon of Polykleitos and his Amazon figure.

Biography

As with so many artists from Classical Antiquity, little detail is known of Polykleitos' life. Born in Sicyon or Argos, according to Pliny, he was taught the art of sculpture by Ageladas of Argos - the same teacher who taught both Phidias and Myron. According to Greek opinion at the time, he was considered the equal of Ageladas.

EVOLUTION OF SCULPTURE
For details about the origins
and development of the "plastic
arts", see: History of Sculpture.

FAMOUS GREEK SCULPTORS
For biographies of the main
artists known to us from the
sculpture of ancient Greece
please see the following:
Callimachus (Active 432-408 BCE)
Praxiteles (Active 375-335 BCE)
Leochares (Active 340-320 BCE)

FORMS OF SCULPTING
For different types of 3-D
carving, see:
Stone Sculpture
Granite, limestone, sandstone
and other rock-types.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.

CLASSICAL PLASTIC ARTS
For details of Greek art, see:
Daedalic Style Sculpture (650-600)
Archaic Greek Sculpture (600-500)
Early Classical Greek Sculpture
Late Classical Greek Sculpture
Hellenistic Greek Sculpture (323-27)
Greek Pottery (Black/Red-Figure)

BEST WORKS OF SCULPTURE
For the world's top works, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Polykleitos consciously worked to create a new approach for Greek sculpture and wrote a treatise (Kanon) to explain his methods and principles. Using these principles he designed the 'perfect' sculpture known as the Kanon of Polykleitos. The sculpture emphasised a counterbalance of tension and relaxation through shoulder and hip movement - known as chiastic balance. The bronze has not survived but references to it in antiquarian books imply that its main principle was the expression of the Greek word 'symmetria'.

Standard Proportions For Sculptures

Polykleitos insisted that a statue should be composed of clearly definable parts, all related by a system of ideal mathematical proportions and balance. He expressed it in terms of ratios established by Pythagoras for the perfect musical scale: 1:2 (octave), 2:3 (harmonic fifth), and 3:4 (harmonic fourth). Polykleitos theories became the standard proportions for sculptors for generations. Although the original no longer exists, a copy, called the Doryphorus or Spear-Carrier can be seen in the National Archeological Museum in Naples. Another copy of Polykleitos' work, which represents the same use of athletic, muscular proportions, includes Diadumenus, at the National Museum, Athens.

 

Famous Statues

One of Polykleitos’ major works, his Amazon figure for Ephesus, was regarded as superior to those by contemporary sculptors Phidias and Kresilas. Another of his works, which was praised in classical times and compared favourably with Phidias' Zeus, was his colossal gold and ivory statue of Hera made for a temple at Argos. Today we only have a description by Pausanias and a rough representation on Roman coins as to the look and pose of the statue. Other art works attributed to Polykleitos include Hermes, at one time placed in Lysimachia (Thrace) and Atragalizontes (Boys Playing a Knuckle-bones) which was bought by the Emperor Titus and set in a place of honour in his atrium.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge Greek classical sculptors like Polykleitos, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. See also our review: Venus de Milo.

Legacy

Polykleitos, along with his contemporary Phidias, were the first generation of Greek sculptors to have a school of followers. Polykleitos' school lasted for at least three generations and was mostly active in the late 300s and early 200s BCE. The Roman writer Pliny identified several notable artists who were defined, at the time, for their adherence to Polykleitos' principles of art and form. His best known pupils were Skopas (395-350 BCE) and Lysippos (4th century BCE). Polykleitos' son, Polykleitos the Younger was also a popular sculptor but won acclaim in the field of architecture. He designed the grand theatre at Epidaurus. While the principles Polykleitos applied to his art were much appreciated in his time, today's audience may be forgiven for thinking his fleshy figures lack charm or interest. Ancient critics sometimes reproached Polykleitos for the lack of variety in his works - he sculpted very few notable statues of deities. Although his field was narrowly limited - it was agreed, even in his own time, that in his field, he was unsurpassed.

See also: Greek Architecture (900-27).

• For the history of antique sculpture, see: Homepage.
• For information about classical art from Ancient Rome, see: Roman Art.


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