The evolution of the free-standing male nude in Greek sculpture represents not only the evolution of artistic techniques, but the evolution of a cultural aesthetic and vision which corresponds to an historical evolution from primitivism, through realism, toward the projection of art as a manifestation of ideal vision. Beginning in with what is typically referred to as the geometrical period (roughly 900-700 BC), works such as the “Mantiklos Appollo” and the “Kardista warrior” manifests a range of male figures from crude human figurines which, along with equestrian-themed pieces, cast in bronze, terracotta, or carved in ivory, are figures which display a range of fluidity and expression, but they are largely confined to non-representation, somewhat stylized figurines to the adoption of inscriptions on a free-standing male nude.
The chief characteristics of the “Kardista warrior” have been cited by scholars as being “a long neck, short stumpy legs, and a belt with sharp edges” (Coldstream 207). The idea behind the figurine is not to express an ideal, not to represent human anatomy in enviable detail, but simply to render, in a totem-like fashion, the characteristics and qualities associated with warriors on a very primitive conceptual basis.
The essentially primitive, even abstract
rendering of the figure is not wholly ascribable to a corresponding primitivism of technique, whether culturally or even regionally. As mentioned, other figures and works, reveal a greater range of fluidity and even a greater range of realism and what modern observers would probably consider a more sophisticated artistic technique as well. For example, work “in the Pagasaean region” (Coldstream 207) have been discovered which evidence “birds and other animals resting on openwork cages, miniature jugs and pyxides, elaborate jugstoppers, and biconical beads” (Coldstream 207), so the adoption of what seems to modern sensibilities of a “crude” technique for human figures such as the “Kardista warrior” were intentional for expressive purposes and do not reflect a lack of technique.
The technical sophistication of the geometrical period if highly evident in the bronze sculpture known as the Mantiklos “Apollo” which is the first known piece which offers a written inscription: “the first certain instance is on a Boeotian bronze male figurine offered to Apollo by one Mantiklos (c. 680 B.C.), but a crude and fragmentary stone inscription” (Coldstream 302). The inclusion of the inscription marks a sea-change in the expressiveness of the Greek male nude in sculpture because the inscription on Mantiklos “Apollo” reveals an incantatory plea to the Greek God Apollo and indicating that the sculpture itself was intended to be an offering to the God. This expressiveness couples the spiritual and aesthetic urge in a much more direct fashion than the totem-like figurines of the early geometrical period and marks the beginning of the personal, the inclusion of specific artistic vision and expression through the previously universalized, stylized and somewhat standardized renderings of the past.
The Mantiklos “Apollo” marks an example of nude male freestanding sculpture form the late geometric period of Greek sculpture. As such, many of the qualities evident in the piece anticipate the next period in Greek sculpture which is referred to as the daedalic period and manifests, in the figure, a more expressive face adn gesture with the left leg of the figure striding somewhat forward. The greater expressiveness of the figure indicates not only a break with traditional representations and ideas of movement and visual perspective, but with the idea of the artist, rather than merely the theme, of a given work, being the focal-point of emotion and meaning. In other words, the Mantiklos “Apollo” both for its individualism in style, pose, and range of emotion as well as its inclusion of a personal religious inscription could be considered a “turning point” in Greek sculpture, one which represents the awakening of personal vision in sculpture and places a new emphasis on the emotions and ideas of the artist and not merely on the ideas and emotions which are inherent in the artist’s overt theme.
Because of this new perspective in art, not only idealized, but satirical, expression becomes possible. A given artist is free to consider a “classical” theme such as free-standing male nude through completely personal eyes and execute, at least to some degree, a work which fulfills this internal vision rather than a cultural, racial, or mythological notion. This freedom, say, simply in the pose of gesture of free-standing male nude sculpture in Greek art helped to form a transition to the Classical Period, which was typified not only by a greater emphasis on proportion, scale, and realism, but on expressiveness by way of detail and devotion to anatomical correctness and impeccable proportion and scale. The leading sculptor of the early Classical Period was Polykleitos who sought to express harmony and balance through his male nude figures and who pioneered the concept of “The Polykleitan Canon of Proportion” (Powers, 200) which sought to define a mathematically cohesive system for delineating the techniques to achieve proper anatomical proportion in sculpture.
The realism and mathematical precision of Polykleitan evolved through the sculptor, Lysippos who exerted an exacting attention to detail, began the practices of making the heads of male nudes smaller and elongating the bodily extremities in order to achieve a greater delicacy and fluency of expression. The absorption in detail and realism, all along the way forwarding a greater degree of expressiveness in the individual artist, began to manifest works which reflected not merely cultural, historical, or mythological inspiration, but personal devotion, individual toil and — with these – a corresponding rise in the primacy of individual vision. from the earliest “totem-like” male figures which displayed little or no anatomical realism, litter of no individual expression or gesture, little or no capacity for expressiveness outside of the rote them, Greek sculpture, and particularly free-standing Greek male nudes transformed in the Hellenistic period to works which exhibited a wide range of individual inspiration. the movement of Greek sculpture flowed from a primitive religious or idiomatic style, through a style of heightened realism, and toward a style which would finally assert individual artistic vision above even the realism of anatomy and perspective which originally began the individualistic tendencies in Greek sculpture.
An example of this era of Greek sculpture is “Kritos Boy.” The sculpture, reveals a mastery of anatomy and the understanding of the body as a self-contained entity. The piece aspires toward a wholeness of bodily expression and although the pose may seem to modern observers somewhat stiff and lifeless, the face is inarguably quite expressive and the body shows, even by modern standards, an accomplished sense of proportion and detail. The sculpture, not only original in the sense of its Hellenistic emphasis on realism, was meant to be viewed from all angles, an example of a work which was meant to be seen “in the round,” (Casson, 10) which is another innovation of this era in Greek sculpture.
It is very important to keep in mind that all the while that Greek sculpture evolved from primitive, non-representational forms through the realism of the Hellenistic period, a corresponding transfer of power evolved in terms of how artists viewed their works and themselves. In the deep past anonymity was the natural assumption of an artist who made small figures of ivory of terracotta or bronze and these were not understood to express anything necessarily about the artist themselves other than to, obvious, show whether or not the given artist possessed any technical skill at making figurines. However, by the time of the Hellenistic period, each individual artist felt not only a capacity for self-expression, but a need for self-expression. No longer were artist anonymous craftsmen, but individual, highly expressive artists for whom the creation of a given work was not so much functional (even as a religious offering) but expressive in its own right.
At this point the sculptors “Praxiteles and Scopas” become very important because these artists represent ” The change from the technical procedure of the Phidian period” (Powers 212) and a corresponding movement toward “the true culmination of the Athenian spirit” (Powers 213). What is indicated in this period is the final movement from sculpture which expressed mythological, religious, cultural, or even racial ideas, to a sculpture which represented ideals. The progression of Greek art as a progression from anonymous craftsmanship to artistic expression is typified by Praxiteles whose aesthetic reaches for “That perfect equilibrium of all the forces and impulses of the individual, an equilibrium which suppresses none, but harmonizes all” (Powers 213) and is perfectly attained in his work “Hermes of Olympia.” The realization of the evolving aesthetic from the impersonal to the deeply personal “was doubtless far enough from the ordinary Athenian attainment, but it was the unmistakable Athenian ideal, the aim alike of the democracy of Pericles and the philosophy of Socrates” (Powers 213) as such, the sculpture becomes not a representation of a known or actualized idea, but of something to aspire towards: an ideal born out of the artist’c imagination and predicated on his cultural sympathies and sensibilities.
In conclusion, while “it is doubtful whether by an exercise of our powers we can fully appreciate the change which took place” (Powers 218) in Greek art specifically at the time of the late Hellenistic period, what cannot be doubted is that the consequence of the evolution of Greek sculpture and more specifically standing make nudes in Greek sculpture marks the progression from an impersonal style to a personal style which also marks the evolution of sculptor from craftsman to expressive artist.
Casson, Stanley. The Technique of Early Greek Sculpture. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933.
Coldstream, J. N. Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Powers, H. H. The Message of Greek Art. New York: Macmillan, 1913.
Cite this Art History: “Kardista Warrior”
Art History: “Kardista Warrior”. (2016, Jul 25). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-history-essay-4/