Reconstruction of the Temple of Aphaia showing pediment
Dying warrior from the west pediment of the
Temple of Aphaia, c. 500 BCE
Around 480 BCE after much observation of the human body and how it moves, artists began to show the
figure standing in contrapposto, with the weight of the body on one leg, while the other leg is bent and at
rest. This is a natural posture, the one that most people assume when they are standing at rest. In order
to show it convincingly, however, the artist must carefully observe and capture the subtle changes in the
position of the figure’s hips, shoulder, and head. The Kritios Boy (c. 480 BCE) is an excellent example of an
early statue standing in contrapposto. Because statues from the early classical period lack the Archaic smile
and display little emotion no matter what dramatic situation they may be in, the style is sometimes called
the severe style.
By the middle of the fifth century BCE artists perfected the representation of restrained but natural
movement in figure sculpture. An important example from this time is the Doryphoros by Polykleitos which
shows contrapposto and the idealization of the male body. The original bronze (which is now known only
through Roman copies) became famous as a demonstration of a perfect canon of proportion. In the canon,
the proportions of the body are based upon a unit—in this case, the unit is actually the figure’s little finger.
Although the Doryphoros shows a man standing at rest like the Kritios Boy, his pose has lost all traces of
stiffness. Other sculptures from this period (like the statues from the Parthenon, show much more variety
in poses and gestures, all done with graceful ease.
The most famous sculptor of the fourth century BCE was Praxiteles, and his work exemplifies the late
classical style. Praxiteles typically made figures according to a slimmer, taller canon of proportions. The
sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysos shows the more elegant proportions, and Hermes’ pose is a
variation of contrapposto such that the figure sways gently. Praxiteles was also famous for his ability to
make marble look soft and sensuous, like human flesh. It is probably not surprising that Praxiteles created
the first full-sized statue of a nude woman in Greek art, the Aphrodite of Knidos. The pose of this sculpture,
with one hand covering the genitals, was copied many times in later centuries.
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