Comparison between annotations of the Discobolus of Myron and Boxer at Rest

This is a very late edition to my learning log as I have realised that I did not take note of my tutor’s advice in doing this comparison so have decided to rectify that mistake.

img_4450My two annotations for Part 2 of this course are two sculptures who both originated in ancient Greece.  Discobolus is thought to date to 460-440 BC and the Boxer at Rest (Terme Boxer) between 4th century and 2nd century BC – the exact date for this sculpture is still debated.

Please note my image  reproduced here is a photograph of my annotation as my original photograph I took at the Ashmolean Museum of this cast has unfortunately corrupted on my camera card.

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Both sculptures are thought to have been done by the lost wax technique and the evidence for this is apparent particularly regarding the Terme Boxer due to the fact he is totally hollow as can be seen through his eye sockets which would have originally had either semi-precious or precious stones inserted.

Myron’s original Discobolus  disappeared during Roman times but not before many copies were made and there are two notable marble copies that survive and the first of which is the 1st century AD marble Discobolus Palombara which was discovered at the Villa Palombara, Esquiline property of the Massimi family.  This version was excavated in 1781 and originally housed at the Palazzo Lancelotti, hence its alternative name the Lancelotti Discobolus, but eventually it was sold to Hitler in 1938 before being eventually returned to the National Museum of Rome in 1948.  The other version of Myron’s sculpture is also a marble copy and is thought to be  2nd century and known as the Townley Discobolus, excavated 1781 at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli and named after the eventual purchaser who was one Charles Townley – a point of note is this statue was originally discovered minus his head and the head of another statue discovered nearby. My point with mentioning these marble copies is precisely that – they are marble and the reason for their survival no doubt rests on their material because bronze was often melted down and re-used and this in turn makes the Terme Boxer so remarkable as it is an original bronze sculpture from the 4th – 2nd century BC.

What is interesting to note is that the Terme Boxer was discovered on the Quirinal Hill, near the ancient Baths of Constantine in Rome in 1885 and it is thought that he was intentionally buried there to preserve him from the invading barbarians as the Roman Empire collapsed between the 4th and 6th centuries.  The maker of this sculpture is unknown which compares with knowing of  Myron of Eleutherae the maker of Discobolus.  Myron was said by Pliny to have sculpted the first naturalistic figures and he was also known to have mastered the portrayal of movement and harmony.  However little is known about Myron himself except for what is written by writers, such as Pliny, in the 1st century.

The obvious comparison between the two sculptures is the pose – the Terme Boxer is seated looking at his adversary whilst the Discobolus is an example of the Greek concept of rhythmos which is limbs being  balanced against one another whist encapsulating equilibrium as he literally caught between two movements.

The Terme Boxer is seated at rest on a new plinth and is slightly larger than life sized and clearly a man who has fought many fights  – the sculptor has inlaid copper on his face and torso to give the impression of blood and he also has a cauliflower ear and bruising to his cheek as well as a broken nose.   The boxer wears highly detailed caestus – Roman style boxing gloves consisting of leather strips attached to a ring and wound around the knuckled and fitted with wooden padding which tell of the fact that he must have been a sportsman of some repute due to the simple fact these are the ancient equivalent of knuckledusters and could subsequently be deadly.   He is also a man of considerable muscularity  and fitness and despite his battered appearance he has the air of a fighter albeit one of maturity as is shown by his hair and well kept beard.

In comparison there is the slighter and leaner body of the athlete caught in the middle of pulling back his arm and twisting his body to throw the discus.  The cast incidentally combines a headless statue discovered at Hadrian’s villa with a head of a statue apparently discovered near Rome but the Ashmolean Museum does not make direct reference to whether this is a copy of the Townley Discobolus although it would be reasonable to assume it is.   Myron has carefully incised the lines of the abdomen and groin which results in clear definition of the abdominal muscles which in turn combined with the definition on the hips and chest give the sculpture such a naturalistic appearance.  The athlete is also perfectly proportioned (symmetria) but there is an element of the figure being idealised in the fact the expression on his face is considered too calm and relaxed for what he is doing but I personally consider his face to be concentrating and feel he has a focus on the task in hand.  There is no question of the feeling of anticipation for the movement to continue indicated by the position of his arms and the twisting of his body – his upper body is open and in the midst of the movement whilst his lower body is closed and angular.

Both sculptures are naturalistic and realistic anatomically although somewhat idealised in the pursuit of the portrayal of perfection despite the fact that the boxer is so battered from his fight in appearance.  Myron lead the way in sculpting naturalistic figures and it would be a reasonable assumption to say that this eventually resulted in the almost startlingly realistic Terme Boxer.  There is a question of why the boxer was made – was he made for a patron or as a votive statue dedicated by a boxer at Olympia, was he a singular statue or as part of a group or was he simply just a genre statue or maybe even as a memorial to a boxer of repute.  Unlike Discobolus who was designed to be seen only from the sides on a single plane from the sides, the boxer can be seen from all angles so I personally question where was the boxer was originally displayed.  I also have the same questions for Discobolus – was this part of a group or was it made for a patron and if it was meant to be viewed from a single plane was it displayed on a plinth or perhaps in an alcove at an arena similar to the Colosseum or in a public forum but this is purely conjecture and  the answers for both sculptures are lost in the midst of time.

To summarise I chose two apparently different sculptures with one static looking up at potentially his adversary after a fight and the other caught in a moment between two movements whilst giving a real feeling of movement but the sculptures have distinct similarities in their potential technique and their naturalistic portrayals of a fighter and an athlete. Discobolus is the earlier sculpture by possibly up to 200+ years, or potentially less than 100,  and despite the attention to detail it is clear techniques progressed to produce the astonishing realism of the Terme Boxer including the aforementioned copper inlay in the wounds to give an impression of blood.

I would hope to visit the British Museum in the future to see the Townley Discobolus and likewise I would love to also visit the National Museum of Rome to see the Terme Boxer in person.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Ashmolean Museum. (date unknown).  Focus on Greek Sculpture Notes for Secondary School Teachers [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.ashmolean.org/education/resources/resources2011/FocusOnGreekScupltureTeacherNotes

British Museum.  (date unknown).  The Townley Discobolus [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=8760&partId=1

Butler, S. 2012.  The Discobolus [online]. [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.hiddenhistory.co.uk/antiquities/the-olympics-in-ancient-art/

Encyclopedia of Sculpture. (date unknown).  Myron (active 480-440 BCE) [online]. [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/sculpture/myron.htm

Mcdowall, C. 2013.  Ancient Bronze Masterpiece at the Met NY – A Boxer at Rest [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.thecultureconcept.com/ancient-bronze-masterpiece-at-the-met-ny-a-boxer-at-rest

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2000-2017.  The Boxer:  An Ancient Masterpiece Comes to the Met [online].  [Date Accessed:  January 2017].  Available from:  http://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/features/2013/the-boxer

 

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