Doryphorus, Roman copy from Pompeii, Italy, 450-440 BCE

One of the most well-known and copied Greek sculptures is the Doryphorus (Spear Bearer), by Polykleitos. It epitomizes the intellectual rigor of Classical art and of the Classical era. In fact, Polykleitos actually sculpted this statue to as a demonstration to accompany a treatise on the subject. In the treatise, Polykleitos named the statue Canon.

According to Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, the Doryphorus is the culmination of the evolution in Greek statuary from the Archaic kouros to the Kritios Boy to the Diskobolos. In his sculpture, the contrapposto is more pronounced than ever. However, Polykleitos wanted to make the human body more “beautiful” and more “perfect”. His statue seems to be in a very simple and natural pose, but its position is actually filled with “extremely subtle and complex organization of the figure’s various parts.” The figure displays a complex, diagonal symmetry. The tense left arm mirrors the tense right leg and the relaxed right arm mirrors the relaxed left leg. The right leg is holding up the entire weight of the body (the weight shift is a characteristic of contrapposto). In the same diagonally symmetrical manner, the head turns to the right while the hips are twisted slightly to the left. Although the figure may seem to be taking a step forward, it is actually standing still. The essence of Polykleitos’ style is its dynamic asymmetrical balance and the resulting harmony of opposites.

I am also very impressed by this statue. It is so realistic and naturalistic and the human figure so precise that it is uncanny! The muscles are also perfectly modeled. I am always amazed when I see perfect modeling because that is a very difficult task to accomplish using marble!

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