Sunday, November 21, 2010

Antique Sculpture published by J. Hagger

J. Hagger published a book of sculpture in London in the 1860s. Here are a few of the entries:

Electra and Orestes.
Our group represents Orestes and Electra, at the moment when they are talking over the possibility of avenging the death of their father. In the marble however, Orestes seems to be taking the more prominent part; he is evidently, as expressed by the action of the left hand, the talking member of the group; whereas Electra is merely listening. The group is the work of Stephanus the pupil of Pasiteles, if one may apply the term "work" to a palpable imitation of some Archaian original. The antique type of the entire composition, which Stephanus has only slightly altered, strikes one at the first sight. The first point that attracts our attention, is the fact of the figures being almost in equipoise; neither one leg nor the other supports any great amount more than its due proportion of the weight of each body. Orestes it is true leans a trifle over to the left hand side; but in the case of Electra, the difference is scarcely appreciable; the centre of gravity of each of the figures falls almost exactly in the middle between the feet. The treatment of the figures in many points of detail, but especially about the throat and the drapery around Electra, reminds us of the mode in which they were treated at a much earlier period of art, and yet they do not possess that refreshing naivete, which genuine Archaism presented to us. The group belongs to an age when the artists of the period began to reproduce ancient works of art, with painstaking but painful exactitude, rendering all their blemishes as well as their beauties. The art critic has therefore no little difficulty sometimes to contend with, in deciding the epoch to which a work belongs. It will be pretty much the same, a couple of hundred years hence, to decide whether a hook was published in the year 1877 or 1750, seeing that the imitations now are so cleverly got up that it is almost impossible to determine which is the original and which is the copy.

Without question the most famous work of the Grecian sculptor Myron, was the Discus-thrower, two excellent copies of which Rome possesses—one in the Palazzo Massimie alle colonne, the other in the apartment of the Car in the Vatican. The latter of the two reproductions is in so far less complete, that the head does not appear to be quite properly added. It ought to have been turned somewhat more towards the right side. The position and action of this statue require no explanation for the unprejudiced spectator. A youth of graceful and harmonious bodily frame is posed in the attitude immediately proceeding his hurling of the "Discus," a disc or quoit weighing about five pounds. Solon is made by Lucian to describe the discus to Anacharsis as "a small, round, brass shield, without strap or other handle, heavy and not easy to hold on account of its slipperiness." The sculptor has chosen the moment when the arm of the thrower is stretched back to its utmost, in order to deliver the missile with full force. The body and head of the young man have followed the motion of the quoit, in a semi-turn, but involuntarily—not as Hattner supposes with a view to glancing at the discus. The time for altering the direction of the throw is past, that is no longer under the control of the thrower; if the expression may be admitted, the acme of the situation is reached. The whole weight of the body rests upon the right foot, whereas the left only touches the ground with the points of the toes. In the approaching second of time the body will revert to its original position, the right arm will swing to the front, and the left leg will again support its due proportion of the weight of the body, as that assumes a position of equilibrium. It is at once apparent that a sculptor who wished to represent a young man in the act of throwing, could not have selected a more suitable moment, out of all the time occupied by the action. The entire statue displays in every line of the contours the most powerful action. It is not only the limbs that are here shewn to us in motion, but the whole trunk, and the countenance also participate in the movement The mode of transition from one action to another is suggested with consummate skill.

Venus de Medici.
However, such objective reasoning is not always able to subdue our modern ideas of propriety. We may no doubt, by usage and an innate love of art, come to look with artistic pleasure, unalloyed by any prudish considerations, upon a Venus of Melos, a Belvedere Apollo, a Capitoline Satyr, or an Antinons, but there are some antique works where this "blissful innocence of Eden" merges in the realistic. Even the Venus de' Medici must be tanked in this category, for the least observant eye must see, not only that she knows herself to be a woman, but a lovely woman too; and the glances which she allows to shoot forth, under those downcast eyelids, have more of liquid languor than is quite commensurate with our ideas of—well, let us say—a vestal. From the time of Praxiteles onwards, Aphrodite was represented, more and more, as simply a beautiful woman. By later Greek artists, celebrated heterae were represented in this character, until at last we have ladies of the imperial families of Borne represented as Venuses; some of them examples of almost the lowest stage of decline in art.
The centre of attraction of the apartments in the Uffizi, is the cabinet called the "Tribuna," an octagonal chamber, which contains a collection of masterpieces of ancient sculpture and modern painting, such as is nowhere else to be found. But the gem of the Tribuna again, is the Venus de' Medici, found during the sixteenth century in Adrian's Villa, near Tivoli, and so called, because in the year 1680 it was added to the art-treasures of the Medicean family. The base of the statue bears the name of Cleomenes, an Athenian and son of Apollodorus, and it has long been a doubtful question whether he was or was not the sculptor; but we believe we are right in assuming the former to be really the case. When we compare this statue with the Venus of Cnidus, which has been fully treated of in our first volume, we find that the idea at least upon which the Medicean Venus was conceived, is by no means so exalted as in the other case. There can be no question about the fact that the Cnidian Venus is much more divine and not nearly so affected and coquettish as the Medicean. As we have seen, in the Cnidian statue the goddess is allowing her garment to fall from her left hand, over an urn and her glance is involuntarily following the action of the hand. Here we have a motive indicated, which would account for the absence of clothing: the goddess was about to enter her bath. Even in the case of the Capitoline Venus, which has many points in common with the Medicean as regards the attitude of the arms and hands, her garment is hanging beside her over a vase. But in the case of the Venus de' Medici nothing of the kind is suggested, there is no attempt made at accounting for her nudity. If we examine moreover the entire attitude, the evidently coquettish and attractive glance, which is palpably directed towards an actually present or wished for admirer, we cannot help admitting that there is less of divinity and more of purely womanly feeling displayed, than it would ever have occurred to Praxiteles to invest his Aphrodite with. All attempts which have been made to elevate the ideal conception of the Medicean Venus, have been unable to get over the above awkward facts. As for such suppositions, as that it may be intended for a "Venus Euploia" or protectress of mariners, or that it may be an "Anadyomene" rising from the sea, they are utterly untenable. The well-arranged hair especially, confutes the latter idea, for an artist like Cleomenes could never have treated the tresses in like manner, had he intended to represent the goddess as springing from the foam of the sea. As matters stand, there is no help for us, we must admit the correctness of the opinion which has been above expressed.

The Farnese Bull.
The mountain range of Cithaeron is the spot where a feast in honour of Bacchus was held, at which Dirce, the enemy of poor Antiope, was present. It was not long before the eyes of the queen, quickened by jealousy, discovered her fugitive slave; Antiope was seized, tried, and condemned to suffer death.—Dirce delegated the execution of the sentence to Zethus and Amphion, who, as Theban shepherds and her subjects, were bound to obey her commands and they prepared to bind Antiope to the horns of an infuriated bull, to be, by him, dragged and tossed to death. The twins proceeded to carry this sentence into execution.—The infuriated steer was brought forward.—The agony of the victim reached its culminating point.—At the instant when the involuntary matricide was about to be consummated, a recognition was effected. The shepherd to whom the rearing of the boys had been entrusted, came forward and revealed the secret. Antiope was at once released from the fearfully perilous position in which she had been placed; but the wrath of the youths, who had been so nearly the unconscious instruments of the crime of matricide, was now turned against the royal persecutrix. Queen Dirce was seized and subjected to the same cruel torture which she had intended to be the fate of Antiope.—The infuriated bull tossed and dragged her to death.—When all was over, Bacchus transformed Dirce into a fountain. Such is the legend, which the sculptors Apollonius and Tanriscus of Tralles took as the subject for illustration in their famous and beautiful group, generally known by the appellation 'which we have chosen as the heading of our present article.
The Farnese Bull was exhumed in the year 1526, during the reign of Pope Paul III., near the Thermae of Caracalla.—For a time the group remained amongst the statuary of the Neapolitan Villa Reale, until later on, it was brought into the Galleria Lapidaria of the museum. Pliny mentions the work, but only in a very cursory manner. He says: "Amongst the monumental works in the possession of Pollio Asinius are, Zethus and Amphion, Dirce and the bull with a cord, hewn out of a single block of marble; a piece of work, executed by Apollonius and Tauriscus of Trtliles, which was brought from Rhodes to Rome." It has been a question, which has been vehemently combatted and as vigorously defended, whether or not the group, which at present stands in the Neapolitan museum, is the actual original of which Pliny wrote.—But, although it seems impossible to produce such tangible evidence as shall silence either of the disputing parties, it does seem highly probable that such is really the case. When the "Toro Farnese" (for that is the Italian name by which the group is frequently designated) was first discovered it was terribly mutilated; still this group has been more fortunate than most of its neighbours in the matter of the restorations which have been effected upon it. Usually, when restorations have been necessary to render antique works of art pleasing and instructive to the eye of the untaught, somehow or other such restorations have left much to be desired, whereas, in the present instance, they appear to have been eminently successful. Large portions of the three chief figures, the head of the bull and almost the entire figure of Antiope have been restored; but, when we whisper the fact that it was the hand of Michael Angelo Buonarotti that effected the restoration, we have perhaps at the same time given the reason why it has been so successfully carried out.
See also Amazon, Doryphoros and Diadumenos Sculptures.
The prints on Ebay

The Greek BodySculptures of the Louvre
The Greek Body

Sculptures of the Louvre

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