The Golden Age
I've recently discovered ..
that there's not much classic Greek sculpture
on the internet,
(at least in nice, big, fat, well-lit pictures)
The only museum that's been serious about
showing their collection online is the Louvre.
So ... since I am man with way too much time on his hands,
and since 5th Century Greece
is as important to European sculpture
as it is to literature, philosophy, and history....
I am, again, beginning a new project:
collecting all the good looking photographs of sculpture from that period
and posting them to my website.
(I'm counting on there not being way too many,
since most of the bronzes and marbles from that era
have been burned or melted down
by various entrepreneurial barbarians
over the intervening 24 centuries)
Starting out with the legacy of Thomas Bruce,
7th Earl of Elgin,
Here are some of the sculptures from the Parthenon (443-438 BCE)
(from the Frank Brommer book, 1977)
Obviously, what's spectacular here is
the architectural application of human anatomy --
as it proceeds in languorous, stately, almost geometric rhythms
around the entablature of the hilltop temple
(which might also be found in Egypt or Persia)
.....but it also introduces an anatomical quality
that's unique to the European tradition that followed it.
You can feel bone, skin, muscle, vein, tendon --
just as if you might find in real men and horses,
yet more than just a collection of details,
these bodies feel dynamic, healthy, and athletic.
The entire, illusionary space feels joyous and dynamic,
all achieved within 5 cm of stone surface.
Here's a few wonderful details of feet,
both equine and human.
It's hard to imagine that this confluence of shapes,
foreground to background,
left to right,
in stillness and action,
was not conceived without many months of
trial and error in a medium more forgiving than stone.
And maybe the idea of splaying out
the forelegs of that mighty bull
as they cross in front of the figures ahead of him
only came when the sculptor grabbed some clay legs
and yanked them up
in a flashing, felicitous moment.
(it would certainly transform a monotonous procession
into a barely-checked riotous stampede)
These are men (or boys) and horses having fun,
and other than being perhaps exceptionally vigorous and healthy,
and this is an ordinary ( or at least an annual)
holiday scene on the main thoroughfare of Athens.
It's not a mythic space with gods, heroes, or prophets --
it's a real, public space with people and domesticated animals.
That's how it differs from the programs of
art on all the other great temples of the world.
And they let their carnality all hang out, don't they ?
Yes, I'm going to like this project.
(even if I suspect that I'll never find
anything else as good as the Parthenon sculptures)