Lot 551: Greek Archaic Athlete Statuette
December 6, 2016
London, United KingdomLive Auction
Description: 8th-5th century BC. A bronze figurine of a nude athletic youthful male with short hair, left arm bent over the abdomen, right arm raised, feet and one hand absent; mounted on a custom-made stand. For a similar bronze figure of an athlete dating to the late Archaic Period see The Acropolis Museum, Athens, accession number 6445. 135 grams, 13.5cm including stand (5 1/4"). Property of a Yorkshire, UK, collector; acquired in the 1990s; thence by descent. Accompanied by a positive X-Ray Fluorescence metal analysis certificate. The Archaic Period in Greece saw a move from the more abstract forms of art to more representational, and would set the standards for the apogee of Greek art in the Classical Period. This was a period of political and social change in Greece that saw the overthrow of the tyrants and a move towards democracy, but also the threat of Persian invasion. The position of the arms on this piece is unusual and is more akin to bronzes of warriors from the period. However, a bronze possibly from one of the Greek colonies in South Italy shows a similar positioning and would presumably have held athletic instruments, such as weights, discus or a javelin. Images of naked youths brandishing weapons were frequent subjects in the Greek colonies, such as an Umbrian bronze in the Museo Archeologico Prenestino, acc. no. 1502. All freeborn youths of a certain social standing were expected to attend the gymnasium where they not only perfected the body, but also the mind. The gymnasium often had school rooms and libraries attached to them, and the concept of physical beauty was supposed to reflect moral and intellectual beauty too. The word gymnasium comes from the Greek gymnos, meaning naked as the athletes were expected to train and compete in the nude, a practice which was said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body, and to be a tribute to the gods. Such a piece as this would have been dedicated in a sanctuary by a victorious athlete at one of the games, such as those held at Olympus in honour of Zeus. Other games were also organised at other sanctuaries, such as the Pythian games at Delphi in honour of Apollo.
Condition Report: Fine condition.