Art Finder Text Detail  
Item Actions
Ratings (0)



Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The MIA’s Doryphoros, dating from the lst century B.C., is a Roman marble copy of a Greek bronze sculpture that was made between 450 B.C. and 440 B.C. by the sculptor, Polykleitos. It is the finest of the five known copies of the entire body of this famous masterpiece that have survived relatively intact.1 Representing an athlete (or possibly Achilles), this harmonious, balanced figure with idealized proportions, typifies art from the Classical period of Greece.

This replica of the Doryphoros has been dated to the 1st century B.C. because of the high quality of the work and the almost total lack of drillwork, typical of this particular period. The rendition of the hair and the form of the support (the stump) also assist us in dating this piece because they can be linked stylistically to other known objects from specific Roman periods.

The Doryphoros and other Roman copies of Greek sculpture are extremely valuable because no bronze sculpture made by a famous Greek artist has survived to the present day. These works were often melted down in times of warfare and the metal was used for weapons. Roman copies, therefore, provide us with the only visual documentation available of Classical Greek sculpture. Before the existence of our copy was known, the best version was the one in the Museo Nazionale in Naples (found in the Municipal Gymnasium of Pompeii). In addition, both the Uffizi in Florence and the Braccio Nuovo of the Vatican have heavily restored versions.

The museum’s Doryphoros has been known to scholars since the early 1970s. Our museum purchased it from an art dealer in February, 1986. Evidence such as the deep scratches on its side, which probably resulted from a plow going over it, and the marks on the cheeks and arms from the roots of plants, suggest that it had been buried in the ground for centuries. The sculpture has been reassembled from the six pieces in which it was found.
The MIA’s Doryphoros is in exceptionally fine condition. All of the breaks are ancient except for the left arm, and the head has never been broken off. Restoration of the sculpture has been minimal: A steel pin has been inserted into the tree trunk that buttresses the right leg, and the sculpture has been reassembled from the six pieces in which it was found: the torso from head to knees, the two calves, the left foot, tree trunk and base, the right foot and base, and the area of the left arm surrounding the bend at the elbow. The tip of its nose is broken, and it has lost its left forearm and hand (which held the spear), the front of the right foot with the section of the plinth, the penis, and the ends of the fingers of the right hand. The rectangular indentation on the left hip shows where the strut which ran to the left forearm was broken away. Arms, legs, torso, and tree trunk support at the right leg have discolorations and deep striations in the marble, and there are faint encrustations of brown algae on its legs and torso.
Two significant historical events, the Persian War (early in the 5th century B.C.), and the temporary unification of Greece by Philip II of Macedonia (338 B.C.), mark the beginning and end of what we have come to call the Classical period of Greek civilization. Under Pericles (who was first elected as general-in-chief in 461 B.C.), Athens became the political, cultural, and commercial center of the western world. The pride, self-awareness, and confidence of the Greeks during their Classical Age, are reflected in the words of Pericles at the public funeral for the fallen heroes of the Peloponnesian War:
"Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now."2
During the Classical era, the Parthenon was built, Aeschylus staged his first drama, Herodotus wrote the history of the Persian wars, and democracy was established as a form of government. The philosophy of humanism developed, a philosophy which emphasized the importance of the individual in society. Sophocles wrote,
"The world is full of wonders, but nothing is more wonderful than man."3
The ideal man possessed not only a perfect body, but a perfect mind. At the festivals, such as the Olympic Games at Olympia and the Pythian Games at Delphi, prizes were awarded not only to the best athletes, but to the best poets, orators, dancers, and musicians as well. Through scientific observations of nature, the concepts of harmony and balance achieved through symmetry and correct proportion became the basis of Greek philosophy. The search for ideal beauty and perfection manifested itself in all areas of life including the visual arts.

The Parthenon on the Acropolis summarized the Greek ideals of harmony and rational order in architectural forms. Polykleitos codified these ideals in sculpture. The Doryphoros exemplifies Polykleitos’ Canon (rule) of ideal proportions. The Doryphoros combines the naturalism of the human body, at rest and in motion, with an idealization, based on theoretical perfection. Because the Doryphoros so completely embodies Greek ideals, it has remained, over time, the primary image of Classical Greece.

Given this degree of perfection, it is not surprising that the Romans adopted the pose of the Doryphoros and other Greek statues as models for their own sculpture. Before the end of the 3rd century B.C., the Romans had begun to collect Greek statues. After Rome absorbed Greece into its empire in 146 B.C., increasing numbers of Greek originals were acquired by Romans. According to some accounts, nearly 500 statues were robbed from the sanctuary of Delphi alone.

Because many wealthy Roman aristocrats wanted sculpture for their townhouses and country villas, the demands for Greek sculpture were greater than the supply. The demand created a thriving industry that provided replicas of and variations on famous Greek originals. Roman copies were considered works of art in their own right, as the Romans were more concerned with how the ideal qualities conveyed by the original could be translated into Roman terms than with honoring the more modern idea that a work of art must be the result of individual genius. Most of these replicas were actually made by Greek artists living in Greece or the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor, or by Greek artists working in Rome.

During the Imperial period, beginning with Emperor Augustus, Greek sculpture was produced for political reasons, as well. Roman rulers recognized the potential of the arts to promote the ideals of their administrations, particularly as the basis of propagandistic images of Imperial power. It became common Roman practice to make full-length portrait statues by topping a body that was copied from a Greek original with a specific portrait head. In contrast to the timeless quality of their Greek models, the Romans made commemorative sculpture that depicted specific people and events. Over time, the Roman adaptation of Greek sculpture resulted in the new art form of portraiture that signified the importance of ancestry to the Roman patrician families. By depicting real individuals, the Greek ideal gave way to Roman realism that emphasized actual physical appearance as well as the character of the individual portrayed.

Whereas Greek art was overwhelmingly public, Roman art was generally commissioned for private villas and townhouses, even when the commission was a direct copy of the Greek original like the MIA’s Doryphoros.

The two prominent names in the study of Classical Greek sculpture are Phidias (the master sculptor who planned the decorative program of the Parthenon and is renowned for his cult statues of Athena and Zeus) and Polykleitos, famous for his sculptures of victorious athletes. Little is known of the life of Polykleitos. He lived during the latter half of the 5th century B.C. (approximately 450-405 B.C.), and was from the Greek city-state of Argos in the eastern Peloponnesus. Polykleitos worked chiefly in bronze and became the most influential sculptor of the Peloponessian school. He wrote a treatise on art called the Canon and created the bronze sculpture of the Doryphoros to demonstrate his theories. Both the treatise and the sculpture are referred to as the Canon.

The Doryphoros is Polykleitos’ most famous work. Although about 20 of his statues are recorded in ancient sources, none of his original works has survived. The Doryphoros has been called the most copied statue of antiquity. It was certainly among the most famous. Polykleitos may have placed the Doryphoros in front of his workshop as both an example of his skill as a sculptor and an illustration of his theory of art. Pliny, a Roman writer of the 1st century A.D., noted that

"artists. . . draw from it the rudiments of art as from a code, so that Polykleitos is said to be the only man who has embodied Art itself in a work of art."
It is believed that the MIA copy may be attributed to the Greek artist, Apollonius of Athens.
This marble sculpture depicts a nude spear bearer that is slightly larger than life-size (six feet and six inches). His left hand originally held a bronze spear which has been lost. Some scholars have suggested that the athlete was intended to represent the strong, young, handsome Achilles, setting off for the Trojan War. This belief can be traced to the 1st century A.D. when Pliny the Elder referred to these nude statues of athletes with lances as ‘effigies Achilleae,’ images of Achilles.4

Other scholars like Brunilde Ridgway have argued that we cannot tell whether the figure represents a mortal or a hero. According to Ridgway:

"Some scholars have suggested that its superhuman size is not appropriate for a common man and have identified it as Achilles. But a Fifth century Greek would have needed more specific attributes to recognize the hero—some armor, or at least long hair, to judge from other contemporary representations. Quite probably the Doryphoros did not represent a particular individual but the athlete or the Olympic victor par excellence, with the heroic connotation attached to such a feat."5
The proportions of the Doryphoros together with the perfect balance between tension and relaxation, create a visual image of harmony. The Doryphoros is an idealized, youthful athlete, a representation of the perfectly proportioned male body, exemplifying what is most noble and admirable in man. At the height of both intellectual and physical perfection ("A sound mind in a sound body"), this youthful athlete represents both man’s perfectibility and all the beauty and order in the universe. He stands in the contrapposto (literally, counterpoise) pose with his weight on his right leg (the engaged leg), which is balanced by his left arm that once held the spear. The left leg, which is bent and relaxed, is likewise balanced on the other side by the straight right arm. The sculpture realistically demonstrates how every part of the body is affected by this pose. Shoulders, elbows, hips, and knees are no longer on a horizontal axis, but rather, are shifted correspondingly upward or downward. The head is turned towards the weight-bearing leg, a typical stance of most of Polykleitos’ statues. Other details of the figure have been skillfully crafted as well, from the locks of hair which have been chiseled into a distinctive pattern to the careful articulation of the toes and the veins. Though many copyists finished only the parts of the work visible from the front, the sculptor of the Doryphoros carefully finished even normally unnoticed details such as the inner components of the ears and the locks of hair at the back and top of the head. The articulation of the musculature under the skin (especially the muscles in the neck, shoulders, chest, and calves) imparts a sense of animation and vital responsiveness. The eyes look out serenely, and the expression of the entire face is distant and aloof.

To reproduce this bronze sculpture in marble, it was necessary to provide supportive structures because marble does not have the tensile strength of bronze. The copyist added struts between the arms and the body for support (only a remnant of the strut on the left side of the body remains). Further support for the statue is provided by the tree stump.

The pronounced musculature of the body may reflect another difference between bronze and marble. The bronze of the original would have had a shiny surface, which diffused light. Deep modeling of the figure was, therefore, required to reduce the glare of diffused light. In contrast, the marble of the replica absorbs light. Consequently, the modeling of the musculature appears more pronounced.6

Cornelius Vermeule, Curator of Classical Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, believes that our sculpture may be the work of a Greek, Apollonius of Athens. This attribution has been made on the following grounds:
  • The high quality of the work.
  • Apollonius was in Rome at the time our piece has been dated.
  • We know that Apollonius was the creator of the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican because he signed that work. There seems to be a close relationship between the marble carving and surface treatment of the Belvedere Torso and our Doryphoros. (Our figure would have carried the author’s signature on its base, so we cannot conclude that this work was unsigned.)
Polykleitos based his Canon on the Pythagorean notion of symmetria, the idea that the parts of a form must have a proportional relationship to the whole. Thus, his Canon established a mathematical formula that determined the proportions of the ideal male body. The exact mathematical formula set forth in the Canon is still being debated, because neither the treatise nor the bronze original has survived. By studying ancient writings which mention the Canon and by testing out their theories on existing Roman marble copies, scholars have proposed several theories. They agree that Polykleitos established a module (perhaps the distal phalange of the little finger) and used it as a point of departure for determining all the proportions of the entire figure. One scholar, Richard Tobin, has proposed that
"By applying the most basic concepts of Greek geometry—ratio, proportion, symmetria—he [Polykleitos] developed a system which used a geometric mean in continuous progression."7
For example, it is hypothesized that the dimensions of the little finger might have been squared to calculate the length of the hand. The size of the hand in turn would have been squared to determine the length of the forearm, and so on to determine the size of each part of the human body.

Tobin further suggests that although Polykleitos believed that "perfection approximates the relationship of many numbers,"8 he was also aware that "the rigidity of the numerical precision should be tempered by free irregularity, to give life and warmth to the mathematical precision."9 In other words, there was a point at which Polykleitos departed from the Canon to use artistic license. This may account for the disproportionately large size of the head. Polykleitos may have enlarged the head to compensate for the loss of height that occurs when a figure is in the contrapposto position.

The system of proportion perfected in the Doryphoros coincides with Greek thinking during the classical period. Whether we look at Greek visual arts, philosophy, politics, music, or mathematics, we find the belief that the world is ordered and rational, and that this order is discernible to the human mind. The Canon was thus built upon the most basic elements of Pythagorean geometry, and within the Greek mathematical tradition. Polykleitos’ depiction of a man based on mathematical principles is an ideal that the Greeks believed was more real than what is visible to our eyes. Since they believed that

"beauty reside[s]. . . in the proper proportion of the parts,"10
the relationship of the parts to the whole was of the utmost importance; for, when an artist used the perfect proportions, he would achieve harmony and beauty.11

Brunilde Ridgway has observed that this figure

"is [thus] seen as a sequence of interrelated measures that create the total harmony of the figure. . . . As such, no human being could ever look like the Doryphoros, and the statue assumes the value of a Platonic ideal, of which this world can afford only vague copies."12

"What is so intriguing is that this [Doryphoros] is an artificial construction. It does not correspond to nature at all. If any one of us were to be measured, the asymmetries in our bodies and the lack of proportions would be absolutely striking,"13

and yet this artificial construction looks very real to us.
Polykleitos proportioned the figure according to the Canon, but he relied on the chiastic principle to achieve a balance between muscular tension and relaxation. The term derives from the Greek letter chi ( ), which is formed by two lines, one straight, and one curved, crossing obliquely. When applied to the statue of a man, the principle works as follows: utilizing the bilateral symmetry of the human body, each element is shown in one of its two possible states, so that when one is tense, the other is relaxed and vice versa. For example, in the Doryphoros, the right arm is loose, the left is bent at the elbow; the right leg is tense, supporting the weight of the body, while the left trails free [the contrapposto pose]. This stance also affects the alignment of the hips and shoulders: the right shoulder dips while the hip muscle rises, so that the entire right side of the figure is compressed; on the other side of the median line, the left shoulder rises while the hip is lowered, thus producing the greatest possible stretch of the torso on that side within a quiet pose. The same "dissimilarity" principle applies to other elements of human anatomy: note the different shape of the two pectorals, the two collar bones, the two neck muscles. Even within the arm itself, when the biceps is flexed the muscle of the lower arm is relaxed and vice versa.

Four main elements of the human body describe an invisible chi across it: the raised left shoulder corresponds to the raised right hip, the lowered right shoulder is balanced by the lowered left ip.14

The entire balancing system of the statue is revealed if we visualize imaginary lines across the body at key points. As indicated on the diagram, a diagonal line passes through the ankles, slanting downward from the viewer’s right to left. Likewise, a corresponding parallel line crosses the shoulders. The lines through the knees and hips move the opposite way (downward from the viewer’s left to right).15

This visualization makes apparent the inner statics of the body: given the horizontal as the perfect balance, equilibrium is lost as the shoulders slant, it is recovered by the counteraction of the hips; this movement is then exaggerated by the knees to be again counterbalanced at the ankles.

Polykleitos has, thus, created a thoroughly artificial pose that is only made to look plausible. He creates a figure

"poised about to walk but still at rest, relaxed and yet alert."16
Thus, movement and stability, action and relaxation, are in perfect harmony, as are the figure’s proportions.
Casts of original statues were often made and used by sculpture workshops all over the Mediterranean. These casts were either hollow plaster casts that could be used to create a bronze replica using the lost wax method, or solid plaster casts that were the basis for carving stone statues like the Doryphoros. Because the solid casts were made from the hollow molds, they were plaster replicas of the original. A few plaster fragments from the Doryphoros were discovered in 1954 in an excavated sculptor’s studio in southern Italy.17

After obtaining the plaster cast, the artist plotted a series of surface points on the cast, then used calipers, plumb lines and compasses to measure these surface points on the material (such as marble) in which they were carving the replica.

"The individual carver could exercise his own skill and individuality, since the mechanical process leaves room for personal decision. The more numerous the measurements taken, the more precise the reproduction; but with only a few key points, the sculptor has ample scope for improvisation, although remaining within the proportions and the general outlines of the original."18
The artist who carved the Roman copy of the Doryphoros used only a chisel, avoiding the shortcut of drilling for the most part. Only the corners of the eyes and the mouth have been achieved by drilling. Although the skill of the copyists varied greatly, the artist who carved our Doryphoros shows a deep sensitivity to the anatomy and a commitment to revealing the nuances and tensions that had characterized the original masterwork.19 When the carving was completed, the surface was hand-rubbed with a fine-grained stone dust until the marble was as smooth as human skin and gleamed like bronze.
Polykleitos may have placed the original Doryphoros in front of his workshop as both an example of his skill as a sculptor and an illustration of his theory of art. Roman copies, such as ours might have been placed in several different locations. The fact that the version of the Doryphoros in Naples was found in the municipal Gymnasium of Pompeii tells us that statues like this often might be placed where they could preside over the fitness programs of the urban youth. It was much more common in the Roman world, however, for a wealthy patron to order one (or two) such statues to be placed in his library or garden.
The influence of Polykleitos began almost immediately. This is illustrated by a marble relief from Argos, carved between 380 and 340 B.C., which shows a figure modeled after the Doryphoros walking beside a horse.20>

In fact,

"while nothing of the original statue of the Doryphoros by Polykleitos has survived, there are copies of the great statue made in all manner or materials for the discerning late Hellenistic Greek or Roman and Greek patrons of the Roman Empire, Emperors from Augustus to Hadrian and private citizens like Cicero’s friend Atticus or Hadrian’s friend Herodes Atticus. These survivors include restored statues, heads, torsos, little Hellenistic terracottas, as well as Attic and Argive funerary or votive reliefs of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C."21
In addition, statues of the Roman emperors were very often merely images of the Doryphoros with portrait heads and armor on their bodies. This heritage, preserved by the Romans, would be copied by later artists who looked back to the classical past to add dignity and stature to their art—from artists of the Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles to artists of the present day.
Bowra, C. M., Classical Greece, Time Inc., New York, 1965.

Brilliant, Richard, Arts of the Ancient Greeks, McGraw-Hill, Book Company, New York.

Curator’s Files.

Greer, Thomas H., A Brief History of the Western World, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc., New York, 1982.

Honour, Hugh and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History, Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey, 1982.

Nerburn, Kent, "Peerless Perfection," Arts, May, 1987.

Pericles, "Pericle’s Funeral Speech," in Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rex Warner, Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland, 1961.

Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Fifth Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1981.

Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Roman Copies of Greek Sculpture, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1984.

Stewart, Andrew, "The Canon of Polykleitos: A Question of Evidence," JHS, 98, 1978.

Tobin, Richard, "The Canon of Polykleitos," The American Journal of Archaeology, 79, 1975.

Vermeule, Cornelius, Polykleitos, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

  • Use on the following tours:
    1. Ancient Art of the Mediterranean or Art of the Ancient World
    2. Classics and the Classical Influence
      Compare the stance of the Doryphoros to Cupid in Prud’hon’s Love and Friendship to demonstrate that Neo-classical artists frequently based their figures on ancient models.
    3. Highlights of the Museum
      • Use the Doryphoros on a Highlights of the Museum tour with a theme of heroes and heroines in art and compare the Doryphoros to other figures that are physically larger than life, such as Close’s Frank, and the Winged Genius. What does each portrayal tell us about the values of the culture that created it? Or compare the Doryphoros to other heroes and heroines of many different types from a range of cultures and time periods to investigate the differing values of each culture
      • Use the Doryphoros on a Highlights of the Museum tour with a theme of recreation or sports in art. Other works for this theme might include:
        • the Bril
        • the Hobbema
        • the Stearns
        • the Jade Mountain
        • the hydria by the Antimenes painter
        • the Falconer Tapestry
    4. People and Places
    5. Sculpture
    6. Mathematics and Art
      Compare the precise mathematical proportions of the Doryphoros to the mathematical calculations of a Late Renaissance work like the Santa Croce, to the mathematical structure of the Stella, and the structured grid used by the Egyptians to create a figure like Iry-en-Akhet.

      On a tour using a writing activity, ask the students to thinkabout what such a statue might advertise and to use it as the basis of an advertisement.

      Bring some samples of marble and bronze from the Props Box and pass them among the students if you plan to mention that this sculpture is marble and the original was bronze. Have the students touch their skin. Does real skin feel like the marble? How has the sculptor made us think that this might feel like real skin?

      Ask the students to examine the Doryphoros carefully and to pose like him. Be sure they look at the position of each arm and leg as well as his shoulders and hips. Do they feel relaxed or tense in this pose? Why?

  1. Although our labels still speak of three other full-figure copies, Brunilde Ridgway speaks about four other copies, citing two in the Uffizi, not one.
  2. Pericles, "Pericles' Funeral Speech," Chapter 4 in Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner, (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1961), pp. 119-120.
  3. Sophocles, quoted in C. M. Bowra, Classical Greece, (New York: Time Inc., 1965), p. 18.
  4. Mansvelli, Catalogo delle Sculpture Greche degli Uffizi. p. 69.
  5. Brunilde S. Ridgway, Fifth Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 202.
  6. This theory has been suggested by Brunilde Ridgway.
  7. Richard Tobin, The Canon of Polykleitos, AJA, 79 (1975), p. 307.
  8. R. Carpenter, Greek Sculpture, (1960), 100ff.
  9. R. Carpenter, "Introduction," p. 3, from the curatorial files.
  10. Stewart, p. 125.
  11. Tobin, p. 321.
  12. Ridgway, p. 202.
  13. Ridgway. Lecture to the Friends of the MIA. February, 1988.
  14. Ridgway, Fifth Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, p. 203.
  15. Ibid, 203.
  16. Richard Brillant, Arts of the Ancient Greeks, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company).
  17. "Bird bones and perhaps wood were used to reinforce the plaster, although the latter is only inferred through the presence of holes." (Ridgway. Roman Copies of Greek Sculpture.)
  18. Ridgway, Roman Copies of Greek Sculpture, p. 32.
  19. Nerburn, p. 16.
  20. Vermeule, Polykleitos, p. 8.
  21. Bulletin.
Comments (0)
Tags (0)
Source: Docent Manual entry for <i>Doryphorus,</i> after Polykleitos, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Education Division (1998).
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009