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Bodies: Real and Ideal


Hellenistic sculptors created idealized figures inspired by Classical models, but with a new interest in realistic detail and movement. Many artists took inspiration from Lysippos, often considered the father of Hellenistic sculpture. According to Pliny the Elder, Lysippos “took nature itself and no artist as his model” and aimed to show “men as they appear to the eye.” He specialized in athletic figures in their prime, emphasizing their musculature and carefully rendering their hair, sometimes disheveled from sweat and exercise. Lysippos also introduced new, elongated proportions and smaller heads, making his figures appear taller and more graceful than those of the Classical period. His innovations were aided by his brother, Lysistratos, a bronzecaster credited with being the first to fashion molds directly from living bodies.

Athletes competed in the nude and coated their bodies with oil. This athlete is known as an Apoxyomenos (Greek for "one who scrapes") because he once held a separately cast strigil, a curved instrument for scraping oil and grime off skin after exercising. He appears to be cleaning the now lost strigil by running the fingers of his left hand along the length of the blade.

Pictured Above: Athlete ("Ephesian Apoxyomenos"), AD 1 – 90; bronze and copper. Lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Antikensammlung

Pictured Below: A Strigil, c. 300 BC; bronze. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of David M. Robinson