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13 / The Body

Doryphoros (Canon)
Doryphoros (Canon)
Artist / Origin After Polykleitos of Argos (Greek, ca. 480/475–415 BCE)
Region: Europe
Date 450–440 BCE
Period: 500 BCE - 1 CE
Material Bronze
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: approx. 84 in. (213 cm.)
Location Munich Museum, Munich, Germany
Credit Courtesy of the Munich Museum

expert perspective

Andrew StewartProfessor of the History of Art and Greek Studies, UC Berkeley

Additional Resources

Bonfante, Larissa. “Nudity as Costume in Classical Art.” American Journal of Archaeology 93.4 (October 1989): 543–570.

Foxhall, Lin, and John Salmon, eds. Thinking Men: Masculinity and Its Self-Representation in the Classical Tradition. London; New York: Routledge, 1998.

Moon, Warren G. Polykleitos, The Doryphoros, and Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Stewart, Andrew. Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Stewart, Andrew. Classical Greece and the Birth of Western Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Doryphoros (Canon)

» After Polykleitos of Argos (Greek, ca. 480/475–415 BCE)

Created by master sculptor Polykleitos of Argos (ca. 480/475–415 BCE), the Doryphoros, or Spear-Bearer, has long been regarded as an exemplum of male beauty as conceived of by the ancient Greeks.

Polykleitos sought to capture the ideal proportions of the human figure in his statues and developed a set of aesthetic principles governing these proportions that was known as the Canon or “Rule.” In formulating this “Rule,” Polykleitos created a system based on a simple mathematical formula in which the human body was divided into measured parts that all related to one another.

Though we do not know the exact details of Polykleitos’s formula, the end result, as manifested in the Doryphoros, was the perfect expression of what the Greeks called symmetria. In art of the High Classical period (ca. 450–400 BCE), symmetria, or symmetry, not only encompassed a sense of proportion and balance, but was also an exercise in contrasts. The body of the Doryphoros, for example, stands in what is termed contrapposto, meaning that his weight rests on his right leg, freeing his left to bend. In the process, the right hip shifts up and the left down; the left shoulder raises and the right drops. His body is brought into a state of equilibrium through this counterbalancing act.

Although the Doryphoros represents a warrior poised for battle, he does not don a suit of armor or any other protective gear. In fact, were it not for the actual spear that that statue originally held, it would have been difficult to identify him as such. A hallmark of classical Greek sculpture, male nudity or nakedness was understood as a marker of civilization that separated the Greeks from their “barbarian” neighbors.

Many of the most influential Greeks of this period, including artists, writers, philosophers, and politicians, were obsessed with the notion that one should strive for perfection while recognizing that such perfection was unattainable. The face of the Doryphoros is devoid of individual features, which suggests that he is meant to represent an idealized version of the everyman, the perfect Greek male citizen (women were not citizens). Yet, his body—proportional, balanced, naked, strong, and exuding confidence—is one that the viewer might aspire to achieve, but never could.


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