Wednesday, December 08, 2010


Here are a couple of interesting statues. The one on the left is of course Hercules (note the club and lion skin), from the National Archaelogical Museum of Naples. It's huge and very impressive, conveying his size and strength, but at the same time it's quite a peaceful, reflective work. Behind his back he's carrying the Apples of the Hesperides, the retrieval of which was the eleventh of his twelve tasks. He seems weary, and is perhaps summoning up the strength for one last labour.

The statue on the left by contrast is tiny.It's a bit hard to tell without anything to compare it to, but from memory it's only about 10cm tall. I remember nothing about about this figure, except that it caught my attention. I'm not sure who it is (perhaps Venus? perhaps an anonymous prostitute?), nor if it has any special significance. From looking at it, I would guess that it's made out of terracotta (rather than carved out of marble), and that it's substantially older than the statue of Hercules (which is probably from the 3rd Century A.D.).

What the two statues have in common is incredible attention to detail and an uncanny sense of life. Just look at the fine details in Hercules' beard and muscles or the folds in the woman's clothes, or her earings. I am amazed at ancient sculptors' ability to turn hard rock and clay into soft muscle, hair and cloth. How they manage to instill into their statues a kind of lifefulness is also beyond me. Both the statues seem to have been caught in the middle of something, and at any moment you could expect Hercules to sigh, throw his club over his shoulder and walk off.

This quality is not actually something to take for granted in ancient sculpture. If you have a look at these statues (from the Villa de Papyri in Herculaneum, also housed in the Naples Museum) they seem by contrast stiff and awkward.

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