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Work Fighting Warrior

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Guerrier combattant, dit Gladiateur Borghèse

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The Borghese Gladiator - originally part of the Italian collection whose name it bears - is actually a depiction of a fighting warrior. The piece, whose tree trunk bears the signature of Agasias of Ephesus, son of Dositheus, recalls the work of Lysippos, the great bronze sculptor of the fourth century BC. The accented musculature, however, bears the mark of the Pergamene school. Agasias revived the athletic heroism of Lysippos, blending it with the pathos of the Hellenistic period.

The warrior from the Borghese Collection

Since its discovery in the early seventeenth century, the Borghese Gladiator has been praised as an aesthetic model of the male nude in motion. It was endlessly copied, modeled and adapted by both modern and contemporary artists. The statue was unearthed south of Rome, at Anzio (ancient Antium), during excavations carried out under the aegis of Cardinal Scipion Borghese. The Cardinal added it to his collection shortly before 1611, and it was restored by Nicolas Cordier, who completed it by adding the right arm. In 1808, the statue left Italy for the Louvre, following the purchase of the collection by Napoleon I from his brother-in-law, Prince Camille Borghese. For a long time, it was erroneously thought that the figure was a gladiator (despite the fact that the Greeks did not hold gladiatorial circus entertainments), before the shield strap on its left arm identified him as a warrior. Our hero defends himself energetically, thrusting his torso forward in a movement that is both defensive and self-protective. Protected behind his shield, he prepares to riposte, his face turned sharply towards his opponent (perhaps a horseman?).

A work inspired by a bronze by Lysippos

The piece, signed on the tree trunk by Agasias of Ephesus, son of Dositheus, has been the subject of controversy as to its place in Greek art. It was created circa 100 BC. Nevertheless, the figure's elongated silhouette, the reduced proportions of the head and the vigorously-modeled muscles are reminiscent of the work of Lysippos of Sicyon, the great bronze sculptor of the fourth century BC. The Borghese Gladiator could thus be a Hellenistic copy - fashioned for a Roman client - of a bronze made by Lysippos or one of his followers in the late classical period. The presence of the tree seems to confirm this hypothesis - it probably shows the need to strengthen a work that was originally in bronze, thus requiring no support - that was then transposed into marble, a much heavier material, and more easily broken.

The mark of Hellenistic experimentation

More than a straightforward, faithful reproduction of a Greek original, this statue should be seen as Agasias's liberal interpretation of the classical model, to which he has added innovations from his own era. The statue clearly falls within the scope of the aesthetic experiments of the late Hellenistic period, particularly the influence of the baroque scultpural creations of Pergamon. The boldness of the composition, which anchors the warrior in a three-dimensional space and invites the spectator to view it from all sides, is a constant in Hellenistic art. The exaggerated rendering of the musculature and the violence of the figure's movement - organized along a broad diagonal - recalls the friezes of the Pergamon Altar, erected in the early second century BC, which depicts the battle between the Gods and the Giants. The pathos in the treatment of the face accentuates the intensity of the warrior's efforts.

Bibliography

Laugier (L.), "Le Gladiateur Borghèse", in Feuillet pédagogique du Musée du Louvre, 3, n 51, Paris, 2001
D'après l'antique, musée du Louvre, Paris, 2000, p. 151, n 1, p. 276-295, p. 391-395
Hamiaux (M.), Les sculptures grecques, II, Paris, 1998, p. 50-54, n 60
Kalveram (K.), Die Antikensammlung des kardinals Scipione Borghese, Worms, p. 208-210, n 94, fig. 108-109
Haskell (Fr.), Penny (N.), Pour l'amour de l'antique, la statuaire gréco-romaine et le goût européen, 1500-1900, Paris, 1988, p. 240-244, n 113

Technical description

  • Signé par Agasias d'Éphèse, fils de Dosithéos

    Guerrier combattant, dit Gladiateur Borghèse

    Vers 100 av. J.-C.

    Anzio (Antium), province du Latium, Italie

  • H. : 1,99 m.

  • Achat, 1807 , 1807

    Inventaire MR 224 (n° usuel Ma 527)

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Galerie Daru
    Room B

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Additional information about the work

Signed by the sculptor on the tree trunk