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Work Javelin Thrower

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Athlete

© 1997 Photo RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This bronze, thought at various times to be Etruscan, was probably made in the early fifth century BC in ancient Italy, by a workshop in the city of Medma, in Magna Graecia. It celebrates an athlete's triumph, and the pose, particularly the position of the fingers of the right hand, indicates that he is a javelin thrower with a leather sling used to project the missile over a long distance. The movement, though flamboyant, does not depict a precise moment in the act of throwing.

A votive bronze depicting a javelin thrower

According to the inventory of the Royal Furniture Repository, this bronze entered the Crown collections before 1684. It was probably made to celebrate a triumphant athlete and was dedicated to a shrine. The pose, particularly the position of the right hand, suggests that the figure is a javelin thrower with a sling - a strip of leather which, wound around the index and middle fingers, enabled the missile to be projected over a great distance. The movement is flamboyant and does not illustrate a precise moment in the act of throwing: the javelin, which has since been lost, will have been directed toward the ground, as can be seen from the way it was bound to the hand. From the late sixth century BC on, bronze became the preferred medium used by Greek and ancient Italian sculptors. It was good for expressing movement (something it is difficult to achieve with marble), and it opened up previously unexplored possibilities to artists. Spurred on by the advantages of the medium, the figure of the athlete became their subject of choice in the early years of the fifth century BC.

A new sober style emerging from the archaic legacy

This statuette attests to the esthetic innovations developed by sculptors working at the end of the archaic era but before the dawn of classical art. This new generation favored a sober style. Certain of the statuette's features - the hieratic aspect, the frontal view, the young man's nudity, the conventional rendering of the outthrust left leg, longer than the right - still bear traces of the "couros", or Greek male statue, typical of the sixth century BC. Nevertheless, the male nude had evolved noticeably since that time. The contours, though powerful, have become more supple; the muscles, despite a few hesitations in the anatomy of the pectorals and the thighs, are well observed and rendered with greater precision (particularly in the treatment of the calves and knees). To express the athlete's movement, the artist has made use of the undulation of the back and has shifted the main line of the pectoral muscles in relation to the thorax. The hair is short, and the grave, serious face bears no trace of the becoming smile common to archaic statuary.

A work from Magna Graecia ("Great Greece")

Identified on several occasions as an Etruscan piece, this work is now thought to be of ancient Italian origin and to have been produced in the early fifth century BC by a craftsman from the city of Medma, in southern Italy. The young man's massive proportions, with the head as broad as it is long, and the different manners in which the musculature is treated - sometimes incoherent and schematic, sometimes scrupulously observed - are all characteristic of the art of Magna Graecia. Some elements are reminiscent of the work of Pythagoras of Rhegium, a Greek sculptor settled in southern Italy who became famous for his ceremonial portraits of triumphant athletes at the Greek games.

Bibliography

- Le stade romain et ses spectacles, musée archéologique de Lattes, 1994, n 7, p. 157-158.

- Les Bronzes de la Couronne, 12 avril-12 juillet 1999, musée du Louvre, Paris, 1999, n 63, p. 92.

- JANNOT J.R., "Le lanceur de javelot du Louvre ou le chemin des bronziers étrusques", in Griechische und Römische Statuetten und Großbronzen, Akten der 9 Internationalen Tagung über antike bronzen, Wien 1986, Vienne, 1988.

- JANNOT J.R.,  "Le lanceur de javelot du musée du Louvre", in Revue Archéologique, 2, 1987, p. 227-250.

- Civiltà degli Etruschi, Musée archéologique, Florence, 1985, n 10.25, p. 281-282.

- THUILLIER J.-P., Les jeux athlétiques dans la civilisation étrusque, Rome, 1985, p. 310-312, n 4.3.

Technical description

  • Athlete

    Early 5th century BC

    Production of Magna Graecia (Medma?)

  • Bronze

    H. 46 cm

  • Royal collections, before 1684, Garde-Meuble de la Couronne (no. 63)

    Br 3

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    Pre-Classical Greece
    Room 1, temporarily closed to the public
    Display case 31

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