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Work Male torso

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

Male torso

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

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

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The successor to the Archaic kouros, this torso is a powerful illustration of the progress made in the representation of the male nude in the Early Classical period. The precise anatomical detail shows signs of the full statue's contrapposto stance. Broken in antiquity, the piece was repaired in the second century BC and used to decorate a Roman theater at Miletus, where it was discovered.

History and attribution of the Miletus Torso

In 1872 an imposing male torso was unearthed by O. Rayet and A. Thomas in the theater at Miletus, a prosperous Hellenistic city in Asia Minor. In the following year Edmond and Gustave de Rothschild, who had subsidized the expedition, presented it to the Louvre. The torso, sculpted around 480-470, was restored in the second century BC before being reused in the Roman theater, probably as part of the stage wall. Several details-including tool marks on the surface of the marble, the robust modeling, and the position of the right arm-lead us to attribute this work to one of two sculptors from the late sixth century BC. Some see similarities with a bronze Apollo sculpted by Kanachos of Sikyon for the temple at Didyma. Others see the style of Pythagoras, who created statues of athletes that were admired for their realism.

The legacy of Archaic sculpture

This torso was created at the turning point between the Archaic and Classical periods, and testifies to the radical shift in representation of the male nude that had taken place by the early fifth century BC. Like the Archaic kouros, the figure is presented frontally, nude, and in a standing position, the left leg advanced. The legacy of sixth-century sculpture is also apparent in the size of the small of the back and the stylized, star-shaped pubic area.

Early Classical innovations

Far from remaining anchored in the style of the preceding era, this torso is a powerful illustration of the achievements of the Early Classical sculptors. The rigidity of the kouros has disappeared, and the anatomical rendering is precise. The viewer is struck by the torso's athletic build, powerful shoulders, and massive proportions. The right scapula juts out, a clear indication that the right arm was extended; it also explains why the torso and pectorals are asymmetrical. The contrapposto stance is accompanied by muscle movement: the weight of the figure is placed on the right leg, freeing the left, thus causing the slight swelling in the flesh to the right of the groin and the undulation in the spinal column.

Bibliography

Die Griechische Klassik, Berlin, 2002, p. 278, n 164
M. Hamiaux, Les Sculptures grecques, I, 2e édition, Paris, 2001, p. 100-101, n 90
D. Braunstein, "En restaurant le Torse de Milet : de la technique à l'histoire", Histoire de l'Art, 32, décembre 1995, p. 25-33, fig. 1-5
A. Hermary, La Sculpture archaïque et classique I. Catalogue des sculptures classiques de Délos, Exploration Archéologique de Délos, Paris, 1984, p. 14-19 (passim), pl. 9, 1-4
D. Willers, Zu den Anfängen der archaistischen Plastik in Griechenland, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts. Athenische Abteilung, suppl. 4, 1975, p. 9-20, pl. 1, 1
A. Linfert, "Der Torso von Milet", Antike Plastik, 12, 1973, p. 81-90, fig. 7-12, pl. 21-26
J. Charbonneaux, "Quatre marbres antiques du Musée du Louvre", Monuments et Mémoires. Fondation Piot, 45, 1951, p. 47-50, pl. 6

Technical description

  • Male torso

    C. 480-470 BC

    Provenance and manufacture: Miletus

  • Island (Parian?) marble

    H. 1.32 m

  • Rayet and Thomas excavations; Rothschild gift, 1873

    Ma 2792

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Denon wing
    Lower ground floor
    The period of the Severe style, 480450 BC
    Room 3, temporarily closed to the public

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