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Philopoemen

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Sculptures
France, 19th century

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Philopoemen, a Greek military strategist renowned for his courage, has been wounded during a battle. As he pulls out the javelin that has been hurled through his thigh, his face expresses both his pain and his fierce determination to return to the fray. While depicting a heroic antique-style nude, the sculptor has added movement, controlled energy, and an expressiveness that shows his Romantic aspirations.

A Greek hero

In 222 BC, Philopoemen took part in the Battle of Sellasia, where he fought under the command of Antigonus Doson, King of Macedonia, against Cleomenes, King of Sparta. When wounded, Philopoemen stoically removed the javelin that had broken in his thigh. The episode is related in the Greek author Plutarch's Lives (lines 46-125), a book that draws parallels between famous Greeks and Romans. As an Achaean strategist, Philopoemen later attempted to build a united Greek alliance to counter the threat of Roman intervention. During an expedition against the city of Messina (183 BC), he was taken prisoner and forced to drink hemlock.

Antique subject, modern execution

David d'Angers carved a nude figure of his hero, as in antique statuary. He retained a number of the warrior's attributes: crested helmet, baldric, and sword. The cloak, whose folds fall across the shield, provides the occasion for a fine study of classical drapery. But the sculptor abandoned purity of line and idealized facial features to invest his work with an expressive force, characteristic of the Romantic spirit. The monumental proportions (the marble is larger than life), the almost exaggerated modeling of a powerful, muscular body, and the enormous head transform Philopoemen into a colossus. The imperious facial features, the frown on his brow, the gaze at once full of pain and defiant, and the thick hair and beard give him a ferocious appearance. The curve of the arms, the line of the shoulders, and the raised head, whose movement is extended by the crest on the helmet, animate the statue with a vast upward thrust.

An example of virtue

The sculptor strove to reconcile physical nature with a moral essence. Seen from the right-hand side, the side with the wound, the statue depicts the man suffering, with back and leg bent. Seen from the other side, the statue represents a hero full of pride with raised head and hostile gaze. The work thus pays homage to the hero's stoic courage, which dominates his pain so that he may accomplish his duty.
Although Philopoemen was only thirty years of age at the time of the battle, the sculptor represented him as an older man. As he explained in his Notebooks, he disregarded historical truth because he wanted to depict "the last Greek" (as Plutarch called him), that is, "a great old monument which fought against storms before falling." The statue is displayed beside other sculptures of ancient heroes, commissioned by the government of Louis-Philippe, such as the Soldier of Marathon by Jean-Pierre Cortot (1787-1843) and Cato of Utica by Jean-Baptiste Roman (1792-1835). They were all revered as "great men," whose courage and patriotic or civic virtues were intended to set the public an example.

Bibliography

Jouin H., David d'Angers, vol. 1, Paris, 1877, pp. 317-321.
Bruel A., Les Carnets de David d'Angers, vol. II, Paris, 1958, pp. 41, 177, 269.
The Romantics to Rodin. French Nineteenth Century Sculpture from North American Collections, exh. cat. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1980, no. 101.
Bresc G. and Pingeot A., Sculptures des jardins du Louvre, du Carrousel et des Tuileries (II), Paris, 1986, pp. 146-148.
Musées d'Angers, Galerie David d'Angers, Paris, 1989, p. 63.

Technical description

  • Pierre-Jean DAVID, known as DAVID D'ANGERS (Angers, 1788 - Paris, 1856)

    Philopoemen

    1837

  • Marble

    H. 2.29 m; W. 0.91 m; D. 0.98 m

  • Commissioned by Louis-Philippe in 1831

    L.P. 1556

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Lower ground floor
    Cour Puget
    Courtyard

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