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Work Victorious Athlete Offering a Libation

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

Victorious athlete making a libation

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Given to the Louvre in 1937 by D. David-Weill, this votive statuette is illustrative of the stylistic innovations of the Greek sculptors in the early fifth century BC, following the Archaic period and before the classical period. The artists of the Severe-style generation found in bronze a material well suited to the expression of movement. The figure of the athelete became a favorite subject, as here in this victorious ephebus making a libation in honor of the gods.

A bronze ex-voto

Given to the Louvre in 1937 by the collector D. David-Weill, this bronze statuette probably comes from the Delphi temple, where it had been dedicated to Apollo by one of the winners of the Pythian games. Made with the hollow casting method, it was originally fixed on a base via castings (partially preserved under the feet) that served as tenons. The detail work is particularly meticulous and is reminiscent of the remarkable quality of execution of the famous Auriga, a bronze work dating from the same period also dedicated at Delphi, with incrustations on the eyes and nipples, probably in silver and red copper. The face of the ephebus is delicately sculpted and the hair finely chiseled. Beginning in the late sixth century BC, bronze became the favorite material of sculptors. Its softness was well suited to the expression of movement, so difficult to render in marble, and offered artists new possibilities.

A victorious athelete offering a libation

The advantages of this technique made the athlete figure one of the principal themes in the early fifth century BC. The David-Weill ephebus is thus a fine illustration of the artistic revolution taking place at the time. The young man is shown nude wearing a headband on which was fixed an ornament in the shape of a leaf or feather - an apex - worn by athletes as a sign of victory. The right arm is extended forward; the ephebus would have held a vial, now lost, and was making a liquid offering, a libation, to thank the god for his victory. The gesture represented thus echoed the function of the object.

The innovations of the Severe style combined with the heritage of the Archaic period

Made circa 470 BC, this statuette illustrates the stylistic innovations developed by the sculptors of the Severe-style generation, in the wake of the Archaic period and before the classical period. The figure is still reminiscent of the sixth-century-BC kouroi, in the wide shoulders, the narrow hips, and the pronounced hollow of the lower back. The young man's nudity and frontal pose, the stylization of the pubic hair, and the conventional forward position of his left leg, longer than his right, also reflect the heritage of the preceding period. There are noticeable developments in the representation of the male nude, though. The modeling is freer. The movement of the muscles accompany the jut of the hip that now animates the figure, while the line of the shoulders remains horizontal. The weight of the body falls on the right leg while the freed left leg is bent. The hair style is short and the serious, grave facial expression is a far cry from the pleasant smile worn on the faces of the Archaic statues.

Bibliography

Descamps S., "L'éphèbe David-Weill : une innovation encore timide", in Archéologia, hors-série n 2, 1993, pp. 33-39.
Holtzmann B., Pasquier A., L'Art grec, Manuels de l'Ecole du Louvre, Paris, 1998, pp. 160-161.

Technical description

  • Victorious athlete making a libation

    C. 470 BC

    Provenance: Phocis

    Parian style?

  • H. 27.2 cm

  • David-Weill gift, 1937

    Br 4236

  • 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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