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Work Dionysus

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

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© 1988 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

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

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This statuette is thought to be one of the earliest representations of Dionysus as a young man. The god of wine wears traveler's boots and probably held a kantharos in his right hand. The work bears witness to the aesthetic innovations introduced by Greek sculptors in the first half of the fifth century BCE, after the Archaic period and before the Classical period. In bronze, the generation of artists who worked in the Severe style found a material well suited to the expression of movement.

An Argive bronze

This work, which entered the collections of the Louvre in 1894, was alleged to have been found in Olympia. There is no firm evidence for this, however, and moreover its craftsmanship suggests an Argive work of the fifth century BCE. The city of Argos, in the northeastern Peloponnese, was at this time home to a highly influential school of sculpture, which reached its high point in the work of Polyclitus toward the middle of the century. The powerful, solid outlines of this bronze, the well-balanced pose and the heavy facial features are all characteristic of this school. The statuette was solid-cast, and was originally attached to a metal base using part of the casting under the left foot as a tenon. From the late sixth century BCE, bronze became the preferred material of the Greek sculptors, as its softness made it ideally suited to the expression of movement - so difficult to render in marble - and so opened up new avenues to explore.

Representation of Dionysus as a young man

It is probable that this naked youth wearing the soft high-laced boots of travelers represents Dionysus. The statuette is thought to be one of the earliest representations of the god of wine as a young man. The figure probably held a kantharos, of which only a cylindrical fragment remains (held in the right hand), generally interpreted as one of the handles of the drinking cup. The appearance of the left shoulder indicates that the missing arm was added separately, a practice rarely found in the fifth century BCE but particularly common in Roman times, when limbs were often cast separately and welded on to the torso. The line of the joint was concealed by a garment that was cast with the arm.

The innovations of the Severe style and Polyclitus

Created c.460 BCE, this statuette bears witness to the aesthetic innovations introduced by the generation of sculptors who worked in the Severe style, after the Archaic period and before the Classical period. The contours are more flowing and the distribution of weight is new. The tilted pelvis and the accompanying movement of the muscles add life to the figure, although the line of the shoulders remains horizontal: the contrapposto arrangement of the figure developed by Polyclitus of Argos toward the mid-fifth century BCE had not yet been adopted at this point. The youth is captured in a walking position, with his weight on his left leg and the right leg bent, the heel of the right foot probably raised from the ground in the manner of works by Polyclitus of a few years later. The weight of the body is thus shifted on to one leg alone. The treatment of the skillfully proportioned musculature also anticipates the athletic figures of Polyclitus. The hair, caught up in a short style, reflects the style common at the time. The grave facial expression, finally, contrasts with the open smiles of the Archaic kouroi.


S. Descamps, "L'art du mouvement et les bronzes du Louvre", Archeologia. Le miracle grec, la sculpture au siècle de Périclès, hors série, 2, 1993, pp. 36-9.
The Greek Miracle, Washington, 1993, p. 113, n 15.
Polyklet. Der Bildhauer der Griechischen Klassik, Frankfurt-am-Main, 1990, p. 509, n 4.
A. Héron de Villefosse, "Athlète. Bronze de l'école d'Argos", Monuments et Mémoires. Fondation Piot I, 1894, pp. 105-14, pl. 15-16.

Technical description

  • Dionysus?

    C. 460 BC

    Provenance: Olympia?

    Argive style?

  • Bronze

    H. 23.5 cm

  • Acquired in 1894 , 1894

    Br 154

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n
    Display case C2: Classical Greece (5th century BC)

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