06 June 2011

Cyriaco discovers Polykleitos

Roman copy, Polykleitos, Diadumenos
National Archaological Museum, Athens 

Cyriaco has not been a guest here for too long so I have invited him back for a brief visit.  I think we make a great many assumptions about Cyriaco and his friends when it comes to antiquities. He -- and they -- were making discoveries with great excitement, but they were not seeing what we see when we look at the same things.

Take Polykleitos. 

Polykleitos was a sculptor from Argos of the late-fifth, early-fourth century.  A bit too ripe for my taste, but the Romans loved him and fortunately made a great many copies so we have some idea of what his work looked like, even if what we see has an Italian accent.

On 23 March 1448, Cyriaco's very good friends, the Nauplion merchants Pietro Rangano and Joannes Bendramon, took him to Merbaka to see "images of outstanding beauty that had been removed in the past by Christians from a very old temple of Juno, thought to be from among the masterpieces of Polyclitus, to adorn later churches of our religion."

The church under consideration is the lovely 13th-century Church of the Dormition of the Virgin at Ag. Triada, which is the modern choice for a non-colonial name to replace that of Merbaka. This is what Cyriaco saw, rather, his drawings and what we now see.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Cyriaco and his very good friends seem to have been blissfully under the assumption that any sculpture found near Argos must have been carved by Polykleitos, the great sculptor from Argos.  Therefore, Cyriaco pronounced, these late, conventional Roman tombstones are images of outstanding beauty.

Discovering Polykleitos made him very happy, and that is good.  

But, seriously, he had by that time seen hundreds of Roman tombstones, he had seen some pretty good sculpture on Samothraki and Paros, and he had seen the metopes, triglyphs, and most of the west pediment of the Parthenon several times, and those really should have figured into his estimate of what he was looking at on the church at Merbaka.

1 comment:

  1. Ah yes, we see what we want to see, don't we? Thanks for the insight.


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