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The Sculpture of Myron and Polyclitus

The strength and malleability of bronze allowed innovative sculptors like the Athenian Myron1 and Polyclitus2 of Argos to push the development of the free-standing statue to its physical limits. Myron, for example, sculpted a discus thrower3 crouched at the top of his backswing, a pose far from the relaxed and serene symmetry of early archaic statuary. The figure not only assumes an asymmetrical pose but also seems to burst with the tension of the athlete's effort. Polyclitus' renowned statue of a walking man carrying a spear4 is posed to give a different impression from every angle of viewing. The feeling of motion it conveys is palpable. The same is true of the famous statue by an unknown sculptor of a female (perhaps the goddess of love Aphrodite) adjusting her diaphanous robe with one upraised arm. The message these statues conveyed to their ancient audience was one of energy, motion, and asymmetry in delicate balance. Archaic statues impressed a viewer with their appearance of stability; not even a hard shove looked likely to budge them. Free-standing statues of the classical period, by contrast, showed greater range in a variety of poses and impressions. The spirited movement of some of these statues suggests the energy of the times but also the possibility of change and instability.

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