previous next


1. Polycleitus, the elder, of Argos, probably by citizenship, and of Sicyon, probably by birth, was one of the most celebrated statuaries of the ancient world; and was also a sculptor, an architect, and an artist in toreutic. He was the pupil of the great Argive statuary Ageladas, under whom he had Pheidias and Myron for his fellow-disciples. He was somewhat younger than Pheidias, and about the same age as Myron. He is placed by Pliny at the 87th Olympiad, B. C. 431, with Ageladas, Callon, Phradmon, Gorgias, Lacon, Myron, Pythagoras, Scopas, and Parelius (H. N. 34.8.19). An important indication of his date is derived from his great statue in the Heraeum near Argos; for the old temple of Hera was burnt in Ol. 89. 2, B. C. 423 (Thuc. 4.133; Clinton, F. H. s.a.); and, including the time required to rebuild the temple of the goddess, the statue by Polycleitus in the new temple could scarcely have been finished in less than ten years; which brings his life down to about B. C. 413. Comparing this conclusion with the date given by Pliny, and with the fact that he was a pupil of Ageladas, Polyclei tus may be safely said to have flourished from about Ol. 82 to 92, or B. C. 452-412. A further confirmation of this date is furnished by Plato's mention of the sons of Polycleitus, as being of about the same age as the sons of Pericles. (Protag. p. 328c.)

Of his personal history we know nothing further. As an artist, he stood at the head of the schools of Argos and Sicyon, and approached more nearly than any other to an equality with the great head of the Athenian school, whom he was even judged to ave surpassed on one occasion, in the celebrated competition of the Amazons. (See below, and PHEIDIAS.) The essential difference between these artists was that Pheidias was unsurpassed, nay perfect, in making the images of the gods, Polycleitus in those of men. The one embodied in his Athena and Olympian Zeus, for all subsequent ages, the ideal standard of divine majesty; the other expressed, in his Doryphorus, the ideal perfection of human beauty. It is not, however, surprising that, in the estimation of many, the beauty of Polycleitus should even have been preferred to the more unapproachable majesty of Pheidias, in an age when art, having reached its climax, was on the point of beginning to degenerate. Nay, even Polycleitus himself was, by some, placed below Myron in some respects (Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19.3); and his forms were thought by the artists of the age of Alexander susceptible of greater grace. If, therefore, we find, in writers of a still later period, expressions which appear to refer to the works of Polycleitus as retaining something of the stiffness of an early period of art, we must not at once conclude that such passages, even if they are rightly interpreted, refer to some earlier artist of the same name.

Among the statements of Pliny respecting Polycleitus is. the following (H. N. 34.8. s. 19.2) : --"Proprium ejus est, ut uno crure insisterent eigna, excogitasse; quadrata tamen ea esse tradit Varro et paene ad unum exemplum." (The word quadrata, which Sillig formerly suspected, is confirmed by the authority of the Bamberg MS.) This passage has exercised the critical skill of most of the writers on art. Thiersch regards it as obviously characterising the style of one of the early improvers of the art; and he therefore supposes that the artist of whom Varro made this statement was the oldest artist of the name, Polycleitus of Sicyon, whom, according to him, Pliny has confounded with the more celebrated Polycleitus of Argos. But the language of Varro, properly understood, neither requires nor sustains any such hypothesis. The mere mechanical difficulty in statuary, of making a standing figure rest its weight on one leg, may have been, and probably had been, overcome before the time of Polycleitus ; but it was, as we understand Varro, a distinguishing feature of his works, that he did this without in any way interfering with those proportions and that repose, which constituted the perfection of his art. It was not, of course, for an artist like Pheidias to poise his divinities upon one leg; but Polycleitus, the inventor of the perfect canon of the human form, would naturally devote careful study to an attitude, which adds so much to the life-like expression of a figure, while, on the other hand, he refrained from any tampering with his own established proportions, and avoided the dangers into which the free use of this attitude might lead an artist too eager for variety. Some writers think that Varro intended to censure Polycleitus on the ground that he adhered so strictly to his own canon as to introduce too much uniformity into his works; but the passage (to say nothing of its only referring to those statues of Polycleitus which rested on one leg) does not appear to be in the tone of censure, 1 and if it were, we should rather suspect the soundness of Varro's judgment, than of Polycleitus's practice on such a point. In fact, this appears to be the very point in which Myron was inferior to Polycleitus; that the former, in his eagerness for variety, transgressed, in his choice of subjects, in his proportions, and in his attitudes, those high principles of art to which Polycleitus always adhered.

The word quadrata, in the above passage, demands further explanation. It is clearly meant to describe a certain proportion of the human figure, and may be roughly explained as expressing a robust middle stature, in opposition to a tall and slender stature. The meaning is clearly shown by Pliny's description (l.c. § 6) of the style of proportion practised by Lysippus, who, he says, made the heads smaller than the ancients made them, the bodies more slender and less fleshy, and thus the whole statue apparently taller "quadratas veterum staturas permutando." Vitruvius gives a canon of proportion, according to which the length of the outstretched arms is equal to the height of the statue, so that the whole figure may be enclosed in a square; but it does not seem that there is any precise reference to this canon in the term quadrata, as used by Pliny. (Böttiger, Andeutungen, p. 120; Schorn, Studien, p. 300.)

The praises which the ancients heap upon Polycleitus are numerous and of the highest order. According to Pliny (l.c.), he was considered to have brought the art of statuary to perfection ; and the same judgment is passed upon his works by Cicero, who expressly gives him the preference over Myron (Brut. 18; comp. de Orat. 3.7, Acad. 2.47, De Fin. 2.34, Tusc. 1.2, Paradox. 5.2). Dionysius of Halicarnassus praises him, in conjunction with Pheidias, for those qualities which he expresses by the phrase κατὰ τὸ σεμνὸν καὶ μεγαλότεχνον καὶ ἀξιωματικόν. (De Isocr. p. 95, Sylburg.) Quintilian (12.10) tells us that his works were distinguished by accurate execution (diligentia) and beauty (decor) above those of all others; but that he was thought to be deficient in grandeur (pondus). But even this fault is mentioned with the qualification "ne nihil detrahatur ;" and the critic proceeds to explain that it applies to his preference for human subjects over divine, and, among the former, for youthful figures, and that the deficiency is ascribed to him chiefly in comparison with Pheidias and Alcamenes : --"Nam ut humanae formae decorem addiderit supra verum, ita non explevisse deorum auctoritatem videtur. Quin aetatem quoque graviorem dicitur refugisse, nihil ausus ultra leves genas. At quae Polycleto defuerunt, Phidiae atque Alcameni dantur." The breasts of his statues were especially admired. (Rhet. ad Herenn. 4.6.) Several other passages might be added from Lucian, the poets of the Anthology, and other writers. Even while he lived Polycleitus was ranked among the very first artists : Xenophon makes Socrates place him on a level, as a statuary, with Homer, Sophocles, and Zeuxis in their respective arts. (Mem. 1.4.3.) The Socrates of Plato also speaks of him in terms which imply an equality with Pheidias. (Protag. p. 311c.)

Of the artists who succeeded him, Lysippus especially admired him, and declared that his Doryphorus was his own teacher (Cic. Brut. 86). In fact Lysippus stood in much the same relation to the Argive school of Polycleitus as Praxiteles to the Attic school of Pheidias and Alcamenes.

An interesting anecdote is told by Aelian (Ael. VH 14.8), respecting the manner in which Polycleitus proved the superiority of the rules of art to popular opinion. He made two statues, one of which he finished to his own mind, and the other he exposed to public view, and altered it according to the opinions expressed by the spectators. He then exhibited the statues together. One of them was universally admired; the other was derided. "You yourselves," exclaimed the artist, "made the statue you abuse; I made the one you admire." Plutarch relates a saying of Polycleitus, that the work was the most difficult when the clay model had been brought to apparent perfection. (Quaest. Conv. 2.3. p. 636c.)

The disciples of Polycleitus were Argius, Asopodorus, Alexis, Aristeides, Phrynon. Dinon, Athenodorus, Demeas Clitorius, Canachus H., and Pericleitus. (Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19 ; Paus. 6.13.4; see the articles.)

Plato refers to the two sons of Polycleitus, as being also statuaries, but of no reputation in comparison with their father : he does not, however, mention their names. (Protag. p. 328c.)

Polycleitus was not only celebrated as a statuary in bronze, but also as a sculptor in marble, as an architect, and as an artist in toreutic. His works in these departments will be mentioned presently. His fame as a toreutic artist was so great that he was considered, according to Pliny, to have perfected the art, which Pheidias had commenced, but had left incomplete :--"toreuticen sic erudlisse [judicatur], at Phidias aperuisse." (H. N. l.c. 2.) There are a few passages in which Polycleitus seems to be spoken of as a painter; but they are insufficient to establish the fact. (See Sillig, Catal. Artif. s.v.

Polycleitus wrote a treatise on the proportions of the human body, which bore the same name as the statue in which he exemplified his own laws, namely, Κανῶν (Galen, περὶ τῶν καθ᾽ Ἱπποκράτην καὶ Πλάτωνα, 4.3, vol. iv. p. 449, ed. Kühn).

The following were the chief works of Polycleitus in bronze. The kind of bronze which he chiefly used was the Aeginetan; whereas his contemporary Myron preferred the Delian. (Plin. Nat. 34.2. s. 5; Dict. of Ant. s. v. Aes.

1. The Spear Bearer (Doryphorus), a youthful figure, but with the full proportions of a man (viriliter puerum, Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19.2). There can be no doubt that this was the statue which became known by the name of Canon, because in it the artist had embodied a perfect representation of the ideal of the human figure, and had thus, as Pliny says, exhibited art itself in a work of art. Pliny, indeed, appears to speak of this Canon as something different from the Doryphoraus ; but that it really was this statue is plain from the statement already quoted from Cicero respecting Lysippus, and from other passages in the ancient writers (Cic. Orat. 2; Quint. Inst. 5.12.21 ; Galen, vol. i. p. 566, vol. iv. p. 606). Lucian describes the proportions of the human figure, as exhibited in the Canon of Polycleitus, in terms which completely confirm the explanation given above of the term quadrata, as applied to his works, and which amount to this; that the figure should be moderate both in height and stoutness. (Lucian. de Salt. 75, vol. ii. p. 309.) Quintilian describes the figure as alike fit for war or for athletic games (l.c.).

2. A youth of tender age, binding his head with a fillet, the sign of victory in an athletic contest (diadumcnum molliter juxenem, Plin. l.c. ; Lucian. Philops. 18, vol. iii. p. 46). This work was valued at a hundred talents (Plin. l.c.). The beautiful statue in the Villa Farnese is no doubt a copy of it (Gerhard, Ant. Denkmäler, Cent. i. pl. 69 ; Müller, Denkmäler d. alt. Kunst, vol. i. pl. 31, fig. 136).

3. An athlete, scraping himself with a strigil (destringeniem se, Plin. l.c.).

4. A naked figure, described by Pliny as talo incessentem ; an obscure phrase, which is explained by some to mean challenging to the game of tali (Harduin, ad loc.), by others, trampling down, or spurning away, an opponent in the pancratium. (Jacobs, ad Philost. p. 435; Müller, Arch. d. Kunst, § 120, n. 3.)

5. A group of two naked boys playing at tali, known by the name of Astagalizontes. In Pliny's time this group stood in the Atrium of Titus, and was esteemed by many as one of the most perfect works of statuary. The British Museum contains a portion of a similar group in marble, which was found in the baths of Titus in the pontificate of Urban VIII., and which was probably copied, hut with some alterations, from the work of Polycleitus. (Townley Marbles, vol. i. p. 304.)

6. A Mercury, at Lysimachia. (Plin. l.c.

7. A Heracles Ageter, arming himself, which was at Rome in Pliny's time (Plin. l.c. ; but the reading is somewhat doubtful). Cicero also mentions a Hercules by Polycleitus; but this seems to have been a different work, in which the hero was represented as killing the hydra (de Orat. 2.16).

8. A portrait statue of Artemon, surnamed Periphoretos, the military engineer employed by Pericles in the war against Samos (Plin. l.c.; Plut. Per. 27).

9. An Amazon, which gained the first prize, above Pheidias, Ctesilaus, Cydon, and Phradmon, in the celebrated contest at Ephesus (Plin. Nat. 34.8. s. 19).

To the above list must be added some other works, which are not mentioned by Pliny.

10. A pair of small but very beautiful Canephoroe (Cic. in Verr. 4.3; Symmach. Ep. 1.23 ; Amalthea, vol. iii. p. 164).

11. A statue of Zeus Philius at Megalopolis, the dress and ornaments of which were similar to those appropriate to Dionysus (Paus. 8.31.2. s. 4).

12. Several statues of Olympic victors (Paus. 6.4, 4.6, 7.3, 9.1, 13.4). But it cannot be determined whether these should be ascribed to the elder or the younger Polycleitus. (See below, No. 2.)

Of his works in marble, the only ones which are mentioned are his statue of Zeus Milichius at Argos (Paus. 2.20.1), and those of Apollo, Leto, and Artemis, in the temple of Artemis Orthia, on the summit of Mt. Lycone in Argolis. (Paus. 2.24.5.)

But that which he probably designed to be the greatest of all his works was his ivory and gold statue of Hera in her temple between Argos and Mycenae. This work was executed by the artist in his old age (see above), and was doubtless intended by him to rival Pheidias's chryselephantine statues of Athena and of Zeus, which, in the judgment of Strabo (viii. p.372), it equalled in beauty, though it was surpassed by them in costliness and size. According to the description of Pausanias (2.17.4), the goddess was seated on a throne, her head crowned with a garland, on which were worked the Graces and the Hours, the one hand holding the symbolical pomegranate, and the other a sceptre, surmounted by a cuckoo, a bird sacred to Hera, on account of her having been once changed into that form by Zeus. From an epigram by Parmenion (Brunck, Anal. vol. ii. p. 202, No. 5) it would seem that the figure of the goddess was robed from the waist downwards. Maximus Tyrius, who compares the statue with the Athena of Pheidias, describes the Hera of Polycleitus as the white-armed goddess of Homer, having ivory arms, beautiful eyes, a splendid robe, a queenlike figure, seated on a golden throne. (Dissert. 14.6, vol. i. p. 260, Reiske.) In this description we clearly see the Homeric ideal of Hera, the white-armed. large-eyed (λευκώλενος, βοῶπις), which Polycleitus took for the model of his Hera, just as Pheidias followed the Homeric ideal of Zeus in his statue at Olympia. The character expressed by the epithet βοῶπις must have been that of the whole countenance, an expression of open and imposing majesty; and accordingly, in a most laudatory epigram on the statue, Martial says (10.89) :--

"Ore nitet tanto, quanto superasset in Ida
Judice convictas non dubitante deas."

This statue remained always the ideal model of Hera, as Pheidias's of the Olympian Zeus. Thus Herodes Atticus, when he set up at Caesareia the statues of Augustus and Rome, had them made on the model of these two statues respectively. (J. AJ 15.13.) Praxiteles, however, ventured to make some minor alterations in Polycleitus's type of Hera. [PRAXITELES.] There is an excellent essay on this statue, with an explanation of the allegorical signification of its parts, by Böttiger. (Andeutungen, pp. 122-128; comp. Müller, Archäol. d. Kunst, § 352.)

It is impossible to determine which of all the existing figures and busts of Hera or Juno, and of Roman empresses in the character of Juno, may be considered as copies of the Hera of Polycleitus ; but in all probability we have the type on a coin of Argos, which is engraved in Müller's Denkmäler (vol. i. pl. 30. fig. 132; comp. Böttiger, l.c. p. 127).

In the department of toreutic, the fame of Polycleitus no doubt rested chiefly on the golden ornaments of his statue of Hera; but he also made small bronzes (sigilla), and drinking-vessels (phialae) (Martial. 8.51; Juvenal. 8.102). Moschion mentions a celebrated lamp, which he made for the king of Persia (apud Ath. v. p. 206e).

As an architect Polycleitus obtained great celebrity by the theatre, and the circular building (tholus), which he built in the sacred enclosure ot Aesculapius at Epidaurus : the former Pausanias thought the best worth seeing of all tne theatres, whether of the Greeks or the Romans. (Paus 2.27. §§ 2, 5.)

1 * Perhaps, however, this censure may be implied in another passage of Varro, in which he says "Neque enim Lysippus artificum priorum potius est vitiosa secutus quam artem," de L. L. 9.18, ed. Miller.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
452 BC (1)
431 BC (1)
423 BC (1)
413 BC (1)
412 BC (1)
hide References (17 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (17):
    • Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 15.13
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.17.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.20.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.13.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.31.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.24.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.4
    • Thucydides, Histories, 4.133
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.8
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 5, 12.21
    • Plutarch, Pericles, 27
    • Cicero, Brutus, 86
    • Aelian, Varia Historia, 14.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: