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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 239

The Hermes was found lacking the right arm and both legs below the knees, but the marvellous head and torso are perfectly preserved. The god is without the traditional symbols of his divinity. He is merely a beautiful man. He stands leaning easily against a tree, supporting on one arm the child Dionysus, to whom he turns his gracious head with the devotion and love of a protector. The face, in its expression of sweet majesty, is distinctly a personal conception. The low forehead, the eyes far apart, the small, playful mouth, the round, dimpled chin, all bear evidence to the individual quality which Praxiteles infused into the ideal thought of the god. The body, though at rest, is instinct with life and activity, in spite of its grace. In short, the form of the god has the superb perfection, as the face has the dignity, which was attributed to Pheidias. Nevertheless, the Hermes illustrates sensual loveliness of the later school. The freedom with which the god is conceived belongs to an age when the chains of religious belief sat lightly upon the artist. The gds of Praxiteles are the gods of human experience, and in his treatment of them he does not always escape the tendency of the age of decline to put pathos and passion in the place of eternal majesty.

The influence of Scopas and Praxiteles continued to be felt through a number of artists who worked in sufficient harmony with them to be properly called of their school. To one of these followers of Praxiteles, some say as a copy of a work of the master himself, we must attribute the Demeter now in the British Museum. This is a pathetic illustration of suffering motherhood. There is no exaggeration in the grief, only the calm dignity of a sorrow which in spite of hope refuses to be comforted.

Another work of an unknown artist, probably a follower of Scopas, is the splendid Victory of Samothrace, now in the Louvre. The goddess, with her great wings outspread behind her, is being carried forward, her firm rounded limbs striking through the draperies which flutter behind her, and fall about her in soft folds. Vigorous and stately, the goddess poises herself on the prow of the ship, swaying with the impulse of conquering daring and strength.

Another statue which belongs, so far as artistic reasoning may carry us, to the period and school of Praxiteles, is the so- called Venus of Milo. The proper title to be given to this statue is doubtful, for the drapery corresponds to that of the Roman type of Victory, and if we could be sure that the goddess once held the shield of conquest in her now broken arms we should be forced to call the figure a Victory and place its date no earlier than the second century B.C. However this may be, the statue is justly one of the most famous in the world. It represents an ideal of purity and sweetness. There is not a trace of coarseness or immodesty in the half-naked woman who stands perfect in the maidenly dignity of her own conquering fairness. Her serious yet smiling face, her graceful form, the delicacy of feeling in attitude and gaze, the tender moulding of breast and limbs, make it a worthy companion of the Hermes or Praxiteles. It seems scarcely possible that it should not have sprung from the inspiration of his example.


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