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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 240

The last of the great sculptors of Greece was Lysippos of Sikyou. He differed from Pheidias on the one hand and from Polycleitos on the other. Pheidias strove to make his gods all god-like; Lysippos was content to represent them merely as exaggerated human beings; but therein he differed also from Polycleitos, who aimed to model the human body with the beauty only which actually existed in it. Lysippos felt that he must set the standard of human perfection higher than it appears in the average of human examples. Hence we have from him the statues of Heracles, in which the ideal of manly strength was carried far beyond the range of human possibility. A reminiscence of this conception of Lysippos may be found in the Farnese Heracles of Glycon, now in the Museum of Naples. Lysippos also sculptured four statues of Zeus, which depended for their interest largely on their heroic size.

Lysippos won much fame by his statues of Alexander the Great, but he is chiefly known to us by his statue of the athlete scraping himself with a strigil, of which an authentic copy is in the Vatican. The figure differs decidedly from the thick-set, rather heavy figures of Polycleitos, being tall, and slender in spite of its robustness. The head is small, the torso is small at the waist, but strong, and the whole body is splendidly active.

The changes in the models of earlier sculptors made by Lysippos were of sufficient importance to give rise to a school which was carried on by his sons and others, producing among many famous works the Barberini Faun, now at the Glyptothek, Munich. The enormous Colossus of Rhodes was also the work of a disciple of Lysippos.

But from this time the downward tendency in Greek art is only too apparent, and very rapid. The spread of Greek influence over Asia, and later, in consequence of the conquest of Greece by Rome, over Europe, had the effect of widening the market for Greek production, but of drying up the sources of what was vital in that production. Athens and Sikyou became mere provincial cities, and were shorn thenceforth of all artistic significance; and Greek art, thus deprived of the roots of its life, continued to grow for a while with a rank luxuriance of production, but soon became normal and conventional. The artists who followed Lysippos contented themselves chiefly with seeking a merely technical perfection in reproducing the creations of the earlier and more original age.

At Pergamon under Attalus, in the last years of the third century, there was something of an artistic revival. This Attalus successfully defended his country against an overwhelming attack of the Gauls from the north. To celebrate this victory, an altar was erected to Zeus on the Acropolis of Pergamon, of which the frieze represented the contest between Zeus and the giants. These sculptures are now to be found in Berlin. They are carved in high relief; the giants with muscles strained and distended, their bodies writhing in the contortions of effort and suffering; the gods, no longer calm and restrained, but themselves overcome with the ardor of battle. Zeus stretches his arms over the battle-field hurling destruction everywhere. Athene turns from the field, dragging at her heels a young giant whom she has conquered, and reaches forward to the crown of victory. The wild, passionate action of the whole work remove it far from the firm, orderly work of Pheidias, and carry it almost to the extreme of pathetic representation in sculpture shown by the Laocoon.


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