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The statue was bought in Rome from sculptor Bartolomeo Cavaceppi who had replaced several missing parts, such as the lower arms and the base, and reworked the surface. In the process, he removed all signs of pubic hair, replacing them with a little mounting hole for a fig leaf. The statue stood, as altered by Cavaceppi, in the semi-circular forecourt of the Neue Palais in Potsdam. Before being put on display in the museum at Lustgarten in Berlin that opened in 1830 (now known as the Altes Museum), the alterations to the statue were renewed in the workshop of Christian Daniel Rauch: the base, the artful improvised garland used to conceal imperfections and damage around the join between neck and torso, and the lower left arm. The gesture of the hands was given a plausible meaning copied from Antique models: a vial for oils or ointments was put in the athlete’s right hand; the left palm was turned upwards as if to catch the contents. When the statue was restored in 1997, only the old reproduction of the right arm was reattached, as its position is likely to be close to the original. It is also possible that the original was an honorary statue for a boxer who had won a fight, in which case the typical leather straps that they wrapped around their fists could be added. The overall style of the artwork has led it to be associated with the famous sculptor Lysippus of Sicyon. Like many sculptors before him, he was particularly influenced by the work of Polyclitus. Pliny the Elder (nat. hist. 34, 65) describes what was novel in the master sculptor’s work:
‘He is considered to have contributed very greatly to the art of statuary by expressing the details of the hair, and by making the head smaller than had been done by the ancients, and the body more graceful and less bulky, a method by which his statues were made to appear taller. The Latin language has no appropriate name for “symmetry,” which he so attentively observed in his new and hitherto untried method of modifying the squareness observable in the ancient statues. Indeed, it was a common saying of his, that other artists made men as they actually were, while he made them as they appeared to be.’ (Translation J. Bostock and H.T. Riley, 1855) The small head of the statue of the athlete and the long slender legs certainly resemble the statues of Lysippus as does the jaunty open pose: his free leg is bent at the knee and stretched out to the side, his foot firmly on the ground, the head turned in the same direction. The arms are held loosely away from the body and the lower arm is extended outwards, expanding the reach and spatial design of the statue. This greater spatial freedom is what made Lysippus a pioneer of Hellenistic sculpture. Even if the statue is not one of his, it was certainly influenced by him.

Details

  • Title: The Berlin Athlete
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: -320/-310
  • Location: Rome
  • Physical Dimensions: h175 cm
  • Type: Statue
  • Medium: Marble
  • Inv.-No.: Sk 471
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Huberta Heres || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

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