Art of the Ancient Olympics

My goal in this research paper is not only to discuss the art of the Ancient Olympics, but also to analyze the art work related to this period –Hermes and The Infant Dionysus, a beautiful statue of Greek Gods which takes a special place in the art of the Ancient Olympics and which is highly valued by the art experts of all times.

THE STATUE OF HERMES WITH THE INFANT DYONISOS

The statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus is also known to the art experts as the statue of Hermes of Olympus. It is a beautiful ancient sculpture of the Greek God Hermes

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2Aileen Ajootian, “ Praxiteles. Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture”. (Cambridge University Press, 1998) 84

3Arthur Stewart, “ Greek Sculpture: An Exploration”. (Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1990) 112 .

and the Infant Dionysus. It was discovered in Olympia in 1877. The statue that was found in the ruins of the Temple of Hera was in bad condition. Today, the statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus is displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. This beautiful art work, which refers to the 4-th century B.C., is traditionally attributed to one of the famous Attic sculptors, Praxiteles.

Description of the visual content, the context and the materials

The statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus is made of white marble. According to the historical facts, the sculptor used the material of the best quality, Parian marble. This pure white material was highly valued by the Greeks. The statue of Hermes measures 2.10/2.12 m and 3.70 m including the base. It is found that the right foot of Hermes is integral with the base which has some unequal parts of surface and some cracks that appeared due to high antiquity. Both the face of Hermes and his torso are highly polished. The glowing surface of the body means that it is a high-quality work. The back of Hermes has the signs of rasp and chisel. It means that these parts are not properly polished by the master. The reason may be concluded in the fact that the statue was not completely finished.4

The archeological data proves the fact that the statue was in bad condition at the time of its discovery. Hermes’ hair has the obvious traces of cinnabar. Today, the sculpture is not in the perfect form because Hermes is missing one of his forearms (the right one), two left hand fingers and the left foot, his penis, while Dionysus is missing both arms, except his right hand that is on Hermes’ left shoulder and small part of his right foot. The larger part of the

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4Gisela Richter, “The Hermes of Praxiteles. American Journal of Archaeology “. Vol. 35. Issue 3. 1981, 53

tree trunk is also broken and lost. However, it is necessary to say that the larger part of the ancient base is in good condition. It is constructed of the grey limestone block between two large blocks of white marble.

The statue represents Dionysus as a baby carried by Greek God young Hermes to the muses who he will take care of him. It is known that the right forearm, that is lost now, was raised in order to dangle grapes before the baby. Some experts of art consider that Praxiteles uses humor in the design representing the baby Dionysus who is trying to reach the grapes greedily. It proves the fact that in future Dionysus will become the God of Wine. 5

The context of this art work is focused on the fact that Praxiteles as well as his father Kephisodotus creates a relationship between two figures in one sculpture. This sculpture resembles Kephisodotus’ statue of Eirene and Ploutos. In our case, the sculptor represents Hermes in a relaxed pose. In order to produce a more elegant form of the work, Praxiteles changes the established conventions of the ideal human body proportions which were used by Polykleitos in his works, because he makes the height higher, but the head smaller. In addition, the sculptor does not follow the balance of contrapposto in order to produce a sweeping curve throughout the body of Hermes.6

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ABOUT THE ARTIST

The author of the art work discussed in this paper is Praxiteles. He is known as one of the famous Attic sculptors who lived in the 4-th century B.C. Unfortunately, the exact date of his birth/death is unknown. His style is based on representation of the nude forms in a life-

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5Gisela Richter, “The Hermes of Praxiteles. American Journal of Archaeology”. Vol. 35. Issue 3. 1981, 65

6Ibid. 76-77

sized sculpture. According to the historical facts, Praxiteles was the first artist in Ancient Greece who sculpted a life-sized statue with nude female forms. Some art experts state that Praxitelean style influenced greatly the works of other Greek sculptors because it was “graceful and refined”. The main features of Praxitelean style are life-sized figures, nude forms, representation of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, harmony of surfaces, the use of languid S-curve known as “Praxitelean curve”, marble material and clear lines; the faces of the Greek Gods are represented in three-quarter view.7

Moreover, Praxiteles was one of those sculptors who brought the powerful Greek Gods to a human level. He managed to make them more humane, less powerful, and less majestic. Praxiteles is a consummate master of his craft. It is known that the statue of Hermes with the Infant Dionysus is not the only his art work that represents the Greek Gods. He also created Aphrodite (Venus) of Knidos, Apollo Sauroktonos, and many others. 8

The sculptor was influenced by the Olympic Games which were held on the Mount of Olympia where all Greek Gods lived. In his works, Praxiteles tries to find some common features between the Greek Gods and the Olympic athletes. That is why he represents perfect bodies with developed musculature.

FUNCTION AND SYMBOLISM OF THE STATUE

It is known that the statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus was found in the ruins of the Temple of Hera which was located in Olympia. It means that the sculpture was used as an element of decoration in order to improve the design of the Temple. It was made with the

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7Praxiteles. Ancient Greece. 2008. University Press. Available from:

8Ibid. 2-3

purpose to show people that Gods are not so powerful and angry, and that they are similar to humans. They can be rather kind, tender and caring. Of course, this statue is sacred because it was located in the Temple of Hera which is known as a special sacred place in ancient Olympia. In this temple, the Olympic victors were crowned. The olive wreaths for the Olympic victors were displayed on the table in the Temple.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is necessary to say that the art of the Ancient Olympics is so unique and impressive that it attracts attention of the public from all over the world. The statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus is a classic example of the Greek sculpture. The statue has all characteristics of the Praxitelean style. Moreover, it is known that this sculpture influenced the development of art in the period of Renaissance.

Praxiteles, Hermes with the Infant Dionysus.

Archaeological Museum of Olympia

Works Cited

Ajootian, A. Praxiteles. Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture. Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

Richter, G. The Hermes of Praxiteles. American Journal of Archaeology . vol. 35. issue 3. 1981.

Stewart, A. Greek Sculpture: An Exploration. Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1990 .

Praxiteles. Ancient Greece. 2008. University Press. Available from:

Praxiteles, Hermes with the Infant Dionysus, marble, 4-th century B.C. Archaeological Museum of Olympia, Greece.