Richard Armitage and the classical canon of sculptuRAl proportions
I’ve been hemming and hawing about this post for about a month now, fiddling around with the drawings, checking, double checking, but I finally finished it today while I should have been doing other things…funny how that works in Armitageworld isn’t it? Before you read further, remember what I said here about my thoughts on artistic nudity: Enter at your own risk :)
The classical Greeks were very interested in proportion and formulas for creating it. This desire to “regularize” is especially prominent in architecture and sculpture, and it reflects a lot of information about what the Greeks found visually appealing, their visual aesthetic. If we had only sculptures to go by, we would have to assume that the population of ancient Greece was a median age of about 23 and in peak physical condition. That was certainly not the case. Classical sculpture was not trying to replicate reality, but rather to create an ideal, portraying perfected people.
In order to do this, classical sculptors developed complicated formulas of proportions, canons, that divided the body into component parts, each pieces of the whole, proportionately and symmetrically connected to one another. The idea was that if the sculptor followed the proportional model, no matter what the scale (size) of the sculpture was, it would fit the ideal of what the Greeks found visually appealing. There are basically two competing canons of proportion: the original, developed by Polykleitos in the 5th and early 4th centuries BC and then another developed later in the 4th century by Lysippos. Looking at the image below, we can see the differences in proportion between each sculpture. The Doryphoros (Spear Bearer) on the left is thought to represent the canon of Polykleitos. On the right, the Apoxymenos (The Scraper) represents the same for Lysippos.
In detail, the formulas are extremely complex, extending all the way to the length of the digits in proportion to the size of the hand, but in terms of the overall height and basic proportion of the body as a whole, the formula is relatively simple…for Polykleitos, the head is 1/7 the the overall height of the body, for Lysippos, 1/8. The result is clear…the Polykleitan ideal is compact and solid, the Lysippan rather longer and leaner. Since I have a rather pronounced interest in all things Richard Armitage, I wondered how he measures up to the classical ideal. Before I go further I should point out that I can only come to very general conclusions for a couple of reasons. First, since I’m working from photographs, and photographs of a fully clothed Richard Armitage at that, I have to guess-ti-mate A LOT. And, more importantly, what we know about the details of either canon is compromised by a lack of preservation of the original materials.
When it comes to much of classical Greek sculpture, there are really two broad categories: Lost Original and Roman Copy, which are actually two sides of the same coin. Both Polykleitos and Lysippos were prolific sculptors, but very little of the original work of either artist has survived. Except for a few notable examples, the greatest number of “Greek” sculptures that survive are actually Roman copies of a lost original work. The Romans were competant copyists, but there is a strong probablity that some (many) elements of the originals were “lost in translation.” Even so, we can still take a look at a basic proportional comparison.
The image below shows a full length shot copied onto graph paper, on which I can make out (or at least fudge) some critical measurement points. The place we have to start is measuring the head to set up the unit of measure. From the hairline to the jaw, the head measures 5 blocks on the graph paper – this is the basic unit of measure to divide the body parts. The solid lines indicate the canonical divisions: 1/7 divisions as determined by Polykleitos (left), 1/8 by Lysippos (right). The dashed lines represent where those divisional lines should fall if the body fits into the canons. Looking at even this very provisional scheme, I came away with a couple of conclusions:
1. Richard Armitage, by classical standards, has a disproportionately large head. (big head, big brain right :) ). This actually seems to be a desirable trait for film actors since larger heads photograph better. Unlike many of his colleagues, Mr. Armitage also has a body size that is proportionate to his head…hurray, no bobble head look here!
2. That head factor skews the other measurements a bit.
3. All is not lost.
It is clear to me from my extremely “scientific” analysis, that if we make a correction for the size of the head, Richard Armitage fits better into the Lysippan canon than the Polykleitan since he is generally longer and leaner in proportion. Even so, there is a fair amount of difference. As a test, I used this same canon system on Daniel Craig, who exhibits rather more traditional male proportions. He conformed more to canon, but still not perfectly.
What becomes evident is that these proportions do not correspond to actual humans, but rather to a mathematical ideal of what the Greeks found pleasing to the eye. Although the Doryphoros and the Apoxymenos appear much more realistic than say, a typical example of Egyptian sculpture (in the image above, the Egyptian piece is clearly meant to represent a human form, but it is much more stiff and stylized than either of the Greek works.) they are not really representative of an actual human body.
As a whole, we have not changed very much over the 2500 years since these canons were conceived in terms of the desire for idealized forms. Our eyes are constantly being tricked into believing that the human forms we see in the media are perfect. What we find if we look closer however, is that they are not perfect, but instead have been “perfected.” Many people argue that this trend toward over manipulating images has produced a warped notion of an ideal body for generations of people, particularly women. While it is unlikely that any professional images shot of Richard Armitage reach the public eye completely UN-retouched, I gather from various conversations that the general consensus is that he requires little or no retouching. I tend to agree – the great attraction of Richard Armitage to me is the sum of “imperfections” that result in a beautiful, REAL man.
Oh, I almost forgot…on one front (or back I guess) Richard Armitage has a lot in common with Greek sculpture….
With the exception of not having a tree trunk sticking out of the back of his leg, he could be a butt/bum model for classical male nudes! (Thanks to my enabler Servetus for the screen cap from Spooks S8.4)