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Richard Armitage and the classical canon of sculptuRAl proportions

May 17, 2013

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.

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos  (https://sites.google.com/site/pistasdeplastica/3o-eso/canon)

Comapring the Canons of Polykleitos and Lysippos (https://sites.google.com/site/pistasdeplastica/3o-eso/canon)

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:

canon

Click to enlarge for details…such as they are
(we’re working on a shoestring budget here!)
Original Photo Source: http://www.richardarmitagenet.com

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.

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos Source:  Wikimedia Commons

Doryphoros/Thutmose III/Apoxymenos
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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….

One of these things is not quite the same...

One of these things is not quite the same…

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)

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26 Comments
  1. Gee, too bad you could only make estimates, I mean, if you only had a full-figure nude picture of Richard Armitage to work with this would have been a much more, um, accurate post. THUD Thanks for the image! :D Nice post.

    • IKR? It would be much more accurate if he’d agree to just stand there and let me measure him…on second thought, he should probably lay down because I wont be able to reach :) It’s all in the name of scholarship after all, and I’d allow him the Vatican fig leaf for modesty’s sake…

      • Leigh permalink

        **giggle** As if he hasn’t bared (almost) all for his art before… I’ll volunteer to hold and warm the tape measure.

  2. I’m laughing at the above comments. Richard should definitely lay down in the nude for you to get accurate measurements! ;) Very interesting post. Even if Richard doesn’t quite fit the Greek idea of perfection, we sure do find him stunning. :)

    • I would even screenprint some graph paper onto a sheet to make it a much more streamlined process – I’m very giving that way :) I really think it’s because he doesn’t fit the ideal that he’s so attractive – I’ve never really gotten the appeal of the Doryphoros, and the Apoxymenos has a pin head from where I’m standing…I much prefer Hellenistic sculpture that is less rigidly attached to canon…in technical jargon, not so cookie cuttery!

  3. Leigh permalink

    Oh, yes, definitely closer to the Lysippan canon, as your analysis shows, and as you point out, Richard is a REAL man, not merely a mathematically modeled ideal. Our aesthetic sensibilities (at least in western civilisation) don’t seem to have altered much in the last few thousand years. We see a man beautifully formed and proportioned, with a classical arse to match, and we can’t help but admire. Then he looks at us — those eyes, that face giving us a compelling glimpse of the person inside, in a way no sculpted ideal could. Terminally smitten I am.

    • Not to mention, warmer…that marble is bloody cold stuff! Feeling any better?

      • Leigh permalink

        Warmer is good ;) Doing a little better each day, thanks. The antibiotics are obviously working, but my stamina is still rubbish. I think I lost about 6 kg.

        • Glad to hear you’re on the mend…6kg – that’s a lot – over how much time? You’ll have to eat good and hearty when you’re up to it! I’m off to avoid nocturnal animals on my evening commute…hasta luego!

          • Leigh permalink

            This will be the fourth week I’ve been down, so about a month? I can finally eat a little and I am crazy hungry, dreaming of food, but not yet able to feast. You dodge those critters and have a safe trip. Hasta luego!

  4. So, essentially the ancient Greeks were also pressurised by unrealistic/idealistic media/art representation of the human body? Well, some things never change. I know this is a total aside, but I am wondering whether the ancient Greeks actually had as much a problem with the apparent dichotomy between the depiction of the human body and their own real bodies. It’ll probably be hard to find any evidence for it – I doubt that the ancient scribes picked that as a topic. Plus, this kind of pressure seems to be stronger for women – and they were not the scribes and authors back then and thus did not record their reactions…
    Anyway, even if RA doesn’t conform strictly to either of the two proportion models, in my mind he still looks like a Greek god. I am basing that less on the physical proportions and more on the general appearance: broad shoulders, muscular arms and chest, six-pack, powerful upper thighs, lean long legs and a fine pair of juicy buns. He would make a lovely sitter for a nude shoot. (Not that I’d be able to take any pictures, at least not hand-held *muhahaha*)
    BTW, in keeping up this fine physique, RA also displays other characteristics that make me think of ancient philosophy and art. There is dedication needed, to maintain a fit body, possibly an ascetic lifestyle? I’d love to hear what you have to say about that. Or about his stoicism when it comes to dealing with his fans (maybe he is not stoic at all and my idea of the term is wrong – I’d be interested to hear you explain it.)

    • I’m linking to an interesting discussion about this. Like most recorded history from Greece, we really only know much about male perspectives, but there does seem to be a level of obsession that matches modern day. For women, the standard was different depending on the period, but display of the form was not the goal (unlike men, women are never shown unclothed in Classical Greek art..it starts in the post classical period with Aphrodite statues – Venus di Milo for instance, but female nudes were never as ubiquitous as male. When they do show up, the figure is decidedly trim and athletic). The goal for women was not physical perfection, but fertility and the Classical Greek medical opinion (this changes in the Hellenistic period) – when they condescend to discuss something so insignificant as women, was that excess flesh impeded it…more likely the problem – for the Athenians anyway – was more a general disinterest in sleeping with their child brides in favor of male lovers and female courtesans.

      I agree, the canons are a mathematical cipher for artistic purposes, so exact conformity for humans is impossible, but they do establish a “look” that has defined male beauty for centuries. I’ve examined more nude sculpture than I’d care to admit, but it doesn’t breathe or talk, so I take your point about shaky hands at the prospect :)

      I think RA’s commitment to maintaining his physical form is another element of his “quest” for arete (not that I necessarily believe he thinks of it in those terms) to be as fit as he can be….

      Stoicism is an interesting idea…more philosophy – are you a glutton for punishment? The ancient notion is not quite the same as what we understand it as now, but maybe….stay tuned :)

      Whoa, sorry – this reply was a whole separate post!

      • Sorry, it was my fault – I threw you off track, because my short attention span means that I jump from one keyword to the next :-D. – Oh dear, it hurts to read that women were *that* insignificant in ancient Greece – and easily overshadowed. Although I like the idea of basing femininity on fertility rather than beauty. But well, that probably has more to do with my personal lack of the latter than a true feminist belief. After all, fertility back then was just another way of subjugating women. (Still is, when I look at the pitifully small number of women in prestigious positions…)
        But enough of my gender rant – am I a glutton for punishment? In the sado/maso sense of the expression? *haha*, just kidding. No, I’d just like to learn more about it because am simply fascinated by the ideas of stoism or asceticism, especially in this day and age of affluence and exuberance. RA seems to keep out of a lot of that. For which I commend him. Even though I would like to see him behaving exuberantly and would love an affluence of Armitage images/films/work.

        • My mother tells me I jump from topic to topic all the time….were we separated at birth? Misogyny is a a Greek word…I don’t consider myself a feminist scholar, but I can’t help but recognize the home truth that it’s a man’s world, and it always has been. It’s not universal – there are powerful female deities like Athena who has a foot in both camps – but in general, you can’t get away from it when studying ancient Greece. I love Aristotle’s discussion of sophrosyne, but I could do without his assertion that women never really mature intellectually beyond the age of 10, or that they have no active role in conception. Because he was so prolific, and so widely regarded, his writings were incredibly influential, especially in the western tradition – despite the fact that he was certainly not right about women (or the geo-centric universe for that matter – how’s that for a 10 year old?!) Go Girl Power!! (I may have to do an OT “females on the fringe” in Greek myth, like Amazons and Maenads)

          Philosophical S&M – what a concept!! Generally, philosophy makes my head hurt, but even the Romans got Stoicism (sorry Romans, you’re not really known for your philosophy…), so I can give it a turn ;)

          • Leigh permalink

            Yes, please, a post about “women on the fringe”! Between Aristotle and St. Paul, women have really taken a hard hit over the centuries. I find it interesting that in mythology, the Harpies, the Gorgons, the Furies, Hecate, and the Fates are all female. The feminine really must have scared the Greeks something fierce, perhaps because they knew on some level that those child brides would grow up to become mothers and wield the power of Hera and her ilk.

          • St. Augustine didn’t do us any favors either! All the best Greek monsters are female (don’t forget Scylla, the Sphinx, the Graiai and on and on), and tragedy is full of cautionary tales about what happens when mythological men let women off the leash – Medea anyone? Even the goddesses…Artemis with her prickly virginity – Aphrodite her uncontrolled sexuality. Athena is a real anomaly – a female war goddess who surrounds herself with young men and is vain about her own beauty but is openly hostile to other women – those have some serious issues with the female for sure!

        • Here’s the link I mentioned above – I should probably trouble myself to figuring out how all the buttons and knobs work one of these days…(don’t hold your breath :) )

          http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/301176.html

  5. katie70 permalink

    Somethings don’t seem to change. I read the link and wow something new I learned again. I still think that RA looks good no matter what, he don’t need the touch ups to the photos that come out.

    • Some of those edits are truly appalling. I totally agree…no tinkering required for RA as far as I’m concerned :)

  6. Servetus permalink

    If this is the kind of thing I can enable with a few prurient screencaps, enlist me more often!

  7. Weeks later and OT, but this is funny and therefore I wanted to show you (I hope you get notifications): http://todayilearned.co.uk/2013/06/13/classical-sculptures-dressed-as-hipsters-look-contemporary-and-totally-badass/

    • Thanks for the link….I saw this on my RL Facebook feed too…I laughed out loud after I got over my harrumphing about defacing the ascetic beauty of classical sculpture (leaving aside that the original painted “defacement” wore off long ago) ;)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Richard Armitage Legenda 79: Stuff worth reading | Me + Richard Armitage
  2. Thorin Oakenshield moves Richard Armitage’s posterior proportions from Lysippan to Polykleitan canon | Me + Richard Armitage

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