ὅ παῖς καλός – Richard Armitage and the Boxer at Rest: Unique Beauty

In addition to daydreaming and blogging about Richard Armitage, I’m teaching an aesthetics class this summer.  One of the challenges with a class of this type is empowering students to realize that art, in all of its forms is an exceptionally subjective thing.  Discussions early in the term often start out with “X is beautiful, Y is not.” By the end of the class though, many students are able to make a critical adjustment to that statement and say, “X is beautiful to me because….”  or “Y is not to my taste, but the artistry of the work is clear.”  That recognition is a win for me in the classroom.  One thing that has always bothered me about some veins of art history is the persistent tendency to criticize the art of one period in comparison to that of the previous or subsequent period.  The art of the Hellenistic (~330-30 BCE) period has often been maligned as overblown and theatrical in comparison to the more serene stylings of the fifth century.  There is no question that Hellenistic art is much more emotionally evocative and dramatic in its impact, but that is the reason that I love it.  While I can appreciate its artistry,  fifth century sculpture, with its rigid adherence to canon and almost cookie cutter similarity of faces, leaves me largely unmoved.  By contrast,  the dynamic motion and emotion captured by Hellenistic artists has always struck a cord with me.  Looking at these works, the viewer can see unique individuals rather than canonized perfection.

The Boxer at Rest discussed here also, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.  This is not a sculpture of a perfect model, but one who shows the wear and tear of his profession, a nose that’s been broken, the characteristic “cauliflower” ear.   The tilt of his head and the angle of his brow make him appear to be looking up in questioning response to something.  There is a weariness about him that suggests he’s just finished a bout (he is also still wearing his gloves).  When I assess the look on his face, I’ve thought he looks as if someone has just asked him to fight again…”What?  You want me to fight now?  *sigh*.”  It is the sum of all his imperfections and the emotion conveyed by his face that I find so compelling.  He is unique.

  (His eyes would have been filled in with paste…see here for an example)

Detail of Head (image is flipped for comparison) "Boxer at Rest" Museo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.  Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

Detail of Head (image is flipped for comparison)
“Boxer at Rest”
Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055.
Lent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the Republic of Italy, 2013

I think this particular aesthetic of mine may be a part of the reason that I find Richard Armitage so physically appealing.  There is nothing cookie cutter about him.   Like the boxer, his nose and his ears are characteristic features…individual, unique.   The moment of portrait is quite similar as he looks up, his forehead creased, brows raised as if to ask, “What next? *sigh*.”  Of course it’s impossible to tell if this look was deliberately crafted for what is a decidedly artistic shoot, aimed at a particular result, but that is how it spoke to me.  There is also a certain weariness around his eyes and the slightly opened mouth that reminds me of the Boxer too.  It’s an evocative image that would fit well within the Hellenistic aesthetic.    ὅ παῖς καλός!

Richard Armitage at work...looking up a bit askance. Fault Magazine 2012 Source:  richardarmitagenet.com

Richard Armitage at work…looking up a bit askance.
Fault Magazine 2012
Source: richardarmitagenet.com

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33 comments on “ὅ παῖς καλός – Richard Armitage and the Boxer at Rest: Unique Beauty

  1. perry322 says:

    It is so true that Richard Armitage ‘s beauty is unique. I love his nose even though it’s a bit long and sometimes, in certain angels and lighting it looks ever so slightly hooked, but not the other times. His ears are pointed from certain angels and not from others. Some have found his mouth to be flawed. Sometimes people who are not handsome can still be sexy and attractive despite their flaws based on their carriage,demeanor,etc.. But I think Richard Armitage is unique because even with his flaws, he is stunningly beautiful.
    The boxer has beautiful eyes and a nice mouth, with a top lip shaped similar to Armitage.

    • obscura says:

      “Perfect” is such an illusion. Put together all the pieces here and add the sort of inner light that seems to illuminate/animate and the effect is stunning.

      That lovely Cupid’s bow lip is a nice addition 🙂

  2. guylty says:

    Those two pictures work so well beside each other. Amazing! Although can only be coincidence that Armitage seems to be copying the Boxer. And yet, the little imaginary stream of consciousness that you invented for the Boxer seems to be (almost verbatim) applicable to RA. Just replace “fight” with “pose”…
    I loved your excursion into the Greek art periods and how you explain its different shortcomings and successes. Also, how you refer to your experience as an art history teacher in reference to “good” and “bad” art, or the subjectivity of art/judgment of art. Coming to the realization that you describe, is one of the eye-openers on the path to growing up. It applies to all if life, well, almost. Thanks for a great lesson!!

    • obscura says:

      I think perhaps what we have here is two artists – with expressive subjects 🙂 – a sculptor and a photographer who have caught a rather timeless human expression of weariness bordering on exasperation. I wish the Boxer’s paste eyes had survived so we could see if they too were rolled skyward.

      What rather alarms me about this class is that these are non traditional adult students whose cultural fluency is very limited. I don’t expect them to necessarily know Rembrandt from Renoir, but by this point in life I would expect a bit more recognition of the subjectivity of own responses…baby steps.

      • guylty says:

        Ooops, adults? I think you are putting it very delicately with “cultural fluency” :-). Well, some people may need longer.

        • obscura says:

          I think about this a lot…I know that I’ve had opportunities that a lot of people haven’t. I’ve seen The David in Florence and the Cistine Chapel and Pieta in Rome, I’ve see a production of Sophocles’ Antigone in the Greek theater at Epidauros and walked around the Parthenon (and up to it…I’ve determined I have no need to climb the Acropolis again…been there, done that! (like 10X) ). I’ve also been to sites all over the US since my family has always travelled (Cahokia, Jamestown, The Mayflower, Gettysburg, etcetera, etcetera…blah, blah) I don’t expect that students will have done all of this – much of it was done in pursuit of degrees in the Humanities, but the thing that really bugs me is that they lack any real curiosity about anything. In the digital age, you can Google virtually any artpiece and find a digital image that will give you more detail than you can get standing the requisite 2 feet from it in a museum or pull up an opera, symphony or dramatic play on YouTube and stream it on your ginormous TV in surround sound in your living room…accessibility is not the issue – more apathy I’d say. It’s sad really… 😥

          • obscura says:

            PS…I thought it might sound harsh if I referred to them as “cultural troglodytes”…

          • katie70 says:

            I would think or it seems with friends of ours is that people tend to take there children somewhere “fun” like water parks (the Dells anyone) or places where there are other types of rides and forget about museums. We like to go even if it is for a day trip to a museum, the boys have never thought they where missing out on anything and are learning something while having fun. They also think the History Channel is great. This weekend son2 is visiting with his bf family who now live in ND, they are taking him to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands. Since I have never been there I can wait for a full report from him when he gets home and his pictures.

          • obscura says:

            We did the “fun” stuff too…fairs, amusement parks, etc., but almost no trip went without some historical site or something of the like. Maybe my parents were just indulging their intellectual child from time to time. My sister was dragged through more than her fair share of living history sites :). (But on the tip side, I’ve been to a lot of zoos and aquariums!)

            South Dakota is incredible – I loved the Badlands…I’d like to go back when the Crazy Horse monument is finished.

          • Servetus says:

            Yeah, we also did some fun stuff (although it sounds like less fun stuff than you — maybe because my parents have never really learned to have that kind of fun). But we also saw a lot of historical sites, museums, and natural wonders.

          • obscura says:

            Wellll, we usually went to fairs to watch my uncle in the sulky races…I would gaze longingly at the midway from the Grandstand, but I always managed to work a corn dog out of my parents :).

          • katie70 says:

            I guess I missed out on most fun as a child. No fun parks , museums nothing. My parents would go down to Janesville 3 or 4 times a years so that my dad could get timber to make ax handles. I counted myself lucky to have gotten to go out to eat on those trips. The only time I ever got to go to the fair was with friends of my parents children and the couple years I was in 4H. I have never even rode on a ride as I have been to scared too. My parents really didn’t let me do much, not sure why.

          • obscura says:

            It sounds like you do lots of fun stuff with your own kids…BTW, it’d never too late to ride the Ferris Wheel 🙂

  3. Misha says:

    Imperfections to me are perfect. It means you have lived a full life and you are not ashamed of it. It is also amazing how close of a resemblance there is between Richard and the Boxer.

    • obscura says:

      Very true…I have found a lot of visual similarity. It seems Richard Armitage has a classical look – although I guess it would be Hellenistic in this case 🙂

  4. katie70 says:

    I think that we have subjected to much to what people think is perfect and they try to make the rest of us only see it that way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what I find is beautiful I don’t expect anyone else too. That goes for Richard also, maybe why I don’t talk about him in RL unless my family hears it.

    Wow it is like the photographer had The Boxer in mind when she did this photo. I also think there is a lot us that would say that Richard has both an outer and inner beauty. After all no one is perfect.

    • obscura says:

      I am inherently suspicious of things/people that appear to be perfect – “If it looks too good to be true…” There is so much more character in a face that has flaws, and I love that Richard Armitage has such an expressive face…and subtly so too.

      It is a pretty striking similarity of composition isn’t it?

  5. Servetus says:

    Great metaphor here!

    This is a lot of what I’ve been trying to say about fashion lately (and been misunderstood about). The fact that I may not like something Armitage wears doesn’t make it a bad thing or even a poor exemplar of that thing. (Of course, it may also be bad on the merits — but there’s a difference between personal, uninformed taste, and recognition of artistry that one may or may not like.)

    There’s a debate going on in a few corners of our blogosphere off and on about how developing taste=snobbery that really frustrates me that has similar tones …

    on the “uninformed” thing — I think katie70 is right. You and I both happened to have parents and atmospheres that encouraged cultivation (even if they weren’t highly cultivated themselves in all cases, they had that as a value). There’s a big chunk of the people who live where we grow up who are all about fun in their free time and would see cultivation as work.

    • obscura says:

      The subjectivity issue is one that seems to have a rather long learning curve… I don’t comprehend how personal taste equates to snobbery, unless an individual persistently maintains that his/her personal taste is “right” and everyone else is wrong…but that would be silly right?

      Yeah, “you went to Abraham Lincoln’s house? Why? We went to Great America.” If I had a quarter for those conversations of my youth :).

      • Servetus says:

        Wow, did we have a conversation about that? We did that one summer. Exactly that. Springfield IL + Great America.

        • obscura says:

          We were actually in Springfield for a horse show..another uncle bred and showed Morgan Horses. I think only my mom has been to Great America…my dad does Bay Beach though…I distinctly recall riding the train with him 🙂

  6. marieastra8 says:

    I grew up in a working class neighborhood where earning a living for your family mattered more than education/culture. I was very lucky that I had two teachers that got together and picked a few of us who were interested to have an after school “Culture Class”! We studied Romeo & Juliet by comparing it to West Side Story, and we also listened to classical music. I was very lucky because I would not have been exposed to Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky otherwise. But it was important to me because I WANTED DESPERATELY to learn about it. Unlike the people in your class, apparently.

    LOVE your comparisons of Armitage to classical art, Obscura! I learn something and get to stare at Armitage too. 😀

    • obscura says:

      I don’t know what it is in the past in a few years, but it seems harder and harder to interest students in a meaningful way…the desire to learn is key, and many I intersect with see education/culture as a means to an end more than as something of intrinsic value….it may be different at other institutions. I really hope it is!

      I am having such fun connecting the dots between the two ( lol…an “academic” reason to peruses dozens of images of my muse 😉 )

      • marieastra8 says:

        Sad to say, but we’ve seen this coming for a long time. The desire to learn about the past has become rare, unfortunately. It is not forgotten though. My niece is very interested in those connections and learning about the past. Hope she is not alone! LOL

        • obscura says:

          If it were only disinterest in the past, I could deal with it…mainstream interest in my major field of study ebbs and flows, but the apathy seems extend to almost all topics…some really hard cases couldn’t even be coaxed into interest in a history of sex class…seriously, what 20 year old is disinterested in sex? But on the other hand, I just finished a non major class on Rome that came up with insightful, unsolicited questions everyday. Sometimes its just the demographic I think.

  7. […] really rare right?  This exhibit has a good percentage of those currently extant…including a fave of mine.) when I came across a bronze I’d never seen […]

  8. […] Izvor: Ancient Armitage […]

  9. […] I thought about a theme that involved stunt-driving, but ultimately I got my inspiration from this post on Obscura’s blog, Ancient Armitage, where she discussed her appreciation for the art of […]

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