πτοιώδης καὶ ὑποδύσκολος: Richard Armitage plays shy and awkward…

I should be grading some papers right now, so of course I’m writing a blog post…it has to be brief though, those students might revolt if I don’t have their papers tonight!

Fortunately, I have just the thing…When I was at the Art Institute of Chicago last fall, moving through the Of Gods and Glamour:  The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman and Byzantine Art, the raison d’etre of that pilgrimage to Chicago,  I noticed this vase:

Attic Red Figure Hydria attributed to the Leningrad Painter - mid 5th century BC

Attic Red Figure Hydria attributed to the Leningrad Painter – mid 5th century BC

(This is a photo that I shot and I apologize for the glare in some spots…the high gloss fire of the slip along with the curve of the vase and the halogen spots in the exhibit was not a winning photographic combo.)

This is a  beautifully preserved vase dating to the period when Athens was reaching the height of its political and cultural influence.  The central couple was what really caught my eye…a couple who appear to be engaged in a rather shy kiss between a woman and much taller man.  His left arm is around her waist, his right appearing to hang awkwardly between them as he stoops over.

At face value, this scene reminded me very much of the body language used by Richard Armitage in his role as John Standring in Sparkhouse (BBC, 2002).

Wow, this is awkward...(John Standring and Carol Bolton on their wedding night)

Wow, this is awkward…(John Standring and Carol Bolton on their wedding night)

Richard Armitage does a great job embodying the shy awkwardness of John Standring as he interacts with a much smaller, but much more worldy Carol Bolton (Sarah Smart).  His hesitance, his great care to measure his movements towards her, his willingness to let her take the lead, sits in touching contrast to his much larger physical presence.  (I got the impression he would have stood in that stairwell all night had she not taken his hand to lead him up the stairs.)  This is one of my favorite things about Richard Armitage, how he uses tiny cues to make himself believably vulnerable despite his imposing physicality.

Close up...what is that hand actually doing?

Close up…what is that hand actually doing?

For all that I appreciate the superficial similarity of scene, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that hesitance and shyness is probably not the intended tone of this vase painting.  Yes, this is a much taller man bending to reach a shorter partner, but the difference really lies in how one “reads” that sort of awkwardly hanging right arm.  Without prior knowledge, it is easy to interpret this as an inexperienced young man who’s not quite sure where to put his parts during this embrace…that is a possible reading, but it would be unusual to see such a scene in the Corpus Vasorum (yes, that is an actual term 🙂  )  In fact, that arm is most often read by scholars as cupping toward her crotch…so much for shy and awkward!

I can’t for the life of me see “Sweetie John” moving in for the full frontal grope!  Although…..who knows, Carol might have made a lot of different choices if he had 😉

20 comments on “πτοιώδης καὶ ὑποδύσκολος: Richard Armitage plays shy and awkward…

  1. Servetus says:

    Those Greeks!

    This is one of my absolute favorite scenes in the Armitage oeuvre — the way he nervously clasps and unclasps his hand just at the point you’ve capped.

    • obscura says:

      Greek Cheek!

      It’s just those little things (I suppose I’ll need to learn to make gifs now!) that make JS’s emotional vulnerability so believable for me…despite the fact that he could clearly overpower her at anytime.

  2. jazzbaby1 says:

    A couple of fanfic writers have kind of helped JS find his, um, inner Greek.

  3. Lovely post! John Standring’s sweet shyness as a lover always makes me sighhhh.

    • P.S. Love the AIC! My hubby and I used to visit Chicago and go there annually. We need to get back into that habit.

      • obscura says:

        Me too…I kind of alternate going to the Field Museum and the AIC. I really need to take a few days and take my kids so we can go to the Shedd Aquarium and the museums…my daughter is finally to an age where I think she can manage it with out making the rest of us crazy 🙂

        • And don’t forget the Field Museum. Love getting lost in there. The last time we went, the niece & nephew were grade school age and Trex Sue was just being put on display–the head. Ha! But they loved the microscopic world.

          • obscura says:

            Love the field…I can spend hours in the gem and mineral rooms, and they have an excellent Egyptian exhibit. Chicago tourism boars should be giving us royalties 😉

    • obscura says:

      Thanks! I agree…RA does such a beautiful job bringing that character to life in a really touching way.

  4. Perry says:

    Another astute observation. I’m wondering now whether you affirmatively look for the RA connection while you’re also concentrating on your normal artistic interest – because you always find the most perfect connection.

    • obscura says:

      Initially, I was looking through vases and themes that I was familiar with, specifically to find connections, and I still do that, but this one (and a couple of others – The Boxer was one, and my avatar another) came along much more organically. I’ll be cruising through an exhibit (I have said before that I am a terrible example of how to visit a museum, given my profession) and notice something that catches my eye and evokes an Armitage connection…Et voilà 🙂

      • Perry says:

        Why are you a terrible example of how to visit a museum ( as a classics person/) Should you be zeroing in on things you’ve targeted instead of “cruising?” If so, then maybe you would miss some gem. The Boxer was every so perfect, but also, the athlete resting (Porter)

        • obscura says:

          I think, in part, I get overloaded with data in big museums (the same thing happens to me in bookstores…I have this “deer in headlights” moment where I completely space what I was looking for)

          I’m also not a big fan of the audio tours and being herded through the way the exhibit designers dictate. At big traveling exhibits…where one can hardly avoid the herding, I might exhibit visible signs of impatience when being impeded by the person in front of me who’s now spent 8 minutes listening to a dissertation about Cleopatra’s toenail clippings…when I just really want a quick peek at the seal ring that’s in the same case 😉

          • Perry says:

            These days when I go to a Museum, I go very focused for what I came to see. Then, if I have the energy ( museum’s really tire me out), I’ll walk around and browse. The crowds for the special exhibits are really too much.

  5. guylty says:

    It’s positively scary how easy it comes to us these days to make connections to the RA oeuvre or the man himself in things that are entirely unrelated :-D. I applaud! And I am once again floored by the in-your-face sexuality of the Ancients. Is the hand groping for the groin a trope that regularly crops up in Greek art? And where would a vase like this have been displayed/used?

    • obscura says:

      IKR?!! 😀

      Overt sexuality is pretty common in Greek vase painting, but in my experience, it’s usually more confined to a specific class of vessel shapes…particularly those associated with the male centered symposium and wine drinking…the kylix in particular.

      This vessel, a hydria, is a water carrying vessel which would typically have a much more domestic function, so the scene is kind of out of context for me.

      I haven’t checked the provenance, but given it’s condition and the fact that was gifted to the AIC from a private collection, my guess is that it was found in an Etruscan tomb…it may have been produced specifically for export, and the scene certainly would not have given pause to the Etruscans either 🙂

  6. […] Obscura serves up some Antique John S […]

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