ὅ παῖς καλός: Power and Pathos (and a sprinkle of Richard Armitage)

If you’ve been scrolling around the neighborhood of late, you’d be hard pressed to miss mentions of how Richard Armitage is knocking it out of the park as Francis Dolarhyde on NBC’s Hannibal.  I don’t really have more to add to the general Hannibal discussion, but I will be tapping on a few Hannibal images hereinnothing gory, but there is quite likely to be quite a bit of skin. (Tattooed or otherwise…)

Before I get to the main event though, I thought I might also revisit an issue that I brought up way back when in the infancy of Ancient Armitage…artistic nudity.  In this link to my 3rd blog post, I pointed out that nudity figures heavily in the art of the ancient world, that it will appear here frequently, and that is that.  I think at this point, I can openly point to a fact that I was thinking at the time…namely, artistic nudity on the part of Richard Armitage is also fair game for discussion.

Back in the day (I’m trying that out…it’s a favorite of my students…I’m not sold) there were heated discussions about how it was disrespectful or voyeuristic or objectifying or whatever pejorative adjective fit the tone of the day to comment at any length (or at all) on Richard Armitage’s on screen nudity.  I haven’t seen much of this since some poo-pooing about a few comments made about the shirtless bit in The Crucible, but given the amount of nudity in his portrayal of Francis Dolarhyde, I think it is safe to say once and for all, that Richard Armitage is not particularly bothered by appearing nude on screen…perhaps apart from a desire to look his best…and he is very well aware that everyone can see him.  That is…he accepts and embraces that in some roles, his body, with or without clothing, is a potent part of his art form.  We’re not talking about personal pictures taken with a long lens through the blinds of his home…we’re talking about displays which are part of a larger context of public performances…ie he knows he’s nude, he knows people are watching.  Moreover, as a performer, he *hopes* people are watching.

By incorporating it as an artistic element, his body, how it looks, how it moves, how it evokes, is as much a part of his performance as his voice or his facial expressions, and as such is open for discussion as far as I’m concerned.  Although it certainly happens from time to time, and I’m not convinced that this is earth shattering in any way, discussions on the topic are not by definition prurient, disrespectful, objectifying, voyeuristic or whatever.  So there you have it.  If discussions that possibly touch on Richard Armitage au naturel are not your thing, that’s fine too…

Close the window and carry on...

Close the window and carry on…

Now that the preamble is on the books, let’s get to the good stuff!

You can see it yourself: J. Paul Getty Museum in LA from July 28 - November 1 National Gallery of Art - DC from December 13, 2015 - March 20, 2016

You can see it yourself:
J. Paul Getty Museum in LA from July 28 – November 1
National Gallery of Art – DC from December 13, 2015 – March 20, 2016

I was scrolling through the image gallery of this incredible exhibit…(I’ve mentioned that ancient bronzes are 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 before…

The Vienna or Ephesos Apoxyomenos (scraper) Source

The Vienna or Ephesos Apoxyomenos (scraper)

Isn’t he spectacular?   If you look closely, you can see even more amazingly, that he’s been painstakingly reconstructed from the hundreds of tiny pieces that he was found in at Ephesus, Turkey in 1896.  He is of a type of sculpture known as an Apoxyomenos or scraper….a nude athlete who is in the act of scraping the dirt and sweat from his body using an implement called a strigil (lost from his hands)  At 193 cm (6’3″) he is described as being slightly over life size in ancient terms.  I could not help but notice that he is pretty much exactly life size in comparison to a certain nearly naked someone.

Hannibal S3 "The Woman Clothed by the Sun" Source

Hannibal S3 “The Woman Clothed by the Sun”

I love how he’s even nicely positioned himself in almost the same way as the Apoxyomenos…it makes 1:1 comparisons ever so much easier!  (Thanks to jholland for having just the right screen cap for me to borrow!!)  Broad shoulders, defined deltoids and biceps, sculpted pectorals, taut, but not quite six-pack abdomen, lean waist, long, long, lean legs, more heavily muscled at the thigh than the calf…(I cannot speak to the bits covered by cloth here…)  It’s a striking physical similarity.  Francis Dolarhyde, as written by Tom Harris and portrayed by Richard Armitage is a fitness buff…a man who pushes the physical limitations of his body to build its strength and power.  The art historical discussions of the Apoxymenos have identified his body as most similar to that of an ancient boxer…another powerful physique.

As striking as the comparisons of physicality between the two are, that isn’t what first drew my attention.  In fact, the image from the exhibit catalog that first caught my eye was a detail of the head

This chin down, eyes down pose is one that has hit me in the feels before…what is he thinking about?

Chin up Francis... Source

Chin up Francis…

This is also a position that Richard Armitage uses to great effect in both print and film media.  It silently communicates pensiveness, contemplation, perhaps hesitance?  There are scenes, especially those with Reba in E10 where this pose is used with heart wrenching success.  All in all, I find a whole lot to compare between these two works of art.

Still don’t see it?

side by side

How about now?

ὅ παῖς καλός!


16 comments on “ὅ παῖς καλός: Power and Pathos (and a sprinkle of Richard Armitage)

  1. jholland says:

    ROFL at the Apoxyomenos in boxer briefs! I never imagined that my edit could be so…usefully instructive! LOL

  2. jazzbaby1 says:

    Wow, what a gorgeous sculpture!

  3. Servetus says:

    contrapposto for the win!

  4. sparkhouse1 says:

    Learning is such fun!

  5. linnetmoss says:

    The resemblance is striking! That’s why I have proposed that Richard play Zeus. I’d like to see an attempt to film the Iliad that actually includes the gods. Hollywood seems unable to do this without a huge camp factor, and maybe it is indeed unfilmable. But he has the perfect body for it. All he needs is a full beard and a thunderbolt.

    • obscura says:

      He really does….We’ve talked about this Homeric dream here before. I love to think about it,but I’ve pretty much given up on Hollywood finding the restraint to do a mythological story without completely either butchering the plot lint (yes Wolfgang Peterson, I’m looking at you.) or going to the far west of campy (Clash of the Titans (1981) gloriously campy or Clash of the Titans (2012) thinks better CGI somehow makes it more serious).

      Dum spiro spero…

      • linnetmoss says:

        Exactly. We are stuck either with ultra-camp or with 300-style fake CGI creatures. Maybe the gods are too difficult for the modern mind to take seriously? But I think if they stuck to the text, they would end up with something quite postmodern!

  6. Guylty says:

    First of all congratulations on the use of the word “potent” in the context of art. Masterful 😀 But seriously – I really enjoyed your argument for open discussion of nudity within art. You wrote that so well, I’d like to have that printed on a sign and screwed to the side-bar of my blog. (Not that I write about nudity much – it was simply a pleasure to read. Besides, I only watch nudity for the plot.)
    Ad res – what an amazing resemblance. I was particularly drawn to the sloping shoulder muscles on both specimen, metallic and flesh. There is something so touchingly beautiful about the symmetry of human bodies – the pairs of shoulders, arms, legs, nipples, breasts; the even-numbered pecs and fingers and toes. The oldies in ancient times had it sussed – the human body is worthy of admiration.
    Short comment on the pose of the head: yes, so much is communicated with that, at least by Armitage. It helps that he has a graceful neck, of course, but it always thrills me how a simple gesture can communicate so many different things – submission, frustration, grief, humiliation, humility, fear, secrecy, avoidance, ignorance. Well, I guess it’s part of the context. But Armitage seems to get those natural gestures so right, he must be a) very self-aware and b) a good observer.

    • obscura says:

      I just felt like I needed to go explicitly on record about it…if people have a problem with Richard Armitage’s decisions to appear in roles with nudity, they should take it up with him. To me it’s simply silly to watch the performances, but studiously avoid discussing the “elephant in the room.”

      I “oh’d” when I saw the head and shoulders, and then I “oof’d” when I saw the whole piece…I agree – the human body, in all of it’s forms, is a work of art worthy of study and admiration.

      One thing that is so devastating to me about his performances is the sum of all those micro gestures rolled together so smoothly. I wouldn’t want to ruin the illusion, but I do sometimes wonder if he can do that repeatedly, or if it takes a few takes for just the right synergy to emerge.

  7. Hariclea says:

    That bronze is stunning!!! How extraordinary that they managed to find the pieces to recompose it so beautifully… very very lucky! So envious that is there to be seen live.. sigh..
    I didn’t know this but the moment i saw that cap my mind just kept saying Adonis every time i even thought about it. The sheer physical composition is just so beautiful, you know in an almost non-drooly way.. the way i just couldn’t stop waling around David and marvelling and so many other statues, the way i can’t stop looking at a Rodin. Such such beauty! I guess unconsciously my mind just loves the perfect proportions and symmetry of it 😉 Even if i could i wouldn’t change a thing.
    Nothing wrong with looking at and admiring something that is just so pleasing to the eye 🙂 Nature or whatever it is sometimes gets it so stunningly right. And they way they filmed it in soft, almost dark lighting just complimented it.

    And yes the semi bowed head and the nearly closed eyes.. reminds me always of that Crucible poster and especially in profile those versions of pensative poses just hit me like a brick.
    I also have the same curiosity about how he gets that infinity of emotions on his face with such precision and such variety.. does he exercise, does it come from feelings and just happens? Sometimes i’d love to know but other times i think i really want to preserve the mystery and magic of it and think it is just him and full stop 🙂
    Breathtaking post 🙂

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