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 😉