Veni, Vidi, Vici Graecos

I’m happy to report that I was able to pull off a rapidly executed mini getaway to Chicago to catch The Greeks: From Agamemnon to Alexander the Great before it wrapped up its stay at the Field Museum.  I really try to stay away from special exhibits in the periods around when they open and when they close since there are usually throngs of people clustered around every display case at both of those times.  In addition to the end of run traffic, the museum was also teaming with ravaging hordes  school children on class trips last Friday.

Call me crabby, but as both a parent and an educator, when I manage to escape to a museum without my students or my own progeny in tow, I’m less than appreciative of other peoples’ kids showcase blocking me at every turn.  Psst…task #1 on the museum scavenger hunt exercise?  Be a considerate visitor and slow your roll Junior, lest you plow into someone and start an artifact toppling chain reaction.

Fortunately, for me at least, I’d previously seen a great deal of this material on display at various museums in Greece…AND (admittedly shameful habit for one such as I) I was not terribly interested in poring over the artifact labels at length while jockeying for position with a clutch of preteen boys next to the replica of an ancient voting machine!  Additionally, I tend to be most interested in the cases that the majority of people give only cursory attention.  In fact, my very favorite piece in the exhibit (which boasted the famed Mask of Agamemnon and an ornately rendered royal Macedonian gold crown) was in a case of less Iron Age grave goods.

fave snip

Isn’t it lovely…a dainty little 11th century amphoriskos that has definitely seen better days.  The ceramic analyst in me was crouched between the wall and the back of the case to get a better view the panels of chevrons and cross hatched diamonds that are characteristic features of a vase of this period….pottery only a mother could love 🙂

While my bestie wandered from case to case to see what there was to see, I found myself on a slightly different mission.  For the past three years or so, every time I’m in proximity to a collection of ancient Greek materials, I find myself looking for a certain profile amid the vases and reliefs.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of this picture! (NOPE...still not tired of it) Photo by Jay Brooks for The Crucible at The Old Vic

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this picture! (NOPE…still not tired of it)
Photo by Jay Brooks for The Crucible at The Old Vic

I didn’t find much of what I was looking for among the artifacts on display in this exhibit, but the search did inspire me to look around a bit when I got home.  I’ve talked before about my attraction to the head down, profile view portraits of Richard Armitage.  It is a pose that I find hauntingly familiar to a number of ancient pieces I’ve seen – particularly in the corpus of Greek painted pottery, but finding the specific vases has been rather elusive.  I was more successful today in finding similar profiles in sculptural examples, which, like the Chin Up examples, are generally rather somber in overall tone – not unlike the mood of the image or Richard Armitage as John Proctor I suppose.

warrior stele

This gorgeous piece, a grave marker, or stele, is Roman in date, but clearly re-creating several style elements of Classical sculpture of 5th century BC Athens.  the excessively muscular body is all Roman, but the beautifully down turned head has all the melancholy glory of it’s classical predecessors.

profiles 1

I found a comparison of the overall composition of the images pretty incredible.  The downcast chin and eyes, the beard, the long slope of the profile nose and angular planes of the face – all that’s missing is the helmet!

There are a number of similarly composed classical works that also measure up fairly well…

Here, from the East pediment of the Temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina, a fallen warrior leans heavily on his shield as the weight of injury and pain pull him toward the ground.

profiles 2

Given what we know of the lean, sinewy physique that lay under Proctor’s coat, the resemblance is even stronger.  (How is it that Richard Armitage has not yet inhabited the role of a Greek hero?!).

I even find quite a striking similarity in certain reliefs of the goddess Athena…

From the Athenian Acropolis, like her heroic compatriots…helmet tilted up, the mourning Athena leans heavily on her staff as she contemplates the grave stele in front of her.

profiles 3

Although a more feminine iteration, with her softly modeled cheeks and chin, the overall composition of mournful contemplation translates loud and clear.

I’ve yet to find the vase painting that started this whole quest, but the profile path is Rich indeed!




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!


It’s the most wonderful time of the year Richard Armitage…


No, no, no…not THAT  “wonderful time.”  It’s the wonderful time of the year when my Topics in Ancient History class gives their presentations on Pompeii and Herculaneum.  As always, the first topics snatched up were those relating to sexuality, brothels and prostitution.  I am currently on a countdown to when the famous Priapus fresco from Pompeii will make an appearance.   For those who have not met him, Priapus was a Roman deity associated with the harvest and fertility whose most marked attribute was his ithyphallic appearance.   The anticipation of running into Priapus and the subsequent student reaction to him is killing me! (my classroom pleasures on this level are few and far between…don’t judge me 😉  )

What makes it even better this term is that thanks to my RL Facebook feed, I can see that Priapus fresco and raise with this little gem…

Priapus de Rivery

Priapus de Rivery – Musee de Picardie, Amiens

This bronze piece, dating to first half of the first century CE,  was found in Rivery France in 1771, and is said to be the earliest known piece of Gallo-Roman art in the Musee de Picardie collection.  Pretty big statistics for such a little guy.  I’ve blown him up here to show his details.  (although I can’t find his actual dimensions, looking at images of him in situ in the museum case, I’d say he’s about 8-10″ (20-25cm) in height.)   Here Priapus is depicted wrapped up in a cucullus…a cloak with a hood of a variety that is apparently typical of Gaul (modern France).  I love the beautiful bits of patina on the piece and especially the detailed treatment of his feet and footwear.  (I have a thing for tiny bronze toes).  But speaking of his details, one seems to be noticeably absent doesn’t it?   A certain ithyphallic element seems to be missing.  Or is it…

priapus 2

Au contraire!  This Priapus doesn’t have a phallus…he IS a phallus.  Always models of efficiency, this Roman sculptor made a kind of two-in-one piece!  I know that I should look at this with the appropriate level of scholarly seriousness, but honestly…this amazing running phallus immediately calls to mind a fine summer tradition in Wisconsin –

The Klement's Sausage Races at Milwaukee's Miller Park

The Klement’s Sausage Races at Milwaukee’s Miller Park

*wiping tears of hilarity*  Ahem, yes.  Sorry.  Scholarly seeking of Richard Armitage in the Classical Tradition…right.   Thanks to today’s image from Pilgrimage, I have fresh material to work with…

priapus compare

The intense gaze, the Gallic garments, the “pointy” imagery of the heads…the mind does wander as to what’s under that hauberk.

All in a day’s work people, all in a day’s work   🙂

ContRApposto Richard Armitage?

I was digging through some pictures in my cleverly disguised Richard Armitage folder when I came across this one…a favorite despite the copious costume blood:

John Porter (Richard Armitage) Strikeback Behind the Scenes Source

John Porter (Richard Armitage) Strikeback Behind the Scenes

Look at Richard Armitage going all contrapposto!!

The art aficionados in the crowd will recognize this term as coming from the artistic tradition of the Italian Renaissance.  It translates loosely to “counterpose” and refers to the body position where the weight is shifted onto one leg, turning the upper body slightly off-axis from the hips and legs.  Overall, it is a position that produces a figure that looks immediately more relaxed.  contrappasto compare

Even though the Anavysos Kouros on the left is to be understood as stepping forward, he appears stiff and static when compared to the mature Renaissance contrapposto style of Michelangelo’s David on the right.  Although both of these pieces are sculpted in marble and obviously immobile, they serve to illustrate the other hallmark visual effect of contrapposto – implied movement.  It seems almost inevitable that David will eventually shift his weight to the opposite leg, while the kouros appears perpetually frozen mid-stride.

What is fascinating to me is that although nearly a millenium elapsed in style and time between David and the Anavysos Kouros, the earliest known example of contrapposto is much closer to the kouros tradition than the Renaissance one.  The Anavysos Kouros dates to around 530 BC.  Less than fifty years later, the Greeks would embrace a very different sculptural style in a piece called the Kritias Boy

The Kritias Boy is an enormously important piece of sculpture for a number of reasons…one of them being that he is the earliest known example of the contrapposto technique and as such, marks the transition between the Archaic and Classical styles of Greek sculpture.  His remarkable provenance provides secure evidence for a relatively narrow dating window for the emergence of this style in Greece. …

WARNING….short historical divergence imminent  3…..2…..1…..

The armies of the massive Persian Empire, led by Darius the First, invaded Greece in 490 BC in reprisal for what they considered  Athenian interference in Persian domestic affairs.  The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were scrambling.  It seemed almost inevitable that Persians’ vastly superior numerical advantage would win the day.  However, owing to strategic and tactical decisions made by the Athenian commander Miltiades, tiny Athens defeated the Persian force at Marathon which led to Darius’ retreat not long after.  

This was a humiliating, but only temporary setback to the Persians, who immediately started ten years of  planning for a massive land based invasion of the Greek mainland which would eventually be led by Darius’ son Xerxes.   When Xerxes marched into Greece in 480Bc, he had a massive ax to grind against the Greeks…especially the Athenians.  After the famous last stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae, Xerxes (who, contrary to his depiction in 300, was not a ten foot tall giant pierced in every possible point) marched swiftly to Athens where he sacked the abandoned city and burned it to the ground…the sacred precinct of the Acropolis included.

Located in the Acropolis Museum in Athens - my shot  (not the human figures for scale)

Kritias Boy – Located in the Acropolis Museum in Athens – my shot (note the human figures for scale)

And, we’re back.  Long story short, the united forces of the Greek poleis repelled this Persian invasion as well, and by 478 BC, all that was left was to clean up the Persians’ mess.  Here’s where the provenance of the Kritias Boy comes in.  All of the materials on the Acropolis were considered sacred objects, so before the Athenians could rebuild from the Persian destruction, the sacred objects needed to be properly disposed of.  This disposal took the form of a massive bothros, or sacred dump dug along the slopes of the Acropolis in which the sanctified materials were buried.  This provides a terminus ante quem (date before which) for the sculpture…that is, we know that he must date to before the Persian sack of Athens in 480 BC.  Stylistically, we also know, by comparing him to every other sculpture in the typology leading up to him, that he cannot date to much prior to 480 BC either.  It is pretty clear that he was installed on the Acropolis very shortly before the Persian sack.

The utilization of contrapposto is clear in the tilt of his hips and the subtle torsion of his upper body.  It is even more evident in the rear view

Kritias Boy Rear View Acropolis Museum Athens My Shot..(yep, I stood there and waited until people cleared out of my immediate frame so as not to distract...I'm patient that way!)

Kritias Boy Rear View
Acropolis Museum Athens
My Shot..(yep, I stood there and waited until people cleared out of my immediate frame so as not to distract…I’m patient that way!)

Here the shift of the weight onto one leg is obvious in the relative positioning of the buttocks.  We can also observe the very subtle “S” curve of the upper body.  In all, it is a much softer, much more naturalistic pose than what was popular in the Archaic period.  This style went on to become ubiquitous in subsequent periods.

John Porter in contrapposto above is not alone in the Armitage oeuvre.  I thought you might not object to a brief overview…but first, Guy of Gisborne illustrates “assuming” the contrapposto position:

Another John Porter favorite

porter contrapasto 1

Lucas North contrapposto from behind

So they're disguised in Lucas North's painted on can plainly see the point :)

Lucas is “wearing” John Porter’s thighs here…

The leather contrapposto stylings of Guy of Gisborne

gisborne contrappasto 1

And more recently, Richard Armitage himself at CinemaCon

Oh hello there... (Sorry...I cut everyone else out of the frame - to give the thigh is due!) Source

This is by no means an exhaustive list…you may have noticed that I’ve left out a spectacularly good example of Guy of Gisborne…or maybe you didn’t.  Can you find it?  Happy contrapposto hunting Armitageworld!

We interrupt the regularly scheduled Armitage Hour….

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been LOVING all of the intel coming in from people who’ve been seeing Richard Armitage in The Crucible in London, but I thought I might mix it up a bit (not to mention that I haven’t had the brain space to do that comparison between The Crucible and Greek Tragedy)  I’m returning to the familiar theme of showing you one of my favorite bits from the Classical Tradition…well, sort of, since these particular bits predate the classical world by at least two millennia.  But what the he$$…it’s all ancient to you right?!

"Canonical" Female Figurine Source

“Canonical” Female Figurine

The figurine above is one example of a large body of similar sculptures which come from the Cycladic Islands of the Aegean Sea.  They are known collectively as Cycladic Figurines.  Examples of this type date to the middle of the third millenium BC.  They are usually sculpted in local marbles and range in size from a few inches up to a few feet tall.  I’ve always been attracted to the minimalist, stylized nature of these pieces.  There is no doubt that they are meant to be understood as human figures, but the style leaves most of the details of the human form to the imagination.

Truthfully, a lot of our understanding of these figurines is rather murky.  The ones with known provenance were found largely in tombs, suggesting some sort of funerary function.  However, when mimimalism became vogue in the Western artistic aesthetic in the mid 20th century, these figurines became highly popular among collectors.  This popularity spurred a flourishing black market for the figurines which was supplied by looting.  Estimates are that 85% of the examples in museums today come from insecure contexts, and without this contextual information, we are unable to say much with certainty about these sculptures.

We can deduce a few things from the figurines themselves.  Like the example above, the majority of these figurines are female – the emphasis on the breasts and pubic area of the figures is clear.  In fact, earlier examples bear a striking resemblance to so called “Mother Figurines” like the “Venus” of Willendorf  which occur from the later Paleolithic throughout the Neolithic period.

Cycladic Source // "Venus" Source

Cycladic Source // “Venus” Source

The exaggerated physique with emphasis on the breasts, hips and pelvic area has long been hypothesized to indicated a connection to fertility and fecundity.  The Cycladic example is still heavily stylized, but the component parts are noticeably similar.   The later examples (like the one above) are even more stylized, but on a figurine that has so little detail, the breasts and a clearly indicated pubic region stand out.  This has led many scholars to hypothesize that like the earlier “Mother Goddesses,” many of the Cycladic figurines had some sort of fertility function.  It is a compelling argument, but of course in the absence of a written record or information from the original context, it is virtually impossible to say this, or anything else with much certainty about these enigmatic sculptures.

I’ve said that the majority of these figurines are clearly female, but there are some that are male.  Although a few of the male figurines are engaged in activities…there’s a harp player and a flute player…the majority of them take the typical crossed arm pose.

I’ve always loved these figurine… I’ve worn Cycladic head earrings, I’ve given replica Cycladic Figurines as gifts.  In a city littered with museums of ancient and modern art, the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art is one of my favorite haunts in Athens.  And thanks to Servetus, who noted what is now so clear to me, I have a new reason to love them – they bear a stylized resemblance to another favorite of mine,

Sir Guy of Crossed Arms S1 Source

Sir Guy of Crossed Arms S1

Sir Guy of Crossed Arms S3 Source

Sir Guy of Crossed Arms S3

Sir Guy, well you get my drift! Photo by Robert Ascroft

Sir Guy of…er, well you get my drift!
Photo by Robert Ascroft

I guess I’ve always had a thing for the long and lean…even in sculpture.  (There’s also a certain a beautifully angular shared facial feature.) 




Manus multae cor unum…

“Many hands, one heart…”

A similar photo of my parents on their wedding day inspired this shot...

A similar photo of my parents on their wedding day inspired this shot…

I have a bit of a thing for hands.  Whether pampered and manicured or weathered and work worn, I think they are beautiful, powerful, often evocative instruments…whether ancient, or not so ancient.

Royal Hands

Relief sculpture of the arachnodactylic (spider-like) hands of an Amarna Period royal

Relief sculpture of the arachnodactylic (spider-like) hands of an Amarna Period royal

Porter hands

Strikeback 1.3

Strong, yet delicate…Strikeback 1.3

Beautiful bronze hands

Detail from the Charioteer of Delphi

Detail from the Charioteer of Delphi

Talking Hands

TDOS Press Tour

TDOS Press Tour

Working Hands

Detail from "The Boxer"

Detail from “The Boxer”

Kissing Hands

North and if you could forget!

North and South…as if you could forget!

Can those really be marble?! hands

bernini hands

Bernini – Hades and Persephone

Tying Hands

Glamour December 2012

Glamour December 2012

Iconic Hand

Detail of David by Michaelangelo

Detail of David by Michaelangelo

I don’t really know why…I just like hands…



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:

Richard Armitage at work…looking up a bit askance.
Fault Magazine 2012