Apoxyomenos (athlete with a scraper)

Roman Art 

2nd century AD 
h. 193 cm
Inv. 1914 n. 100 

 

Inventory and materials: Inv. no. 100. Medium-grain Greek marble; Italian marble additions, with slight grey grain.

 

Size: Different heights have been given for the statue, ranging from 1.905 to 1.94 m, but scholars with more direct interaction with the sculpture have set it at 1.93 m. These oscillations are not surprising, since the surface of the plinth is not perfectly flat. The comparison between the statue in the Uffizi and the bronze copies found at Ephesus (height 1.925 m) and on the island of Lussino (h 1.92 m). The distance between the right nipple and the navel is 0.245 m, both on the Florence statue and the two bronze copies; the distance between the left nipple and the navel on the Athlete in the Uffizi measures 0.265, and on both the Vienna and Lussino copies, it is 0.285 m. The distance between the inner ankles, which on the Florence statue is 0.195 m, is 0.155 m on the Vienna statue, and 0.175 on the Lussino one. On the Viennese copy, this distance has been reconstructed by restorers and is therefore, hypothetical; on the Lussino statue, the legs have undergone some slight damage but the distance between the ankles is reflected on the bronze plinth or rather, in the prints conserved on the top side, making it likely that this is the measurement closest to the archetype. On the Florentine copy, the greater distance between the feet can be explained by the weight of the statue, which is sculpted in marble, and by the need to increase its stability.

 

Origin and history in the collection: The statue, which probably arrived from Rome in the mid-16th century, is currently on display in the first corridor of the Uffizi Galleries, where it arrived during the period of the Gallery creation, after being displayed in the Nicchie Room in Pitti Palace. Its presence was recorded in the Gallery inventories and there is no record of its movements. On the plinth and support it is still possible to read the following numbers: a 4 in dark red paint (inv. 1753), a 37 in purple paint (inv. 1769); a 131 in red paint (inv. 1825); a 100 in black paint (inv. 1914).

 

Drawings and etchings: There are no known drawings of the Athlete with a Scraper, knowledge of which was first guaranteed by engravings, such as the ones published by Gori, David and Zannoni. For the scientific world, the possibility to appreciate its qualities was made easier by the reproduction of the statue in important publications dedicated to the traditional plastic arts.

 

Conservation and restoration: The statue is generally well preserved. Some cracks, which can be seen on the body of the Athlete, may have occurred during the numerous transportations it has undergone in modern times. Although some have said differently, the face seems to be more or less intact. On the hair, in the area between the short locks over the forehead and the more substantial ones at the top of the head, there is a rectangular recess, directed crossways and slightly shifted towards the right side of the face. The recess, which is about 2 cm deep, is about 3 cm long and about 2.1 cm wide. According to Amelung, it probably served to set a winner’s crown, probably in metal. Regarding this, he mentioned a gem with the engraving of an athlete with scraper, a crown on the right and a vase, with palm leaf underneath that.

The upper arms are old as far as the elbows and guided the 16th-century restorers in deciding the angle of the forearms, both modern and applied using flat joints. The marble vase, held between the hands, is put together from several pieces, some of which, according to Mansuelli, are old, although this is definitely not the case for the long neck, which has been made in the same marble as the forearms. The ribbed body of the vase, carved from a single piece of fine-grain white marble, could be ancient but it is not linked to the statue. On the bottom end, there is no foot, evidently lost and replaced by a shapeless disc connecting it to the left hand. According to Bloch the genitals and plinth - also considered modern by Dütschke - are restorations, but this is not exactly true. The penis has been applied and may be modern, but the same cannot be said for the remainder. The palm trunk, worked only on the front, is one piece with the right leg and the plinth: the three parts are therefore considered as from antiquity. Both ankles have a hairline crack that runs a little above the nut of the foot, although it does not seem to have caused any genuine break. Clearer breaks can be seen over the left upper arm (halfway along the bicep) and the attachment of the legs, passing above the pubic hair, the top edge of which may have been evened out in modern times. The outer side of the left thigh has a rectangular area that is lighter in colour, which marks the attachment of an old prop, made to support the left wrist. The prop was eliminated when the restorer decided to move the hand lower, which required a new prop that rests on the front of the left thigh. A similar prop supports the right arm, just before the elbow and, although it seems to have been reworked, it is probably old. The front of the big toe on the right foot has also been restored in part, while a small plug has been inserted into the outer side of the left food. On the top and right sides of the plinth, it has been cut along a curved line, perhaps to insert the statue into a niche.

The person in charge of the 16th-century restoration was probably inspired by ancient sources which spoke of the annointing of the athletes, connecting them to ampullae and strigils (Apul. Flor. 1, 9, 22-23). Knowledge of ancient competitions had increased, and not only thanks to treatises such as Girolamo Mercuriale’s work on ars gymnastica, published in 1549, and widely read and reprinted.

 

Analysis: The statue, depicting a naked athlete, is a copy of a bronze original that can be dated back to the mid-4th century BC, and has been attributed to a pupil of Polycletus. The subject is portrayed in the act of cleaning a strigil or more likely, of passing it over the back of his left hand. The athlete appears to be focused on his own actions, and draws the onlooker’s gaze towards the oval of his arms and the angle of his head. His bodyweight rests on the right leg from which a flow of energy rises and is channelled, at the height of the hands towards the left side of the body, on the side of the leg that touches the ground, but only on the front part of the foot. The elasticity of the pose is balanced by the architecture of the body, where broad shoulders and pectoral muscles top sleek long legs. The face does not abide by the traditional canons of the classical period, especially in terms of cheekbone length. It almost seems as if the artist wanted to give a face with the features of an adolescent to a developing body, which allowed the athlete to be a successful participant in boy’s competitions, in a difficult field, possibly boxing, as the slightly swollen ears would seem to suggest. The age limits of these bouts, reserved to athletes still to reach adult age, continue to be the subject of discussion: some think that they were open to athletes up to the age of 19, while others think that the upper age limit was 18 years. What is certain is that the winners would receive honours and celebrations. Suffice to mention Antipatrus of Miletus, youth boxing champion in 388 or 384 B.C. Dionysius I tried to corrupt him into saying he was from Syracuse, but on the statue’s engraving, carved by Polycletus II, said he was the first of the Ions to win in Olympia, where great honours were also received by Athenaeus of Ephysus, winner in the same competition, perhaps in 352 B.C. In this context, it may make sense that two of the bronze copies of the Athlete with a Scraper (that of Ephysus and the Nani head) appear to have been made in the same workshop, located in Asia Minor. Also worthy of note is the fact that Pliny (nat. hist. 34, 55) names an Apoxyomenos, by a Polycletus, which could be the younger one.

The existence of faithful copies in different materials (marble, basanite, bronze), accompanied by smaller versions and by variations, confirms in any case, that the original of the Athlete with a Scraper was a famous work from the classic period; its structure does not seem to have been touched by the quest for a more dynamic insertion of the figure in its space, which we can see in the Young man of Antikythera and the Apoxyomenos of Lisippo. In the Uffizi copy, some of the particular features on the face are smoother; even the hair is less analytical, especially on the top and back of the head. The shape of the eyes and the half-closed lips seem neat and elegant, while the modelled face has a sober classic yet elegant look that points to a period between 130 and 150 A.D. Confirmation of this comes from the palm trunk support of a type used in statues from the period.

 

Bibliography

Amelung 1897:  W. Amelung, Führer durch di Antiken in Florenz, München 1897.

Bloch 1892:  L. Bloch, Eine Athletenstatue der Uffizigalerie, RM, 7, 1892, pp. 81-105.

BrBr 1888 e ss.: H. Brunn, Denkmäler griechischer und römischer Skulptur, München 1888 e segg.

Curti 1988:  F. Curti, La primitiva esposizione di sculture antiche nella Galleria degli Uffizi : proposte di identificazione in Xenia, 16, 1988, pp. 115-124.

Daehner 2015: J. M. Daehner , Atleta (tipo dell’Apoxiomenos di Efeso), scheda in Potere e Pathos. Bronzi del mondo ellenistico, catalogo della mostra a cura di J. M. Daehner – K. Lapatin, Firenze 2015, pp. 278-279.

David 1798: F.A. David, Le Musée de Florence ou collection etc. grave par F. A. David avec explanation de F. W. Muhl, Paris 1798.

Dütschke 1878:  H. Dütschke, Antike Bildwerke in Oberitalien. Band III. Die antiken Marmorbildwerken der Uffizien in Florenz, Leipzig 1878, pp. 35-36 n. 72.

Furtwängler 1893:  A. Furtwängler, Meisterwerke der Griechischen Plastik, München 1893.

Gori 1734: A. F. Gori, Museum Florentinum exhibens insigniora vetustatis monumenta quae Florentiae sunt. Statuae antiquae deorum et virorum illustrium centum aereis tabulis incisae quae extant in thesauro Mediceo cum observationis Antonii Francisci Gorii, Firenze 1734.

Lippold 1950: G. Lippold, Die Griechische Plastik, Handbuch der Archäologie, III, 1, München 1950, p. 218.

Mansuelli 1958: G. Mansuelli, Galleria degli Uffizi. Le sculture, I, Roma 1958, pp. 59-60 n. 36.

Müthmann 1951: F. Müthmann, Statuenstützen und dekoratives Beiwerk an griechischen und römischen Bildwerken : ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der römischen Kopistentätigkeit, Heidelberg 1951.

Rausa 1994:  F. Rausa, L’immagine del vincitore. L’atleta nella statuaria greca dall’età arcaica all’ellenismo, Roma 1994, p. 210 n. 1.

Saladino 2003: V. Saladino, L’arredo statuario della Sala delle Nicchie, in Palazzo Pitti. La reggia rivelata, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti), a cura di D. Heikamp, Firenze 2003, pp. 129-137  

Saladino 2006: V. Saladino, The Uffizi Athlete, in Apoxiomenos. The Athlete from Croatia, cataologo della mostra a cura di M. Michelucci, Firenze 2006, pp. 52-53, figg. 32-33.

Zannoni 1824: G.B. Zannoni, Reale Galleria di Firenze Illustrata, serie IV, vol. III, Firenze 1824.

 

Apoxyomenos (atleta con lo strigile, Copia del I sec. d. C.) da un originale greco del IV sec. a. C. 
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Imagines è pubblicata a Firenze dalle Gallerie degli Uffizi. Direttore responsabile: Eike D. Schmidt. Redazione: Dipartimento di Comunicazione Digitale. ISSN 2533-2015
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Vincenzo Saladino
Imagines no. 2
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Research