Physical Perfection as embodied by the ‘Diadoumenos’

The statue of Diadoumenos, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, is a copy of a Greek bronze statue dating ca. 430 BCE made by the well-known Greek sculptor Polykleitos. The Metropolitan Museum’s Diadoumenos is a marble statue depicting a young man adorning his head with a fillet, or a band, which was common practice after a winning an athletic contest. This copy of Polykleitos’ masterpiece was created by an unknown Roman artist between 69-96 A.D. and stands approximately 73 inches tall. The statue is located in the Greek and Roman section of the Metropolitan Museum.

In this post, I will explain how Polykleitos idealizes human beauty by the use of ideal proportions of the human figure in the Diadoumenos.

When you take a close observation, you can notice that the most striking part of the statue is its face. In fact, the sculpture has rendered the Diadoumenos’ face expressionless.  This facial expression is in clear contradiction with its stature of winning athlete. The athlete is looking down as its avoiding any eye contact.  We are expecting the athlete to bear a celebrating facial expression or any emotional face that will express strength or victory over opponents.  In fact, the sculptor, by carving this emotionless face is sending us a clear message that he will be conveying a different message through this statue.

As we take another close look at the Diadoumenos’ face, we notice that his eyelids are sharply carved boarded by nicely carved lashes that are almost idealistic. The mouth of the athlete is straight with transverse incisions on the lower lip that add to its beauty.    The plane of the cheeks of the athlete is gently undulating and its chin is nicely dimpled.  As we can notice the athlete depicted in this sculpture is youthful.   All these facial features give an impression of rich harmony. At this point, we clearly understand that the sculpture is putting an emphasis on the idealistic facial beauty of the Diadoumenos by showing the harmonious proportion of its features.

The most important element of this statue is its posture. The athlete is in a free-standing position, therefore the figure does not need to lean against anything to hold itself up. By using this posture, Polykleitos allows the viewer to see the figure from multiple perspectives.  The Diadoumenos stands in contrapposto position. As a result, one part of the athlete figure is turned in opposition to another and it creates a type of counterbalance. The athlete body weight is on his right leg and it creates an idea of tension on his right side and relaxation on his left side.  This position makes it appear as if the figure has paused for a moment and is on the verge of stepping forward.  Standing this way, the body parts of the athletes are made more visible and seem to be in action.

The athlete’s right arm is lower than his left to overturn the bent leg on his left side and conversely. The Diaoumenos’ thorax and pelvis also lean in conflicting directions to set up a contrast in the torso.  We can clearly see that Polykleitos’ intention was to create a perfect harmony with this figure. In this sculpture, an emphasis is put on a mixture of relaxation and tension. The special attention, Polykleitos gives to the proportions of the body and the manner it stood conveys an idea of elegance.

When we take a close look at the carving of the body parts, can easily see that there are rendered in a naturalistic manner as they appear perfectly shaped. The body texture seems smooth as we can see that the athlete has no pilosity on its body.  The body parts are clearly visible.

Despite the inclination the athlete, one can see that his body can be divided into two perfectly symmetrical parts. The muscle of the right arm of the athlete is highlighted and expresses its masculinity. The chest of the athlete is perfectly highlighted with aesthetically rounded shapes. The thorax of the athlete is highlighted by pelvic lines which gives a sensual character to its body. The legs of the athlete are sculpted with great conciseness, which adds to their beauty. Both legs are perfectly identical in their texture despite their opposing position.

Instead of focusing on giving a facial expression to the Diadoumenos, Polykleitos focus instead on expressing beauty through the use of ideal proportions of the body. The effect of the Diadoumenos as a whole is undoubtedly harmonious.  By analyzing this statue, we find out that expressing the ideal beauty could be achieved by interpreting as an anatomically coherent entity with an emphasis on proportions.

Alexandre Koffi

Entrepreneur, space enthusiast, dreamer, cosmic messenger.

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