8.11.2010

Vessels - Greek Proportion and the Ideal


Vessels from All Things are Always Changing

Classical Greek sculpture defined the concept of the ideal which as been debated and examined ever since.


Greek sculpture encapsulate greek virtue of sophrosyne, or self knowledge characterized by a belief in inner retrain and denial of excess...it articulates a greater psychological presence.


According to Tom Flynn in The Body in Three Dimensions, the Greeks felt body proportion, balance and equilibrium to be the most elevated expressions of human life. Principles of rhythmos (composition) and symmetria (commensurability of parts) were grounded in mathematical proportions...and comprised the Canon of Polykleitos of Argos also Pheidias of Athens (450-430B.C. - high classical period). The Canon was appropriated in the renaissance by both Leonardo (in his Polykleitan Canon) and Michelangelo (in David).


Polykleitos, Spear Bearer/Doryphoros, ca. 4th century B.C.

an assortment of vitruvian men

Leon Battista Alberti (1404 – April 20, 1472)


Mirroring the Greeks, Italian renaissance architect, Leon Battista Alberti, defines " beauty to be a harmony of all the parts, in whatsoever subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered, but for the worse"-- a controlled relationship among the separate parts creates the ideal.

from Nathan Knobler, The Visual Dialogue


We were not the first to question the Greek ideal and proportions grounded in their sacred geometry.
We felt our proportions were based on our own biological geometry. Are they any less sacred or authoritative?


Like most visual artists we were seduced by the amazement of light falling on flesh achieved by the use of contrapposto.


Praxilites, Hermes, 4th century B.C.


We agreed with Rodin: the side view of the ancient Greek sculptures accommodated light streaming down their torsos and limbs, expressing reason and balance above all things.... from Art of Ancient Greece, Claude Laisne (p.185-6)


Alexandros of Antioch, Venus de Milo, ca. 130-100 B.C.


In the Hellenistic period, transgression had begun: Venus de Milo lost classical mathematical proportions and the provocative drape held up by her pubis was decadent.


Michelangelo, Slave, 1505-1547

In the later slave sculptures by Michelangelo hollow torsos celebrate the triumph of darkness and self-absorption.

Despite our proportional transgressions, Flynn encouraged us noting that "the body has moved into sharper focus as a theoretical tool for questioning structures of power, ideology, and identity across a range of visual materials....no longer an unchanging, biological fact, but as a historical and cultural category changing with prevailing social, political and economic forces. (p. 9)

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