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Charioteer of Delphi

Charioteer of Delphi, c. 478-474 B.C.E., bronze (lost wax cast) with silver, glass and copper inlay, 1.8 m high (Delphi Archaeological Museum)

Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker

Inscription on base:
"Dedicated by Polyzalus, younger brother of Gelon, tyrant of Gela and later of Syracuse, and of Hieron"

Uncovered in 1896 near the Temple of Apollo at Delphi .
Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: One of the most exceptional objects to have survived from antiquity in Delphi is the Charioteer. Dr. Harris: This figure was part of a very significant, expensive monument that included a team of horses and a groom. Now, chariot races were common at athletic competitions and there were athletic competitions that we all know about at Olympia, the Olympics. But there were also athletic competitions here, at the sanctuary at Delphi. Dr. Zucker: People would commemorate particular victories. This particular sculpture was commissioned by a King or a Tyrant from Sicily. Dr. Harris: There were Greek city states, or poleis in Sicily that competed in these games. Dr. Zucker: So you can imagine that when you would create an elaborate bronze sculpture like this that it was commemorating a particular victory, you were really showing off. This was a kind of trophy, and a very public one. Dr. Harris: Delphi was a place that all of the city states came to compete, and to honor, and make dedications to the God Apollo. Dr. Zucker: It's showing off not only because of what it represents, but because of what it's made out of. This is bronze which was a very expensive material. It's largely copper and a little bit of tin and this was cast, it's hollow. In fact, where the arm is missing and on the opposite side you can actually see how thin the bronze is. It still has glass paste eyes and it would have been inlaid with silver. There's tremendous workmanship here. Dr. Harris: The silver went around his headband and you can see very finely cut pieces of bronze that were used for his eyelashes. He seems remarkably life-like. What's interesting about this sculpture is that, here we are in what we call the Early Classical Period, sometimes referred to as the Severe Style. We have the beginnings of naturalism and what's interesting to me about this sculpture is that in some ways he's very life-like the way he turns his head, but at the same time we're seeing Contrapposto, but his body is very columnar. There's not a lot of sense of movement in his torso. Dr. Zucker: The moment that's being represented is not the moment of winning the race, it's not that kind of active moment. Instead, this is the moment of quiet victory afterwards. Dr. Harris: Not only that, the legs would not have been visible since they were in the chariot. Dr. Zucker: That might explain why it's attenuated. That is why the figures legs seem to be a bit too long, that's accentuated because the drape is belted very high above the waist. Dr. Harris: And look at those folds, they really remind us of the fluting of a Greek column and look at the way the drapery billows out above the belt. He's not strictly frontal, we might think about a Kouros figure, a male nude figure during the archaic period. Here, he's not frontal, he turns a little bit to the right. He lifts his arm out. You see the beginnings of an interest in a more open pose that would become much more popular in the Classic period. In other wards, not a figure with his arms firmly attached to his body. Dr. Zucker: The legs are parallel but they lack the stiffness of the earlier archaic Korous. Look at the delicacy, for instance, with which the feet are represented. These are no longer symbols that are being incised into stone, this is clearly the product of the careful study of the anatomy of the human body. This is based on direct observation. Dr. Harris: I almost feel like I'm at the games and this is the moment where the winners are being celebrated and this great athlete is there to be admired by the crowd. (piano playing)