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Apollonius, Seated Boxer

The Seated Boxer is a rare Greek bronze sculpture from the Hellenistic period around 100 BC. It shows an older, defeated athlete with a strong body but a wounded face. The sculpture is hollow and made using lost wax casting. It represents a shift in Greek art towards more emotional and diverse subjects. Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: Almost always when we look at Greek sculpture we're looking at Roman copies, we're looking at marble copies of what had once been bronze, but bronze is expensive and it's reusable. So, for the 2000 years since these objects were made there was ample opportunity for them to be melted down, but once in a while we find a Greek original. Dr. Harris: We're looking at the seated Boxer, a Greek Hellenistic sculpture from about 100 BC. Hellenistic refers to this period after Alexander the Great. Dr. Zucker: This is the last phase of ancient Greek art because the Hellenistic will end when the Roman's conquer Greece. Because it's bronze we have an opportunity to understand how the Greek's constructed their large scale sculpture. This is lost wax casting and it would be chase so you could actually carve into portions and we can see that especially in the beard and in the hair, so those lines are cut into the surface. Dr. Harris: So the sculpture is hollow in other words. Dr. Zucker: Well we can see that if you look into the eyes, if you look into the mouth, you can see the hollowness. Now, originally there would have been eyes, they're missing. They probably would have been Ivory or some sort of glass paste, something reflective and highly polished, but yes, we can see that this is quite thin. If we knocked on it, it would ring like a bell. Dr. Harris: A few moments ago as we were looking at it there was standing in the very place that he seems to be looking and I almost felt like he was in actual dialogue with someone. Dr. Zucker: He has that tremendous sense of presences, doesn't he? Dr. Harris: He does. During this Hellenistic period we see a real expansion of the subject matter that we usually think of as Greek art. Usually we think about ideal, beautiful, nude, athletic, young figures. Dr. Zucker: This is an athletic figure, but he's not young and he's not beautiful in the traditional sense. Dr. Harris: When I look at him I find parts of him beautiful, but his face is certainly not. Dr. Zucker: The beauty comes from our understanding of his life, of his suffering. Instead of through the elegance and perfection of his body, he's muscular, he's powerful, but he's defeated. Dr. Harris: Yeah, there's definitely a sense of pathos, this sculpture engages us emotionally. Dr. Zucker: The artist has been careful to make sure that we feel sympathy. He's inlaid copper into parts of his face where he's defined wounds so that the copper functions almost as a more red color against the bronze and we can see him bleeding. Dr. Harris: Boxing in Ancient Greece focused mainly to the head, to the face and that's why his body looks still so very beautiful and perfect. When I said before, I still find him ideally beautiful, I was thinking about the incredible muscles in his torso. He's still really thin and athletic, but the face is such a contrast and also his hands all wrapped in leather. The face and the hands ground him in a kind of, reality of a moment. Dr. Zucker: That's especially true with his posture. You can see that he's not simply seated, his torso is collapsing, his head is down, he's looking up but you can feel the exhaustion. You can also see the way in which his body has been beaten, the broken nose, the gashes in his face and look at his ear which is swollen and distorted. Dr. Harris: We rarely see seated figures in the Classical Period in Greek art; the figures are standing, they're noble, they exist in the world in that heroic way. Just by virtue of just being seated there's a humility and humanity to the figure. Dr. Zucker: There's also a informality. His right leg is out and up on the heel. His left leg is splayed out slightly under the weight of his arm. This is a man who would like to lie down. This is a period in Greek art when there really is an interest in pathos, in moving beyond the heroic, moving beyond the traditional subjects of the ancient world and really beginning to explore a much wider variety. It's fascinating. It is this incredibly sophisticated moment. (piano playing)