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Discobolus (Myron) at The British Museum

69,00220,00 (Inc. Tax)


A discus thrower is depicted about to release his throw: “by sheer intelligence”, Kenneth Clark observed in The Nude, “Myron has created the enduring pattern of athletic energy. He has taken a moment of action so transitory that students of athletics still debate if it is feasible, and he has given it the completeness of a cameo.” The moment thus captured in the statue is an example of rhythmos, harmony and balance. Myron is often credited with being the first sculptor to master this style. Naturally, as always in Greek athletics, the Discobolus is completely nude. His pose is said to be unnatural to a human, and today considered a rather inefficient way to throw the discus. Also there is very little emotion shown in the discus thrower’s face, and “to a modern eye, it may seem that Myron’s desire for perfection has made him suppress too rigorously the sense of strain in the individual muscles,” Clark observes. The other trademark of Myron embodied in this sculpture is how well the body is proportioned, the symmetria.

The potential energy expressed in this sculpture’s tightly-wound pose, expressing the moment of stasis just before the release, is an example of the advancement of Classical sculpture from Archaic. The torso shows no muscular strain, however, even though the limbs are outflung.

After the discovery of the Discobolus Palombara a second notableDiscobolus was excavated, at Hadrian’s Villa in 1790, and was purchased by the English antiquary and art dealer established in Rome, Thomas Jenkins, at public auction in 1792. (Another example, also found at Tivoli at this date, was acquired by the Vatican Museums.) The English connoisseur Charles Townley paid Jenkins £400 for the statue, which arrived at the semi-public gallery Townley commissioned in Park Street, London, in 1794. The head was wrongly restored, as Richard Payne Knight soon pointed out, but Townley was convinced his was the original and better copy.

This marble statue is one of several copies of a lost bronze original of the fifth century BC which was attributed to the sculptor Myron (flourished about 470-440 BC). The head on this figure has been wrongly restored, and should be turned to look towards the discus. The popularity of the sculpture in antiquity was no doubt due to its representation of the athletic ideal. Discus-throwing was the first element in the pentathlon, and while pentathletes were in some ways considered inferior to those athletes who excelled at a particular sport, their physical appearance was much admired. This was because no one particular set of muscles was over-developed, with the result that their proportions were harmonious.

A number of ancient discuses of either marble or metal, and of various weights, survive. Little is known of the distances achieved in antiquity, though an epigram celebrating a throw of 30 metres (95 feet) comes as a surprise in the modern world, where the current world record is just over 70 metres. However, the ancient technique of discus-throwing may have been rather different: there is no representational evidence for anything more than a three-quarter turn, rather than the two and a half turns used today, and this may be one factor making a direct comparison difficult.

Discobolus is the conventional name of an iconic Greek sculpture in the round created by Myron of Eleutherae around 450 BC. It falls within the early period of classical Greek art, between the Archaic and the Classical periods. The artwork depicts a young athlete, nude, in the moment just before throwing a discus. It adheres to the standards of beauty of its time, representing a significant advancement towards naturalism, dynamism, serenity, balance, and a more comprehensive anatomical study.

Myron portrays the body at the peak of tension and splendor. However, the tremendous effort doesn’t reflect on the athlete’s face, which displays only a faint concentration. In other words, the Athenian sculptor fails to capture the appropriate facial expression for the moment prior to the throw. The bodily twist is vigorous yet harmonious and delicate. The entire body leans forward, generating the necessary momentum for launching the discus with a subsequent swing.

As is the case with most significant Greek sculptures, the original bronze work has not survived, but its form is known through several marble copies carved during the Roman era. Among these copies, the first one discovered in modern times (1781) is known as the Lancelotti Discobolus, originating from the Palombara Villa owned by the Massimo family. It is currently housed in the National Roman Museum, in its Palazzo Massimo alle Terme location, just like the Discobolus of Castelporziano. Another notable copy, found in 1790 at the Villa Adriana in Tivoli, has been in the possession of the British Museum since 1805. Interestingly, this version has the head facing forward due to an incorrect restoration. Between April and October 2009, this copy was exhibited on loan at the MARQ museum.

Some interpret the figure as representing the beloved of Apollo, the hero Hyacinthus, whom the god unintentionally killed with a discus. Apollo is said to have then used Hyacinthus’ blood to create the flower of the same name. This theme has been depicted in a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo (The Death of Hyacinthus, 1752-1753) and an opera by Mozart (Apollo et Hyacinthus, 1767).

Salvador Dalí created a surrealistic interpretation of the Discobolus titled “The Cosmic Athlete,” which was used as the image for the Spanish representation in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. As the Franco government did not reach an agreement with the artist to purchase the work, it was privately acquired by Anselmo López Fuertes, deputy of the National Delegation for Physical Education, who later in the late 1970s, donated it to King Juan Carlos, who prominently displayed it in his office at the Zarzuela Palace. In 2013, the owner’s heirs reached an agreement with the National Heritage for which they received 2.8 million euros for the painting.”

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