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A well-preserved Roman period copy of the Doryphoros of Polykleitos in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Material: marble. Height: 2.12 metres (6 feet 11 inches).

The Doryphoros (Greek Δορυφόρος, "Spear-Bearer"; Latinised as Doryphorus) of Polykleitos is one of the best known Greek sculptures of the Classical Era in Western Art, depicting a solidly-built, well-muscled standing athlete, originally bearing a spear balanced on his left shoulder. Rendered somewhat above life-size proportions, the lost bronze original of the work would have been cast circa 440 BCE,[1] but it is today known only from later (mainly Roman period) marble copies. The work nonetheless forms an important early example of both Classical Greek contrapposto and Classical realism; as such, the iconic Doryphoros proved highly influential elsewhere in ancient art.


The renowned Greek sculptor Polykleitos designed a sculptural work as a demonstration of his written treatise, entitled the "Kanon" (or Canon, translated as "measure" or "rule"), exemplifying what he considered to be the perfectly harmonious and balanced proportions of the human body in the sculpted form.

Sometime in the 2nd century CE, the Greek medical writer Galen wrote about the Doryphoros as the perfect visual expression of the Greeks' search for harmony and beauty, which is rendered in the perfectly proportioned sculpted male nude:

Chrysippos holds beauty to consist not in the commensurability or "symmetria" [ie proportions] of the constituent elements [of the body], but in the commensurability of the parts, such as that of finger to finger, and of all the fingers to the palm and wrist, and of those to the forearm, and of the forearm to the upper arm, and in fact, of everything to everything else, just as it is written in the Canon of Polyclitus. For having taught us in that work all the proportions of the body, Polyclitus supported his treatise with a work: he made a statue according to the tenets of his treatise, and called the statue, like the work, the 'Canon'.'[2]


Neither the original statue nor the treatise have yet been found; it is widely considered that they have not survived from antiquity. Fortunately, several Roman copies in marble—of varying quality and completeness—do survive to convey the essential form of Polykleitos' work.

His head turned slightly to the right, the heavily-muscled but athletic figure of the Doryphoros is depicted standing in the instant that he steps forward from a static pose. This posture reflects only the slightest incipient movement, and yet the limbs and torso are shown as fully responsive.

The left hand originally held a long spear; the left shoulder (on which the spear originally rested) is depicted as tensed and therefore slightly raised, with the right arm bent and tensed to maintain the spear's position. The figure's left leg pushes off from behind the right foot; the leg bears no weight and the left hip drops, slightly extending the torso on the left side. The figure's right arm hangs positioned by his side, perhaps held slightly away from the torso for balance, but otherwise bearing no load—the right shoulder is therefore slightly lowered. The figure's right leg is shown as supporting the body's weight, therefore tensed, with the right hip raised and the muscles of the right torso shown as contracted.

The resulting characteristic of Polykleitos' Doryphoros is classical contrapposto, most obviously seen in the angled positioning of the pelvis.

In the surviving Roman marble copies, a large sculpted tree stump is obtrusively added behind one leg of the statue in order to support the weight of the stone; this would not have been present in the original bronze (the tensile strength of the metal would have made this unnecessary). A small strut is also usually present to support the right hand and lower arm.

Extant Copies[edit]

The sculpture was known through the Roman marble replica found in Herculaneum and conserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, but, according to Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, early connoisseurs such as Johann Joachim Winckelmann passed it by in the royal Bourbon collection at Naples without notable comment.[3] The marble sculpture and a bronze head that had been retrieved at Herculaneum were published in Le Antichità di Ercolano, (1767)[4] but were not identified as representing Polykleitos' Doryphorus until 1863.[5]

For modern eyes, a fragmentary Doryphoros torso in basalt in the Medici collection at the Uffizi "conveys the effect of bronze, and is executed with unusual care", as Kenneth Clark noted, illustrating it in The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form:[6] "It preserves some of the urgency and concentration of the original" lost in the full-size "blockish" marble copies.

Perhaps the best known copy of the Doryphoros was excavated in Pompeii and now resides in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli [Naples, Museo Nazionale 6011].

Held in the same museum is a bronze herma of Apollonios [height 0.54 m, Naples, Museo Nazionale 4885], considered by many scholars to be an almost flawless replica of the original Doryphoros head.

Receiving most attention in recent years has been the well-preserved, Roman period copy of the statue in Pentelic marble, purchased in 1986 by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). Largely complete with the exception of the lower left arm and fingers of the right hand, the fine copy (height 1.96 m) has been variously dated to the period 120-50 BCE, as well as to the mid-Augustan period. The MIA explains that the copy was found in Italian waters during the 1930s and spent several decades in private Italian, Swiss and Canadian collections before resurfacing in the art market around 1980.



The canonic proportions of the male torso established by Polykleitos ossified in Hellenistic and Roman times in the heroic cuirass, exemplified by the Augustus of Prima Porta, who wears ceremonial dress armour modelled in relief over an idealised muscular torso which is ostensibly modelled on the Doryphoros.[7] It should be noted that the same depiction has the legs of the emperor arranged in the same manner as the stance of the Doryphoros.

Other usages of the term[edit]

In literary usage, the term doryphoros came to signify any bodyguard, beginning with the Immortals guard of the Achaemenid kings. In Modern Greek, the term means "satellite"; the term φυσικός δορυφόρος (physikos doryphoros) is used for natural satellites, while an artificial satellite is a τεχνητός δορυφόρος (technitos doryphoros).


External video
Polykleitos, Doryphoros, Smarthistory[8]
  1. ^ Warren G. Moon, ed. Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, 1995: essays by various scholars resulting from a symposium at the University of Wisconsin, 1989, stimulated by the purchase of the Minneapolis Doryphoros.
  2. ^ Galen, De placitis Hippocratis et Platonis ("On the doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato") 5.3; noted in Richard Tobin, "The Canon of Polykleitos" American Journal of Archaeology 79.4 (October 1975:307-321) pp308f, with somewhat differing translation.
  3. ^ Haskell and Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900 (Yale University Press), 1981:105.
  4. ^ Le Antichità di Ercolano vol. V 1767, pp 183-87, considered at the time to be a portrait sculpture of Lucius, son of Agrippa (noted by Haskell and Penny 1981:118 note 10).
  5. ^ By Carl Friedrichs, in Der Doryphoros des Polyklet, Berlin, 1863.
  6. ^ Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, 1956, fig 26 p. 69.
  7. ^ J.J. Pollini, "The Augustus of Prima Porta and the transformation of the Polykleitan heroic ideal" in Moon 1995:262-81.
  8. ^ "Polykleitos, Doryphoros". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved February 20, 2013. 


See also[edit]