A Greek Torso

By: S. B. L.

Originally Published in 1916

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One of the latest acquisitions of the Museum is a marble torso between 50 and 75 centimeters in height, which is in artistic worth perhaps the best piece of sculpture that the Graeco-Roman Section of the Museum has as yet obtained. Nothing is known of its history except that it is said to have been obtained in Athens some years ago. As far as the material is concerned, there is nothing about it to belie this statement of its Greek origin. The marble is Pentelic, and, as is common with marble of this kind, has weathered from white to a rich brown. This choice of material would suggest that the sculptor lived in Athens, and took the most convenient marble for his work.

More important, however, is the technique and manner of workmanship. From this point of view there can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a pure Greek work of art; and, moreover, that it is the product of a real sculptor, not the kind of workmen that were employed to make the stelae, or grave-reliefs, which though often most exquisite, are of necessity the work of artisans rather than artists. The pose recalls that of the “Idolino” at Florence. The modeling of both the front and back is executed with a delicacy and sureness of touch that point to a very good period—indeed, to one of the best in the history of Greek sculpture. And yet it is not in the greatest age of all—that of Pheidias or Praxiteles. It is rather of a somewhat later epoch, perhaps the end of the fourth century or beginning of the third century B.C.

White marble torso of a boy
Fig. 110. — A Greek marble Torso in the Museum Collection.
Museum Object Number: MS5461
Image Number: 3187

It will be well, by giving a slight description of this torso, to point out a few convincing proofs of its relatively late date, before any attempt be made to compare it with other works of art. In the first place, it will be noticed that the left arm was made separately and connected to the shoulder with a dowel. The right arm was apparently carved from the same block with the body, but was broken off in the course of the ages, together with a large part of the shoulder, which has been restored in plaster. This practice of making the arm separately is a fairly late sign. It was not done in the Great Period; the sculptors of that age carved the whole statue from the same block.

The torso in its present condition shows that the head was sunk into a hollow cut away between the shoulders, and fastened by two dowels. This is unusual in a work of this period, although it was done in draped sculpture, where the head would be of one kind of marble, and the body of another kind. The best known example of this is the Demeter of Cnidus, a work of art very properly assigned to the fourth century, where the draped body is made of an inferior local marble, and the head of Parian. But the Museum’s torso is nude, and it is very unusual that this was done with a nude statue. It is almost incredible that a Greek artist of a period as good as this should deliberately put a head of one kind of marble on a nude torso of another kind; and if the head were the same kind, he would naturally carve it out of the same piece with the body. It therefore is the opinion of the author, although he is well aware that it cannot be proven, that this setting for a separate head was done at a later date; that the torso, as originally made, had the head and body carved from the same block; and that, in Roman days, the original head was removed, and a portrait head of a Roman citizen, or even, possibly, of an Emperor, was inserted. There is abundant evidence to prove that the Romans frequently did this, and that torsos, nude or draped, were kept in stock by Roman sculptors, and heads of patrons added. An example of this is the so-called “Germanicus” in the Louvre.*1 In this way a portrait could be very quickly made. Indeed, so thorough were the Romans in this respect, that for the portraits of ladies of noble birth, they not only kept torsos, both standing and seated, in stock, but the heads were made with removable headdresses, so that, when the style of arranging the hair changed, a new coiffure in the latest fashion could be supplied by the sculptor to replace the old, and the portrait could thereby be kept abreast of the time.†1

Other dowel holes occur on the left side, two under the left shoulder, three on the hip and thigh. A modern restorer has filled these holes with plaster, It is difficult to say for what they were intended. It is obvious that the figure was posed with the weight on the right leg; it is therefore probable that the three lower dowel holes were to connect the body with a conventional support, as, for instance, a treetrunk, or something of that nature. This view has much to recommend it; but it still does not account for the upper holes. It is possible, though not certain, that a fold of drapery was thrown shawl-fashion over the lost left arm, and fastened to the body.

A study of Reinach, “Repertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine” results in the discovery of several torsos that greatly resemble the one in the Museum from the drawings there given. These drawings, however, are so poor for purposes of identification that it is impossible to say to what period the marbles that they illustrate belong. In many cases, we know from the bibliography given for the different pieces that they are of later date.

Most closely resembling the torso in the Museum is one in Toulouse, published by Reinach in his Repertoire.*2 The two are almost exactly alike, both in technique and, what is more remarkable, in preservation.

Another torso published by Reinach†2 and owned in Périgueux, is apparently similar. The publication gives only a view of the back and left side. Though apparently of Roman workmanship, this piece is of interest because of the similarity of the modeling of the back and side to the modeling of the Greek torso in the Museum.

The best known Greek work, however, to which the torso in the Museum can be compared is the Praying Boy in Berlin, a work familiar to all lovers of Greek Art. In the mind of the writer there is no doubt that the torso in the Museum was executed at a time contemporary with, or very little later than, the casting of this famous bronze. There is in each case, although the pose is different, the same soft, impressionistic modeling, the lines melting into each other to form an exquisite whole. There is the same ripple of the muscles of the front, the same sensitive delicacy in details in both. Add to this the warm soft texture of the marble that the sculptor has achieved, and compare the same treatment in the bronze of the Praying Boy. It would be presumptuous to say that the two were by the same hand; but it can be said that the two were made at about the same time and under the same influence. It may be that the Museum torso is a contemporary copy of a work in bronze by the same master.

This brings us to a consideration of the proper date at which to place the Praying Boy. Tarbell, “History of Greek Art,” 1905 edition, pp. 257-58, makes it a work of the Hellenistic Period, that is of the middle of the third century. E. A. Gardner, “A Handbook of Greek Sculpture, ” 2d ed., 1907, p. 414, is inclined to place it earlier, and to call it a work executed under the direct influence of Lysippus, perhaps by his son Boedas. After calling attention to the fact that Boedas was not only a son, but a pupil of his father, he says, “A boy in the attitude of prayer, now in Berlin, standing with outspread arms, may give us some notion of a work of this kind by Boedas; but the subject is a common one, and the identification cannot be regarded as more than a guess, although the proportion and attitude of the figure suggest a more youthful version of the Apoxyomenos.”

The view that the Praying Boy may be the work of Boedas is also suggested by Klein, “Geschichte der griechischen Kunst,” Vol. II, p. 405, f. In fact, it is the prevalent belief today, and seems to the writer to have more to recommend it than the view of Tarbell.*3

This being so, it is fair to assume that Boedas worked in the last half of the fourth century, and perhaps into the beginning of the third. To the writer, as to Gardner, the Praying Boy has all the earmarks of being a fourth century work. This would tend to make the Museum torso of earlier date than if we held to Tarbell’s belief ; and this view seems to be justified. The torso in question may therefore be a late fourth century work; and it cannot be later than the beginning of the third century. It is, therefore, contemporary with some of the most beautiful things in Greek art; but of especial interest to us in America, it is contemporary with the charming Head from the Island of Chios, now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In short, in acquiring this torso, the University Museum has obtained a splendid work of art, which has lent a new dignity to its collection of Greek and Roman Sculpture.

S. B. L.

*1 An examination of Amelung’s Catalogue of the Sculptures in the Vatican yields the following examples of “stock” torsos with portrait heads added:

Museo Chiaramonti 493, 494, 546 (female), 591, 637, 640, 686 (female).
Braccio Nuovo 77 (female).
Giardino della Pigna 212.

And there are doubtless a great many more, not only in the Vatican but elsewhere.
†1An example of this is in the Capitoline Museum, in Rome, Room of the Busts of the Emperors No. 52 (a portrait apparently of Julia Domna). See Helbig, ‘Führer,” 3d ed. (1912), Vol. I, p. 454, sub num.; and British School at Rome, “Catalogue of the Capitoline Museum,” p. 203f.
*2 Rep. II, 2, p. 598, No. 6.
†2 Op. cit. II, p. 278, No. 3: and it is best published in Espérandieu, “Recueil des Bas-Reliefs (et Statues) de la Gaule Romaine,” Vol. II, p. 252.
There are four other torsos that show similar resemblances. They are in Reinach, Vol. IV, p. 68, No. 6 (in the Lariboisière collection at St. Germain); Vol. III, p. 171, No. 3 (at Timgad); Vol. IV, p. 374, No. 1 (in the Museo delle Terme at Rome); and Vol. II, part 2, p. 819, No. 2 (in the National Museum at Athens). Of these four, the first two show very marked likeness to the torso in the Museum and all four may have been from the same original.
*3 It is only fair to say that Professor George H. Chase, Hudson Professor of Archæology of Harvard University, in a letter to the writer says that in his opinion “the authorship of Boedas . . cannot be spoken of with much confidence,” and that “it is certainly very much disputed.” The writer wishes here to acknowledge his great indebtedness to Professor Chase for many suggestions incorporated in this paper.

Cite This Article

L., S. B.. "A Greek Torso." The Museum Journal VII, no. 2 (June, 1916): 87-92. Accessed February 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/483/

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