Archaic Bronze Statue representing a Gorgon
Period: middle of the 6th century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 15.2 cm
Ex American private collection, 1980’s-1990’s.
Intact and remarkably preserved ornament; traces of light corrosion, especially near the extremities(hands, wingtips).
Full cast statuette,perfectly completed and also modeled behind; backs of the wings simply flat and smooth. Surface covered with a beautiful, uniform pale green patina. Impressive size and weight. The object is composed of various soldered elements (wings, statuette, base). Finishings and incisions were made after the casting when cold. The statuette is attached to a thin,
The artist has skillfully achieved the balance of the figure around the many axes formed by the lines of the arms, shoulders, thighs, lower legs and feet. The belt, which emphasizes the slender and feminine waist of the monster, and the cascade of vertical folds generated by the fabric of the chiton help in structuring the figure. This accurate and rigid scheme also characterizes the facial shape and features; surmounted by the triangular bangs, the face follows the vertical axis of the forehead, nose and tongue (even extending down to the knee placed on the ground); horizontally, it follows the lines of the brows, eyes and mouth. The care taken by the artist in the structure of the ornament speaks in favor of a Doric origin; this object was probably produced in a workshop in a Peloponnesian or colonial town (Sicily, Magna Graecia?), but whose metropolis was located on the Greek mainland.
The Gorgon is represented in the usual iconography of the last phases of the Archaic period. Her head is oriented frontally, like her chest, while her legs are seen in profile; she wears a short chiton, fastened at the waist with a belt and provided with short sleeves; her position – arms and knees are bent almost at right angles – is a well attested iconographic convention of this period, which reflects a running movement. Here, the idea of swift and light movement is accentuated by the span of the widely spread wings and perhaps also by the slight diff erence in their size (the right wing is a little smaller). The sole of the left foot, the bent right knee and the ball and toes of the right foot are soldered to a narrow, slightly curved base. The curve probably corresponded to the shape of this figure’s support, whose nature remains unknown. Among the closest parallels for this Gorgon, one should mention the figures used to decorate the upper edges or the handles of the large bronze kraters from the Archaic period; here, the ornament was attached to the support by the wings (by the inner tips and perhaps by vertical, symmetrical stems, whose superfi cial traces can still be noticed just above the elbows), while the base was placed approximately on the shoulder of the vessel. On two of the most famous vessels of this kind, discovered at Vix and Trebenista, the Gorgon appears as a pattern at the base of the handles, but she is represented as a simple bust. In two other cases, a handle excavated at Martonocha, now in the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, and a specimen from the former De Clerq Collection, housed in the Louvre, in Paris, the monster shows many affinities with our example, both in the type (the only notable differences being the position of the arms and the presence of a second pair of wings which descend to the ground) and in the chronology, whereas the style features greater differences (the figures look flatter, while their structure is less rigid).
The attribution of these pieces to one of the regional workshops of the Archaic period is not unanimously admitted; for instance, the Martonocha statuette is thought either to be a colonial production (see C. Rolley) or to have been manufactured in an eastern Greek workshop (see Zurich catalogue).
The artistic quality of this piece is virtually unequalled, even in the panorama of the Archaic period. Compared to closest parallels, one maynote the elaborate and precise modeling, especially for the head and the face, which is not simply flat, but partially shaped in the round (nose and chin in relief, prominent cheekbones, bulging eyes). These features usually recall a grotesque mask, even more frightening when seen from the front; the Gorgon opens her eyes wide, puff s her cheeks out as if she was whistling and opens her mouth to stick her tongue out and show her teeth. The hair forms wavy, triangular bangs on the forehead, while in the back, where it is perfectly rendered, it is arranged in horizontal, engraved locks. The anatomical details of the body are represented by a nuanced and precise modeling, with muscular and well rounded shapes like those of an athlete, especially for the shoulders, buttocks and legs (musculature around the knees, calves, ankle bones); only the breasts evoke the female gender of the Gorgon. With these details, the artist has perfectly expressed the fears that this monster would inspire in her contemporaries. In the Greek imagination, the Gorgons were three sisters of hideous appearance, who embodied the most terrifying aspects of death and the supernatural world; at that time, the circular face – the gorgoneion – was almost always represented frontally. Sometimes framed by snakes and provided with wild boar tusks, the gorgoneion appeared everywhere: on temple pediments (Temple of Artemis, Corfu, for instance), on weapons (shield episemon), on funerary steles, but also on everyday objects, such as metal or clay containers and furniture items. It had an apotropaic and protective purpose, since the presence of the Gorgon (or her mask) was supposed to turn away evil forces and divert them on to potential enemies; unfortunately, the exact reason for the presence of a Gorgon on kraters, the archetypal wine vessels of Greek repertoire, is unclear. Medusa, the only mortal Gorgon, is the most famous of the three sisters, who had the power to turn men to stone with their eyes. The sisters act in one of the most important stories of the Archaic period, the myth of Perseus; the hero from Argos, having accomplished his feat of killing Medusa with the help of Athena (his protectress, daughter of Zeus) and Hermes, gave the goddess the head of the Gorgon. From this mythological episode onwards, repeatedly represented in Archaic iconography (black-figure pottery, architecture, etc.), the frightening mask of the monster adorned the center of Athena’s aegis.
On the two closest parallels, see:
Aus den Schatzkammern Eurasiens: Meisterwerke antiker Kunst, Zurich, 1993, p. 156, no. 76 (State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).
DE RIDDER A., Collection De Clercq: Tome III, Les bronzes, Paris, 1905, pp. 35-37, no. 423, pl. 58 (Louvre, Paris).
On Gorgon-shaped ornaments adorning the handles of kraters, see:
ROLLEY C., Les vases de bronze de l’archaïsme récent en Grande-Grèce, Naples, 1982, pp. 63 ff., pl. 31, 39-41.
On other ornamental Gorgons, see:
DE RIDDER A., Les bronzes antiques du Louvre: Tome I, Les figurines, Paris, 1913, p. 20, no. 97.
FURTWÄNGLER A., Die Bronzen und die übrigen kleineren Funde von Olympia, Berlin, 1890, p. 25, no. 78, pl. VIII.
JANTZEN U., Bronzewerkstätten in Grossgriechenland und Sizilien, Berlin, 1937, pp. 69-70, nos. 132-134, pl. 32.
On the iconography of Gorgons, see:
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Vol. IV,
Zurich-Munich, 1988, s.v. Gorgo/Gorgones, pp. 285-330.