Polyklet (ancient Greek Πολύκλειτος Polýkleitos "the much-famed"; * c. 480 BC in Argos or Sikyon; † towards the end of the 5th century BC) was one of the most important Greek sculptors of ancient Greece. His main creative period covered the years from about 460 B.C. to 420 B.C., during which he created numerous bronze statues that were praised for centuries after his death.

No originals of his work have been preserved, only two bases of Polykletian statues have been found in Olympia, without it being possible to say that Polyklet himself laid hands on these bases. He wrote a theoretical paper, called Canon in later literature, in which he described the ideal proportions of the human body.

Already the antiquity saw in the statue of a spearman, the Doryphoros, created by him, the practical implementation of his theoretical demands and transferred the name of his writing to the statue as embodiment of the canon.

Life of Polykleitos

The origin of Polyklet is disputed. While Plato calls him an Argiver in his dialogue Protagoras, according to Pliny he came from Sikyon. In Argos he was apprenticed to the famous sculptor Hageladas. Also, his further work seems to have been tied to Argos, he himself possessed Argivian citizenship. His sons, but also further of his pupils are called "Argiver" in written sources. Whether in all these cases the origin was always meant is uncertain.

His sons were peers of Paralos and Xanthippos, the sons of Pericles, his acme, the peak of his creative power, is dated by Pliny to the 90th Olympiad, that is, around the year 420 BC.  Around this time he created the gold ivory effigy of Hera in the Heraion of Argos, which had to be rebuilt from scratch after a fire in 423 B.C.

Therefore Polyklet will have been a slightly younger contemporary of Phidias and born around 480 B.C.. Since the written tradition does not know any further works after the Hera of Argos, he will have died towards the end of the 5th century BC.

He left behind numerous students, among whom were his sons. Pliny alone lists the following: Argios, Asopodoros, Alexios, Aristeides, Phrynon, Dinon, Athenodoros, Demeas and further names Daidalos, Naukydes, Kolotes and Patroklos. Further names can be taken from Pausanias.

The relation of the mentioned descendants to Polyklet cannot be determined with certainty. The younger sculptors who have been handed down under the name Polyklet are rather to be assigned to his grandchild generation. The activity of his sons themselves is not to be grasped, even if they had taken up the handicraft of their father according to Plato.

Polykleitos Literary tradition

The literary tradition on Polyklet begins already a few decades after his death. In Plato's dialogue Protagoras, written around 388/87 B.C., Polyklet and his art are contrasted with the teaching of a sophist as something concrete and learnable, for whose teaching it is reasonable to spend money. Xenophon also refers to Polyklet as an example in his Memorabilia, the memories of Socrates, and contrasts his work with the work of the gods. 

"Effect" is also the occasion for Aristotle to invoke the name of Polyklet, whom he cites as an example of accidental causes: Polyklet as the causer of a statue, a connection that Seneca will take up again by naming two statues of Polyklet. Finally, in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle cites Polyklet as an example of philosophical wisdom in the realm of "practical skill." In the Roman Ethics, Aristotle cites Polyklet as the causer of a statue.

With the onset of Roman art scholarship from the late Republic onward, Polyklet's name appears more and more frequently as a representative of the era of greatest artistry, for example in the Auctor ad Herennium, often in Cicero. Increasingly, Polyklet is cited alongside others as a model or as evidence of the decline of art in his own time.

His works are listed in art historical outlines, in geographical works, and in travelogues. As a witty and erudite set piece, the connoisseurship of Polycletian work is used several times in Martial's epigrams and Juvenal's satires;

finally, from the 2nd century CE on, the former ideal itself is dragged into the comic-satirical, as when Lucian compares the Cynic Proteus to Polycletian's Doryphoros, or reduces the artist to the philistine, the man who works with his hands. Polycletian is also mentioned in the epigrams and in the satires of Juvenal.

Several times Galenos mentions Polyklet, especially his theoretical work. The temporal distance, however, becomes clear when he writes: "Somewhere a statue of Polyklet is also praised, which bears the name "Canon"..." And wholly anecdotally Polyklet is depicted in Aelianus, who had Polyklet make two statues: one for the pleasure of the masses, the other according to the laws of art.

In the case of the former, he took up every request for change that was made to him and altered the statue accordingly; in the case of the latter, he drew purely on his skill and knowledge.

When he presented both statues to the crowd, the one designed according to the wishes of the crowd was ridiculed, but the other was praised, whereupon he shouted to the crowd that the one they ridiculed they had made themselves, but the other one they would praise he had made. Aelian here apparently follows a topos of artist anecdotes that is similarly found in Lucian on the statue of Zeus by Phidias.

In Byzantine times, then, knowledge of Polyklet was badly obscured, and for John Tzetzes he was a sculptor and painter, among whose numerous works two would stand out, one of which would be called the "canon" of painting, the other the "canon" of sculpture.

Work of Polykleitos

The artistic work of Polyklet can first be quite impressively inferred from the ancient written tradition. Certainly with the sculptor of the 5th century BC. can be connected the Herabildnis in the Heraion of Argos, the Doryphoros, a Diadumenos, an Apoxyomenos, a naked man walking with whole sole, two dice-playing boys - called Astragalizonten -,

a Hermes "who was formerly in Lysimacheia", a Herakles, a general taking up arms, as well as the statue of an Artemon Periphoretes. Furthermore, he created an Amazon for Ephesus as part of the famous artist's competition.

In addition, Pausanias mentions a whole series of statues of Olympic victors, which he calls works of a Polyklet, without being able to obtain certainty, which of these actually come from the hand of the great Polyklet, which from the hand of his descendants. Certainly to be connected with Polyklet is the unsigned statue base of Kyniskos from Mantineia in Olympia, which Pausanias identifies as the work of Polyklet and whose letter form suggests a creation around 460 BC.

The statue was made of bronze and, according to its inlet traces, already showed the separate position of the standing and playing leg, which is characteristic for works of Polyklet. The statue base is the only original testimony of Polykletic artistic creation. Coin images of Hera of Argos, some of which reproduce only the head, others the entire seated image, allow no further conclusions about his work.

Polyklet was an ore caster and created mostly bronze statues, all of which are lost. In the rich monument stock of Roman marble copies after Greek models, however, six statue types could be identified more or less certainly, which are to be connected with Polyklet's work: the Doryphoros, the Diadumenos, a "Diskophoros", the Hermes, the Heracles and the Amazon.

Only six works, but considering that the production of a single life-size bronze in the 5th century BC took a good two years, there are thus testimonies of no small part of polycleric artistic creation. Male figures predominate, which is consistent with the written tradition.

And apart from Hera, Hermes, and Heracles, his subject was man, which is why he was already the ἀνδριαντοποιός, man-sculptor, of antiquity, while Phidias, Praxiteles, and Scopas were considered ἀγαλματοποιός, god-sculptors. Polyklet's statuary types show that he was the ἀνδριαντοποιός, god-sculptor.

Polyklet's statue types show the human figure walking or standing in classical contrapposto. Well-known statues of Polyklet, which are based on the creative principle of the contrapposto, are for example the Diadumenos as well as the Heracles, probably also the Hermes, while the Diskophoros of Polyklet lacks the elaborated motif of the classical contrapposto, the distinction of the standing and the playing leg, which runs through the ponderation of the body structure.

The motif is not only found in male figures, but also in an ancient type of Amazon. Plinius reports about a competition of the most famous sculptors of classical times, in which besides Polyklet also Phidias, Kresilas and Phradmon participated. Polyklet is said to have emerged as the winner in this competition with his statue of the Amazon.

Among the preserved types of the wounded Amazon that date back to the competition, the Amazons of the type Sosikles, Mattei and Sciarra, the Amazon of the type Sciarra is probably to be attributed to Polyklet. Polyklet wrote the statue of the wounded Amazon.

Polyklet composed a theoretical writing, called canon, in which he described the ideal dimensional relationships of the human body, but also practical things from the craft. He is thus the oldest art theorist known to us. The writing is known only by mentions and few, short quotations by authors mainly of Roman times.

In addition to numerous copies and replicas of his works in original size or in statuette form, there were eclectic transformations even in antiquity, mainly in small bronzes, which lead to a change in the meaning of the figures by adding or removing certain features.

History of discovery

The basic features and characteristics of the Polycletic style were already recognized in antiquity and recorded in writing. Pliny handed down - and here probably relies on the judgment of Xenocrates from Athens, a sculptor of the 3rd century B.C. and author of several writings on art, toreutics and painting - that Polyklet's statues stood "on one bye" (uno crure insistere) and were of squat proportions (quadrata).

They went back - as Varro says - "all on a single model" (paene ad unum exemplum). This information in combination with the motivic information about the work of Polyklet let already Johann Joachim Winckelmann identify the Diadumenos in the antique monuments, although he relied here first on the tomb altar of Tiberius Octavius Diadumenus, which shows in allusion to his name a Taenia binding himself.

As a polycletic statue he believes to be able to recognize the "Anadumenos Farnese", which in the meantime has been classified as a reshuffle.

Three times the Diadumenos of Polyklet is mentioned in ancient literature, twice of it in combination with the Doryphoros. In rank it was not inferior to it, even its value is reported: astronomical 100 talents. Numerous Roman copies of the Diadumenos have been preserved, so that an approximate idea of the original can be deduced.

Three of these copies were found together with copies of the Doryphoros. However, it took one hundred years for the Doryphoros to be recognized after Winckelmann identified the Diadumenos. Karl Friederichs published in 1862/63 for the first time the attribution of a long known statue type to the Doryphoros of Polyklet.

With this the spell was broken and Adolf Furtwängler assigned in his Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture many other statue and head types to the work of Polyklet and his school. Although many were also sorted out again, but for example the identifications of Hermes and Heracles have endured.

The increasingly differentiated picture of the stylistic development of classical art in the 5th century B.C. finally allowed the attribution of another statue type to the work of Polyklet in the 1920s: the Discophoros, in which one can possibly recognize the nudus talo incessens, the one who "strides with his whole sole", of Pliny. The statues of the Discophoros are still in dispute today.

Controversial to this day is the attribution of the polycletic Amazon. Furtwängler recognized in the Amazon of the type Sciarra the work of Polyklet, but Botho Graef pointed out the close relationship in the hair formation of the Amazon of Sosikles to hair designs of Polyklet.

This assessment, supported by always new arguments, became increasingly accepted from the second quarter of the 20th century. However, weighty reasons brought in the last decades again the type Sciarra into the focus of the considerations.

The canon

A written treatise of Polyklet called the Canon is mentioned only by Galen in the 2nd century A.D. Older references, however, are found as early as the 3rd century B.C. by Philon of Byzantium and by Plutarch around A.D. 100. The work of Polyklet is probably also followed by Plutarch's statement that in every work the beautiful is accomplished by "many measures coming into the right proportion through a certain symmetria and harmony."

Polyklet's canon, therefore, contained general statements on the process of production and its practice and theoretical foundations.

Accordingly, the canon of Polyklet contained general statements on the production process, its practice, and theoretical foundations, but in its sections specifically devoted to artistic problems it commented on questions of symmetria and its bases of calculation.

As a sculptor's manual, it was certainly in the tradition of archaic "workshop books," but as the work of an individual artist, the canon was something new and, with Polyklet, introduced for the first time an art theorist into the circle of prose-writing intellectual philosophers, sophists, and physicians.

With his canon, however, Polyklet wrote a work that was still quoted centuries later by philosophers and physicians who wanted to substantiate the general validity of their own statements.

In the attempt to reconstruct the work from Polyklet's statuary tradition, methodological problems arise from the information in Galen, from the material tradition, which knows only Roman and among themselves always slightly different copies, and from the determination of the measurement and reference points. Finally, the system of measurement used by Polyklet is also unknown for the time being.

As a unit of measurement for Polyklet's work, the Pheidonian system of measurement with a foot length of 32 2/3 centimeters is assumed due to its origin and its chronology. As a statuary realization of the canon, one generally assumes the Doryphoros, which in its Naples version had a ponderated height of 98 fingers, an unponderated height of 100 fingers and in the area of the maximum ponderation slope a height of 96 fingers.

The resulting different dimensional ratios were applied crosswise to the statue. In numbers thus becomes tangible the chiastic structure of the Doryphoros already recognized without measurement. First approaches, how Polyklet worked on the design, emerge. More detailed knowledge for the written and statuary work called canon could not be developed so far, however.