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Borghese Warrior

Museum Label:
Borghese Warrior
20th-century bronze cast from late Hellenistic original.
Location: Louvre, Paris

Chiurazzi description:
Borghese Gladiator. Is a copy executed from an original bronze from the school of Lysippus by the artist Agasia, son of Dositeo near the endof the II century b.C. The warrior is entirely nude. In his left hand he holds the shield, his right grasping the sword rushing courageously against the enemy. The combatant action is admirable.

Subject info:
This sculpture was first recorded in 1611 when it was being restored after having just been found near Anzio. It was then taken to Cardinal Borghese's estate. In 1807 it was bought by Napoleon Bonaparte, brother-in-law of prince Camillo Borghese, and shipped to Paris.

Seventeenth-century observers seem to have had no doubt that the subject was a gladiator, and that the original would have held a sword or shield and some casts were produced this way. In the mid 18th century scholars thought that it could not have been a gladiator, since Greeks would never have erected a sculpture to a gladiator and that gladiators did not exist at the time when this was made. It was thought to be Ajax( or his father Telamon), outside the walls of Troy, as was sometimes shown on the coins of Locri.   Others thought it to be a dancer. However, when the sculpture was installed in its own room in 1830, the name of the room was "Salle du Heros Combattant, dit le Gladiateur", and that name stuck.

Another entry:
The Borghese Gladiator - originally part of the Italian collection whose name it bears - is actually a depiction of a fighting warrior. The piece, whose tree trunk bears the signature of Agasias of Ephesus, son of Dositheus, recalls the work of Lysippos, the great bronze sculptor of the fourth century BC. The accented musculature, however, bears the mark of the Pergamene school. Agasias revived the athletic heroism of Lysippos, blending it with the pathos of the Hellenistic period.

Since its discovery in the early seventeenth century, the Borghese Gladiator has been praised as an aesthetic model of the male nude in motion. It was endlessly copied, modeled and adapted by both modern and contemporary artists. For a long time, it was erroneously thought that the figure was a gladiator (despite the fact that the Greeks did not hold gladiatorial circus entertainments), before the shield strap on its left arm identified him as a warrior. Our hero defends himself energetically, thrusting his torso forward in a movement that is both defensive and self-protective. Protected behind his shield, he prepares to riposte, his face turned sharply towards his opponent (perhaps a horseman?).

The piece, signed on the tree trunk by Agasias of Ephesus, son of Dositheus, has been the subject of controversy as to its place in Greek art. It was created circa 100 BC. Nevertheless, the figure's elongated silhouette, the reduced proportions of the head and the vigorously-modeled muscles are reminiscent of the work of Lysippos of Sicyon, the great bronze sculptor of the fourth century BC. The Borghese Gladiator could thus be a Hellenistic copy - fashioned for a Roman client - of a bronze made by Lysippos or one of his followers in the late classical period. The presence of the tree seems to confirm this hypothesis - it probably shows the need to strengthen a work that was originally in bronze, thus requiring no support - that was then transposed into marble, a much heavier material, and more easily broken.

More than a straightforward, faithful reproduction of a Greek original, this statue should be seen as Agasias's liberal interpretation of the classical model, to which he has added innovations from his own era. The statue clearly falls within the scope of the aesthetic experiments of the late Hellenistic period, particularly the influence of the baroque scultpural creations of Pergamon. The boldness of the composition, which anchors the warrior in a three-dimensional space and invites the spectator to view it from all sides, is a constant in Hellenistic art. The exaggerated rendering of the musculature and the violence of the figure's movement - organized along a broad diagonal - recalls the friezes of the Pergamon Altar, erected in the early second century BC, which depicts the battle between the Gods and the Giants. The pathos in the treatment of the face accentuates the intensity of the warrior's efforts.

More information on other sculpture.