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c. 390 b.c.e.–After 316 b.c.e.


Productive Career.

The sculptor Lysippus was born in Sicyon, a small city-state west of Corinth in Greece near the beginning of the fourth century b.c.e. He was active as early as 370 b.c.e., as an inscription found at Delphi makes clear, and according to another inscription, he made a portrait of King Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great's successors who laid claim to Alexander's conquests in the Near East in 312 b.c.e. He was extraordinarily productive. His workshop turned out literally hundreds of bronze statues. None survive, but a few copies sculpted in marble still exist. The most famous is his Apoxyomenos (Scraper) in the Vatican Museum, which portrays a naked athlete scraping himself. Athletes rubbed themselves down with olive oil before exercising and then, after exercise, scraped off the oil and sweat with a scraper called a strigil.

Royal Sculptor.

It is clear that Lysippus' career was closely associated with the Macedonian royal house. Philip II, king of Macedon who ruled from 359–336 b.c.e., employed him first, and then he became the court sculptor of Alexander the Great (r. 336–323 b.c.e.). It is reported that Alexander would allow only Lysippus to sculpt portraits of him. This may not be literally true, but it was probably Lysippus who was responsible for the portrait-type of Alexander which shows him as if divinely inspired, his eyes looking upwards and his hair windswept. Another favorite subject of his was Heracles, whom the royal house of Macedon claimed as an ancestor. He was greatly praised for two colossal statues of Heracles, both made of bronze. One was a seated figure of Heracles made for the Greek city of Taras, Roman Tarentum (modern Taranto) on the southern coast of Italy, where it once stood on the acropolis. It was taken to Rome in 209 b.c.e. and displayed on the Capitoline Hill. Libanius, an author of the fourth century c.e., described the second as Heracles leaning heavily on his club which was draped with his lions' skin. There are about 25 Roman copies of it: the largest was found in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome and is now in the Naples Museum. The statue of Heracles in Naples bears the signature of a sculptor named Glycon, an Athenian sculptor of the second century c.e. who was a copyist. Another copy in Florence states that it is a work of Lysippus. It probably belongs to Lysippus' old age, for it looks forward to the High Hellenistic period with its taste for statues with superhuman bodies; Heracles is shown resting after his exertions with bulging muscles and stretched tendons.

Captured Movement in Sculpture.

Outside Lysippus' house in Sicyon stood a statue that the sculptor made for himself, titled Kairos which can mean "due measure" and "proportion" or "opportunity"—the right time to do something. It has been taken as Lysippus' manifesto, just as the "Spear-bearer" of Polyclitus represented Polyclitus' Canon, his statement of the proper proportions of the naked male body. The Kairos showed that Lysippus had moved far beyond Polyclitus. Modern knowledge of the statue comes from reproductions on reliefs and gems. It showed a youth with wings on his shoulders and his ankles, running on tiptoe, with his one hand balancing a set of scales on the edge of a razor and with the other adjusting the scales. This is an allegorical representation and it refers to the saying taken from the historian Herodotus: "Our affairs are on the razor's edge," meaning, "This is the time for decision, and time will not wait." Lysippus represented rapid motion frozen in bronze. In Lysippus' Apoxyomenos too, the muscles of the left leg seem to carry the weight of the body, yet the shoulders and torso swing to the right. Lysippus caught the athlete at the moment when he is shifting his weight from one leg to the other thereby successfully sculpting motion. This innovation in sculpture was further developed in the Hellenistic Age when sculptors depicted subjects frozen in a moment of restless or violent motion.


Erik Sjoqvist, Lysippus, Semple Lectures Series (Cincinnati: University of Cincinnati, 1966).

A. F. Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1990).

—, "Lysippan Studies I: The Only Creator of Beauty," American Journal of Archaoelogy 82 (1978): 163–171.

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