In the mid-fifth century BC, the Greek sculptor Polykleitos developed his famous standard of the perfect form. The aim was to find the ideal measure for human proportions and show the harmonious relationship between body and spirit. This standard represents a high watermark in classical Greek art.
Polykleitos’ models are sculpted in the posture known as contrapposto. The body’s weight is on one leg, and the resulting displacements ripple throughout the entire body. Though the head we see here is merely a fragment, the dynamic posture of the body is still evident in how the head slopes and in the transition to the neck on the left-hand side. Polykleitos usually worked in bronze, as evinced here by the sharply delineated lines around the mouth and the eyes. His sculptures were extremely popular and frequently copied, and the head in the National Museum’s collection is a Roman copy in marble from the first century AD, presumably part of a complete statue. The claw-like form of the figure’s hair is typical of Polykleitos’ sculptures that represent the Greek god Hermes. Even though many copies of Polykleitos’ Hermes have been preserved, it is nonetheless not certain that this head is a copy of that work, as it might also be a copy of a representation of the Greek hero Achilles.
According to Polykleitos’ theories, the ideal figure should be youthful without being too young. Despite the idealized visage of the head fragment in the National Museum’s collections, the compressed eyebrows and composed expression show that it is not a youngster who is being portrayed.
Text: Nils Ohlsen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0