Lysippos, Apoxyomenos (Scraper)

Ancient Greek athletes cleaned themselves with oil. This sculpture shows one athlete’s bathing ritual.

Lysippos, Apoxyomenos (Scraper), Roman copy after a bronze statue from c. 330 B.C.E., 6′ 9″ high (Vatican Museums)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] In ancient Greece, people did not use soap and water to wash. They used oil. We’re seeing a sculpture called the “Scraper” or the “Apoxyomenos” by Lysippos, which shows just that.

[0:16] This is an athlete whose body is now covered with perspiration and dust. What he’s doing is he’s washing himself, first by covering his body with oil, and then using a strigil to scrape all the grime off with the oil.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:29] Lysippos was one of the most famous sculptors from the 4th century B.C.E. Of course, we’re not looking at the actual work by Lysippos of the “Apoxyomenos.” We’re looking at an ancient Roman copy in marble of what was a Greek bronze original.

Dr. Zucker: [0:45] Even though it’s a copy, it can give us a tremendous amount of information. Lysippos is known for having changed the proportional canon that we associate with the high Classical tradition in Greece.

[0:56] This is the fourth century, and what Lysippos has done is to elongate the body and to reduce the size of the head.

Dr. Harris: [1:03] It’s very obvious when you compare this with a fifth-century sculpture from the Classical period by Polykleitos. He was the sculptor who established that canon.

Dr. Zucker: [1:13] In the “Doryphoros,” if you look at Polykleitos’ sculpture, and you measure the size of the head, the length of the body is seven heads tall, but Lysippos has added a full head’s worth of length.

[1:24] If you were to measure this, this is eight head lengths tall, and because the head is smaller and the body is taller, it gives us a sense as we look up at the sculpture on a podium that the figure is even taller than he is.

Dr. Harris: [1:37] Lysippos has done some other new things. He’s reached the figure’s arm into space where the figure is scraping the oil from his body. By doing that, he breaks out of the frontal orientation of Classical sculpture and makes us want to move around the figure so we can see it from different directions.

Dr. Zucker: [1:56] There is perhaps a fairly ideal position to view the sculpture from his front left, but nevertheless, I can’t see his chest, and so I do want to move around. Now, this was a bronze originally, so that tree trunk was not there in the original sculpture. It wasn’t necessary.

[2:13] Bronze has enough tensile strength, so you don’t need that. You can see that there’s actually a fragment of a couple of bridges that were meant to first support the marble arms, which have broken and then been repaired. Nevertheless, even in the original bronze, I would’ve wanted to walk around this.

Dr. Harris: [2:28] No question.

Dr. Zucker: [2:29] Even though Lysippos is introducing these very new innovations, this change of the proportion of the body, this breaking with the frontal plane of the sculpture, he’s still very much embedded in the great Greek tradition of representing the nude athlete, this idealized human body.

Dr. Harris: [2:47] Lysippos’s figure stands in contrapposto, which was invented by the Greeks in the Classical period.

Dr. Zucker: [2:54] It’s such a gorgeous example of contrapposto and of the body as a whole. Look at the musculature. We really feel the power of this athlete, even though it’s presumably now after his exercises.

Dr. Harris: [3:05] Now, from sources, we hear that Lysippos was associated with Alexander the Great, the great military leader that conquered Greece and spread Greek ideas throughout the Mediterranean. He’s said to have sculpted Alexander. Too bad none of those sculptures survive.

Dr. Zucker: [3:22] We’re seeing the sculpture in the Vatican because antiquities were treasured by Renaissance popes, and subsequently, but of course, we’re looking at a sculpture that is pagan and pagan in its celebration of human achievement, in human beauty, as opposed to the spiritual.

[3:39] It is striking to see this sculpture in such a religious institution.

Dr. Harris: [3:44] So many ancient Greek and Roman sculptures all around us here in the Vatican Museum.

Dr. Zucker: [3:49] One last detail, which is the room in which the sculpture is displayed, apparently was a room that Leonardo da Vinci occupied briefly. Leonardo, of course, this stepping stone back to this reverence for the body even within the Catholic tradition.

[4:05] [music]

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Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Lysippos, Apoxyomenos (Scraper)," in Smarthistory, December 11, 2015, accessed May 20, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/lysippos-apoxyomenos-scraper/.