A moment in time that’s lasted 2,000 years— the Spinario (Boy with Thorn)


Spinario (Boy with Thorn), c. 1st century B.C.E., bronze, 73 cm high (Capitoline Museums, Rome), a conversation with Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris


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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re in the Capitoline Museums, looking at a famous sculpture of a boy pulling a thorn out of his foot, called the “Spinario.”

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:12] It’s a little ironic that one of the most famous sculptures in this museum is a very simple, everyday moment. Here we are in the Capitoline Museum on the Capitoline Hill. It couldn’t be a more formal space, and yet this lovely little sculpture of a boy pulling a thorn out of his foot.

Dr. Zucker: [0:30] It’s this moment caught in time, and it’s so tactile. It’s an experience that I think we all remember, something caught in our foot. So, we have this nude figure who’s just reaching down and intently focusing.

Dr. Harris: [0:41] And you feel that concentration in the bend of his neck, in the curve of his back.

Dr. Zucker: [0:46] In the way he pulls his left leg over his right. We’re not sure about the origin of the sculpture. It may be Hellenistic Greek. It may be a later Roman copy. But we know that it was copied over and over again, especially in the Renaissance and after.

Dr. Harris: [1:00] It was used as a model for Brunelleschi in the competition panel for the Baptistry doors. This was much beloved by Renaissance artists, [and] also by Baroque artists who were interested in that idea of capturing a moment in time.

Dr. Zucker: [1:14] His attention focuses our attention. I move around the figure to look at the bottom of his foot, to see his fingers wrapping around the thorn. There’s a real delicacy in the handling of his face and especially of the hair that frames his face.

Dr. Harris: [1:27] For the simplicity of the action, the pose is incredibly complex, the turning over of the foot to make the bottom of his foot face upward.

Dr. Zucker: [1:37] I love the delicacy of the unharmed foot.

Dr. Harris: [1:39] Well, he can’t go on. He can’t get up and walk until he’s removed this thorn from his foot. He’s stopped dead in his tracks.

Dr. Zucker: [1:47] This is such a perfect example of the late Greek style that we call the Hellenistic, that has gone beyond the heroic and beyond representations of gods and goddesses, and is interested in the everyday, in the familiar, in the intimate.

Dr. Harris: [1:59] And we’re not used to seeing bronzes. Most of the sculptures that we see as we walk around this museum, or any museum showing ancient Greek and Roman art, is going to be filled with marbles, mostly later Roman copies. So it’s really special to have this.

[2:12] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "A moment in time that’s lasted 2,000 years— the Spinario (Boy with Thorn)," in Smarthistory, December 21, 2020, accessed July 18, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/spinario-boy-with-thorn/.