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The Wounded Amazon

"The most celebrated have also come into competition with each other, although born at different periods, because they had made statues of Amazons; when these were dedicated in the Temple of Artemis of Ephesus, it was agreed that the best one should be selected by the vote of the artists themselves who were present; and it then became evident that the best was the one which all the artists judged to the the next best after their own: this is the Amazon by Polycleitus, while next to it came that of Pheidias, third Cresilas's, fourth Cydon's and fifth Phradmon."

Pliny, Natural History (XXXIV.53)

The Amazons were said to have founded the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Callimachus, Hymn to Artemis, III.233), where many later were wounded or slain in battle with Dionysus (Plutarch, Greek Questions, LVI; Pausanias, VII.2.7). At the inauguration of the Artemision in 440-430 BC, the statues of four Amazons were dedicated by Polycleitus, Phidias, Cresilas, and Phradmon. This has prompted speculation as to which later Roman marble copies can be attributed to these bronze antecedents. Three archetypes tend to be recognized: the Mattei type (attributed to Phidias), the Berlin type (Polycleitus), and the Capitoline type (Cresilas). Each has the same scale and attitude, and shows the Amazon wearing a loose chiton that is gathered at the waist and falls from one shoulder or the other, exposing the breast.

The Amazon by Cydon, who otherwise is unknown as a sculptor, almost certainly is mistaken for Cydonia in Crete, the birthplace of Cresilas. Any attribution would be difficult, in any event, as his style cannot be known. The Amazon of Phradmon is presumed lost, although a statue in the Villa Doria Pamphili (Rome) presented as Artemis has been attributed to him. There is only this single example, however, and so cannot be considered a type. It also is larger than the others and the chiton is attached at the shoulders, covering both breasts. Indeed, it is just because the Doria Pamphili is the weakest offering, as attested by the artists themselves, that it has been presumed to be the work of the sculptor who was last in the competition. The right arm, most of the left, and both legs have been restored and, if an Amazon, may simply be a variant of the Berlin type. (All this being said, no less a scholar than Richter has argued for five sculptors and five types.)

The notion that the Amazons removed their right breast (hence the name, "without a breast") so that they would not be hindered in drawing the bow or throwing the javelin is not depicted in sculpture—in spite of literary testimony (e.g., Diodorus Siculus, II.45.3, III.53.3; Apollodorus, II.5.9; Strabo, XI.5.1; Arrian, VII.13.2; Justin, II.4.9, who poignantly confesses that "I cannot, however, bring myself to believe that this race of women, whose praises have been sung so often by the most reputable writers, never existed at all").


Discovered in 1770 and known as the Mattei Amazon after the family that once owned it, the original is in the Pio-Clementine Museum (Vatican), sequestered in the Gallery of Statues, which invariably is closed. (The picture on the right was taken by Elise on Flickr.) The plaster cast of the statue above is in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich).

  The Imagines ("Essays in Portraiture") by Lucian is a dialogue in which he proposes to construct, from a synthesis of other works of art, the perfect portrait statue, one "that comprises whatever is most exquisite in each" (V). Among the works of Phidias praised most highly, he would take the lips and neck (VI) of the "the Amazon who leans upon her spear" (IV). It is this reference, the only one by another author to the Ephesian statues mentioned by Pliny, that allows the Mattei Amazon to be the one type whose attribution to Phidias seems most certain.

Its head is antique but modeled on that of the Capitoline Amazon. Both arms (and the right leg from the knee to the ankle) have been restored.


A more accessible example of the Mattei type is in the Capitoline Museums (Palazzo Nuovo). Here, there has been more extensive restoration, including the entire right arm, portions of the upper left arm and hand, left leg and foot, and the bow. The head, too, although ancient, does not belong to the statue. (Indeed, all copies of this type are missing their original heads.)

The characteristic crescent shield (pelta) and double-bladed axe that serve as a support signify the exotic origin of the Amazons. Compare the weapons with those mentioned by Xenophon, who speaks of the bow, quiver, and battle-axe "like those which the Amazons carry" (Anabasis, IV.4.16).

Although a bow has been placed in the restored hands of the Amazon, it may be that she should be holding a spear, as shown in the reconstruction by Furtwängler (far right), which is based on a engraved gemstone.

Curiously, Stewart uses this statue, rather than the one in the Vatican, to illustrate the Mattei type.


This example of the Mattei type is from Hadrian's Villa, the chiton drawn up high on the left thigh, revealing that the Amazon has been wounded there and is leaning on her spear for support. This is the only example of the type to show a wound in such a location and may have been added by the copyist. The raised arm suggests that the Amazon is grasping a spear, perhaps in preparation to swinging onto her horse (cf. Xenophon, On Horsemanship, "whether he means to mount by hoisting himself up, catching hold of the mane behind the ears, or to vault on to horseback by help of his spear," VII.3).

In Furtwängler's illustration, the head tilts toward the spear and not the weight-bearing leg, as it does in statues of the Mattei type. Were the Amazon about to vault, the restored heads may have been positioned incorrectly—or not, if the Amazon is simply learning on her spear. One also expects the right breast, not the left, to be uncovered so that the arm on that side would not be impeded in combat.

The statue in the museum at Hadrian's villa is the only example to preserve the arms, although the hand of the extended right arm has been restored. It therefore is not possible to know what it once held.

A battered copy takes the place of the original on the Canopus, where it had been found. This large reflecting pool was intended to recall the canal connecting Alexandria to the Nile, which is where Antinoös, Hadrian's lover, had drown.




Discovered in Rome near the Baths of Diocletian in 1868, the statue was acquired the next year by the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The entire right arm and left forearm, both hands and feet, and the pillar and its plinth all have been restored, making it the most complete example of the typethat is to say, the most restored.

  Given the stylistic affinity of the head with that of the Doryphoros, the Berlin type has been identified with Polycleitus. Here, one can discern the pathos of the Amazon, who leans exhausted on a pillar for support (which Stewart suggests may be a boundary marker of the sanctuary).

There is a bleeding wound to the side of the right breast, which may explain the gesture of the arm and the stance. It also may signify the bravery of the warrior or, given that the wound is not consistent with the pose, the invention of the copyist as an analogy to the wounded type. The belt that holds the chiton is distinctive to the Berlin Amazon and shows a leather strip that loops around hooks held in place by rivets at each end of a rectangular buckle. (The belt of the Mattei type is tied with a Herculean knot, with the loose ends hanging down; and the Capitoline type is simply a flat band that is not tied at all.) It may represent a makeshift bit of broken horse rein, tied on the battlefield by the distressed warrior.

This Amazon also is known as the Lansdowne or Sciarra type from two other copies. One was found by the antiquary Gavin Hamilton in 1771 and later sold to Lord Shelburne, Marquis of Lansdowne for £200, who was "somewhat dissatisfied" with his purchase. Hamilton tried to find another buyer but complained of the difficulty, given that "whatever you offer for sale is look'd upon as your refusal which at once condemns it." In 1930, it was the prize lot at the Christie's auction of the Lansdowne collection and sold for 28,350 guineas. The statue now is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), a gift of John D. Rockefeller in 1932. The head, which was described by Hamilton at the time as one "which surpasses much any that I have yet seen," required only that the nose be restored, which was cast from the Sciarra statue. The lower legs and feet are plaster casts taken from the Berlin and Sciarra Amazons. Most of the right arm, lower part of the pillar and plinth are eighteenth-century restorations. The left hand, as in all the types, was missing and has not been restored.

The other copy (above) is in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (Copenhagen) and was acquired in 1897 from the Palazzo Sciarra. Earlier, it had been in the Palazzo Barberini, having been purchased from Cardinal del Monte in 1628, on whose property it had been found, the former Gardens of Sallust. Earlier restorations were removed, including those by the Glyptotek itself, and only the left shoulder remodeled so it did not look as if it had been amputated.

To detect any traces of pigment, researchers at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek examined its Amazon and compared it to two other examples: the one in the Pergamon Museum and another in the Museo Histórico Municipal de Écija. Four different pigments were found to have been used in combination for skin tones: red hematite, Egyptian blue, pink, and traces of yellow ochre, which also was used to color the hair. The eyes and lips also were painted. Bands of Egyptian blue, which is luminescent under infrared light, also were found on the hem of the chiton (which had a red belt) and sandal straps, as well as the drops of blood from the wound.

Not surprisingly, given its recent discovery in 2002, the Écija Amazon retained more of its original color, as can be seen on the front of the pillar. From left to right, the statues below are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and Museo Histórico Municipal de Écija.




The statue was acquired in 1733 by Clement XIII from his nephew Cardinal Albani and now is in the Capitoline Museum (Palazzo Nuovo), which was inaugurated the following year. The right arm and left forearm and hand have been restored.

  Only one other figure from the competition at Ephesus is mentioned a second time: Pliny's comment that Ctesilaus (Cresilas) sculpted "a Wounded Amazon" (XXXIV.76). The only Amazon to present herself as being wounded is the Capitoline or Sosicles type (after the signature of the sculptor on the support). Here, raising her right arm out of the way and gingerly lifting the garment with her left, she looks down at the injury to her side.

This also is the only type to fully expose the right breast and to show a himation or long cloak hanging from the neck. More likely, the open hand grasped a spear upon which the wounded Amazon supported herself.

As to the possible order of the Amazons (assuming that the statues even were arranged in a line, that all were created at the same time, and that Pliny's account is not spurious), they tend to be arranged so that the Mattei and Capitoline types flank the group, with spears either on the inside or outside. Here, the exposed left breast and weight-bearing right leg of the Mattei type serves as a pendant or mirror-image for the exposed right breast and weight-bearing left leg of the Capitoline type.


  If the Mattei Amazon is attributed to Phidias, the other two types have been identified with less certainty. Although the Berlin type usually is assigned to Polycleitus and the Capitoline to Cresila, the associations often have been reversed. The fact that the Berlin type has a wound has led some to conclude that it represents the work of Cresilas. And this example of the Capitoline type in the Braccio Nuovo (Vatican Museums) is identified as a Roman copy of an original by Polycleitus. The Capitoline Museum, too, attributes its eponymous statue to Polycleitus, as does Stewart, who sees the face of the Sosicles rather than the Berlin type as being similar to the Doryphoros. (Both, too, wear the himation). Indeed, it is just because the Berlin and Capitoline types were copied most frequently that the original of one or the other is assumed to have been by the winner of the contest at Ephesus.
  Aside from issues of attribution, there are variations in style. This Amazon in the Braccio Nuovo is identified as a Roman copy of an original by Cresilas. But, rather than exemplifying the Capitoline Amazon, the figure combines the chiton of the Berlin type with the support and pose of the Mattei type. Both arms, the right leg and lower left leg, quiver, and supporting trunk have been restored.

Stewart again is idiosyncratic in using this statue to illustrate the Sciarra (Berlin) type, given that only the chiton is representative.

The chiton simply was two rectangular pieces of fabric sewn together along the side seams, with openings for the head and arms, the shoulder seams sewn or held in place by decorative pins (fibulae). The material was not cut to fit but gathered and draped using a double girdling. One belt raised the hemline, creating a blousing (kolpos) that was formed when the pleated linen was pulled up and tucked under the girdle and then allowed to blouse or fold over. A second binding tied over it established the visible waistline that here reaches almost to the ribcage. This particular style of chiton is the heteromaschalos, which was fastened only on one shoulder, leaving one or both breasts bare.

The symmetrical folds of the fabric (here cascading over the thigh) are termed catenaries, from catena, the Latin word for "chain" and the curve that it forms when suspended under its own weight.



These plaster casts in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich) show all three Amazons to better effect and allow for a comparison. From left to right, they are the Mattei, Capitoline, and Berlin types.

Found in 1874 in the gardens of Maecenas (Horti Maecenatiani) on the Esquiline hill, the marble bust (top) is a copy of a bronze original that was part of the artistic competition. It is in the Capitoline Museums (Palazzo dei Conservatori) (Rome).

References: Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture (1895) by Adolf Furtwängler; "A Story of Five Amazons" (1974) by Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, American Journal of Archaeology, 78(1), 1-17 (In 2004, Ridgway reprinted the article in her book Second Chance: Greek Sculptural Studies Revisited but, even though thirty years had passed, seems not to have changed a word.); "The Lansdowne Amazon" (1933) by Gisela M. A. Richter, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 28(1), 1-5; also 28(4), 76-78 and 30(3), 66-68; "Pliny's Five Amazons" (1959) by Gisela M. A. Richter, Archaeology, 12, 111-115; The Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks (1970) by Gisela M. A. Richter; "Two Pheidian Heads: Nike and Amazon" (1982) by Evelyn Harrison, in The Eye of Greece: Studies in the Art of Athens edited by Donna Kurtz and Brian Sparkes; Greek Sculpture: An Exploration (1990) by Andrew Stewart; Lucian (1925) translated by A. M. Harmon (Loeb Classical Library); "The Amazon's Belt: An Addendum to a Story of Five Amazons" (1976) by Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, American Journal of Archaeology, 80(1), 82; "The Amazon's Belt" (1980) by John Boardman, American Journal of Archaeology, 84(2), 181-182;  "Gavin Hamilton: Archaeologist, Painter, and Dealer" (1962) by David Irwin, The Art Bulletin, 44(2), 87-102; Ancient Marbles in Great Britain (1882) by Adolf Michaelis; Classical Sculpture and the Culture of Collecting in Britain Since 1760 (2009) by Viccy Coltman; "Research on Ancient Sculptural Polychromy with Focus on a 2nd Century CE Marble Amazon" by Maria Louise Sargent and Rikke Hoberg Therkildsen, in Tracking Colour: The Polychromy of Greek and Roman Sculpture in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (2010) edited by the Cophenhagen Polychromy Network; "De-restoring and Re-restoring: Fifty Years of Restoration Work in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek" by Mette Moltesen, in History of Restoration of Ancient Stone Sculptures (2003) edited by Janet Burnett Grossman, Jerry Podany, and Marion True.

The most thorough treatment of the wounded (volnerata) Amazon is Amazones Volneratae: Untersuchungen zu den Ephesischen Amazonenstatuen (1998) by Renate Bol. (It is another reminder, as if one is needed, that English source materials simply are not sufficient by themselves.)

See also Penthesilea and Tinted Venus.

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