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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.xix.53)

The Amazons were said to have founded the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Callimachus, Hymn to Artemis, III.233; Pausanias, Description of Greece, VII.2.7; Hyginus, Fables, §223), where many later were wounded or slain in battle with the god Dionysus (Plutarch, Greek Questions, LVI). At the inauguration of the Artemision in about 440–430 BC, four statues of the Amazons were dedicated, which has prompted speculation as to which later Roman marble copies can be attributed to these bronze antecedents.

The Amazon by Cydon, who otherwise is unknown as a sculptor, almost certainly has been mistaken for Cydonia in Crete, the birthplace of Cresilas. Any attribution would be difficult, in any event, as his style cannot be known. The so-called Amazon of Phradmon who, as judged by the sculptors themselves, submitted the weakest offering of the competition, is presumed lostalthough 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 it, too, cannot be considered a type. The statue also is larger than the others and the chiton attached at both shoulders, covering the breasts. The right arm, most of the left, and both legs all have been restored and, if an Amazon, may simply be a variant of the Lansdowne type (below).

Only three archetypes, therefore, tend to be recognized: the Lansdowne type (attributed to Polycleitus), the Mattei type (Phidias), and the Capitoline type (Cresilas). Each statue has the same scale and attitude, and shows the Amazon in contrapposto (standing with the weight of the body resting on one leg), wearing a chiton loosely gathered by a belt at the waist and falling from one shoulder or the other, exposing the breast. When first discovered, all were missing portions of one or both arms (which had been sculpted separately and then attached to the torso by dowels), as well as their hands—with the result that early restorations were not always correct.


In 1771, bereaved at the death of his wife, Lord Shelburne, later Marquess of Lansdowne, traveled to Italy where, in Rome, he met the Scottish artist and antiquary Gavin Hamilton and commissioned him to furnish a proposed sculpture gallery—one that Hamilton declared would be "a collection that will make Shelburne House famous not only in England but all over Europe" (Letter of January 18, 1772; as prime minister a decade later, Shelburne would be forced to concede independence to the United States). This Amazon "large as life" was discovered (among several other pieces) that first year at the villa (and later mausoleum) of the emperor Gallienus along the ninth milestone of the Appian Way (Aurelius Victor, Epitome de Caesaribus, §40.3), where the site then was known as Tor Colombaro (from columbarium, a resting place for funerary ashes) on property owned by Cardinal Chigi. In a letter dated March 4, 1773, Hamilton described the statue as "one of the best of that kind, particularly the head, which surpasses much any that I have yet seen, not excepting that of the Pope's Museum [Mattei Amazon], so much esteemed" and was purchased by Shelburne for £200.

In time, however, he became "somewhat dissatisfied" with his purchasewhich obliged Hamilton to find another buyer and complaining to Shelburne, who by then was suffering from gout, that "At present there is not one purchaser in England and money is scarce. It therefore dont surprise me that at this time your Lordship cannot immediately find a purchaser at the price they cost. Perhaps in another thirty years, when antique statues are not to be got, your Lordship's collection will be worth double what they cost." Moreover, "whatever you offer for sale is look'd upon as your refusal which at once condemns it" (Letter of August 12, 1786).

Ironically, thirty years later (in 1816), the marbles from the Parthenon frieze and pediment that had been sculpted under the direction of Phidias and then appropriated by Lord Elgin were sold to the British Museum, after a select committee had been created to ascertain their artistic and monetary value. Greek originals now could be compared to later Roman copies, such as those in the collection of Charles Townley (who, coincidentally, was the same age as Shelburne, both men dying in 1805). Testifying before the committee, Joseph Nollekens, then the most renown sculptor in Britain, considered the Parthenon marbles "the finest things that ever came to this country," reckoning them "very much higher than the Townley Marbles for beauty"—the difference being that "the one is all completely finished and mended up, and these are real fragments as they have been found." The reputation of Townley's acquisitions suffered accordingly, as no doubt did the more prestigious collection of Shelburne himself. But, in spite of his impatience to rid himself of the Amazon, it was not sold until 1930, by which time, the statue had gained in estimation and was the prize lot (No. 59) at a Christie's auction, where it realized 28,350 guineas.

The Lansdowne Amazon now is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), a gift of John D. Rockefeller in 1932. The stylistic affinity of the head (which required only that the tip of the nose be repaired) to that of the Doryphorus ("Spear Bearer") by Polycleitus allows it to be identified with him, the winner of the Ephesian competition. So similar, in fact, are the two heads that Michaelis regarded them "as sister to brother." As to the Doryphorus, it "alone of mankind is deemed by means of one work of art to have created the art itself" (Pliny, XXXIV.xix.55).

In spite of the sharp cut and drops of blood beneath the exposed breast, the Amazon is characterized by its serene pose and balanced composition. Nor does the face express the same fatigue as the Berlin model (below); rather, the Amazon leans on a pillar (the bronze original would not have required such support), resting the right arm lightly on her head in the same gesture of repose associated with sleep or death. As Furtwängler phrases it, Polycleitus is "entirely concerned with the beauty of the motive....[and] aims primarily at a beautiful pose and pleasing drapery" (p. 34).

In the eighteen-century the aesthetic was that ancient statues be restored and any missing fragments replaced. As observed in one account of the celebrated houses of Mayfair, the sculptures in Lansdowne House "have been more or less fractured and damaged in other ways, and where that is the case new work has been added in order to supply as far as possible the deficiencies." In the case of the Amazon, this included both legs below the knees, and much of the arms. When The Met acquired the statue, these earlier restorations were reversed in an attempt to adhere more faithfully to the original composition. Using plaster casts taken from the Berlin and Copenhagen Amazons, which themselves were faithful copies (having used "pointing" to mechanically reproduce the Greek original), the lower legs and feet were replaced, as well as the tip of the nose. The missing fingers of the right hand also were changed to more closely follow the contour of the head. The left hand, which had been holding (rather incongruously) a scroll, was not restored.

Discovered in the Gardens of Sallust in 1868 and acquired by the Pergamon Museum in Berlin the next year, this is the most complete example of the Lansdowne typewhich is to say, the most restored. Almost all of the right arm and the left forearm, both hands and feet, and the pillar and its plinth have been replaced. More tired than suffering, the Amazon leans on a pillar for support, one hand draped rather listlessly, the other resting languidly on her head, the fingers slightly lifted.

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. It may represent a makeshift bit of broken horse rein, tied on the battlefield by the warrior. 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.

A second important copy of the Lansdowne type 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. In this example, too, earlier restorations were removed, including those by the Glyptotek itself, and the left shoulder remodeled so it did not look quite so amputated.

To detect any traces of pigment, researchers at the Glyptotek compared its Amazon to two others: the Berlin Amazon 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.

From left to right, the statues are from the websites of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pergamon Museum, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and Museo Histórico Municipal de Écija (Spain)—the last discovered in 2002 and, as can be seen on the front of the pillar, retaining more of its original color.


In the Imagines ("Essays in Portraiture"), Lucian 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). Other than Pliny, this is the only reference that suggests the Mattei Amazon to be the type derived from the original by Phidias.

Discovered in 1770 and known as the Mattei Amazon after the family who once had owned it, the statue is in the Pio-Clementine Museum (Vatican), sequestered in the Gallery of Statues, which invariably is closed to the general public. The head is antique but modeled on the marble bust in the Capitoline Museums (top) and not original to the statue. Both arms and the right leg from the knee to the ankle also have been restored. Unlike the other two types in the Ephesian group, she appears to be unwounded. The raised arm, therefore, may be grasping a spear or lance in preparation for swinging herself onto a horse rather than simply for support.

Compare, for example, Xenophon direction"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" (On Horsemanship, VII.3). In the Iliad, too, Myrina, queen of the Amazons, is variously called "swift bounding, light step, leaping" (II.925) and in Pindar "the Amazons with their noble steeds" are praised (Olympian Odes, VIII.47). In Furtwängler's illustration (p. 138), the head tilts to the left, toward the spear and not the weight-bearing leg, as it does in other 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 pulling a bow.

This plaster cast of the statue in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich) show the figure to better effect, the Amazon looking down and the right breast covered.

A more accessible example of the Mattei type is in the Capitoline Museums (Palazzo Nuovo). Found at the Villa d'Este (within the ancient perimeter of Hadrian's own villa) and inventoried in 1572, it was purchased and then donated to the Capitoline collection in 1753 by Benedict XIV. But the eighteenth-century restoration by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi was extensive, including the entire right arm, portions of the upper left arm and hand, right foot, and left knee and thigh. The head, too, although ancient, does not belong to the statue.

The characteristic crescent shield (pelta) and double-bladed axe (labrys) 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 (suggested by the quiver below her arm), she in fact should be holding a spear, which is evidenced by an engraved gemstone, now lost but drawn in the eighteenth century by Lorenz Natter.

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

This example is from the small museum at Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli outside Rome. It shows the chiton drawn up high on the left thigh, exposing a bleeding gash. But this is the only example to show a wound there and, although it may have been added by the copyist, the statue preserves the position of the arms, which suggests that the Amazon is leaning on her spear for support. The missing hand, however, has been restored (as has the left leg from the knee to the ankle and much of the right leg) and it is not possible to know what it once held.

A battered copy in cement takes its place on the Canopus, where it had been found in 1955. This large reflecting pool was intended to recall the canal connecting Alexandria to the Nile, which is where Antinoös, Hadrian's lover, had drown.


Only one other figure from the competition at Ephesus is mentioned by Pliny for a second time, when he comments that Cresilas sculpted "a Wounded Amazon" (volneratam) (XXXIV.xix.75). It is represented by the Capitoline or Sosicles type (after the name on the support), which is the only statue to fully expose the right breast, above and below which are wounds.

The statue was acquired by Clement XIII from his nephew Cardinal Albani in 1733, as soon as it was discovered, and now is in the Capitoline Museum (Palazzo Nuovo), which was inaugurated the following year. Here, the Amazon raises her right arm out of the way and gingerly lifts the garment with her left, as she looks down at the injury to her side"the wounded woman, natural and human, giving way to her pain and trying to lessen it," as Furtwängler phrases it (p. 134). But the right arm and left forearm and hand have been extensively restored, and it is more likely that the open hand grasped a spear upon which the Amazon wearily supported herself. The head belongs to the statue and one can discern the pathos of the suffering Amazon. The chiton, too, is much simpler, the pleats less elaborate, and the hem cut in a straight line. Behind the neck, a himation or long cloak worn by riders hangs in heavy, straight folds.

If the Mattei Amazon can be attributed to Phidias, the other two types have been identified with less certainty. Although the Lansdowne type usually is assigned to Polycleitus and the Capitoline to Cresilas, the associations often have been reversed. The fact that the Lansdowne type has a wound has led some to conclude that it represents the work of Cresilas. But 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 Capitoline rather than the Lansdowne type as being similar to the Doryphorus. Indeed, it is just because the Lansdowne 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 Lansdowne 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, the hands holding the remnants of a bow.

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

The chiton 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 pleated linen was not cut to fit but simply gathered and draped using a double girdle. One belt raised the hemline (to midthigh by the Amazon to allow for running and vaulting), creating a blousing (kolpos) that was formed when the excess material was pulled up and tucked under the girdle (zone) and then allowed to blouse or fold over and hide the belt. A second binding then established a visible waistline that reached to the ribcage. This particular style of chiton 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 is formed when suspended under its own weight.

Pliny relates that Phidias (of whom Cresilas was a contemporary) flourished in the 83rd Olympiad (448–445 BC) and Polycleitus and Phradmon in the 90th (420–417 BC) (XXXIV.xix.49–50). Assuming that the statues had been created at about the same time (Ridgway argues that they were not) and that Pliny's account is not anecdotal (Herodotus relates that, in awarding the prize for valor after the Battle of Salamis, each commander first voted for himself and then Themistocles, with the result that all but Themistocles had only a single vote, The Histories, VIII.123; also Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, XVII.1)they can be arranged in a line so that the Mattei (Phidias) and Capitoline (Cresilas) types flank the group, with spears on the inside. Here, the exposed left breast and weight-bearing right leg of the Mattei type would serve as a pendant or mirror-image for the exposed right breast and weight-bearing left leg of the Capitoline type, with the more pensive Lansdowne type in the middle.

These plaster casts in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen (Munich) allow for a ready comparison. From left to right, they are the Mattei, Capitoline, and Lansdowne types. Ideally, though, they should be arranged Mattei, Lansdowne, and Capitoline. It should be appreciated, however, that the famed German art historian Adolf Furtwängler argued for four Amazon types and Richter for all five.

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, The Library of History, II.45.3, III.53.3; Apollodorus, The Library, II.5.9; Strabo, Geography, XI.5.1; Arrian, Roman History, VII.13.2; Justin, Epitome, 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").

"He [Chrysippus] believes that beauty does not lie in the proportion of the elements but of the members: of finger, obviously, to finger, of all the fingers to palm and wrist, of these to forearm, of forearm to upper arm, and of all to all, as is written in Polycleitus's Canon. Polycleitus first gave us full information in that book about all the proportions of the body, then he confirmed his account in action by fashioning a statue in accordance with the demands of the theory; and he gave to the statue, as he did to the treatise, the name Canon....For as a beautiful body has its origin in the proportion of the members, so a beautiful act arises through the proportion of the particular movements. Thus some person are said to dance, perform the pancration, wrestle, and walk gracefully and beautifully, others with awkwardness and ugliness. For beauty of actions is recognized in the proportion of the particular movements, and ugliness in their lack of proportion" (Galen, On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato, V.3.1516, 22–23; trans Phillip de Lacy, 1981).

Found in 1874 in the Gardens of Maecenas 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 (pp. 128-141); "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 (pp. 462-464); 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 Copenhagen 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; "Changes in the Restoration of the Lansdowne Amazon" (1935) by Gisela M. A. Richter, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 30(3), 66-68; A Catalogue of the Ancient Sculptures Preserved in the Municipal Colletions of Rome (1912) edited by H. Stuart Jones (pp. 286-287, 296-297, 342-344): A Catalogue of the Ancient Marbles at Lansdowne House Base Upon the Work of Adolf Michaelis (1889) edited by A. H. Smith; Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Earl of Elgin's Collection of Sculptured Marbles &c. (1816); The Academy. A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art (1878, July-December), Vol. XIV; The Celebrated Collection of Ancient Marbles, The Property of the Most Hon. The Marquess of Lansdowne (March 5, 1930), Christie's sales catalog (Lot 59). The most thorough treatment of the wounded Amazon is Amazones Volneratae: Untersuchungen zu den Ephesischen Amazonenstatuen (1998) by Renate Bol.

See also Penthesilea and Tinted Venus.

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