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  • That Was Genius Team

Episode 12 - Two Shiny Nipples and an Unfortunate Weather Vane (Sculpture Week)

Updated: Apr 19, 2020

Sam's episode Notes: Lysippos

Lysippos: He's Possibly the greatest sculptor of ancient Greece, with the most pieces in museums – and yet not a single one is an original. His works are everywhere, and yet not a single one exists. Born around 390BC in the city of Sikyon near Corinth, and died in 300BC ish, so he lived a grand old life. As a young boy, he taught himself to cast and work with bronze, and became incredibly well known for it. He worked on an industrial scale, running a large workshop and training a circle of dozens of other sculptors and apprentices. In fact, it was one of his pupils, Chares of Lindos, who made the Colossus of Rhodes. He was pretty prolific, with writers at the time claiming he'd churned out 1,500 major sculptures in his lifetime. He was very into detail, his sculptures are known for their inclusion of details such as eyelids and even toenails, in instances where the feet have survived. As we know, bits tend to get knocked off Greek statues when they are inevitably stolen by the Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, British, and latterly clumsy American and Chinese tourists. He was very good at pubes as well. His sculptures also tend to be more realistic – they are leaner and have smaller heads than the roided up bodybuilders the Greeks often produced. He was a sculptor to the stars – Alexander the Great had him on speed dial. In fact, is Lysippos who created the tousled hair, slightly pouty, regal, staring into the distance look of Alexander the Great we all know and love. It's his impression of Alexander that we see today, because he was his personal sculptor and the only man permitted to recreate his form in bronze – Alexander had a personal sculptor, painter and engraver, and it's the statues which were said later by Plutarch to be the most reliable reproductions, and the style which inspired the others. So how come we know so much about him given that none of his works survive, Tom? Well, he was forged. To. Fuck. 1,500 originals may sound like a lot, but the Romans absolutely loved his artwork, as did the Greeks. His most famous works were forged by both his apprentices and by the Romans, which is why so many marble works attributed to Lysippos survive, despite the fact he probably never touched a chisel in his life. In fact some museums today STILL attribute marble works to him despite knowing full well they are Roman copies from 200 years later. Which is the equivalent of going to the gift shop at the Louvre and buying a Mona Lisa canvas print. It's still going to be expensive, but it aint the Mona Lisa. That's not to say the statues and copies aren't beautiful, but they aren't his. Now, there are a couple of pieces which MAY be originals, but working that out from among the thousands of forgeries is really tough – in 2010 two art dealers in Greece were arrested with what could have been an original piece, but it was inconclusive. But more interestingly, there's the Getty Bronze, or the Victorious Youth. It's a statue of a youngish man posing with a victorious athlete's olive wreath, without his feet, as per, which was found by fishermen off the Adriatic coast in Italy in 1966. It's a gorgeous statue, which would once have featured inlaid eyes made of bone, and, also features, er, copper nipples. Just to really set it off. What a nickname that would be. The fishermen were paid $5,600 for the find, and 11 years later it was sold to the J Paul Getty museum in California by a German dealer for $4 million. Because fuck art, Tom. Although a round of applause please to the restoration team, who had to scrape 2,000 years of sea gunge and rust off the statue, by hand, with a scalpel. It's believed the statue was saved from being stolen and melted down to pay for some war or another ironically by being looted by the Romans, who then lost it in a shipwreck on the way to Italy – which is pretty much the only way Greek bronzes have survived and why it's rare to find their feet – they tend to be snapped off in a hurry – just like that statue of Saddam Hussein. The Getty museum have carbon dated the statue to somewhere between the end of the 4th and the second century BC – so it could just conceivably have been one of the last pieces Lysippos made, but no one can be sure. At any rate, there's been an ongoing controversy with the statue, as the Italian government have demanded it back, claiming it was looted out of Italy illegally – a claim the Getty museum denies. Ah the irony of the Italian government demanding back a supposedly looted artefact which was found having been in the process of being looted from the Greeks. Having said that, there's an enormous illicit trade in stolen and looted antiques in Italy and Greece – an absolutely vast criminal underworld, so it's almost certain that if any genuine pieces DO survive, they have been spirited away somewhere over the centuries. Why do so few or even no original works by Lysippos survive? Well, unfortunately bronze is valuable and the Greeks have been at the geographic centre of European and Middle-Eastern politics for most of the last 2,500 years – countless invaders have passed through and taken what they want, mostly with more of an interest in paying the bills than appreciating good sculpture. Pretty much the only classical bronzes that have survived being melted down are those lost in shipwrecks – ironically often in the process of being stolen.

Tom's notes: The Colossus of Rhodes


· Theme of podcast – surprise each other

· Many people know 7 Wonders of the Ancient World

· Do they know the specifics?


· Do you know the 7 wonders?

o Generation Game conveyor

o “Life is the name of the game and I want to the play the game with you”

o 90s British pop culture references

§ Big Break

§ Generation Game

§ David Ginola

§ Duncan Goodhue

· The list

o Great Pyramid of Giza

o Hanging Gardens of Babylon

o Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

o Statue of Zeus at Olympia

o Mausoleum at Hallicarnasus

o Lighthouse of Alexandria

· Colossus of Rhodes the last to be completed and first to be destroyed

· Early references

o Herodotus (5th C BC)

o Callimachus of Cyrene, Antipater of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium (3rd C BC)

· Pliny the Elder

o De jaculatione equestri

o Use of spears on horseback

Colossus of Rhodes

· Giant statue in the port city of Rhodes on the Island of Rhodes (Greek, very close to Turkey)

· Estimated 33 meters high, or 108 feet, or 70 cubits!

o About the same height as the Statue of Liberty and Christ the Redeemer

o Angel of the North only 20m

· Statue of the sun god Helios

o Relatively minor god to the Greeks but a big deal in Rhodes

o Rhodes from Rhodos; a nymph who bore seven sons to Helios

· Stood overlooking the harbour

o Some much later pictures portray Helios astride the port entrance

§ As if to say… Silly Geordie accent

o Not logistically possible

o Exact location unknown

· Constructed around 280BC as a celebration of Rhode’s defeat of an army led by Antigonus I Monophthalmus in 305 BC

o A general and Satrap (provincial governor) under Alexander the Great

o Alexander died at the age of 32 in 323BC

§ Succession disputes Wars of the Diadochi

§ Lasted about 50 years

· The sieging army left all of their siege equipment and this was sold or used to make the statue

o Also a very rich trading port

· Built between 292 and 280 BC

o So not a fast project!

o Metal outer shell supported by struts and rocks on the inside

§ Built using a siege engine and by a ramp of earth

· Destroyed in 226BC after an earthquake

o Ptolemy III offered to rebuild it but an oracle from Delphi discouraged this

o Still a marvel to behold for around 800 years until Arab forces captured the island and sold the brass to a Jew and taken away on 900 camels

§ Pliny tells us that few people could wrap their arms around the fingers

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