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Not to be confused with Polyclitus, a freedman in the service of the Roman emperor Nero.
Polykleitos' Doryphoros (Spear-Bearer), an early example of classical contrapposto.

Polykleitos (or Polyklitos, Polycleitus, Polyclitus; Greek: Πολύκλειτος, "much-renowned") of Argos, sometimes called the Elder,[1] was an ancient Greek sculptor in bronze of the 5th century BCE. Alongside the Athenian sculptors Pheidias, Myron and Praxiteles, he is considered one of the most important sculptors of Classical antiquity: the 4th century BCE catalogue attributed to Xenocrates (the "Xenocratic catalogue"), which was Pliny's guide in matters of art, ranked him between Pheidias and Myron.[2]

Early life and training[edit]

Polykleitos was of Argos, in which city state he must have received his early training,[3] and a contemporary of Phidias (possibly also taught by Ageladas).


Polykleitos' figure of an Amazon for Ephesus was regarded as superior to those by Pheidias and Kresilas at the same time[citation needed], while his colossal gold and ivory statue of Hera which stood in her temple—the Heraion of Argos—was favourably compared with the Olympian Zeus by Pheidias. He also sculpted a famous bronze male nude known as the Doryphoros ("Spear-carrier"), which survives in the form of numerous Roman marble copies. Further sculptures attributed to Polykleitos[citation needed] are the Discophoros ("Discus-bearer"), Diadumenos ("Youth tying a headband") and a Hermes at one time placed, according to Pliny, in Lysimachia (Thrace). Polykleitos' Astragalizontes ("Boys Playing at Knuckle-bones") was claimed by the Emperor Titus and set in a place of honour in his atrium.[4]


Apollo of the "Mantua type", marble Roman copy after a 5th-century-BC Greek original attributed to Polykleitos, Musée du Louvre

Polykleitos, along with Phidias, created the Classical Greek style. Although none of his original works survive, literary sources identifying Roman marble copies of his work allow reconstructions to be made. Contrapposto was a posture in his statues in which the weight was placed on one leg, and was a source of his fame.

Polykleitos consciously created a new approach to sculpture, writing a treatise (Kanon) and designing a male nude (also known as Kanon) exemplifying his aesthetic theories of the mathematical bases of artistic perfection. These expressions motivated Kenneth Clark to place him among "the great puritans of art":[5] Polykleitos' Kanon "got its name because it had a precise commensurability (symmetria) of all the parts to one another"[6] "His general aim was clarity, balance, and completeness; his sole medium of communication the naked body of an athlete, standing poised between movement and repose" Kenneth Clark observed.[7] Though the Kanon was probably represented by his Doryphoros, the original bronze statue has not survived. References to it in other ancient writings, however, imply that its main principle was expressed by the Greek words symmetria, the Hippocratic principle of isonomia ("equilibrium"), and rhythmos. "Perfection, he said, comes about little by little (para mikron) through many numbers".[8] By this Polykleitos meant that a statue should be composed of clearly definable parts, all related to one another through a system of ideal mathematical proportions and balance, no doubt expressed in terms of the ratios established by Pythagoras for the perfect intervals of the musical scale: 1:2 (octave), 2:3 (harmonic fifth), and 3:4 (harmonic fourth). The refined detail of Polykleitos' models for casting executed in clay is revealed in a famous remark repeated in Plutarch's Moralia, that "the work is hardest when the clay is under the fingernail".[9]

Polykleitos and Phidias were amongst the first generation of Greek sculptors to attract schools of followers. Polykleitos' school lasted for at least three generations, but it seems to have been most active in the late 4th century and early 3rd century BCE. The Roman writers Pliny and Pausanias noted the names of about twenty sculptors in Polykleitos' school, defined by their adherence to his principles of balance and definition. Skopas and Lysippus are among the best-known successors of Polykleitos.

Polykleitos' son, Polykleitos the Younger, worked in the 4th century BCE. Although the son was also a sculptor of athletes, his greatest fame was won as an architect. He designed the great theater at Epidaurus.

The main-belt asteroid 5982 Polykletus is named after Polykleitos.



  1. ^ In cases where it is necessary to distinguish him from his son, a major architect but minor sculptor.
  2. ^ Andrew Stewart, "Polykleitos of Argos," One Hundred Greek Sculptors: Their Careers and Extant Works, 16.73
  3. ^ That a "school of Argos" existed during the fifth century is minimized as "marginal" by Jeffery M. Hurwit, "The Doryphoros: Looking Backward", in Warren G. Moon, ed. Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, 1995:3-18.
  4. ^ Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia
  5. ^ Clark, The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form, 1956:63;"...they derive the principles of their art, as if from a law of some kind, and he alone of men is deemed to have rendered art itself in a work of art." Pliny's Natural History, 34.55-6.
  6. ^ Galen, De Temperamentis.
  7. ^ Clark 1956:63.
  8. ^ Philo, Mechanicus, quoted in Stewart.
  9. ^ Plutarch, Moralia, quoted in Stewart.


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