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The unfortunate corrosion of this statuette cannot completely obscure the elegance of its Classical style; the grace of its natural movement is still clear. Greek sculptors of the fifth century BCE developed an interest in showing the body in realistic movement. In the case of this bronze, it involved examining how upraised arms affect the whole body, flattening the chest and abdominal muscles, and, as the figure steps forward in the effort, causing the torso to twist slightly. There are small holes in the hands that make it clear that they once held an axe or a mallet. The moment of the movement here is the very top of the backswing, just before the forceful blow. This choice of a pivotal point in time was a favorite device of the Classical sculptor, such as a horse on its haunches just before it lunges forward, or a taut discus-thrower just before his uncoiling, that enlivens the figure, but still allows for a balanced and harmonious composition.
Scholars have suggested more than one identification for this figure; Epimethios preparing to strike Pandora as she rises from the earth, or Lykourgos attacking the nurses of Dionysos. It is most probable, though, that this figure represents a more familiar figure from mythology, Hephaistos, the blacksmith of Olympus, wielding a mallet or axe. In addition to the usual functions of such tools in the smithy, Hephaistos was once called on to turn his axe to obstetric ends. Zeus had become pregnant with Athena by swallowing her mother, Metis, whole. When the time came for delivery, Hephaistos intervened by splitting Zeus’ head open with an axe, creating a birth canal for the fully-grown and fully-armed goddess. Our Hephaistos might originally have been part of a group with a statuette of Zeus. In this case, the device of capturing the moment immediately before the main action would have heightened the charged drama of the work.
E. Langlotz, "Epimethios," Die Antike 6 (1930): 1-14, pl. 1-3.
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, S. Casson, and E. P. Warren, Catalogue of the Marbles, Gems, Bronzes, and Coins of the Warren Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Bowdoin Museum of Fine Arts (Brunswick, Me., 1934), 14, no. 105.
Bulletin of the Fogg Art Museum 10.4 (Dec. 1945): 108, no. 3.
Handbook of the Collection (Washington, D.C., 1946), 18, no. 4, fig. p. 29.
C. Picard, "Lycurgue, l'edone menacant une 'nourrice' de Dionysos," Monuments Piot 45 (1951): 15-31, esp. 22-23, 25, fig. 6.
The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 9, no. 3, fig. p. 21.
G. M. A. Richter, Catalogue of Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Dumbarton Oaks Catalogues (Cambridge, 1956), 25-26, no. 14, pl. 9.
Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 2, no. 3, pl. 3.
A. P. Kozloff, D. G. Mitten, and S. Fabing, The Gods Delight: the Human Figure in Classical Bronze, exhibition catalogue, Cleveland Museum of Art., Los Angeles County Museum of Art., Museum of Fine Arts Boston, November 16, 1988-July 9, 1989, (Cleveland, Ohio and Bloomington, Ind., 1988), 90-94, no. 11.
Buffalo, Albright Knox Art Gallery, "Master Bronzes: Selected from Museums and Collections in America," Feb. 1937. (Borrowed too late for inclusion in catalogue.)
Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, "A Selection of Ivories, Bronzes, Metalwork and Other Objects from the Dumbarton Oaks Collection," Nov. 15 - Dec. 31, 1945.
Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, "The Gods Delight: The Human Figure in Classical Bronze," Nov. 16, 1988-Jan. 8, 1989; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Feb. 9-Apr. 9, 1989; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, May 8-Jul. 9, 1989.
Said to be from Attica. Collection of Edward Perry Warren (1860–1928), Surrey, England.
Still in his estate in 1930 (noted as “Nachlass Edward Perry Warren” in Langlotz, “Epimetheus,” Die Antike 6 : 1–14).
Jacob Hirsch, New York (1874–1955); purchased from Hirsch by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., November 1936.
Transferred to Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C., November 1940.