Brief Identification Edit
The Praying Boy is a statue sculpted in Rhodes of ancient Greece, around 300 BCE. The sculpture reappears in the historic record centuries after its production, in 17th century France under the ownership of Surintendant Foucquet. The sculpture depicts a nude boy praying, with his arms lifted to the heavens. The practical purposes for such a statue are limited, but it is hypothesized that the statue could have once been used to hold jars or urns (Loring & Robinson 1891, 225). Other than that, it is merely art produced by the Greek culture that would have been owned by a patron in Rhodes, possibly as a house fixture (Ridgway 1990, 227). The sculpture originated from the school of the great sculptor Lysippos, more than likely crafted by one of his pupils.
The statue is now found in the Staatliche Museum in Berlin, Germany.
Technical Evaluation Edit
The praying boy was sculpted using traditional Hellenistic sculpting techniques, which were adapted by the Archaic Greek society of the 7th century BCE from their Egyptian, Syrian, and Anitolian neighbors. The figure, comprised of bronze, stands 128 cm tall. The statue depicts a young nude male looking slightly up in adoration, with both hands raised. Details of the statue, such as its idealized body proportions, graceful attitude, bronze composition, and smaller head, strongly resemble the works of the great early Hellenistic sculptor Lysippos, whose school originated the piece (Richardson 1911, 228-236).
Upon investigating further into the history of the piece, the Staatliche Museum discovered that the uplifted arms did not belong to the original figure, but are instead a skillful restoration done while the statue was in France, probably during the reign of Louis XIV. After remaining in France for some time, the statue was then purchased by Frederic the Great of Germany in 1747 and taken to Berlin (Loring & Robinson 1891, 225). It would later be temporarily abducted by Napoleon and Stalin in the 18th and 20th centuries respectively, as a spoil of war (Schulte-Peevers, 2015).
Local Historical Context Edit
The praying boy statue was produced around 300 BCE during a time of cultural change in the Greek world, the Hellenistic Age. The sculpture could have possibly been made during the days of Alexander the Great himself.
Born on July 20, 356 BCE, Alexander came to power as king of Macedonia in 336 BCE. He would continue on to unify the Greek city-states and launch an attack on the Persian Empire, defeating and absorbing its territory in 331 BCE. Next to fall were Egypt, eastern Iran, and northwestern India. With all the land he conquered, Alexander built a multicultural empire, stressing assimilation and cooperation between the cultures he controlled. Unfortunately, upon his death in 323 BCE, Alexander's empire was destroyed by infighting over his title. Although the original empire did not last, the historical consequences of his conquests were astronomical. The states that Alexander's empire dissolved into would serve as the vehicles through which the Hellenistic culture would spread.
Under Alexander's (and his successor's) rule over Greece, artists enjoyed a great climb in social status. With the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, fought between 431 and 404 BCE, and the onset of the Hellenistic Age, artists no longer worked in service of glorifying their respective city-states. Instead, the art they produced now served as an expression of personal power, primarily for the artists' powerful Hellenistic dynast patrons, whose personal pleasure uplifted the social status of the individual artist. Alexander himself was a large patron of the arts, whose personal sculptor was none other than Lysippos himself (Spivey 2013, 226). Alexander's personal enjoyment of the arts no doubt influenced his and his successor's royal patronage of these arts, directly influencing artists' increased social status throughout the Hellenistic Age.
World-Historical Significance Edit
Greek pieces like the Praying Boy would heavily influence the development of art in the foreign cultures of the Hellenistic Age. The Hellenistic Age saw a grand dispersion of Greek culture throughout the ancient world, heavily impacting later developments in history. Thanks to the Greek dominated governments of Alexander's successor states, people all across the Hellenistic world adopted facets of Greek culture. Foreign peoples completely alien to these customs began enjoying plays, adopting Greek attire, and building great libraries (which housed the works of the ancient Greek philosophers).
Trade flourished greatly during the Hellenistic Age. Substances like gold, cotton, spices, papyrus, and glass were constantly being exchanged among the Hellenistic dynasties. Included in this massive exchange was the exchange of cultural ideas as well as Hellenistic art. This art, such as statues like the Praying Boy, heavily influenced the evolution of drawing and sculpting in the foreign cultures of the Hellenistic world. Additionally, the wealth accompanying all this trade allowed the rulers to build elaborate palaces and commission art; art that would even further expose foreign cultures to Greek techniques.
Evidence of Hellenistic influence on artwork exists throughout Western Asia, such as the relief of Antiochus and Heracles recovered at Nemrud Dagh, in eastern Anatolia, made in the mid-first century BCE (Green, et al. 1993, 69-70). Not only does this piece depict Greek mythology, but it is also stylized in a very Hellenistic way, with facial features typically accompanying the genre. Further west, in modern day Turkey, a very Hellenistic sculpture depicting Tyche (also known as the Greek goddess Fortune) was discovered (Green, et al. 1993, 76).
The age that produced the Praying Boy was an age of social revolution throughout their ancient world. New cultures and ideas met for the first time, producing effects observable throughout the historic record. Not only did the Greeks spread their advanced culture (in the form of drama, artwork, and the early sciences) throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, they also spread their efficient trading tactics, such as coined money. Thanks to pieces similar to the Praying Boy, historians can learn and understand more about what the world was like during this grand period of exchanging ideas.
Green, et al. Hellenistic History and Culture. University of California Press, 1993.
Loring, Charles & Robinson, Edward. Greek and Roman Sculpture. Houghton. Mifflin & Company, 1891.
Richardson, Rufus. A History of Greek Sculpture. American Book Company, 1911.
Ridgway, Brunilde. Hellenistic Sculpture vol.1. University of Wisconsin Press, 2001.
Schulte-Peevers, Andrea. Lonely Planet Berlin. Lonely Planet, 2015.
Spivey, Nigel. Greek Sculpture. Cambridge University Press, 2013.
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