The Motya Charioteer

Explanations

to date concerning this marvellous figure are inadequate.
What precisely is it? Where did it come from? And what date is it?

The Motya Charioteer stood

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for six weeks until the middle of September in the large gallery housing the Parthenon pediments and frieze in the British Museum. It was worth making a special effort to see it more than once as it is among few great works – it is reproduced as standard in most of the better literature of classicism – of ancient art to visit London in recent times. Certainly google_ad_width = 970; nothing else in the Cultural Olympiad – so lavishly praised by those who organised it and their dutiful footsoldiers – could touch it for sculptural virtuosity and immediate aesthetic impact. The time required to take in this figure properly far exceeded the twenty minutes needed to google_ad_height = 90; dawdle

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through Damien Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern – that institution’s imaginative and unexpected contribution to the art events stapled google_ad_width = 970; to the Olympics’ coattails. Additionally the Motya Charioteer was given free of charge.

This was no off-the-shelf piece like so many antique sculptures in so many museums. On the contrary, it looked google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; to be the work of an important artist, whose name we ought to know, and even may know, but which we will never now discover. The material is pale yellow limestone whose origin is described vaguely as “Greek or /* xin2 */ Turkish” – modern analysis can surely be more specific than this.

It was unearthed in 1979 on the tiny island of src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> Motya off the western coast of Sicily

close to Marsala where it is housed in a regional museum from which it is rarely loaned. Universally praised for its beauty, not least in British newspapers when it first

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went on show at the Museum, it is already considered a key piece google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; in /* xin-1 */ classical sculpture. It was, curiously, found among mainly architectural rubble. Motya was a longstanding Phoenician city fortress until it was conquered

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following a destructive siege by a native Sicilian in 397 BC. It was later taken over by the Carthaginians until in 241 BC it was subsumed into an expanding Roman republic. The debris in which the sculpture was found is said to have been piled up to protect a sanctuary area  of the Phoenician city during
the siege of 397 BC. Quite why a sculpture of such obvious refinement should have been google_ad_slot = "7160667483"; condemned google_ad_slot = "8637400688"; to a spoil heap is unknown.

Sicily, the larger part of which was a Greek colony, was an area renowned in the ancient world for its successful charioteers and for its horse breeding. It has been speculated that this

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piece was commissioned by a victorious
charioteer //--> in the Greek part of Sicily to celebrate an important triumph in the hippodrome. At some point it was looted by the Phoenicians and taken to Motya where its qualities were not apparently appreciated. If you are a scholar desperately in search of
an explanation this
seems as fanciful a story as any other wild speculation. (With the scholarship of ancient sculpture it only takes a couple of recountings before a speculation becomes accepted fact.)

Dated

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circa 460 BC by the British Museum, this makes the Motya Charioteer around a generation earlier than the Parthenon marbles. In textbook terms, the piece is described as Transitional; that is, it bridges the missing link,
as it were, between Archaic and so-called Severe sculpture (the kouroi centuries) and src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> the more realistic classical ideal characteristic of the best of the Periclean Acropolis. Another of

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the ‘missing links’ of the same period, the Kritos Boy, found on the Acropolis, only bears a resemblance to the charioteer in the head.

The carving quality of this figure is breathtaking; an otherwise naked body is seen through a light, diaphanous, skin-hugging robe of a crinkle-cut material similar to cheese cloth. In style the piece is a fascinating enigma. Stylised facial features are indicative of an early-to-mid 5th century BC date. The rest of the figure, however, is less hieratic, more realistic, more human, indeed more suggestive of a carving style and understanding of anatomy seen in some of the figures of the Parthenon pediment itself – it anticipates the so-called ‘wet look’ prevalent /* 9-970x90 */ in

carving in the half century following completion of the Parthenon sculptures. One is forced
to state that were this charioteer headless,  experts would surely have to date him fifty years after the current speculation. There is nothing in Greek sculpture of 460BC which resembles even a little in style the body of the Motya Charioteer from the head down. It could not by itself be called ‘Transitional’, or any other
name implying fence-sitting. In terms of its style, wherever it was the body of the

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charioteer was heading, it had already arrived there.

Being so particular even personal in its details, it is google_ad_height = 90; difficult to imagine this figure not having been carved from life, or at least done by reference to drawings. Detailed observations of anatomy are acute and subtle in a figure superlatively athletic.

He is built more like a pentathlete than a chariot racer. The only modern equivalent of this chap’s superb physique, especially the buttocks, are those on the most muscular ballet dancers. This

fellow has the bodily tone expected of a jumper or a thrower, or at least of a discipline requiring exceptional stamina and strength. Those whose specialism is controlling horses at speed, jockeys, carriage drivers, trotters etc., are not known for their highly developed musculature or domineering size; lightness and agility are more favoured for these pastimes which require deft control and empathy before brute force.

The figure was dug up in 1979 on the tiny island of Motya off the west coast of Sicily, where the sculpture is housed in a regional museum. He is said to represent a charioteer because his long garment – in being long

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– seems akin to those worn by

charioteers in vase decoration and incised on gems. Another charioteer, albeit in bronze, in
the Delphi Archaeological Museum, discovered at Delphi in 1879, wears a long dress harnessed

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