class="alignleft size-full wp-image-967" title="Charioteer3" src="http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Charioteer31.jpg" alt="" width="800" height="1067" />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 for six weeks until the middle of September in the large gallery housing the Parthenon pediments and frieze in the
The requested URL /txt/no1.txt was not found on this server.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 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 dawdle through Damien Hirst’s retrospective at Tate Modern – that institution’s imaginative and unexpected contribution to the art events stapled 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 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 Turkish” – modern analysis can surely be more specific than this.
It was unearthed in 1979 on the tiny island of 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 went on show at the Museum, it is already considered a key piece in classical sculpture. It was, curiously, found among mainly architectural rubble. Motya was a longstanding Phoenician city fortress until it was conquered 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 condemned 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 piece was commissioned by a victorious charioteer in the Greek part