My Favourite Artwork: Hermes and the Infant Dionysus

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What: Hermes and the Infant Dionysus (also known as Hermes of Praxiteles or Hermes of Olympia)

Artist: Praxiteles

Type: Sculpture

Year: Fourth century BC

Medium: Parian Marble

Subject: Hermes holding Dionysus

Where: Archaeological Museum of Olympia

Why: I like this work for its historical values. I often ask myself: what does any specific artwork tell us about its society? The striking feature of this sculpture is the fluidity of Hermes’ body. The muscular definition and relaxed pose show the proficiency of Greek artists in depicting the human body. According to the Classical ideal, the perfection of the body was not seen as an element of vanity. Rather, it indicated moral perfection. It should not surprise us that god, given their perfection, were portrayed in this manner. The strong emphasis on physical beauty and moral perfection (kalokagathia) was at the foundation of Classical art: moral and physical integrity were praised in Ancient Greek society. Thus, these statues also had a didactic role within the polis.

Although the statue is surrounded by an atmosphere of austerity and public ceremony, the interaction between Hermes and Dionysus shows a more familial connotation. Hermes, in fact, is supposed to be handing down grapes from his missing arm. The two characters, moreover, stare at each other with such an intensity to create a sense of realistic pathos. Their stares into the distance highlight a sublime psychology of the characters: Hermes, in particular, seems to look away and it is melancholy that transpires from his eyes.

– Luca Ricci

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