December 29, 2010

At the Met: Sensuous Greek and Roman Sculpture

Marble statue of the Three Graces; Roman, 2nd century A.D.; copy of a Greek work, 2nd century B.C.

Stone into flesh: is there any art more palpably sensuous than sculpture, inviting touch, and thoughts beyond aesthetic chasteness. And for me, there is no part of classic Greek and Roman sculpture as enticing, as sexy, as asses (am I being too vulgar here?). As I walked into the Roman courtyard at the Met to look for relief sculpture (see this post), I had a compelling notion to do this blog post; having gazed at these works for years, in this way, it was a treat to myself to photograph them. The elegant curves of the Three Graces embody ideal lithesome beauty, but they seem cooler, more distant, than the pieces to follow.

Marble torso of a youth; Roman, 1st or 2nd century A.D.; copy or adaptation of a Greek statue of the 4th century B.C.

Marble statue of a youth; Roman, 1st century A.D.; adaptation of a Greek statue type of the late 5th century B.C.

As one of the labels at the Met put it, Roman copies of a Greek statue of Pothos, as the one above, were the "personification of erotic longing". In their subtle attention to muscles relaxed and tensed and the beauty of their forms, the sculptors give us marble that looks as though we could press a finger into its softness.

A foot tenderly presses into the round, soft buttock of a kneeling woman, her curves described with remarkable sensitivity.

(sorry not the have gotten the information on this piece, but I believe it is Roman, 1st-2nd century A.D.)

Marble statue of a fighting Gaul; Greek, late Hellenistic, 2nd or 1st century B.C.

A body in motion, with clothing only noted by fine wrinkles emphasizing lines of action; athletic, heroic, strong. There is something in all these works––a balance of naturalism and idealism––that makes them seem more real, more present than realistic sculpture full of precise detail. We can take pleasure in their aesthetic beauty, and think of longing made manifest, made eternal.


  1. It is certainly not vulgar to say these are very sexy asses, for they are. But, I think it should be noted that they are the asses of youth.

  2. Ah, that they are. Youth and beauty, always fleeting, except when caught by the artists hand.

  3. Nice post...longing made manifest. Beautiful croppings to show the vulnerability and fullness of form.

  4. These are beautiful. Those three graces really were a highlight of our last visit to the Met.

  5. wonderful photos .

  6. Really nice your post. Thanks for share.
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