Influential Sculptors and their Works of Art from Ancient Greece

Alex Thomason

When it comes to influential sculptors from Ancient Greece, there are many individuals that come to mind. Polykleitos, Lysippos, Praxiteles, Agesander, Athenodorus and Polydorus are few sculptors that continue to impact the art world in today’s society.

Polykleitos of Argos was famous for his precise depictions of the human body through his keen knowledge of mathematics. Polykleitos’ ideal proportions are evident in his sculpture of Doryphoros, which many people consider to be one of the most well known sculptures of the Classical Greek era. He depicted Doryphoros as an athlete with an incredibly muscular frame. The statue originally contained a spear that was propped along Doryphoros’ left shoulder.

Lysippos was known for being Alexander the Great’s personal sculptor. He was the successor of Polykleitos, and was considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical Greek period. Lysippos had a similar idealized style of the human body as Polykleitos, except he took a more representational approach through his artwork. This is evident in the facial features of his sculpture of Alexander the Great. He perceives Alexander as being perfectly symmetrical. Polykleitos definitely had an idealized approach to his work, but his figures had more human-like dimensions in comparison to Lysippos’ sculptures. Another one of Lysippos’ popular sculptures is the Weary Herakles. This sculpture depicts a nude Herakles with tokens of his feats, leaning on a club with his head held toward the ground. The muscular structure in this work is similar to the detail in Polykleitos’ representation of Doryphoros. Lysippos is also well known for his statue, the Apoxyomenos. It is also known as the “Scraper” because the statue depicts an athlete scraping sweat off his body with an instrument the Romans referred to as a strigil.

Another sculptor that shares a similar style is Praxiteles. One of his famous works is of Aphrodite of Cnidus. This work of art is often referred to as Venus Pudica, which means “modest Venus.” This name was given to in reference to the statue covering her genitalia. The statue is famous for its beauty, and for it being one of the first life sized nude representations of a female. The statue depicts Aphrodite before a ritual bath that restored her purity. One of Praxiteles less renowned works was “Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos,” also known as “Hermes of Praxiteles” and “Hermes of Olympia.” The facial symmetry in his work is similar to many of Lysippos’ sculptures.

Another work that received much notice in both the ancient world and today’s society was of “Laocoön and His Sons.” This statue was sculpted by three Rhodian artists named Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. The sculpture represents the Trojan priest of Poseidon named Laocoön and his sons getting attacked by large serpents. This work displays agony similar to Lysippos’ Weary Herakles.

All of the works mentioned share a similar approach when regarding the attention to detail in the human anatomy. “The Greeks no less than we today, were obsessed with the human body. Like us, they exercised and trained, toned, and even dieted-or at least the freeborn males did. Like some of us moreover, they also assigned moral qualities to the beautiful body,” (Lapatin, 1997, pg. 138).


Polykleitos’ Doryphoros is well known for its perfect sense of geometrical dimensions, but little is known of the statue, other than that, it was created as way for Polykleitos to demonstrate his treatise entitled the Canon (the “Rule”). The Canon regards Polykleitos’ geometric attention to detail. The original was made out of bronze approximately 440 BCE. The original statue and treatise have not yet been found; however, several Roman copies in marble survived, and they convey the essential form of Polykleitos’ work. Most bronze statues from ancient Greece have been lost, so the creation of marble copies was a common practice for the Romans. There are many copies of Doryphoros, but little is known of the relation between the duplicates. There are duplicates in various locations, like the Vatican, Naples and Munich. There is even a copy Minneapolis. “Of the Doryphoros, both its beginnings and end are unknown: Where was it sited? Whom did it represent? What purpose did it serve beyond, as we are told, illustrating in bronze the proportional system enumerated in its sculptor’s treatise, the Canon, or the ‘Rule’?” (Moon, 1995, pg. 149). Considering Polykleitos was obsessed with the human body and mathematics, many of his sculptures were of incredibly athletic mean. Polykleitos’ head to body size is one to seven, which is incredibly accurate in regards to the average dimensions of a human. This was a common style from the Classical era of Greece. Doryphoros is a slightly larger than life-sized statue, standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall. The attention to detail is so realistic that Doryphoros’ left shoulder muscles are slightly tensed from he was originally holding a spear. In the marble copies, large sculpted tree stumps were created behind one of legs of the statues to support the weight of the stone. The original bronze statue would have no need for a stump because the strength of the metal would have made it unnecessary. A small bend was typically present to support the right hand and lower arm. Although it is unclear exactly who Doryphoros is supposed to represent, some scholars believe that Doryphoros depicted a young Achilles, on his way to fight in the Trojan War, while others believe that there is confusion on whether Doryphoros is supposed to represent a mortal hero or a god.

Alexander the Great

Lysippos was great sculptor from the Classical Greek era that helped the art community progress toward the Hellenistic period. He shows a similar attention to detail in comparison to Polykleitos. Lysippos made well-known sculpture that depicted Alexander the Great in a god-like manner. The statue of Alexander shows extensive muscular definition with a heroic, emotionless facial expression. In the anthology from the Milan Papyrus, “Lysippos, Sicyonian sculptor, daring hand, learned artisan,“Your bronze statue has the look of fire in its eyes, that one you made in the form of Alexander. The Persians deserve no blame. We forgive cattle for fleeing a lion.” Alexander believed Lysippos was the only sculptor fit to represent him in a sculpture. The fear of offending Alexander through creating a more realistic depiction of his sculpture may be the reason Lysippos chose to represent Alexander in such a flattering manner. There is no confirmation on the findings on any of Lysippos’ original work; however, on October 26, 2010, Greek authorities arrested two men that were in possession of several artifacts including a bronze statue of Alexander that could possibly be Lysippos’ original work. The statue is currently being tested at the laboratory of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, where they will find out if this is truly an original sculpture of Alexander created by Lysippos.

Weary Herakles

The Weary Herakles was bronze statue created by Lysippos during the Late Classical period in approximately 330 BCE. The statue is lost, but marble copies exist to represent Lysippos’ original work. The statue is slightly larger than life size. Many of Lysippos’ common styles are evident in the Weary Herakles in regards to his extreme facial expression. He took an interesting approach by giving Herakles bad posture and a distraught facial expression. Although the sculpture of Herakles has a slouched posture, there is still a vivid attention to detail regarding the muscular structure. This conveys a completely different mood in comparison to Lysippos’ sculpture of Alexander. Herakles is depicted wearing a lion pelt (his first labor) and the Apples of the Hesperides on his back that represent the entire “dodekathlos” (Twelve labors of Herakles). Many people argue that the Apples of Hesperides is representation that the statue was not only supposed to emphasize the ideal bodily form, but also represent the mind. Kenneth Dutton argues in The Perfectible Body: The Western Ideal of Male Physical Development, that Hercules is symbolic of the search for divinity—but a divinity ‘to be attained through deeds and actions,’ not introspection and prayer.”‘ Lysippos’ inclusion of the apples of the Hesperides in the statue’s right hand—which Hercules earned by outsmarting Atlas—reminds viewers that this isn’t just about body; it’s also about mind,” (Todd, 2005, pg. 31). A copy of the Weary Herakles was said to have been created in 212-216 AD was during the construction of Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonis’ resort, referred to as the Baths of Caracalla, (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). Approximately thirteen hundred years later after the construction of the Baths of Caracalla, .

Renaissance Italians, started to conduct archaeological excavations at the Baths.

The head of Herakles was found first, and about six years later the section containing the torso, club and lion-skin was unearthed in 1546, (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). “The Roman poet Statius’ description of a small copy he saw at the home of his friend, Vindex. gives some idea of how Lysippos’ version was viewed during this early era:

Amid his treasures . . . was a Hercules that with deep delight took my heart captive, and with long gazing I could not satisfy my sight, such a majesty was in the work, such a power was framed within those narrow confines; the god, the god was there.” (Todd, 2005, pg. 30). The Lysippos copy is on display at the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, Italy.


The Apoxyomenos was constructed by Lysippos during the Late Classical period in 330 BCE. Apoxyomenos represented an athlete, which is evident through its extremely detailed muscular structure (like most of Lysippos’ work). The original bronze statue was lost, but it is known from its description in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, which relates that the Roman general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa placed the sculpture in the Baths of Agrippa that he constructed in Rome in 20 BCE. The emperor Tiberius grew fascinated with the figure, so he had it moved to his bedroom. However, the public grew furious and began to shout “Give us back our Apoxyomenos!” As result, Tiberius returned the statue to its original place. Like Polykleitos, Lysippos used the Canon approach to create the statues proportions. He made the proportions the Apoxyomenos head slightly smaller than Polykleitos Canon ideology. He set the ratios at one and eight rather than Polykleitos’ one and seven model.

A bronze copy of Apoxyomenos was found in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia in 1998 (Lyons, 2005, pg. 367). The copy was discovered by René Wouten. “The sculpture of Apoxyomenos was found in 1998, on the sea bottom at a depth of 45 meters, near the island of Lošinj (northern Adriatic Sea, Croatia). The sculpture was partially embedded in sediment, and the attached organisms on the sculpture belonged to complex biocenoses of a calcareous detritus-rich muddied bottom. The sculpture was raised from the sea on 27 April 1999 and immersed in a basin of fresh water for desalinization aimed toward slowing, and subsequently stopping, corrosion effects due to the presence of dissolved salts. The freshwater immersion produced an osmotic stress in the marine fouling organisms resulting in their death. After a 17-day desalinization period, the sculpture was removed from the freshwater basin and sampling of organisms and calcareous structures for instrumental analysis was performed under the supervision of experts of the Croatian Ministry of Culture, the Croatian Conservation Institute, and the Archaeological Museum in Zadar (Croatia),” (Lyons, 2005, pg.367). The head was disconnected, but none of the parts were missing.

Aphrodite of Cnidus

Praxiteles of Athens created the sculpture, Aphrodite of Cnidus in the 4th Century BCE. It was largely considered one of his most famous works because it was one the first nude female representational sculptures of its time. There are later reconstructions of Venus Pudica (modest Venus) that indicate the action of covering her breasts known as the Venus de’ Medici or the Capitoline Venus. Like many of the other works created by Praxiteles, Aphrodite of Cnidus is displayed in a naturalistic, human-like pose. According to possible accounts from Pliny, Praxiteles received funds from the citizens of Kos to create a statue of the goddess Aphrodite. Praxiteles created two versions, one was fully clothed, and the other was completely nude. The appalled citizens of Kos rejected the nude statue and purchased the clothed version. The appearance of the clothed statue is unknown because the statue was never found. Given the lack of accounts regarding the clothed statue, it is likely that the clothed Aphrodite of Cnidus did not receive much attention in comparison to the controversial nude statue. The nude statue of Aphrodite was purchased by the citizens of Knidos. Rumor has it that the statue was modeled by the courtesan Phryne, which added to its growing popularity. The statue became somewhat of a tourist attraction. A lyric from Antipater of Sidon stated “Paris, Adonis, and Anchises saw me naked, Those are all I know of, but how did Praxiteles contrive it?” A story from Erotes (section 15) gives a vivid description of the statue. “The floor of the court had not been doomed to sterility by a stone pavement, but on the contrary, it burst with fertility, as behooves Aphrodite: fruit trees with verdant foliage rose to prodigious heights, their limbs weaving a lofty vault. The myrtle, beloved by the goddess, reached up its berry-laden branches no less than the other trees which so gracefully stretched out. They never know foliage grown old, their boughs always being thick with leaves. To tell the truth, you can notice among them some infertile trees, but they have beauty as their fruit. Such were the cypress and the planes which towered to the heavens, as well as the tree of Daphnis, who once fled Aphrodite but now has come here to seek refuge. Ivies entwine themselves lovingly around each of these trees. Heavy clusters of grapes hang from the gnarled vines: indeed, Aphrodite is only more attractive when united with Bacchus; their pleasures are sweeter for being mixed together. Apart, they have less spice. Under the welcome shade of the boughs, comfortable beds await the celebrants— actually the better people of the town only rarely frequent these green halls, but the common crowds jostle there on festive days, to yield publicly to the joys of love,” (Pseudo-Lucian, Erotes).

“Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos”

Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos was created by Praxiteles in the 4th Century BCE. It is likely that this is not one of Praxiteles most famous works because their are limited accounts on the sculpture. It was discovered at the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece in 1877. The excavation was led by German archaeologist Ernst Curtius. The statue is now located at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. Hermes is still missing his right forearm, two fingers of his left hand, both forearms below the elbow, the left foot and his penis, whilst Dionysus is missing his arms except for the right hand on Hermes’s shoulder and the end of his right foot. Much of the tree trunk and the plinth were lost as well. Hermes and the Infant of Dionysos are positioned in life-like manner with extreme attentions to detail throughout the statue. The sculpture also represents similar approach to the Canon, in regards to the extreme attention to detail in the figures. Even the Dionysos as an infant is extremely detailed.

“Laocoön and His Sons”

The Laocoön and His Sons was created by three Rhodian sculptors named named Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. Laocoön’s sons appear significantly smaller than him, which draws most of the attention toward Laocoön. The attention to detail is incredible throughout the sculpture. The attention to detail in Laocoön muscular structure is especially significant. His veins are even visible throughout his arms. The art styling is from the Hellenistic Pargamene baroque that rose from Asia Minor. The statue was found on January 14, 1506 by a farmer named Felice de Fredis when digging up vineyards in the Esquiline Hill, (Vault, 2010, pg.401). “The Laocoon is ‘probably the most widely discussed work of sculpture which we possess from antiquity’ wrote Margarete Bieber in 1967. Its popularity shows little sign of abating,” (Vault, 2010, pg. 402). There are many different variations of the story as to why Laocoön and his sons were being attacked. “The most famous literary account of Laocoon’s story, in book two of Virgil’s Aeneid, describes how the priest and his sons are strangled by seaserpents sent by Minerva to punish him for having warned his fellow Trojans not to trust the wooden horse. His advice is ignored and his demise cast as a ‘sacrifice’, a kin to the slaughter of a bull at an altar. ‘They say that Laocoon has rightly paid the penalty of his crime.’ In this version, mortals are puppets who dance to a divine tune. Laocoon is the scapegoat. In alternative versions of the story, he is punished for the sacrilegious act of marrying and having children against the god’s wishes or, according to Servius in his commentary on Virgil, for having intercourse with his wife in the presence of the cult statue. Seen like this, the Laocoon group is neither exemplum doloris nor exemplum virtutis, but a ‘simple’ warning against transgression,” (Vault, 2010, pg. 402). This piece of art portrays an interesting look into ancient Greece’s culture. Agony regularly plays large a role throughout ancient Greek artwork. It also shows how petty ancient Greeks depicted their gods. Throughout many ancient Greek myths, the gods express human-like emotions, and its evident in the sculpture.




Laocoon’s Children and the Limits of Representation.

By Caroline Vout. 2010


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The History of Cardinal Farnese’s “Weary Hercules”

By Jan Todd. August 2005