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Il Pugile, or the Seated Boxer

Il Pugile is one of my favorite bronze sculptures.   I have admired it in reproductions since I was a child.  However, sculpture(like all art) must be experienced in person.  So this is yet another reason to make the pilgrimage to Rome.   It is one of the many wonderful works from the antique world housed in the museum of Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Il Pugile

The dating of the sculpture varies from the IV to I century BC.  Some scholars even consider it a work of the Greek sculptor Lysippos.  That is definitely discutable, but no one can deny that this piece embodies the energetic realism within the classical paradigm that Lysippos of Sicyon strived for.

Il Pugile, side view

Hellenistic art at its best connects the particular with the universal.  The seated boxer here is shown exhausted after a match, looking up towards another.  His pose, musculature and expression combine to create a work of deep artistic value.

The technical mastery comes out in the detailing.  Different metals and alloys are used to introduce color.  Dripping blood and the red of the lips are accentuated with copper inlays.  A special alloy of bronze is used to describe the bruise under an eye.

Detail of head

It is interesting how a work of art can have a meaningful existence and strong cultural impact even beyond its original context.  We know nothing about the purpose, authorship or provenance of Il Pugile.  That, however, in no way diminishes his power to communicate an aspect of the human condition.  And isn’t that what art should be about?