(Top to bottom, L to R) Wrestlers; Archer; Warrior, 8th-6th centuries B.C., Bronze
Various sizes: (Wrestlers) Height: 10.5 cm; (Archer) Height: 24 cm; (Warrior) Height: 24 cm
Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Cagliari, Sardinia
Today's objects come from Sardinia, a large island off the western coast of the Italian peninsula. They are made of bronze, and stand up to about twenty-five centimetres in height. Similar to the Cycladic figurines we met in the first episode of the podcast, they depict different features of everyday life in the so-called Dark Age in Sardinia: above we have a pair of wrestlers, an archer (carrying his bow on his shoulder) and a warrior armed with shield and spear; other figurines show everything from a shepherd and his sheep, musicians playing pipes, a mother and child, a castle, a fox, and even a monkey.
They belong to the Nuragic civilisation of Sardinia – an indigenous civilisation which, from the 8th century BCE onwards, started to come into contact first with Phoenicia (the modern Levant) and later Greece, as trade networks began to spread across the Mediterranean. In the frontal positioning of the archer and warrior, their forward gaze, motionless limbs and geometric facial features – oblong eyes, triangular noses, globular high-placed ears – we can perhaps trace similarities to geometric styles in contemporary Attic vase-painting. But it is the statuette of the wrestlers which really draws our attention. Here, for the first time in our survey of ancient objects, we have a depiction of the human form in motion – an attempt to depict a dynamic moment in time, to convey the twisted limbs of the defeated and the kneeling, crouching position of the victor. It will still be a while before the depiction of movement through stillness will be fully articulated in classical Greek art. But I like to think that here, at the supposed frontier of the world of Dark Age Greece, an indigenous society forging trade networks with the near East is beginning to explore, with extraordinary levels of expression, what it might mean to try to articulate human movement in sculptural form.