Charioteer of Delphi

Transitional Greek

replica: from the Louvre, Paris

date of the original: 474 BC

provenance of the original: discovered in 1896 at the Temple of Apollo, Delphi; excavated by the French school at Athens; now in the Museum of Antiquities, Delphi.

description: Standing male figure in chiton, left arm missing below elbow, right arm restored from elbow. Reinforced plaster replica with verdigris finish; bronze original. On base: height 203 cm, width 49 cm, depth 57 cm.

This charioteer was erected at Delphi to commemorate a victory in a chariot race in the Pythian Games, probably in 474 BC, though not to celebrate the charioteer, as we might suppose, but the owner of the chariot and team of four horses. The charioteer was discovered buried in a trench together with bits and pieces of a chariot, reins, four horses and a groom, indicating that originally the charioteer was part of a much larger bronze sculpture.

The driver’s chiton (long robe) is a remarkable achievement in itself with its irregularly but naturalistically distributed folds. Its hemline, a series of arches, creates an optical effect which emphasizes the depth of the folds, while appearing to be a straight line.

It would take much space to describe the other devices applied to produce a truly live figure. Although he is impassive and somewhat stiff, this is partly because his role requires it and also because of the Transitional style, which also contributes to the symmetrical stiffness relieved only by the slight right turn of the head.

Though it might now be considered a trifle, the veins on the charioteer’s feet were particularly admired in ancient times.