The Townley Discobolus
- The Townley Discobolus
The Discobolus: marble statue of an athlete stooping to throw the discus. One of several Roman copies made of a lost bronze original made in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Myron. The head is wrongly restored and should be turned to watch the discus.
- Excavated/Findspot: Hadrian's Villa
- (Europe,Italy,Lazio,Tivoli (Lazio),Hadrian's Villa (Tivoli))
- Height: 1.7 metres
- Height: 1690 millimetres
- Width: 1050 millimetres
- Depth: 630 millimetres
The Townley Discobolus, a Graeco-Roman copy of a fifth-century BC bronze statue, was excavated at Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli near Rome in 1791, and purchased by the dealer Thomas Jenkins the following year. After restoration by Carlo Albacini it was offered for sale in England and purchased by Charles Townley for the considerable sum of £400.
Jenkins assured Townley that in form and quality the Discobolus was comparable to the famous version owned by the Massimo family, which had been discovered ten years before and which the antiquarian Carlo Fea had since identified as a copy of the famous statue by the Greek sculptor Myron. Although the head of Townley's statue had been broken off, Jenkins claimed that it had been discovered lying beside the torso on the site, writing to Townley on 27 September 1794: 'The Head of Your Statue was not only found with it, but I believe You will See it is Precisely the Same Vein of Marble, that in Rome, there never was the slightest doubt of its authenticity'.
Townley remained worried, however, on several points, and upon its arrival in London in 1794 he wrote to Jenkins, asking why the head of his statue faced outwards, and was not turned back to observe the discus, as in the Massimo version. Jenkins consulted the papal antiquary Visconti, who produced an elaborate theory, arguing that the posture of the Massimo Discobolus was 'forced, & Certainly disgusting to the Sight', and that the artist of Townley's statue had simply improved Myron's defective pose.
Soon afterwards another headless torso of a discobolus was excavated at the same site and was acquired by Visconti for the papal collection at the Vatican; when a modern head was provided for it Visconti chose to base the restoration on the Townley forgery, rather than on the authentic statue in the Massimo collection.
It seems clear that the head of the Discobolus is not original to the torso. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably antique and has been matched with consummate skill. The head is of the same Carrara statuary marble and does, indeed, have the same veining as the torso, although it is obviously reworked; it is probable that the two statues which provided the head and torso originated from the same quarry at Carrara.
This is an interesting example of a forgery being given legitimacy by academic experts, and itself becoming an admired prototype; although Richard Payne Knight published the head as a foreign addition in 1809, the British Museum itself attempted to deny the fact as late as 1861.
Literature: R. Payne Knight, Specimens of Ancient Sculpture, London 1809, pl. xxix; A. H. Smith, A Catalogue of Sculpture in the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities. British Museum I, London 1890, pp. 90-1; S. Howard, 'Some Eighteenth-Century Restorations of Myron's "Discobolus",' Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 25 (1962), pp. 330-4; F. Haskell & N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: the lure of classical sculpture 1500-1900, New Haven & London 1981, pp. 199-202; J. Raeder, Die statuarische Ausstattung der Villa Hadriana bei Tivoli, Frankfurt 1983, p. 38; B. Cook, The Townley Marbles, London 1985, pp. 43-5.
1980 5 Jun- 26 Oct, London, BM, The Ancient Olympic Games
2008 1 May-12 Jul, Shanghai, The Ancient Olympic Games
2008 2 Aug-31 Sep, Hong Kong, The Ancient Olympic Games
2009 2 Apr-13 Oct, Alicante, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2010 30 Apr-30 Aug, Seoul, National Museum of Korea, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought 2010-2011 15 Oct-07 Feb, Taipei, The National Palace Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2010-2011, 11 Mar-12 Jun, Kobe City Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2011, 4 July-25 Sept, Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2011 - 2012, 25 October-12 February, Mexico City, National Anthropological Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2012-2013 6 October- 6 January, Portland Art Museum, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
2013, 6 October- 6 May – 6 Oct, Dallas Museum of Art, The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greek Art and Thought
Greek & Roman Antiquities
If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: email@example.com
Object reference number: GAA8796
British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.
The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.