Sculpture of Ancient Messene (Damophon)
Damophon, son of Philippos of Messene, was the most famous sculptor of the mature Hellenistic period in southern Greece. He devoted himself to making statues exclusively of gods and heroes. His idealistic conception of the art of statuary was completely alien to the realistic demands of portrait statues. The classicizing features of his figures of heroes and gods were to some extent dictated by the traditional, conservative character of this category of sculptures. He worked mainly in marble, though also in wood and bronze. In his marble works, which were normally colossal, he occasionally employed the technique of the acrolithic statue, though he normally on the principle of 'piecing' - that is, of separately worked pieces of marble which were joined with the aid of metal clamps and glue. The technique of 'piecing', which utilizes even the smallest pieces of marble, was inevitable in the case of statues of colossal size or figures with distinct movement, because of the impossibility of quarrying single blocks of marble of adequate size. Thanks to the traveler Pausanias, who held the art of Damophon in great esteem, we know of at least fifteen works by him (five of them multifigural compositions), which were erected in sanctuaries at four Peloponnesian cities. Nine compositions by Damophon stood in Messene, two at Aigion and there were three works in the Arcadian capital, Megalopolis, and a cult group in Lykosoura in Arcadia. Of these, the colossal four-figure group in the temple of Despoina at Lykosoura was found during excavations in 1910.
A good idea of his art and skill in rendering delicate, transparent fabric or the plasticity of soft female flesh is given by a group of marine creatures, a Triton and two Tritonesses, from the arm and backrests of a marble throne for the goddesses at Lykosoura. Damophon was also invited to Olympia by the Eleians to repair the gold and ivory cult statue of Zeus, created by Pheidias and renowned throughout the ancient world, and he was accorded special honours for his work by the Eleian council. Recent excavations at Messene have brought to light torsos and fragments of all his works that stood in the Asklepieion: the three-figure group of Asklepios-Machaon-Podaleirios, the ten-figure group of Apollo and the nine Muses, and the figures of Thebes and Herakles, Fortune, and Artemis Phosphoros, which are now on display in the local museum. An inscription from Messene dating from the 2nd cen-tury BC, illuminated many aspects of his personality and furnished fresh information relating to his artistic activity, both in Arcadian Lykosoura and in other cities of the Peloponnese, central Greece, and the islands. Damophon was a prominent figure who enjoyed financial prosperity and political influence in his native city. His fame as a great sculptor, spread beyond the boundaries of both Messene and the Peloponnese. His floruit may be placed with relative certainly between 210 and 180 BC. His works should not be regarded as a Classicising reaction to Asiatic baroque, but as original neoclassical creations. His floruit coincides with that of his birthplace, Messene, before the city was obliged, through Roman ntervention, to join the Achaean Confederacy in 182 BC.