Giacobbe Giusti, Boy with Thorn

Giacobbe Giusti, Boy with Thorn



Giacobbe Giusti, Boy with Thorn


Giacobbe Giusti, Boy with Thorn

Boy with Thorn, also called Fedele (Fedelino) or Spinario, is a Greco-Roman Hellenistic bronze sculpture of a boy withdrawing a thorn from the sole of his foot, now in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, Rome. A Roman marble of this subject from the Medici collections is in a corridor of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.[1]

The sculpture was one of the very few Roman bronzes that was never lost to sight. It was standing outside the Lateran Palace when the Navarrese rabbi Benjamin of Tudela saw it in the 1160s and identified it as Absalom, who “was without blemish from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”[2] It was noted in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century by the English visitor, Magister Gregorius, who noted in his De mirabilibus urbis Romae that it was ridiculously thought to be Priapus.[3] It must have been one of the sculptures transferred to the Palazzo dei Conservatori by Pope Sixtus IV in the 1470s, though it is not recorded there until 1499-1500.[4] It was celebrated in the Early Renaissance, one of the first Roman sculptures to be copied: there are bronze reductions by Severo da Ravenna and Jacopo Buonaccolsi, called “L’Antico” for his refined classicizing figures: he made a copy for Isabella d’Este about 1501[5] and followed it with an untraced pendant that perhaps reversed the pose. For a fountain of 1500 in Messina, Antonello Gagini made a full-size variant, probably the bronze that is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Giacobbe Giusti, Boy with Thorn

Roman marble copy, c.25 – 50 CE, of the lost 3rd century BCE Hellenistic original of the type. From the Castellani collection, Rome, said to have been found on the Esquiline. The base of the statue is worked as a rock, with a hole for a fountain pipe. (British Museum)[6]

In the sixteenth century, bronze copies made suitably magnificent ambassadorial gifts to the King of France and the King of Spain. For Francis I of France, the gift came from Ippolito II d’Este;[7] his copy was overseen by Giovanni Fancelli and Jacopo Sansovino, and the transaction effected by the courtly Benvenuto Cellini. For Philip II of Spain, the copy was the gift of Cardinal Giovanni Ricci. In the following century Charles I of England had a bronze Spinario by Hubert Le Sueur (Haskell and Penny 1981: 308).

Small bronze reductions were suitable for the less grand. A Still Life with ‘Spinario’ by Pieter Claesz, 1628, is conserved at the Rijksmuseum; among the riches emblemmatic of the good life, it displays a small plaster model of the Spinario.[8]

There were also marble copies. The Medici Roman marble seems to have been among the collection of antiquities assembled in the gardens at San Marco, Florence, which were the resort of the humanists in the circle of Lorenzo il Magnifico, who opened his collection to young artists to study from. The young Michelangelo profited from this early exposure to antique sculpture, and it has been discussed whether Masaccio was influenced by the Medici Spinario or by the bronze he saw in Rome in the 1420s,[9] but Filippo Brunelleschi more certainly adapted the Spinario’s pose for the left-hand attendant in the bronze competition panel, The Sacrifice of Isaac 1401, his trial piece for the doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni.[10]

The formerly popular title Il Fedele (“The faithful boy”) derived from an anecdote invented to give this intimate and naturalistic study a more heroic civic setting: the faithful messenger, a mere shepherd boy, had delivered his message to the Roman Senate first, only then stopping to remove a painful thorn from his foot: the Roman Senate commemorated the event. Such a story was already deflated in Paolo Alessandro Maffei’s Raccolta di statue antiche e moderni… of 1704[11]

Taking into account Hellenistic marble variants that have been discovered, of which the best is the Thorn-Puller from the Castellani collection now in the British Museum,[12] none of which have the archaizing qualities of the bronze Spinario, recent scholarship has tended to credit this as a Roman bronze of the first century CE, with a head adapted from an archaic prototype.[13]


Giacobbe Giusti, Diadumenos

Giacobbe Giusti, Diadumenos


Giacobbe Giusti, Diadumenos

The Athens example, with the quiver in view. National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Giacobbe Giusti, Reconstruction, in a patinated cast at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow

The Diadumenos (“diadem-bearer”), together with the Doryphoros (spear bearer), are two of the most famous figural types of the sculptor Polyclitus, forming a basic pattern of Ancient Greek sculpture that all present strictly idealised representations of young male athletes in a convincingly naturalistic manner.

The Diadumenos is the winner of an athletic contest at a games, still nude after the contest and lifting his arms to knot the diadem, a ribbon-band that identifies the winner and which in the bronze original of about 420 BCE would have been represented by a ribbon of bronze.[1] The figure stands in contrapposto with his weight on his right foot, his left knee slightly bent and his head inclined slightly to the right, self-contained, seeming to be lost in thought. Phidias was credited with a statue of a victor at Olympia in the act of tying the fillet around his head; besides Polyclitus, his successors Lysippos and Scopas also created figures of this kind.


Roman copies

Both Pliny’s Natural History and Lucian‘s Philopseudes[2] described Roman marbles of a Diadumenos copied from Greek originals in bronze, yet it was not recognized until 1878[3] that the Roman marble from Vaison-la-Romaine (Roman Vasio) in the British Museum and two others recreate the lost Polyclitan bronze original.[4] Pliny recorded that the Polyclitan original fetched at auction the extraordinary price of a hundred talents, an enormous sum in Antiquity, as Adolf Furtwängler pointed out.[5] Indeed, Roman marble copies must have abounded, to judge from the number of recognizable fragments and complete works, including a head at the Louvre, a complete example at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, another complete example at the Prado Museum, and another complete example of somewhat different character, the somewhat below lifesize Roman marble Farnese Diadumenos at the British Museum, which preserves the end of the ribband falling from the right hand. Another version in the British Museum, slightly damaged but in otherwise reasonable condition, is from Vaison in France. Freer versions were executed in reduced scale as bronze statuettes,[6] and the head of Diadumenos-type appears on numerous Roman engraved gems.[7]

The marble Diadumenos from Delos at the National Museum, Athens (right) has the winner’s cloak and his quiver laid upon the tree stump, hinting that he is the victor in an archery match, with perhaps an implied reference to Apollo, who was conceived, too, as an idealised youth.

Giacobbe Giusti, Head of the Diadumenos

Modern reception

A mark of the continuing artistic value placed on the Diadumenos type in the modern era, once it had been reconnected with Polyclitus in 1878, may be drawn from the facts that a copy was among the sculptures ranged on the roof of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, when it was completed in 1889,[8] and that the Esquiline Venus has sometimes been interpreted as a female version of the diadumenos type (a diadumene, or woman tying a diadem).

Giacobbe Giusti, Head of the Diadumenos type



  1. Jump up ^ In Hellenistic times the diadem became a symbol of royalty; in the Polyclitan Diadumenos, however, the action is still a simple tying-on of the winner’s headband.
  2. Jump up ^ Pliny’s Natural History, xxxiv.55f; Philopseudes, 18, praising the Diadoumenos for its beauty
  3. Jump up ^ Adolf Michaelis, 1878. “Tre statue Policlitee”, Annali dell’Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica pp 5-30, noted in Haskell and Penny 1981:118, note 11.
  4. Jump up ^ The hands have been lost.
  5. Jump up ^ Furtwängler, Masterpieces of Greek Sculpture: A Series of Essays on the History of Art (Heineman) 1895:245, in a chapter “Diadumenos and Doryphoros” that recreates Polyclitus’ artistic development in confident detail that would no longer be considered possible.
  6. Jump up ^ For example, the bronze statuette conserved in the Cabinet des médailles of the Bibliothèque nationale
  7. Jump up ^ The less often seen full figure appears on a plasma gem described and illustrated by Sidney Colvin, “A New Diadumenos Gem”, The Journal of Hellenic Studies 2 (1881:352-353)
  8. Jump up ^ Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, 1981. Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500-1900 (Yale University Press), p. 107.


  • Herbert Beck, Peter C. Bol, Maraike Bückling (Hrsg.): Polyklet. Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik. Ausstellung im Liebieghaus-Museum Alter Plastik Frankfurt am Main. Von Zabern, Mainz 1990 ISBN 3-8053-1175-3
  • Detlev Kreikenbom: Bildwerke nach Polyklet. Kopienkritische Untersuchungen zu den männlichen statuarischen Typen nach polykletischen Vorbildern. “Diskophoros”, Hermes, Doryphoros, Herakles, Diadumenos. Mann, Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-7861-1623-7