The Charioteer of Mozia: meeting the Greek Youth in Siciliy

Photo by Daydream Tourist

There are many Greek treasures in Sicily and one of these is on a little island off the coast of Marsala, Mozia. Here, in a small museum that you have to cross the lagoon by boat to reach, is where you will find the Youth of Mozia. I had the pleasure of being in his presence during my first visit to Sicily in 2007 and I can say that I was rendered totally speechless. The pure and exquisite beauty of the Youth of Mozia is hard to put into words. In this humble setting, you could walk around to view and admire him from every angle. His incredibly stunning presence was something to behold. And, believing that this would be probably be a “once in a lifetime” encounter, I took advantage of every moment I could spend with him…
 
Some years passed and I learned, much to my delight, that the Getty Museum in Malibu, California, was hosting an exhibit entitled “Sicily: Art and Invention between Greece and Rome”. And, would you believe that one of the featured artistic treasures was none other than THE statue of the Youth of Mozia, now also called the Charioteer of Mozia. I could hardly believe that he was so close and needless to say I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to set eyes on this captivating treasure!
 
Grateful to see him twice, could fate be kind and offer another encounter? As it turned out, it did! When plans to return to Sicily materialized, revisiting the spectacular Youth of Mozia was very high on the “must see” list. There was always the possibility that he would be traveling or on loan? Or, perhaps, even moved to a larger venue? But, alas, he was not traveling, on loan or in another museum…he was home…
 
The Story of the Youth
 
Greek colonies settled and inhabited the western coast of Sicily from as early as the late 8th century B.C. Between the skirmishes and conflicts among power-hungry and covetous ruling families and city-states, Mozia, like many other settlements fell victim to war, revenge, and looting. It is believed that this remarkable Greek sculpture dates from approximately the 5th century B.C., although many questions remain. Various sources cite various origins. Was he made in nearby Selinunte? Was he commissioned by a local Phoenician or Greek? Was he damaged accidentally or intentionally during the siege and looting of Selinunte by the Carthaginians and/or by later reprisals from Siracusa? Who buried and saved the youth?
 
The mystery remains. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979, here on the tiny island of Mozia (ancient Motya) that he was discovered. And he was discovered by chance! While excavating under a mound of dirt and rubble (which may have been part of a barricade built to fend off invading rivals), a worker accidentally “picked on the statue’s knee”! The worker on night watch didn’t leave the site until the precious relic, wrapped in blankets and a mattress, could be safely transported to the nearby Whitaker Museum warehouse by tractor. Despite the damage, that the statue has even survived, is phenomenal! He made his debut in Venice 1988 during an exhibit about the Phoenicians. Today, he is elegantly displayed and stands, albeit without feet, in all of his splendor here at the G. Whitaker Museum.
 
The Victorious Charioteer
 
“Widely considered the finest surviving example of early Greek sculpture in the round, the so-called Mozia Charioteer … demonstrates the virtuosity and creativity attained in the arts of Sicily during the 5th century B.C.” (Getty Museum, Description) Standing almost 6 feet tall (without feet), the Charioteer is indeed larger than life. His superior grace and poise demonstrate remarkable technical skill. Even with missing limbs and feet and a compromised profile (and the fact that his head was reattached), he is indeed extraordinary.
 
“He wears a long chithon (Greek tunic), with ample folds girdled high on the chest with a broad horizontal sash with two holes where the ornament was attached.” (G. Whitaker Museum, Description) One can also see pierced holes around the ears. It is believed that a head covering of some sort would have been attached. Doubtless, he was prominently and proudly displayed in a prestigious setting. His triumphant pose, with one hand resting on a hip, and the way his tunic clings and delineates the contours of his magnificent (dare I say, breathtaking!) physique is nothing short of pure perfection.
 
All these centuries later, the Youth of Mozia, the triumphant Charioteer, retains his mystique and remains victorious.
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