Art. Encyclopedia of World Sport

Human beings have always seem interested in depicting sport events and sport heroes and heroines in art
and they have done so over the course of history in
many media. These include traditional canvas paintings in oil, graphic arts such as lithographs, posters,
serigraphs, the medallic arts such as coins and medals;
ceramic arts; sculptures in stone or metal; architecture
and design of sports stadiums and facilities; film and
photography; and on postage stamps.We have been enriched as human beings with the art that has been left
to us from different civilizations and cultures over the
centuries, which ranges from images on utilitarian objects such as vases to priceless treasures, such as the
statue of the Discus Thrower (Discobolus) by the ancient Greek artist Myron (5th century B.C.E.). The original bronze statue no longer exists; we have only the
replicas made by Roman artists in marble.
Sport Art in the Classical World
The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Sumer, Greece, and
Rome left numerous examples of sport art. Ancient
paintings on the walls of tombs in Sumer and Egypt
show in great detail the various types of sports and
games of their cultures, including over 400 wrestling
scenes at the tombs of Beni Hasan. Greek ceramic vases
with elaborate paintings of wrestling, boxing, running,
jumping, and other sports fill whole rooms in dozens of
museums from Athens to New York. Reliefs carved in
stone show elaborate scenes of wrestlers, ball players,
runners, and judges engaged in athletic performances,
while statuary sculpted in marble honors ancient
Olympic athletes from over 2,000 years ago.
The Greeks also created pottery of incredible
beauty that was painted with the everyday scenes.
Among the many subjects are hundreds of ceramic
scenes of sports illustrated in fine art books worldwide. The Greeks were unique among civilizations ancient and modern. They glorified the beautiful body
and depicted their many gods as humans. Their statues and paintings of the gods reflected the image of
the perfect body: lean, muscular, athletic, and naked.
In the gymnasium, students and athletes trained
naked, and outside, the statues honored the best of
them, also naked. The beautiful bodies were the idols
of the society, because the quest for Greek education
was perfection.
The Romans primarily copied Greek bronze statues
in bronze or marble. These statues also fill museums
around the world and show us chariot racers, boxers,
wrestlers, pankratiasts (who practiced a combination of
boxing and wrestling), runners, and athletes cleaning
up after the competition. The Romans, however, were
more inhibited and when making replicas of Greek artworks, they covered all genitals with fig leaves (one way
to tell an original Greek piece from a Roman copy).
But their differences went far beyond aesthetics, and
this is reflected in surviving artworks. The Romans
found the Greek sports meaningless and preferred the
Etruscan sport of gladiatorial fighting. Whereas the
Greeks educated their youths to seek perfection, the Romans educated theirs for warfare. Artworks that survived show the bloody combats of armed men in mortal combat, men fighting against wild animals, and
great naval combats in flooded arenas.
The Romans also created artwork with their buildings, such as the Colosseum, which served as sports
venues. Officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater, it
was constructed in the 1st century C.E. and was the scene
of gladiatorial combats, animal hunts, and naval battles.
Nearby was the Circus Maximus, an enormous site
where great, bloody, and violent chariot races took place.
During the “Dark Ages,” sport changed as the nature of life changed, and a new activity appeared called
the tournement, in which two riders on horseback
would race toward each other with long poles and try
to knock each other off their horses. Tournement produced art in the form of magnificent suits of armor.
Emerging from France in the 11th century, it spread
throughout Europe. The magnificent suits of armor
now in museums today testify to the skilled work of
the craftsmen who made them and the equipment
used in the contests. Many illustrations of tournements
exist in 15th-century manuscripts.
Sport Art in the Modern World
The industrial revolution brought further changes in
the art of sport. The price of books dropped with the
industrialization of printing processes, and by the 19th
century, almost anyone could buy a book or penny
magazine. Illustrations of famous riders and their
horses proliferated in England. As boxing grew in popularity, it too became a frequent subject of illustration.
By the late 19th century books were appearing on sport
subjects, almost always with illustrations. By the 20th
century photography had become advanced enough
that sports were being photographed and illustrated in
daily newspapers.
Photography led to moving pictures, and sport on
film is another art form. The most famous filmmaker
in this genre is Leni Riefenstahl, who created the film
Olympia at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Her use of
slow motion, close-ups, and editing created an unforgettable image of athletes in dramatic action. Since
then, numerous films have been made with sport as a
subject. Among the most famous films dealing with
sports are Chariots of Fire, Rocky and its sequels, and
Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Printing has greatly expanded the availability of art
in general by allowing numerous copies to be made at
a low cost, but few can afford the originals. However,
coins and medals depicting sports themes and motifs
are one type of art that is collectable and affordable.
Since 1952 the Olympic Games have been commemorated on coins and today many dozens of such coins are
produced by numerous nations. The medals presented
to athletes at the Games are great pieces of art, designed by medallic artists and rendered into metal on
huge presses that stamp blank pieces of bronze, silver,
or gold-plated bronze into works of art.
Posters are common in sports art. Readily available,
thousands of sport scenes are depicted on posters, including baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey, tennis,
and track and field stars. During the Olympic Games
posters are produced by the millions. The 1912
Olympics in Stockholm had one single poster design;
the 1980 Moscow Olympics had almost 1,000.
The art of sport is voluminous and as varied as the
nations on this earth. It is there for us to view, study, admire, and wonder that sport is so important that man
immortalizes himself through permanent images.