Mirror-image wrestlers of the Villa of the Papyri reproduced in the garden of the Getty Villa at Malibu
The Transmission of Statuary Types and Variants
In Naples (or in America at the Getty Villa at Malibu) one can see an array of skilled use of piece molds and the manufacture of mirror images in bronze statuary from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.Comparable skills are familiar, too, for Shang vessels and for some Han dynasty paired bronzes from China and, in recent times, for Rodin’s creation of hands used for more than one of the Burghers of Calais, not only for economy of effort but for the contribution of this device to the harmony of the group. What is critical is the development of techniques that preserve the original model as well as molds. For the 19th century, the steps in the process can be studied closely, for example in exhibits at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Old art history handbooks, however (rather analogously to old science illustrations showing from Prosimians to Man or from eohippus to thoroughbred, onward and upward in a single series), some of them still in use or recycled on web sites (here the Wiki principle is to be congratulated for both updating and doing so critically), still give the impression that Greek workshops were strangely conservative and uninventive, using direct single hollow casting until “the Roman period”, meaning, I suppose, the period of the incorporation of Hellenistic kingdoms from the late 2nd century BCE onward. The Classical periods of the 5th and 4th centuries were actually much more experimental. At the bottom of this Post, I list only four selected titles that, each in its own way, deal with techniques in bronze statuary. The basic books on sculpture, such as those by Boardman and R. R. R. Smith in the World of Art series, are taken for granted. The virtuosity achieved, evidently universally, by the 1st century BCE, was of course not the accomplishment of a single generation.
One way to consider what the use of sets of piece molds enabled is to compare the use of rhythm tracks, and practically any other elements, from pre-existing sound recordings to create new compositions.Similarly, Adobe Photoshop has its creative uses, as a medium rather than simply a tool. The artists who use powerful software with real originality in these ways quite rightly regard the results as new works and as their own (even so, pastiche, to use the technical term for such work, is quite different from the use that jazz makes of tunes and sequences of chords). It has become increasingly evident to me that, as the demand for handsome works of art that the owners of villas or the patrons of towns and cities could boast of increased, so did the use of pre-existing body elements and poses. I can think of no other explanation for the variety of Apollos, basically of the Athenian Late Classical Lykeios type, or the proliferation of nude youths and of girls wearing a peplos, for example. Elsewhere I have described how a boy athlete, given a bow, becomes an Apollo for a Thracian city, even while retaining his mortal boy-athlete’s short hair.
This was not purchased, I should say, as a ‘reversed Narkissos’ (or whatever they called that boy in antiquity) but as an Apollo of their own for Deultum. And the mirror-imaged wrestlers from the Herculaneum Villa of the Papyri need not have been a pair, mirrored of not, in their first incarnation.
As scholarship, assisted by good and affordable photographic reproduction as well as by finds (see Mattusch on that in the Agora of Athens and Bol, among others, on the sculpture studio at Baiae), has progressed, we have become increasingly aware of the methods of bronze workshops and of the widespread market, in both the Greek-speaking and the Latin-speaking world, for their products.
|Youth from Volubilis in North Africa (in Rabat Museum).|
Of all the other lampbearers, this one, also distinquished by its Bacchic
headdress, is the most comparable with the Florence "Idolino".
Headless lampbearer in Berlin, from Salamis
Lampbearer with 'girlish' head from Pompeii, Via dell'Abbondanza
The most familiar category is that of youths standing in casual contrapposto, most of which answered to a fad for lightbearers, holding an ornamental branch on which candles or lamps could be fixed. The perfect type for this category is the Via dell’Abbondanza, Pompeii, statue in Naples, but its patron saint, so to speak, is the aptly named “Idolino” in the Archaeological Museum in Florence.
Florence, the "Idolino", exceptionally long-shanked, even for a lampbearer, but found with a branch to hold lights.
Some of the pretty early-adolescent heads that have survived alone may belong to lightbearer statues, but, as the “Idolino” shows, a lampbearer may have short hair, and at least one of the curly-locks heads was used to make a street urchin look ‘nice’: the “Spinario” in the Conservatori Museum.
Munich, bronze head with girlish features, even finer than the Via dell'Abbondanza's
and very similar to the Conservatori Spinario's, below (b).
My purpose here is to begin very simply, these being well understood, but with the warning that when an art historian or critic is very fond of one of these 1st-century statues he or she may be willing even now to argue that it has virtues that could not possibly be Late Hellenistic, while, on the other hand, there is no statue that a good scholar has not consigned to this period. I do not intend to address any of the contended cases, considering important the technical and art historical questions: How were statuary types transmitted and varied? How was a growing market catered to? What choices existed other than the decorative?
Since marble statues seem to have depended also on piece molds to make models from which pointed copies were made, it is reasonable to start with the bronzes.
Four references to start with (alphabetically):
Bol, Peter C., Antike Bronzetechnik: Kunst und Handwerk antiker Erzbildner, C. H. Beck, Munich, 1985.
Mattusch, Carol, Classical Bronzes: The Art and Craft of Greek and Roman Statuary, Cornell University Press, 1996.
Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo, Hellenistic Sculpture III: the Styles of ca. 100–31 B.C., University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.
Rolley, Claude, Greek Bronzes, Sotheby Publications, London, 1986.