Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bronze statuary-2

In these three posts, I have used my files of teaching photographs used in lectures from 1981-2005, and most of them are my own (hand-held, no-flash, teaching photos); please regard both those, imperfect as many of them are, and any by someone else as posted in fair usage, wholly non-commercial and educational.

To repeat: we began with statuary that by now is fairly well understood, and I would insist again that contending where there is frank disagreement will get us nowhere. I should like, rather, to move toward basic understanding of the bronze statuary that comes up from shipwrecks and from the earth. It seems premature to decide definitively what’s what, but we need to get beyond simply sticking labels on things and then arguing to justify our own labels.
The age-old difficulty of evoking visual qualities in verbal terms (or evoking a poem in a painting) sets a terrible trap. One cannot read as much as a page on the bronzes without risking getting entangled in it. It is at least as tricky as trying to read political arguments objectively. We must, however, try.

Early Hellenistic large statuette of Pan. Paris, Louvre BR4359. Rolley, p. 204, says that it was found on the Asiatic shore of the Black Sea, and that may be the region where it was made. But the Louvre says ( that it came from Sozopol and attributes it (not certainly) to Cyzicus.
Claude Rolley knows what he means when he says of Paris, Louvre Br4359, a bronze statuette about half life-size but made like a full-size statue, in its hollow casting and finishing, “It is not clear whether the figure is stationary or turning, so subtly does the interplay of surfaces mask the motion of the slender body; it maintains an amazing equilibrium in which gesture and dance seem suspended.” Work that calls forth such language is what we think of as Greek. Rolley says that it is “hollow cast in the direct manner.” That is, the product is necessarily unique (necessarily, except for modern casts, like those of Athena and Marsyas in the park at Frankfurt’s Liebieghaus or the set at Malibu made for the Getty, made with molds taken off it—and those show on the interior their technology and generally have foundry marks, too).

When Mattusch says of the Vani torso that its technique is of the older kind, direct casting, and that slightly awkward, probably from the local Late Hellenistic foundry that operated just before the destruction of the place, it is because it is not “Greek” in quite the same terms as the Louvre Pan, though the manufacture is not like that of the Lampbearers. When she says, on the other hand, that the style is 5th century and compares the “Kritian Boy” from the Athens Acropolis, it is just confusing. The stance is comparable, to some extent, with that of the “Kritian Boy”, but in fact the Vani torso is stiffer than the really early marble boy. The sculptor of the Kritian Boy carved and finished the abdomen and the pectorals as softly and delicately as humanly possible (it is, after all, a very young boy, the same adolescent age as the kore statues). The Vani statue might as well have been wearing a corset all his life. That is to say (a) that the style of the Vani torso, like its technique, is probably Colchian and, therefore, (b) it is hard to say whether its severe stance is attributable also to its origin or to its belonging to the last phase of that local foundry. Mattusch says that the alloy, with a lot of tin, is also regional.
Colchian? Indeed: Vani (whatever its ancient name) is in Georgia:

Now, hollow casting in the direct manner does not imply stiffness. Far from it. Consider also beside the Louvre Pan the famous Getty Athlete (R. R. R. Smith, Hellenistic Sc. p. 49); both seem to belong to the generation active c. 300 BCE. It doesn’t matter here that we know too little of all Lysippic work to put a name to the athlete. Though representing an adult body, the Athlete is nearly as lithe as the Pan, and though it must have had an armature, as the Vani torso had, its fully realized form in no way suggests the necessary rigidity of armatures.
Old image of the boy from Marathon, as seen in Rodenwaldt, Die Kunst der Antike, Praxitelean, but its exact relationship to Praxiteles unknown. As exhibited now, it stands a little differently, and its r. foot is complete.

Still better, consider the famous Boy from the Bay of Marathon, a unique hollow-cast bronze, Athens Br 15118, H. 1.3m, which Boardman, GrSc, Late Classical, p. 70, pl. 42, dates c. 330.
Paris, Louvre. Profile of torso of the "Apollo of Piombino" photographed perforce through glass in a large gallery full of reflections. Brunilde Ridgway's article in Antike Plastik 7, 1967, pp. 43-75 remains epoch-making (including the epigraphic evidence found in the statue's foot). Though Late Hellenistic, this statuette remains singularly charming (but not Archaic!), especially compared with its cousin from Pompeii.
On the other hand, in skillful workshops, whether by (a) direct casting with a clay core on an armature and the final modeling, short of engraved detail and addenda such as curls, in wax, all (of each part: torso, limbs) held in register with the clay investiture by pins, so that the core or much of it, remains in the statue (as at Vani), and the investiture has to be broken off, so is lost, or (b) by indirect casting, so that several museums have equally authorized, first-edition casts of, for example, Rodin's "Praying Man" or "Fates" from the Gates of Hell, the finished statue may be just as 'plastic' (like modeling) as Rodin's or as stiff as any Early Archaic statue: as stiff, that is, as the sculptor's full size model.

When you go to Paris, you see the finished tinted plaster "Four Continents" by Rodin's master, Carpeaux, in the Musee d'Orsay, then you take the Métro to the Observatoire station and looking toward the Luxembourg you see the bronze Continents as the centerpiece of the fountain for which they were designed. True (as with woodblock prints and etchings) there exist late editions that have lost some refinements, but what I have called first-edition bronzes all are equally 'original' and all equally made using piece molds taken from the sculptor's final plaster. Late editions often are made from piece molds taken from finished bronzes or even (dare we say it) from marble copies using the pointing machine or from variant versions of the sculptor's handwork.
Using piece molds, if they did not join up exactly as first intended, could produce both unintentioal and deliberate differences, as study of them at the Baiae sculptor's studio showed, as the artisans toiled to make them fit together as they wished, and as molds developed worn joining surfaces from use or were modified. Once the piece molds were assembled, their interior was coated with the wax that would be lost, then clay was crammed or poured in. Thus indirect castings are usually of more regular thinness and often show drippings from liquid wax and fingerprints on the inside of the finished statue. In modern times, replicas are more exact, too, than ancient ones were.
Thus, on the dust jacket of Mattusch's Classical Bronzes, pseudo-Archaic "Apollos" , one from Pompeii and the other the famous Piombino one in the Louvre face each other, equally stiff, so as to look Archaic, but the Pompeii one not nearly so artistically or finely finished. Both are pseudo-Archaic without any early prototype, fussier than real Archaic, but not finished by the same artisans. The use of copper for lips and the areoles of nipples was not new, but it was very popular.
Paris, Louvre. Detail of head of the "Apollo of Piombino" photographed perforce through glass in a large gallery full of reflections. I'd rather risk having the lens of my camera appear encircling the statue's mouth than forego having an image that gives a comparatively lively impression of the statue.
There has to have been a real sculptor's model, a pseudo-Archaic original, and I do not doubt that the Piombino is true to it.
More difficult is the boy from the Janiculum, found in the 17th century, so that its bibliography traces four centuries of the best minds' ideas. I have an old photo of my own.
Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek I.N.2235. From Rome, found on the Janiculum Hill in the 17th century. The NCG catalogue of Fr. Poulsen (1951) assigned it to S. Italy, possibly Tarentum, ca. 470, which I find very difficult. Even Poulsen, not knowing that the statuette from Piombino would be re-dated, compared them, and in my teaching notes, so did I: "Of course, as Cicero makes plain in the Verrines, Sicily was plundered to furnish Rome, but this work in the torso recalls the neo-Archaic "Apollo of Piombino" and should also be academic revival work, in this case Neo-Severe, of the Late Hellenistic. The even thinness of the bronze also looks late."

Although Frederik Poulsen's catalogue was current in my youth, it no longer is uniformly up to date. It is interesting that, wherever it was made, and South Italy or Rome itself seem likeliest, of the works shown above it is the Vani torso that it somewhat resembles.
The foregoing may suffice to illustrate the variability of chance-preserved ancient hollow-cast bronzes and suggest how, apart from the modern casts made for study or for use outdoors, they might be pastiches or willful or accidental variants, such as the Lampbearers exemplify, or show simply regional variations. Besides the modern casts made at the direction of scholars in the 1920s and 1930s, we have numerous casts in castles and country houses (or now removed to museums) made, frankly, as interior decoration of the highest order. Some of them, like some emulative Renaissance and post-Renaissance coins of ancient types, are of high quality, but they don't concern us here. At least, we always hope not, though occasionally a small statuette is questioned; the African boy in the Cabinet des Médailles (Richter, Handbook of Greek Art, Phaidon Press, 2nd ed., 1960, fig. 185) is a case in point.
Among the bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum a couple of busts of famous sculptures may be (Rolley) from molds taken directly (barring the inset eyes and eyelashes) off the original. That of the Doryphoros, the Spearbearer, of Polykleitos is signed, Apollonios, son of Archias, the Athenian made it.

That is not to say it is not by Polykleitos! The Spearbearer statue, nicknamed 'the Canon', in some respects the opus nobile above all others, was as well known as the Mona Lisa is to us. Rather, the signature (not visible in the image shown, which is from a plaster cast in a study collection, since the original is hard to photograph well) proclaims that it is no mere knock-off and guarantees that the finishing is as good as the molds. A very old photo, however, in Bulle's Schöne Mensch, does show the inscription:
Very few bronze copies are of this kind. In fact, as the Herculaneum bronzes as a whole testify, the market for fine bronze statuary seems generally to have preferred some adjustments to the taste of their own time. Among the small versions of statuary types the best show a fine eye and great care; though these could be scaled by measurement, they could not be copied by mechanical pointing ( The ancient ones were only more awkward).
Much of the early scholarship in Greek sculpture, based on the marble replicas that had to be relied on then, understood the use of pointing but seems not to have considered, or to have considered very slightly, that the copyists did not use pointing directly from the famous statues. Indeed, in the case of marble statues that were tinted (like the Aphrodite of Knidos) or statues (like the Serapis at Alexandria) that were in mixed media, they had to work freehand. It was bronze that permitted taking working molds.
This means that the variability, which the use of piece molds entailed, affects marble copies as much as bronze ones. In other words, if the studio was going to add twigs to a tree trunk or place a lizard on it or add golden apples for Herakles to gather from the Hesperides, they were more or less free to distribute the apples on that tree as they saw fit, similarly in providing Apollo with a bow or Meleager with a boar. Most important, reassembling piece molds to make a cast from which pointing could be done, the slightest differences in the planes where the pieces joined cumulatively could (and did) affect the posture of the statue. (Consider how much trouble NOVA had after laying a couple of courses in keeping even a tiny Pyramid steady).
All of the ink and agony spent in arguing whether, for example, the Vatican or the Louvre copy of the Apollo Sauroktonos of Praxiteles is truer to the original was a waste, for the question is fallacious. For a marble copy, unless freehand, is at least at two removes from the original. It is not as if they had the huge studios and factories that Carpeaux had for the Four Continents (above).
Because a picture is worth more than verbiage, I should like to illustrate here the bronze Apollo Sauroktonos that the Cleveland Museum acquired in 2004. Not that I didn't download all the images in the press release, but, not only are they copyright, but just today, August 12, 2010, the statue (still not definitively published) went on exhibit for almost the first time, in the new galleries:
The brief description is a model of discretion: "the only known life-size bronze version of the Apollo Sauroktonos." Italics added. In other words, its date and its relation to the original are still not certain. Michael Bennett did describe it carefully in the Louvre exhibition catalogue of 2007, Praxitèle, pp. 206-208 and fig. 126a-c, and stated that it is an indirect cast, rather smooth inside, and metallurgically ancient (to summarize succintly). The statue's notoriety after its acquisition prevented its actually being exhibited in the great Louvre show. It had a questionable-seeming pedigree and was soon notorious in the Art Detectives literature, of which this is a mild example: Number 4 in that list, though, does have a picture.
Actually, there are so few bronzes that copy famous works, our opera nobilia, that the resemblance of the Cleveland statue to the ex-Borghese one in the Louvre, guarantees that both belong to one, very good tradition (and so does the Vatican one, only slightly different in stance), but it would be a pleasure to post here some details.
There are other copies, of course. Among them, the Villa Albani statuette (Praxitèle, fig. 122a-b) is charming, and the torso in Athens, NAM inv. 1623, bereft of head and limbs, has never been cleaned with acid or retouched in any way and will be used in the next Post. The head in the Benaki Museum in Athens, also illustrated in Praxitèle, is very fresh and sweet.

Marble copies and how they affect interpretation of Danubian coins will be considered in the next Post.


  1. I hope you will review the superb Zeus/Neptune hurling a thunder-bolt bronze statue which resurfaced from the sea in the 1920's?

  2. Yes, certainly, all by itself, as soon as I finish with these other statues. That's the Zeus/Poseidon from Cape Artemision, and I have my own photos to use, too. I agree a thunderbolt, but a trident is not impossible.

  3. I am always so grateful for your generosity, sending me a copy of the Louvre Catalog, Praxitèle. I am glad that Cleveland got the Bronze Sauroktonos, regardless of its alleged questionable provenance; I could hope in the not too distant future to visit it in the Cleveland Museum along with the other wonderful items.

  4. I'd be grateful, since I can't go right now, if anyone who went to the Cleveland Museum, now that it' s on exhibit, would look at the bronze Sauroktonos and tell me what they think about it. I wouldn't accuse anyone of pretending to be an expert, since in several ways the statue is unique (for example, it isn't just generic and it isn't an adaptation, as it would be if Apollo were leaning on a column. And it is, to judge by the photos, very pretty indeed.