Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.6.8


Carol C. Mattusch, Myth, Man and Metal: Bronze Sculpture of Ancient Greece and Rome. Institute of Mediterranean Studies Video Lecture Series, Volume III, 1996. $19.95 (VHS-American Format); $26.95 (VHS-European Format).


Reviewed by Janet Burnett Grossman, Department of Antiquities, J. Paul Getty Museum at the Villa, jgrossman@Getty.edu.

Following a string of well-deserved successes that include a book (Classical Bronzes: The Art and Craft of Greek and Roman Statuary, 1996), an exhibition (The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections, with accompanying collaborative scholarly catalog bearing the same title (1996), and the completion of a monograph on the bronze statue of a youth in the Getty Museum (inv. no. 77.AB.30), Dr. Mattusch appears here in a disappointing video lecture. The video lecture's failure is partly due to amateur production quality, partly due to the script itself.

Thirty-one minutes in length, the lecture is organized into five parts, with the minutes and seconds of each in parentheses following the section titles below. Beginning with the "Myth of Hephaistos" (5:47), the origins, workings and deeds of the Greek god of the forge and patron god of metalworkers are explained. Dr. Mattusch appears onscreen initially, set against the backdrop of Mt. Olympus, and is followed by a quick succession of representations of Hephaistos with voice-over narration. One of the annoying features of this production is that virtually none of the many vase scenes, statues and other artifacts that are shown are identified by either title or location. The creativity and ingenuity of Hephaistos are illustrated by showing examples of jewelry, armor, weapons, tools. The section ends with Mattusch on camera explaining the concept of techne, especially its application to Greek sculptors such as Rhoikos and Theodoros of Samos who brought the technique of bronze-casting from Egypt to Greece, and Skopas, an architect as well as a sculptor. Hephaistos is described as their prototype and ideal.

In the second section, titled "Bronze: A Preferred Medium" (4:42), the origins of large-scale bronze casting are explored using archaeological and literary sources. Although the Greeks produced small-scale bronzes beginning in the tenth century B.C., ancient writers trace the history of bronze casting to the seventh century from Egypt. Evidence of large-scale hollow bronze production by the sixth century is confirmed by casting pits found in the Athenian Agora (the topic of Mattusch's 1975 dissertation, Casting Techniques of Greek Bronze Sculpture: Foundries and Foundry Remains from the Athenian Agora with Reference to Other Ancient Sources). There is a quick succession of images of large bronzes that have survived from antiquity (again not identified and including, curiously, the modern replicas at the J. Paul Getty Museum of the five women from the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum). The question is asked, what happened to the multitude of bronzes produced in antiquity? It is explained that most were either melted for other uses, destroyed because of political and religious (i.e., Christian zealots) changes, or deteriorated from corrosion leading to bronze disease. Some of the survivors from the Mahdia shipwreck are singled out: the Herm (F 107), the dwarf (F 214), and the lampbearer (F 216). The Riace bronzes are also mentioned with some of the worst images this reviewer has ever seen of these two magnificent survivors.

A very brief section, titled "Pandora's Legacy" (1:46), explains the practice of adorning statues with jewelry, gilding, and the inlay of contrasting metals. Statues from the Fire of Hephaistos exhibition are shown including a statue of Artemis (Buffalo inv. no. 53:1) and several Aphrodites, notably one with her original jewelry intact (Toledo inv. no. 1968.71). It is explained that statues of public figures were rarely adorned even though inlaid patterns on the clothing were common. Although ancient sources do not mention the making of rings by Hephaistos, they were a common adornment on both statues of public figures, where placed on the left hand, and on statues of gods, where placed on the left index finger.

The fourth part, "Puzzles from the Past" (10:05), investigates the techniques of bronze production in antiquity. The evidence is presented in such a way to reinforce Mattusch's argument that ancient bronzes were products of serial production. As prime example, the Riace bronzes are shown to be almost identical in size and proportions by means of superimposed images. Scenes from the Foundry Cup (Berlin, Staatliche Mus., inv. no. F 2294) are intercut with scenes in a modern foundry, Johnson Atelier in Mercerville, New Jersey, where artists cast bronze sculpture using methods close to those used in antiquity. A good explanation of the techniques of bronzeworking illustrated on the Foundry Cup is given but the different views of the cup are out of focus and of poor color, especially those of the tondo showing Hephaistos and Thetis. The lost-wax method of casting is demonstrated by modern artists who make wax working models from the original clay models. The way that a wax working model is individualized to create a unique bronze is shown by the addition of locks of hair, the adjustment of limbs, and the creation of particular hairstyles. Mattusch's suggestion that ancient bronzes were serially produced is given credence here. She posits that body parts were probably kept ready in a workshop and would have been added as needed to separately cast torsos. Again, the examples shown are from the Fire of Hephaistos exhibit and include statues of Hypnos (Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, no. 250) and a boy (Baltimore, inv. no. 23.71). Scenes of production are shown including the assembling of the gate system, and the addition of the clay core with pins inserted through the wax model to the core in order to stabilize the assemblage. A brief animated section shows the wax being melted out to leave the space between the clay core and the investment mold and its replacement with the molten bronze. After cooling the investment mold is shown being broken away and then finishing techniques are presented. The use of different materials for eyes, teeth, nipples is discussed and examples are shown. The section ends with a discussion of the addition of attributes, which leads rather abruptly to the subject of ruler imagery. The statue of Lucius Verrus from the Shelby White and Leon Levy collection (inv. no. 267) is shown while Mattusch explains that he originally held sword and spear in his hands. Since standing nudes were a common statue type for gods, victors and rulers, the recognition of a ruler depended on the portrait head that was added to the particular statue. One wonders, though, whether colossal statues such as this one of Lucius would have been serially produced.

The final section, titled "Seeing Ghosts" (5:31), discusses scientific analysis of ancient bronzes using modern techniques of metallurgical analysis, radiography, electron scanning microscopy, and endoscopy. The intended point of the video lecture seemed to this reviewer to be imbedded in this last section, namely, that traditional art historical methods are changing. No longer is the focus on the study of cast bronzes as unique products of the artist. Rather, broad interdisciplinary studies are encouraged with collaboration among the art historian, archaeologist and conservator. The team approach and modern technology reveal new aspects of ancient bronzes. Three statues of Aphrodite from the Fire of Hephaistos exhibit are shown (Toledo inv. no. 1968.72; Providence inv. no. 26.117; and New York inv. no. 35.122) as examples of bronzes previously studied stylistically as individual objects, which modern analysis now reveals to have been serially produced.

The information presented in this video lecture is important and accurate, but the poor production quality detracts from the content. The five sections of the lecture are presented as separate subjects with little integration. Many of the images shown are out of focus with off colors. Dr. Mattusch, unfortunately, is a stiff on-screen presence. Instead of taking full advantage of the lively nature of direct video recording, the presentation resembles a dull art historical lecture. The section on lost wax casting is the best part from a production standpoint because live action scenes in the foundry are presented. The repeated use of still images of objects used throughout the video gives a lifeless quality.

The video is intended for home viewing by the general public and for use in educational settings in high schools and universities. It is doubtful that the age group targeted would have the patience to listen to the lecture while looking at poorly reproduced visual information. It is an audience that is visually sophisticated and that would, in this reviewer's opinion, give short shrift to this video presentation.