Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.9.22

Olga Palagia and J.J. Pollitt (edd.), Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture. Yale Classical Studies vol. 30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp.187, figs.131. $59.95. ISBN 0-521-55187-0.

Contributors: J.J. Pollitt, Evelyn B. Harrison, Adolf Borbein, Aileen Ajootian, Charles M. Edwards, Petros Themelis.

Reviewed by Mark D. Fullerton, Dept. of History of Art, The Ohio State University,

As Jeffrey Hurwit has pointed out in his recent review article, "The Death of the Sculptor?",1 the status of the artist as the driving force in sculptural development is under attack from a variety of camps, ranging from those theory-based approaches in which author-eradication is de rigueur to those which base their analyses on the close examination of technical processes. He cites the book under review as evidence that the sculptor is still very much alive; indeed, as stated on its frontispiece: "[The book's] underlying assumption is that the history of Greek sculpture was not simply governed by impersonal, evolutionary forces, but that, like the sculpture of later periods, it was shaped by the intuitions, predilections, and innovations of particular individuals," although the authors also "recognize that the problematic and fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence makes their task a difficult one."

In this statement, as elsewhere (but not everywhere) in the volume, three distinct issues are conflated; each is essential to the question at hand, and each must be kept separate if that question is to be approached successfully. The first question -- whether the style of a particular artist can be reconstructed -- is largely a matter of evidence. It depends both on the scholar's ability to assemble a corpus of sculpture which can be reasonably connected with a particular sculptor and on the capability of that corpus to represent the artist's style (or rather on the scholar's capability of detecting it). The second -- less often recognized than the first although arguably more important -- is whether the style so reconstructed is sufficiently consistent and sufficiently distinctive to represent a truly personal style. Related to but distinct from this is a third concern -- whether the personal style identified did, in fact, contribute to the development of Greek sculpture in general. Only by answering all questions can we begin to determine to what degree the progress of Greek sculpture was forged by the creative genius of its practitioners and to what degree the process was reversed.

In his opening essay, "Masters and Masterworks," Pollitt outlines with characteristic brevity and clarity, the genesis of Meisterforschung from the Renaissance to its modern articulation in the works of Adolf Furtwaengler. He also touches upon the issue as it occurs in ancient literature and briefly discusses the current division between scholars who largely follow the methods of Furtwaengler and those who question them. Of the latter, he sympathizes with those who seek to study Roman copies not only as a means to study Greek originals but also as examples of Roman art -- a position which does not seriously challenge the entrenched approaches. He is less swayed by the "combativeness" of those who seek to indict the very process of using Roman copies to study Greek sculpture and thereby threaten to eliminate nearly all evidence for the identification of masters' styles. It is illustrative, however, that the counterexample Pollitt offers to defend the tradition is George Despinis' work on Agorakritos, which, at its core, depends on the study of original marble sculpture.

At the head of this essay, Pollitt identifies three preconditions for the study of sculptors' styles: 1. the means to study a large corpus of sculptures in detail, 2. systematic and comprehensive knowledge of the literary sources, and 3. a coherent historical picture of the stylistic development of Greek art based on archaeological evidence. Although Pollitt's concern is historiographic, these elements are still today the underpinning of the enterprise. Scholars sift through a large number of sculptures -- largely Roman "copies" but a few Greek originals -- and, in most cases on the basis of a comment in ancient literature (more often than not the Roman-era writers Pliny and Pausanias), connect the image -- or the imaginary prototype behind a series of similar images -- with a master's name. Since only rarely do these sources give much more information than the subject of a particular work, only by knowing the overall stylistic sequence can a scholar decide which of the many images of that subject is likely to have been the work of that sculptor. It is important, then, to know the chronological range of activity of the sculptor in question, information which is most often provided by literary and epigraphical evidence and which is itself often open to interpretation. That there are many pitfalls in the process is acknowledged by all and has been pointed out with increasing frequency in recent years.2 Whether these pitfalls are sufficient to warrant despair is the crux of the disagreement; the lines between camps are increasingly firmly drawn.

Even accepting as valid the basic process of Kopienkritik, as it has come to be called, there are serious problems that remain in determining personal styles. First, there is the role of the copy as intermediary. Since copies vary among themselves, there is no small degree of subjectivity in determining which features in a copy tradition can be traced back to the original. Moreover, a mechanically produced copy is least likely to preserve just those subtle features of modeling, finish and detail which are most important in identifying artists' "hands." In determining how "personal" a style might be, comparison with the entire corpus of sculpture from the artist's era is necessary -- a comparandum group determined through familiarity with the "coherent historical picture" alluded to above (Pollitt's condition no.3). However, that picture is based largely on a very different sort of material (painted vases and architectural sculpture). Moreover, that this coherent historical picture has itself been used already in the process of attribution opens a strong possibility for circular reasoning. Ideally comparison is made with the contemporaneous sculptors' oeuvres of statuary, but that these corpora are similarly derived results in the piling of supposition on supposition. Finally, for similar reasons it is equally difficult to determine the impact of a given sculptor on his contemporaries and followers.3 In short, if it is an iffy process to determine a sculptor's style, it is trickier still to compare that style to other styles, to distinguish it from them, and to ascertain its legacy.

It is no surprise, then, that the solutions to the question of determining a sculptor's personal style are in most cases influenced, if not dictated, by each scholar's views on these two critical issues: the value of copies in the study of Greek sculpture and the relative role of the artist vs. that of society in determining artistic development. Their very inclusion in this volume would seem to signify a certain unanimity among its authors and editors, and indeed each accepts as fundamentally valid the traditional processes necessary for determining a sculptor's style. Nonetheless, there is great variety among the five entries in the ways in which the problem is approached, a variety which results only in part from the similarly great variety in the nature of the available evidence for the different sculptors in question.

Certainly the most grounded of the studies is that of Damophon by Themelis, who alone has the luxury of working entirely from original sculptures. Apparently Damophon's works were not copied, nor is the sculptor himself mentioned by sources other than Pausanias. However, his style can be inferred from an incomparably rich body of remains -- primarily the well-known cult group from Lykosoura and an array of fragmentary figures from Damophon's hometown of Messene, many of which were excavated by Themelis himself. His study in fact focuses on the Messene material, comparing it with the Lykosoura sculptures at many points in order to strengthen the attribution. Pausanias mentions many statues by the artist at Messene but the finds themselves are from reused contexts, thus it is only by comparison with the Lykosoura sculptures that the connection with Damophon can be confirmed. The comparisons are compelling and there emerges a clear and consistent picture of Damophon's marble work (we are told he worked also in chryselephantine and bronze). All his work shows an employment, in varying degrees, of features and forms from the Classical era -- Early Classical, High Classical and Late Classical -- mixed in varying degrees with the Hellenistic "baroque." Themelis characterizes his style as eclectic and consciously conservative. I would alter that slightly to say that he, as I suspect were all Hellenistic sculptors, was aware of and had mastery over a wide range of sculptural styles and that he used certain stylistic features for certain purposes because of the meaning inherent in those features. This objection may, however, be simply semantic. Of broader value is the determination by Themelis that Damophon worked no later than the very beginning of the second century; thus he can no longer be used as evidence for a late Hellenistic Classicizing trend, whether that tend constitutes a reaction against the excesses of Pergamene baroque or a result of the parvenu tastes of the Romans. The mastery by Damophon of a variety of stylistic modes supports the view that Hellenistic sculpture defies chronological classification by style simply because no sequence of styles existed. Whether this feature of Damophon's work constitutes a "personal" style is more difficult to judge, since there is so little comparative material. However, the mixing of styles is by no means unusual in Hellenistic sculpture as is perhaps most immediately evident in the Pergamon Altar.

Most traditional in its approach is the essay by, Prof. Edwards, who died in 1992, on Lysippos. He begins, as one must, with the long passage from Pliny which, unusually, tells us almost too much rather than too little about the Sikyonian master. From this passage he identifies, as others have, optical illusionism in both proportion and pose as being Lysippos' contribution. His assessment of the Vatican Apoxyomenos is particularly perceptive. Instead of seeing the position of upper body as being in direct contrast with the ponderation implicit in the legs, as most have done, Edwards detects in the musculature the beginning of a pushing off from the left to the right leg (a reversal of weight shift) just as the motion of the arms is at the point of reversing in the opposite direction. There results a dynamic chiasmos which furthers the connection between Lysippos and the Canon of Polykleitos (who was his avowed master) and represents the essence of Lysippic style. He then considers the other traditional attributions and fits them into a chronological scheme. His study is closely observant and carefully researched; yet, compared with the other essays here, this one seems especially untroubled by the nature of the evidence. After all, there is not one secure attribution to Lysippos and, beyond the Apoxyomenos, not even a highly probable one. The arguments are also based on a somewhat confident use of statue bases to reconstruct poses, attempts to assign very narrow ranges of date (a decade) on the basis of style alone, and a somewhat positivistic attitude toward assigning locations and historical contexts to particular monuments (cf. p.148 on weary Herakles).

The most exhaustive, erudite, and ingenious of the essays is certainly that by Harrison on Pheidias. In the conflict over the use of copies, she wears her allegiance on her sleeve, introducing and concluding her essay with methodological excurses of an almost polemical tone. She bemoans (p.64) the diminishing number of scholars who are "able to deal directly with the written record," and as always her study is richly informed from her encyclopedic knowledge of the Classical world. She starts with what is the critical point in our uncovering of Pheidian style -- that in the written record his fame eclipses his art and thus we are told much about Pheidias and little about his sculpture. She also corrects a common mistake by saying that the Parthenon's architectural sculptures should not be used to determine Pheidian style, since there is no evidence that he had much, if anything, to do with them. A recurring theme here is the influence of Pheidias' early experience as a painter on his art as a sculptor. This might be most clearly seen in the Amazonomachy from the Parthenos shield; although known only partially and only through small Roman copies and a handful of reliefs with individual groups (allegedly to scale), this might be our best-known Pheidian work. Harrison sees the features of Early Classical painting in the subdued but evocative facial expressions (cf. Polygnotos' famous mastery at the depiction of "ethos") and a calligraphic quality in the drapery rendering. Otherwise, she works through the traditional attributions and removes as much as she adds, making suggestions about copies and variants which in the end remain (very) educated guesswork. As she is well aware, Pheidias' fame in antiquity rested on the chryselephantine colossi in Athens and Olympia, the stylistic details of which are all but unknown to us. As for his role in the history of sculpture, she is less committal. She detects a personal style but continues that "He shared this richness of expression and formal beauty with the great poets of his time, Pindar and the Attic tragedians. Like them, he owes much of his greatness to the traditions and evolution of the society that produced him..."

If any Classical sculptor were to have a detectible personal style it should be Polykleitos, owing to the preserved literary tradition concerning his Canon. Moreover, given the apparently normative quality of Polykleitos' work, there should be no doubt that his work affected the course of sculptural development. There has in fact been a proliferation of works on Polykleitos during the current decade,4 perhaps occasioned by the current trend of defending the practice of Meisterforschung -- a trend to which the volume under review certainly belongs. Therefore, it is no surprise that in his essay Borbein pays much less attention than do the other authors to justifying the traditional attributions to his sculptor (which he accepts as given) but focuses primarily on identifying what was "canonical" about Polykleitos' art, what was innovative, and what variations existed. According to Borbein, Polykleitos' innovation did not lie in the idea of a canon, in weight-shift itself, nor even in the particular positioning of the free leg, all of which existed before Polykleitos' time. What gave the Doryphoros "exemplary significance" was that through it Polykleitos "made clear the artistic problem of conveying the idea of movement within rest through a very tightly organized formal system, which resembles in its clarity a geometric theorem." This was done through the dynamic tension set up by the chiastic arrangement of contrasting elements within the physiognomy, each of which can itself be seen to react to gravity. Although clearly expressed and demonstrated, the observation itself is not especially novel. Here as everywhere our conception of what Polykleitos accomplished depends entirely on the identification of the Doryphoros type with the Canon which itself requires a distortion of what Pliny actually says. All other attributions depend on the Doryphoros, so in the end we infer a style from a single work. Nonetheless, that work does seem to reflect a significant stage in the development of the athletic nude male as a subject in art, a stage that is amply illustrated by original works in other media. It also displays a scheme that appears to have functioned as a model, both positive and negative, for subsequent artists and one that also came to be associated with concepts of idealization and heroization throughout Hellenistic and Roman times. If "Polykleitos" is the name we attach to that scheme, then there is no disputing its/his impact.

Like Lysippos, Praxiteles was also an artist about whom much was written and to whom many statuary types have been attached. The sources however provide nothing concerning the style of Praxiteles which is in any way as detailed as Pliny's passage on his Sikyonian contemporary. We have many anecdotes -- with eroticism and irony as a continuing theme -- but very little direct evidence about style and attribution. Ajootian's essay on Praxiteles is structured very much like Edwards' on Lysippos. She begins by scouring what sources we have (literary and epigraphic) for Praxiteles' dates, his commissions, and his family connections. When she turns to the attributions themselves, the reader soon finds a very different approach than that displayed by the other authors in this volume -- especially Borbein and Edwards. She points to the Knidian Aphrodite as the only firmly established example of Praxiteles' style. Although our conception of this image is inevitably colored by its many later and more voyeuristic imitators and variants, Ajootian strips away these accretions and shows clearly how the Vatican type (accepted as the Knidia) reflects Praxiteles' struggle to work with innovative subject matter within a sculptural tradition devoted to depicting the nude male. Ajootian, following the current consensus, rejects the Olympia Hermes as the work of Praxiteles although she is no more able than anyone else to explain why Pausanias said it was his work. As she reminds us, however, Pausanias repeats other information, even at Olympia, which is almost certainly incorrect. More significant is the degree to which the rest of Praxiteles' purported corpus -- indeed his very style -- depends on the acceptance of the Hermes attribution. This is a major theme of her essay. She moves through the now standard works (Pouring Satyr, Leaning Satyr, Erotes and Sauroktonos) and shows how their unifying feature -- a languid and androgynous eroticism - both is inferred as Praxitelean from the Hermes and is ubiquitous in late Classical times. Hers is not a nihilistic skepticism, however. A positive contribution is her suggestion that a type known to us from Roman "copies" might not derive from a particular Classical statue but rather from a figural type in the general Classical repertoire. She points to close parallels in relief sculpture for both the leaning ("sauroktonos") and the pouring figures associated with Praxitelean statuary. In this case the identification of the statuary prototype with a particular artist is impossible, because this "original" never existed.5

Naturally it can be countered that these relief images derive from statuary prototypes and thus actually prove rather than disprove the latter's existence. This argument brings us full circle to our original observation that what one finds in this endeavor (as proverbially in archaeology) is what one is looking for. Both Harrison and Borbein quote Buschor's comment that everyone gets the Pheidias he deserves.6 As is obvious from this volume, the desire to identify personal styles in Greek sculpture is strong, but the evidence is weak. The problem is exacerbated by the absolutist way in which the polarity is set up, for example in the passage quoted in the first paragraph of this review. We are asked to choose between seeing the sculptor as anonymous craftsman/laborer or creative genius/philosopher, although such a dichotomy seems far more a modern concept than an ancient one. What the evidence does suggest is that Classical sculptors were creators of images, often multi-skilled modelers, casters, carvers and even painters. Some were more skilled than others, some were more financially successful, and some were more contemplative. Some were drawn from or at least rubbed elbows with the more powerful elements of society -- a society which was characterized by no small amount of intellectual curiosity; a major topic of speculation was the existence of ideal forms behind the phenomenological world. Is it any surprise that a sculptor would write a Canon? Need we choose whether that work was more workshop handbook or philosophical treatise? Are the categories valid? As Themelis has shown in the case of Damophon, we can, given the evidence, identify a personal style. Does that mean that the history of Greek sculpture must, as is implied here, be written as a history of personal styles? No doubt ancient sculptors vied with one another to create better products, but does that mean that novelty for its own sake was a much a desideratum as it has been for modern artists? If it does not, then is it possible to assert that artists' innovations were the driving force behind development? These are just some of the many largely unacknowledged questions implicit in the issue of "personal styles."

Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture might just as well have been titled Personal Styles in the Study of Greek Sculpture. By juxtaposing a variety of different approaches, this book focuses our attention in a productive way on how each answer to the question of sculptors' roles is already molded by each scholar's assumptions and predilections. Just as the canonical status of Borbein's Polykleitos is created by a dynamic tension between opposing forces, so might a methodological balance be struck by means of exposure to these contrasting views. An increased awareness of the constructed nature of such knowledge might well be this book's most valuable contribution.  


1. AJA 101 (1997) 587-591. Of the works reviewed by Hurwit here, most damaging to traditional concepts of the sculptor as individual creative genius is Carol Mattusch's Classical Bronzes (Cornell University Press, 1996) which demonstrates the degree to which Classical bronze statuary, indeed Greek art in general, was mass-produced after a relatively limited number of models. Since this issue is not raised by the authors in the volume under review, I will leave it aside in my review. I refer the reader to Mattusch's volume, Hurwit's review and the review in BMCR 96.12.6.  

2. E.g. in my forthcoming "Imitation and Intertextuality in Roman Art," JRA 11 (1998).  

3. This is even more problematic if, as Mattusch has demonstrated, Classical bronzes were more or less mass-produced as variants after a limited number of models.  

4. Most conspicuously, the publications of two major symposia: H. Beck and P. Bol, eds., Polykletforschung (Berlin 1993); W. Moon, ed., Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition (Madison 1995).  

5. My sympathies are with Ajootian on this point. Cf., for example, the article cited in n.2 supra where I argue for a very similar reading of most Neo-Attic figural types.  

6. On these issues, see the contributions by J. Hurwit and I. Mark in Moon, ed. supra n.4.