Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.20

Fabrizio Fabbrini (ed.), Maecenas. Il collezionismo nel mondo romano dall' età degli Scipioni a Cicerone.   Arezzo:  Istituto di Storia Antica, 2001.  Pp. 194.  

Contributors: Fabrizio Fabbrini, Rosanna Bertini Conidi, Alessandro Barchiesi, Paolo Carrara, Rosanna Corchia, Luca Graverini, Peter Knox.

Reviewed by T. Keith Dix, University of Georgia (
Word count: 1454 words

This collection of papers from a 1998 conference ("giornata di studi") in Arezzo forms the inaugural volume of a new series Maecenas, published by the Istituto di Storia Antica (based in Arezzo) of the Università degli Studi di Siena. The "Introduzione" (pp. 9-12) by Fabrizio Fabbrini sketches two themes that recur throughout the papers: the connection between collecting and the formation of culture and the connection between collecting and plunder. In his own contribution to the volume, "La ricerca di opere d'arte nel III e II secolo a. C. come momento per una definizione di 'classicità'" (pp. 13-46), Fabbrini states the thesis that Roman appropriation of Greek works of art was one of the conditions that led to the creation of classical culture. While he does not demonstrate this thesis, Fabbrini does offer valuable comments on some of the most famous instances of Roman plundering: the sack of Syracuse in 211 by Marcus Claudius Marcellus, of Tarentum in 209 by Quintus Fabius Maximus, of Ambracia in 189 by Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, and of Corinth in 146 by Lucius Mummius. He points out, for example, that Plutarch's comparison between Marcellus, beloved by the people because he adorned the city with objects of Hellenic grace and charm, and Fabius Maximus, favored by Rome's elders because he removed money and other valuables from Tarentum but left the statues behind (Marcellus 21.3-5), rests on a misapprehension: Fabius ordered that some colossal statues of the Tarentines' "angry gods" be left behind, but the plundered statues and paintings almost equaled those taken from Syracuse (Livy 27.16.6-9); and Pliny (NH 34.40) and Plutarch himself (Fabius Maximus 22) report that Fabius brought to Rome a bronze Heracles by Lysippus.

Rosanna Bertini Conidi ("Humanitas/inhumanitas nei sacheggi di opere d'arte," pp. 47-57) considers Cicero's prosecution of that most infamous of Roman art collectors, Gaius Verres. Cicero's accusations reveal that Verres knew how to choose beautiful and costly objects, that he had intelligence and erudition, that his taste was refined; but was Verres a true connoisseur? No, argues Bertini Conidi, because Verres lacked that humanitas which finds beauty in the equilibrium and harmony of a work of art and inspires the search for such beauty in one's own way of life. The sketch offered here of the virtues and values associated with humanitas is suggestive, but Cicero's description of the art lover in Paradoxa Stoicorum (cited in the following paper) makes one wonder whether Cicero ever imagined the "true connoisseur" in such terms.

Alessandro Barchiesi's contribution ("Occhi Eruditi," pp. 59-66) is the shortest and most provocative of the volume. He takes his title from the fifth chapter of Cicero's Paradoxa Stoicorum, in which Cicero argues that "Only the wise man is free, and the stupid man is a slave." Those who take too much delight in works of art are numbered among the stupid, although Cicero concedes that such things are agreeable: nam nos quoque oculos eruditos habemus (Par. 38). Barchiesi proposes that scholars of Latin literature utilize several insights drawn from art historical analysis of Roman art collecting. Just as Roman art collectors displayed copies of Greek masterpieces in order to assert their erudition, Roman poets included citations from Greek masterworks in their texts. Greek models are the "cultural capital" drawn upon by Roman poets, and intertextuality is a form of collecting. Just as art historians study the recontextualization of Greek works of art in Roman settings, so in the case of literary allusions by Roman poets to Greek models, scholars should explore the dynamic between new and original contexts. The great city-sacks which brought Greek art to Rome created an "esthetic of plunder and triumph," which may lie at the root of the eclecticism of Roman art-collecting; this same esthetic may be found in the literary imagination of Roman poets [in an analogy between literary assimilation and material appropriation]. Finally, Barchiesi suggests that the study of Roman art collecting also include "virtual collections," that is, art collections in literature, like that in the house of Byrrhena described by Apuleius (Met. 2.4).

Paolo Carrara ("Critica letteraria e produzione artistica nella Roma dell'ultima età repubblicana: qualche considerazione," pp. 67-77) examines the use by Greek rhetorical writers (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Longinus," Caecilius of Calacte) of comparisons between literature and the figurative arts. In an age before technologies of mass reproduction of images such as photography, how could these rhetoricians be sure that their comparisons would be understood? Part of the answer lies in the fact that these authors aimed their works not just at teachers of oratory but at the orators themselves, the Roman ruling class, who were the most likely to have seen copies of the works of art in question.

Rosanna Corchia ("Cultura artistica e critica d'arte nel mondo romano tra l'età degli Scipioni e l'età di Cicerone," pp. 79-104) demonstrates that Rome in the middle Republic was already part of the Hellenic cultural koine; what changed with the flood of Greek art (and of Greek artists and intellectuals) was the development of artistic taste and a "discourse on the arts." The issues are broader than whether one appreciates Greek art and welcomes its presence in the city: Corchia finds in such paradigmatic oppositions as Plutarch's comparison of Marcellus and Fabius Maximus two ways of understanding the state, one tied to senatorial tradition, the other open to Hellenistic organizational models. Corchia quotes Filippo Coarelli's description of Roman culture, "an almost schizophrenic cultural bipolarity," and that expression is apt for figures such as Fabius Maximus, who did in fact bring statues to Rome, and Cicero. Cicero was both the defender of traditional and senatorial values (in his prosecution of Verres, for example) and a man of refined culture and an attentive collector (as revealed in letters to Atticus and his rhetorical works). Corchia considers the careers of the sculptor-scholar Pasiteles, author of five volumes on nobilia opera in toto orbe, and the next two generations in his workshop, Stephanos and Cossutius Menelaos, as representative of Greek art and Roman taste at the end of the first century. At this moment, Corchia says, the Roman intellectual disposition was very similar to that of modern collecting: the Romans "intervene in the artistic production, they privilege this or that artist, this or that style or period... they suggest combinations once unthinkable, like the pseudo-athlete of Delos, or statuary typologies of the fifth or fourth century reinvented or recontextualized, like the athlete of Stephanos [in the Villa Albani] and the group of Orestes and Electra [by Cossutius Menelaos, in the Museo Nazionale Romano] or the group of dancer-Danaids of Herculaneum" (p. 90). Corchia's article includes twelve pages of plates and is the only one with illustrations.

Luca Graverini concludes the papers with a study of the conqueror of Corinth ("L. Mummio Acaico," pp. 105-148). After surveying Mummius' career before the consulship and the course of his campaign in Greece, Graverini examines Mummius' conduct in the months between the destruction of Corinth and his return to Rome. Mummius followed the example of previous Roman generals in Greece who, since Flamininus in 196, had shown their respect for the Greek cities and for Greek culture and tradition. He announced liberty for the other Greek cities and reduction into slavery for Corinth; he toured the cities of Greece; he restored the site of the games at the Isthmus of Corinth and adorned the temples at Delphi and Olympia. Graverini turns next to Mummius' triumph and his gifts to Rome, including a temple of Hercules Victor (perhaps the round temple by the Tiber), to other Italian towns, and even to Italica in Spain, where he had served while praetor. Mummius served as censor in 142, together with Scipio Aemilianus, and there are no secure notices of Mummius after that; Graverini rejects the notice in Appian (1.37.168) that Mummius was condemned to exile in 90 and spent the rest of his life on Delos. In a final section, Graverini considers the reputation of Mummius. Greek and Latin sources blame the demagogues of the Achaean League, rather than Rome and her generals, for the downfall of Corinth; and some Greek authors even record praise for Mummius. Several anecdotes suggest that Mummius knew little about Greek art; and he is compared, usually unfavorably, with his fellow triumphator and colleague as censor, Scipio Aemilianus. An appendix of the sources on Mummius follows the paper.

The primary approach throughout the papers is historical and cultural rather than art historical, and the contributors have set the topic of Roman art collecting in a much broader context. While students of "collezionismo" should find much of interest here, this volume may well find its main audience among those who study the political and literary culture of Rome rather than its material culture.1


1.   Two essays on topics unrelated to the theme of the conference complete the volume. Peter Knox ("Il poeta e il 'secondo' principe: Ovidio e la politica all'epoca di Tiberio," pp. 151-181) examines the prosecutions of authors during the reign of Tiberius; he then turns back to the last years of Augustus and suggests that the increasing influence of Tiberius may account for the troubles of Titus Labienus, Cassius Severus, and Ovid himself. Luca Graverini ("Apul. Met. 2,12,5: una profezia ambigua," pp. 183-194) considers the conundrum posed by the story of the Chaldean prophet Diophanes, who predicts that Lucius will be historia magna et incredunda fabula et libri. Reading Lucius' story seems to prove the prophecy correct; but Lucius' host Milo exposes Diophanes as a prophet who could not foresee his own fate.

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