Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.21

Kenneth D.S. Lapatin, Chryselephantine Statuary in the Ancient Mediterranean World.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. xvi, 242; pls. xiv color, figs. 249.  ISBN 0-19-815311-2.  $115.00.  

Reviewed by Mary C. Sturgeon, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (
Word count: 2846 words

In this volume Kenneth Lapatin presents a detailed view of chryselephantine statuary in the ancient Mediterranean from the Bronze Age through the Roman period. This is the first comprehensive study of chryselephantine sculpture since 1815 and much has been discovered since that time. L. presents the available literary, art historical and archaeological evidence for ancient statuary in gold and ivory, treats issues of production and use, and ties his detailed discussion into the overall history of ancient sculpture, making the book useful for the general reader as well as the specialist. Objects are reproduced at 1:1 where possible, so a sense of the ivories' relative size is conveyed. Inclusion of one measurement in the caption also indicates size.

L.'s synthetic treatment presents a thorough analysis of many pieces, usually supported by close personal observations. After a brief Introduction, six chapters follow, on "Materials and Techniques," "'The Art of Daedalus': Chryselephantine Statuary in the Bronze Age"; "'The Age of Ivory': c. 1000-500 BC"; "The Pheidian Revolution"; "In the Wake of Pheidias"; "Chryselephantine Statuary in the Hellenistic and Roman Period"; and a Conclusion. A Select Catalogue of Chryselephantine and Related Material comes next, and a Select Testimonia presents texts in full in the ancient language and in English. Two Appendices provide further material, on: 1. Chryselephantine (Ch.) statues attested by literary and epigraphical sources, by site, subject, and period; and 2. The Athena Areia at Plataia and the 'Little Parthenos.' Bibliographical references are full. Indices to ancient passages and a general index are included. The text is supported by abundant illustrations, which alone make an important contribution. Throughout, L. indicates when dates are provided by archaeological context.

In the Introduction, L. defines the scope and aims of the book and outlines the history of scholarship. The ivories are often incomplete and their survival is fortuitous. Relevant texts, though abundant, can be misleading, though they are helpful about attitudes, materials, cost, iconography, and reception. Representation of Ch. statues in other media is problematic, as they are often altered and of different materials, sizes, and purpose. Functions include sculpture in the round, furniture, and ritual, martial, musical, and cosmetic implements. Literary sources suggest that the same craftsmen produced Ch. statues and small objects like furniture, and when fragmentary, the nature of the original is not always clear. Most, though not all Ch. statues represent deities; they are dedicated by the wealthy; and they are highly prized by ancient authors.

The chapter on Materials and Techniques is very informative. Concerning natural history, the origins of gold and types of ivory -- elephant, hippopotamus, sperm whale, walrus tusks, as well as mammoth and bone -- are discussed. Ancient collections of "large bones" may have been tusks, such as those noted by Pausanias at Megalopolis and those at Tegea, which Augustus took to Rome. Trade patterns are discussed as well as the value of ivory in antiquity. Rare in Greece in certain periods, ivory is said to have been prized for its beauty, glowing color, smooth texture, its potential for detailed work, and its suitability for combination with gold. Collections of ivories at Arslan Tash, Hasanlu, Kalhu, Khorsabad, Megiddo, and Samaria appear to have represented real wealth. Post-Geometric Greek ivories, found mostly in sanctuaries, occur both raw and worked. Ivory dust was thought by some to have medicinal value, e.g., as a cure for epilepsy. For the price of ivory, a distinction is made between the cost of new ivory and of scrap. The increased supply in the Classical period results in devaluation. Pliny the Elder rates ivory as the most precious organic material but less precious than silver. L. argues that ivory was a luxury item, as is indicated by sources starting with Homer. It symbolized extravagance (beautiful skin) and was considered on a par with bronze, gold, amber, and silver. Ch. statues were used in gift exchange between the wealthy elite and as dedications in major sanctuaries, and they could be sold for cash.

Techniques of working, joining, and combining ivory with other materials are related in detail. Finds from workshops, literary sources, and the ivories themselves are informative about the procurement, preparation of, hoarding of, trade in, cutting of, tools applied to, and piecing. Outlines were drawn on prepared blocks with a point or awl before carving with a chisel, knife or drill. Joins were effected with rectilinear and triangular mortises, tenons and dowels, and smoothing with rasps and files preceded finishing with abrasives and polishes, such as fish skin and coarse leaves. Surfaces were prepared for joining by scoring, joins secured with adhesives such as fish-glue, and additional security sometimes provided by cross-pins, as with some marble sculptures. Ancient ivories were probably painted, with red, green, and blue. Gilding is used in combination with ivory, but generally on its wooden supports, though these frequently do not survive. Gold foil and leaf were in some cases attached by egg white and fish glue, in others by narrow grooves or by water gilding, using a clay slip and stucco.

Chapter 3, on the Bronze Age, considers the Knossos male 'leapers,' precursors in the ancient Near East (including Egypt), early Cretan ivories, components from the 'Royal Road' at Knossos, the Palaikastro youth, the Archanes groups, Minoan ivories from mainland Greece, and Mycenaean ivories. Detailed rendering of veins and muscles is remarkable on some male figures, and gilded bronze wire formed hair on others. The ivory lion from Phaistos, MM IIA-IIIA, presents the earliest known combination of ivory and gold from Crete. Hippopotamus ivory, characteristic of pre-Palatial ivory, is replaced by elephant ivory in the Palatial period. The remarkable Palaikastro youth illustrates the practice of piecing, with over 20 segments, the hair in serpentine. It was possibly displayed in a cult center as the young Zeus.

The book gives the impression of encyclopedic coverage of ivories used in combination with other materials. Evidence does not always survive for the composite-ness, however, and some ivories discussed, such as the Mycenae 'Triad,' preserve no evidence of attachments. The section on pre-palatial Minoan ivories lists one head and a few arms.1 The author's study of problematic 'Minoan' statuettes, which have no provenance and are not considered in the present volume, has appeared, as Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire and the Forging of History (Boston 2002).

Chapter 4, on the period ca. 1000-500 BC, presents evidence for ivory in the east (with special attention to Urartu and Egypt), for early Greek Ch. statues, the Dipylon ivories, ivories from the Idaean cave, ivory in Homer, furniture, the problem of attribution to Greece or the East, composite statuettes from Ephesos, Samos, the mainland and the west, the iconography of the precious, Ch. statues cited by literary sources, and the Halos deposit at Delphi.

Near Eastern influence is seen in heads that are cut flat on top and back for piecing, but the style distinguishes Greek work. The Greek technique of inlaying eyes -- using bronze "pockets" to secure the inlay and to depict lashes -- differs from the Near Eastern use of bitumen. Some figures have separately attached ears. In the Halos deposit, the two large female heads are in an East Greek style, but the "Apollo" head is different and possibly earlier. Restoration of the gold sheets with the Apollo is controversial. This large group was possibly dedicated by the mid 6th-c. tyrant on Samos, and its mixture of styles suggests a diversity of artists.

L. devotes the greatest attention to Chapter 5, "The Pheidian Revolution." In it he discusses monumental akroliths at Aigina and Plataia; the Athena at Pellene; the Athena 'Parthenos,' with attention to nomenclature, date, cost, finance, appearance, construction, technique, workplace, base, armature and core, goldworking, the unscrolling and molding of ivory; Zeus Olympios, with sections on the setting, size and appearance, molds for glass from Pheidias' workshop, iconography, maintenance and repair, the column of the Athena 'Parthenos,' the later history of the Athena and Zeus; and the Aphrodite Ourania at Elis.

The Athena at Pellene was probably mis-attributed to Pheidias, being created after his death when the temple was built. The construction of interior scaffolding for large Ch. statues is compared to the construction of Athenian triremes, as woodworking has similar bending and joining methods. For large Ch. statues a wooden armature was used, to which clay and cast plaster were added and then the precious materials. Wood was possibly located under the gold and plaster under the ivory, although at Delphi gold sheets were nailed to a wooden core. Ivory could have been used like veneer, attached to wood, as with furniture. The ivory would be unscrolled, softened by soaking in beer, vinegar, or phosphoric acid, and molded. L. cites many ancient and medieval sources on ivory working. He postulates that for the Parthenos Pheidias used a full size model in wood, and this became the core of the statue. The ancient reference to 'Lydian workmanship' on Zeus' throne possibly refers to the Near Eastern technique of inlaying stone and glass in ivory. The Zeus had gilded glass drapery; the use of glass in a Ch. statue was revolutionary. L. does not believe the Parthenos originally had a column under the Nike, which was probably supported by a cantilever system, but that one was added later. He doubts the ancient reports of removals of gold from the Parthenos.

Chapter 6, on the post-Pheidian period, treats Theokosmos' Zeus Olympios at Megara, the Ch. works of Kolotes, the Dionysos of Alkamenes, Polykleitos' Argive Hera, the 'seven' on Delos, Thrasymedes' Asklepios at Epidauros, Menaichmos' and Soidas' Artemis Laphria, other 4th c. Ch. statues, and the Philippeion group at Olympia. On the latter, the four cuttings in the statue base are round like those designed to receive marble plinths, not the armature for Ch. statues. The reader is reminded that Ch. material by itself did not signify divinity.

L.'s strong focus on citations by ancient authors leads to a heavy emphasis on discussion of lost originals, the connection of possible replicas to them, and conclusions based on analysis of those replicas. This approach verges on the problematic area of Kopienkritik, without investigating it deeply. Some connections and attributions should be made more tentatively, especially, e.g., regarding the Hera of Argos.

Chapter 7, on the Hellenistic and Roman period, takes up statues recorded by ancient authors, such as portraits of Hellenistic rulers, statues after Pheidias, Ch. statuary in Rome, Pasiteles' ivory Jupiter in the Temple of Jupiter Stator, Joves Optimi Maximi Capitolini, an ivory Julius Caesar, a Saturn in the Forum Romanum, statues in the principate of Augustus and the 1st c. AD, Hadrian's Zeus Olympios at Athens, Herodes Attikos' Tyche at Athens, Herodes Attikos' Poseidon-Amphitrite group at Isthmia, and Menodora's Tyche in Syllion, Pamphylia. Physical survivals are fewer than in earlier periods; L. includes the Corinth arm, the Vatican 'Athena,' the New York foot, the Saint Louis foot, the Agora Apollo Lykeios, a bone face in London, and a statue from Alexandria.

A few significant works can be added. Note the important ivory frieze of the late Trajanic or early Hadrianic period that was found at Ephesos in 1968.2 See also the ivory "dolls" found in tombs in Rome from the Severan period and later.3

In summary, this book is a thoroughly researched study, which is well organized and presented. L. gives a synthetic overview of gold and ivory sculpture, including detailed discussions of major pieces -- their history, material, and technique, and ostentatious use to indicate status -- relevant ancient literary sources, and modern scholarship. The study focuses on the Greek and Roman world, but also treats selected ivories from the Near East and Egypt. L.'s close attention to technique makes an important contribution. He has studied the ivories through autopsy; hence his detailed descriptions and analysis are helpful. This volume will likely become a standard handbook in ancient sculpture and classical archaeology.

A few matters invite comment.

The manuscript should have been more carefully edited and proofread. This volume, a revision of the author's 1994 dissertation, contains some characteristics of a dissertation, such as lengthy, run-on sentences and occasional lack of clarity.

Maps: two are included. These should have labels.

Catalogue: since most discussion of an object occurs in the text, its catalogue entry could usefully contain cross-references to mentions in the text.

Literary sources: a large number are given in full both in the text and in the Select Testimonia section; this lengthens the book unnecessarily and increases the price.

Index: The index is incomplete, so it is difficult to determine if an item is included or not. Reference to footnotes would have been useful. Not all sub-entries are alphabetized. Separate entries, with cross-references where needed, would be useful, e.g., for adhesive, bone, cross-pins, ear, glue, horn, Kush, material, pseudo-chryselephantine, Punt, sturgeon (sic), windows, women artisans; sub-entries on technique under ivory and joins; and catalogue numbers, e.g., after elephant ivory and hippopotamos ivory.

Plates: The book is enhanced by 14 color photographs, and a generous number of black and white illustrations. It is unfortunate, however, that many plates are of inferior quality. In some cases, the effect is so deleterious that the piece cannot be understood properly, i.e., figs. 72, 126, 241. Part of the problem lies with the material, which is often grayed from weathering or burning or shiny from polishing. Some photos are out of focus. Had all the plates been of high quality, this volume would have been visually stunning, as the material itself is so beautiful. On pls. 178-88, it is nice to have many illustrations of relevant material from Pheidias' Workshop at Olympia, but the objects illustrated should be discussed in the text.

Drawings would help the reader visualize techniques of joining and gilding in the fabrication of Ch. figures, especially of monumental statues such as the Athena Parthenos and Olympia Zeus. Discussion of wood techniques devised for statuary would also be helped by drawings, such that of the "Athena Medici" in Thessaloniki by G. Despinis, in his Akrolitha (Athens 1975).

Corrections and additions:

p. 22. Daedalus, versus p. 50, Daidalic: both spellings are in the index.

p. 38, on Italic ivories, see now G. Rocco, Avori e ossi dal piceno (Rome 1999).

p. 59, note 207, the recent examination of the 'Peplos Kore' referred to was conducted by V. Brinkmann.

p. 67, note 60, on Pheidian statue bases, see now O. Palagia, "Meaning and Narrative Techniques in Statue-bases of the Pheidian Circle," in Word and Image in Ancient Greece, N. K. Rutter and B. A. Sparkes, eds. (Edinburgh 2000) pp. 53-78.

p. 85, no. 237, add S. Vlizos, Der thronende Zeus. Eine Untersuchung zur statuarischen Ikonographie des Gottes in der Spätklassische und hellenistischen Kunst (Rahden 1999).

p. 91, on the Brazza Aphrodite, see now F. Croissant, "Die unbegreifliche Aphrodite," in Agalma. Meletes gia thn arxaia plastike pros timin tou Giorgou Despini (Thessaloniki 2001) pp. 195-203.

p. 99, the 1960s are not 'recent.'

p. 108 and note 115, for fewer than nine Muses (often 1-3), which is a regular occurrence prior to the Hellenistic period, see B. S. Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture I, The Styles of ca. 331-200 B.C. (Madison 2000) pp. 247-48, 253-55.

p. 112. On the Motya statue, see also M. Bell III, "The Motya Charioteer and Pindar's Isthmian 2," MAAR 40 (1995) pp. 1-42.

p. 113, note 160, p. 198, note 4: does not distinguish between I. Morris 1992 and S. P. Morris 1992.

p. 113, note 160, add F. Cooper, "Reconstruction of the Athenian Treasury at Delphi in the Fourth Century B.C.," paper, Boston 1989, abstract in AJA 94 (1990) pp. 317-18.

p. 128, Philostratos refers to statues of Poseidon and Amphitrite, not Aphrodite; this is correctly stated in the citation of the source and its translation but wrongly in the text and in the Index.

p. 128, on Herodes Attikos' chryselephantine group in the Isthmian temple, my interpretation (Isthmia IV, pp. 4, 8-9, 83-5, 91-2, 94, 98-9) is that Pausanias mentions BOTH groups, not just one as stated, and that the later one (Herodes') is placed in front of the earlier one in the large cella; any interpretation has to account for the presence of the earlier marble cult group in the temple at the time of the temple's destruction, as parts of it were found in the cella and opisthodomos.

p. 132, reference for the bone face in London and for the quotation of Lethaby?

p. 132. says that the Saint Louis Foot cannot be dated; but it is termed Roman in the catalogue entry, no. 48.

p. 135: discussion of Pheidias as entrepreneur would be enhanced by reference to similar evidence and analysis for Michelangelo. See, e.g., W. E. Wallace, Michelangelo at San Lorenzo: The Genius as Entrepreneur (New York and Cambridge 1994).

p. 137, on the collection of Lausos, see S. G. Bassett, "'Excellent Offerings': The Lausos Collection in Constantinople," Art Bulletin 82 (2000) pp. 6-25.

p. 199, note 16, add K. J. Hartswick, "The Athena Lemnia: A Response," in Stephanos: Studies in Honor of Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, K. J. Hartswick and M. C. Sturgeon, eds. (Philadelphia 1998) pp. 105-114.


1.   For a complete review, see S. Hemingway, "The Place of the Palaikastro Kouros in Minoan Bone and Ivory Sculpture," in The Palaikastro Kouros: A Minoan Chryselephantine Statuette And its Aegean Bronze Age Context, J. A. MacGillivray, J. M. Driessen and L. H. Sackett, eds., BSA Studies 6 (London 2000) pp. 113-22.
2.   M. Dawid, "Die Elfenbeinfriese von Ephesos," International Conference of Classical Archaeology, Athens 1983 (Athens 1988) pp. 233-36.
3.   G. Bordenache Battaglia, Corredi funerari di età imperiale e barbarica nel Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome 1983) pp. 115-17, 133-34.

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