Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.01.33

Elaine K. Gazda, The Ancient Art of Emulation: Studies in Artistic Originality and Tradition from the Present to Classical Antiquity. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Supplementary Volume I.   Ann Arbor:  The University of Michigan Press, 2002.  Pp. 320; pls. 120.  ISBN 0-472-11189-2.  $65.00.  

Reviewed by Mary-Anne Zagdoun, CNRS, Paris (
Word count: 1612 words

Roman copies have for a long time been studied solely as references to lost masterpieces of Greek classical times. Roman copies were thus only taken into account if they could be traced to famous lost models or if they could give a better knowledge of Greek sculptures. This perspective is now changing. Elaine K. Gazda's work shows that Roman copies are now being studied as part of a specific Roman context. They are considered as an interesting source of documentation for the knowledge of the artistic, religious or cultural life of their own period, rather than as means to reconstruct lost Greek masterpieces.

E. K. Gazda's book originated out of a summer seminar at the American Academy in Rome entitled "The Roman Art of Emulation", held under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities' program, Summer Seminars for College Teachers. It comprises twelve studies on the problem of copies and artistic emulation, mainly in the Roman period but also in modern times.

In her Introduction ("Beyond Copying: Artistic Originality and Tradition"), E.K. Gazda gives a thorough and very useful bibliography and historiography on the problem of copies, especially of Roman copies. She also gives the postmodern point of view on copies and Roman art, thus explaining the important changes of scholarship in those fields. Her explanations of the sequence of the papers in the book are very valuable, as they give a structure to what could seem to the inattentive reader a series of talented but loosely organized papers, ranging from ancient to postmodern times. The first four chapters focus on important values that have prevailed in art criticism and in the study of Roman copies since the Renaissance. Ruth Weisberg, in Chapter One ("Twentieth-Century Rhetoric: Enforcing Originality and Distancing the Past") gives as an artist and a critic a very useful account in postmodern terms of fundamental problems such as originality, devaluation of the past, renaissance of values through filters that are so obvious to us that we do not even notice them. In Chapter Two, Alice Taylor ("Three Marble Shepherds in Nineteenth-Century Rome") studies the influence of nineteenth-century categories that influence our modern scholarship on ancient sculpture. She chooses as an example three Christian shepherd statues. In Chapter Three, Nancy H. Ramage ("Restorer and Collector: Notes on Eighteenth-Century Recreation of Roman Statues") shows with much talent how an antique statue, once restored, has to be considered in a new context as representative of new values. In her point of view, restorations should not be removed, because a statue, once restored, has been reworked and can never regain its antique presentation. In Chapter Four, Richard E. Spear ("'di sua mano'") studies the concept of the artist's hand from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century.

The rest of the volume focuses on specific problems and examples related to Roman copies.

In Chapter Five, C. C. Mattusch ("In Search of the Greek Bronze Original") questions the current idea of marble statues as reproducing classical bronze models and shows that the notion of bronze copies needs to be considered for every bronze masterpiece, whether on technical or economic grounds. Bronze copies existed already in classical times, and it is wrong to assume that bronze masterpieces were only copied in Roman times. Her paper is very important for the understanding of classical bronzes. Chapter Six (Mary Hollinshead, "Extending the Reach of Marble: Struts in Greek and Roman Sculpture") shows that struts, far from being the proof of a copyist's inability, should now be studied in terms of virtuosity and could also be very helpful as a chronological clue or as the sign of a specific workshop.

Roman aesthetic values are studied in the two next Chapters. In Chapter Seven, E. E. Perry ("Rhetoric, literary Criticism, and the Roman Aesthetics of Artistic Imitation") analyses the relation between artistic imitation and Roman innovation, pin-pointing the notion of decorum or appropriateness. This notion is very important to understanding the ancient collector's aims and the existence of multiple models in an artist's work. The example of the Loukou caryatid shows eclectism at work, as the artist combines conservatism and originality, thus creating a new type. In Chapter 8, M. Koortbojian ("Forms of Attention: Four Notes on Replication and Variation") considers the viewer's attention to the relation between the work and its models in four notes -- "Motives for Display", "Form as Content", "Schema, Style Symbol" and "Alternating Forms of Attention".

The final four essays present new interpretations of well-known Roman copies. In Chapter Nine, Miranda Marvin ("The Ludovisi Barbarians: The Grand Manner") shows all that separates these sculptures from their presumed Pergamene models and considers them as creations of the second century A.D. Contemporary sculptures (representations on the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius) provide good parallels for the style and iconography of these defeated foes who retain the baroque style associated with Pergamon. In Chapter Ten, Jennifer F. Trimble ("Greek Myth, Gender, and Social Structure in a Roman House") analyses the Achilles paintings in the House of the Dioscuri in Pompeii. She does not see them as copies of lost Greek masterpieces, but as the expression of a social reality, the Roman patronage system. In Chapter Eleven, Elizabeth Bartman ("Eros's Flame: Images of Sexy Boys in Roman Ideal Sculpture") analyses the Greek values of the Roman élite. Found mostly in baths and villas and rendered in the Late Classical Greek style, these statues of Eros do not conform to the Roman traditional values of masculinity. In Chapter Twelve, Linda Jones Roccos ("The Citharode Apollo in Villa Contexts: A Roman Theme with Variations") analyses the same statuary type in four different villas, each time with a different grouping of statues, which gives a different meaning to the same statue.

This book is to be commended for its very good presentation and its splendid illustrations. The different papers are written by outstanding scholars. The faults or mistakes are very slight and the documentation is solid. This book can thus be read by scholars, who will find it a very useful tool for the study of Roman copies in general and for specific works in particular, but it can also be read by a larger public, who will enjoy finding some of their favorite antique sculptures interpreted in a new manner.

Slight criticisms can always be made of the best works. Cross-references among the essays in greater number would have been useful and would perhaps have avoided some repetitions. Firmer conclusions would have given the impression of greater unity. As a whole, and in spite of its structure (see above), the book does sometimes give the impression of being a juxtaposition of interesting studies, that do not have many links between them.

This could have been avoided by firmer references to ancient philosophy. I would like to give three examples. The most important one concerns the notion of decorum. It would have been useful to retrace the history of this notion in Greek and Latin philosophy and in particular its development in Stoic philosophy. This is sadly lacking, although appropriatness is analysed, but insufficiently in my opinion, in several chapters of the book. A development on Panaitios would have been welcome. Eclectism deserves a thorough analysis as an aesthetic category and a philosophical notion. Another example lies in the concept of the hand, which is so important in Stoic and Aristotelian philosophy. It would have been sufficient to refer to Aristotle, De partibus animalium IV, 10, 687a9 and, for the Stoics, to Cicero, De natura deorum II, LX, 150. There would have been a link between ancient and modern conceptions of the hand, which would have been very welcome in Chapter Four. The theme of the "hand" would also have explained the pride antique copists took in their work as they increasingly considered their creations as important as the masterpieces they copied. The theme of the copy as masterpiece, so important for the perspective of this book, is briefly evoked in Chapter Eight. But it deserved a more thorough treatment.

More definitions on the notion of copying would also have been welcome. They would have avoided repetitions, however slight, in a number of chapters. More could have been said on that concept, before studying specific themes or copies.

This book has shown that Roman copies are now to be considered as works of their own, more characteristic of their times, and not only in relation with lost masterpieces. But it has left number of questions unanswered. Why in the first place did Romans copy Greek statues ? There do exist trends in Roman art that are completely independent of Greek statuary. So why were Romans so fond of Greek art? I am not sure that this book quite answers that question, which is a very difficult one. Which typically Greek values did the Romans cherish? Are the copies only characteristic of Roman times or do they aim at creating a renaissance? Does a renaissance of Greek values exist in Roman times or did Romans only transmit values by adapting them to their mentality? This book does not answer these questions, probably because we are only at the beginning of this new approach to the problem of copies.

In spite of these reservations, this book does give an entirely new answer to the problem of copying. Each study is to be commended for its knowledge and scholarship, and some of the most famous antique statues are presented in a new light. The conclusions are always interesting, if not always as firm and far-reaching as could be desired. In spite of my very slight objections, this book is fundamental for the study of the notion of copying, especially in Roman art.

Read Latest
Index for 2003
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:24, Friday, 03 April 2009