Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.35

J. Michael Padgett (ed.), Roman Sculpture in the Art Museum. Princeton University.   Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 2001.  Pp. xxix, 426; figs. 394 + 12 col. pls.  ISBN 0-943012-34-1.  $45.00.  

Reviewed by Amy C. Smith, University of Reading (
Word count: 1266 words

The reviewer apologizes to authors for the lateness of this review.

This handsome and competitively priced catalogue sets a new standard for the 21st century. It combines a thorough and well-researched text and an extensive bibliography and footnotes, on the order found only in contemporary academic volumes, with the breadth and depth of illustrative material that publishers have long claimed to be unfathomable (and which makes web publication an attractive alternative that remains relatively unused by art museums, including The Art Museum at Princeton). Introductory essays, maps, concordances, and other instructive material into the bargain make this a near perfect museum catalogue. Padgett (hereafter P.) has himself done a fine job of the editing, although he shares in the authorship with a range of international scholars, including some "home grown" at Princeton (a nice but unoriginal element).

The catalogue is divided into sections that treat distinct classes of sculpture such as portraits (20 entries), "Deities, Ideal Types, Animals" (20 entries, mostly freestanding sculptures), and Sarcophagi (8 entries); or regional/cultural groups such Hauranite (16 entries), Palmyrene (9 entries), and Etruscan (2 entries). The dissonance of this arrangement is, however, highlighted by the two sections on Antioch, "Sculpture from Antioch" and "Grave Stelai from Antioch." This might be explained by the fact that they are the largest sections (59 entries and 26 entries, respectively), thanks in large part to the efforts of Richard Stillwell and other members of the Princeton-sponsored excavations there (from 1932-1939). The Antioch pieces are, however, mostly fragmentary and undistinguished; the few that have been hitherto published were summarily treated in Stillwell's excavation reports.1

P. cogently explains in the foreword the reasoning that dictated the inclusion or exclusion of artifacts from The Art Museum (xix-xxii). While many of the pieces include inscriptions and/or architectural ornament, no pieces that are merely inscriptions and architectural ornament are catalogued here. Following the current trend whereby Roman period sculptures of ideal type are not necessarily assumed to be copies or variants of Greek originals, the catalog includes Roman sculpture that may have been inspired by Greek originals.2 Three Greek sculptures (an Attic document relief and two portraits) are included here (but in an addendum, rather than in the main catalogue) because they were not included in Princeton's recent catalogue of Greek sculpture.3 Bucking another trend, however, P. judiciously excludes modern fakes and dubitanda. The two Etruscan pieces (a nenfro lion's head and an alabaster urn depicting Pelops' chariot), Italian 'predecessors' to Roman sculpture, are sensibly included in the main catalogue, but why at the end (rather than the beginning) of the volume? Cypriote antiquities are now thankfully promised in their own volume (xix).

The catalogue entries themselves are admirably thorough. Each entry begins with a "tombstone" header detailing date (usually relative: for imperial material, reigning emperor as well as ranges of dates are provided), provenance, material, dimensions, and some museum acquisition information. An extensive condition report then precedes a discussion delving into form, technique, and iconography as well as excavation details and original context, if known. Some confusion might be unnecessarily caused by the use of "left" and "right" to refer to viewer's point of view in entries on relief compositions, whereas the opposite point of view is used for figures in the round. Some new interpretations are provided for artifacts published elsewhere, e.g. the head of a child (cat. no. 4), which J. Pollini suggests should not be taken certainly as a portrait or even as an image of a boy. For "material" the authors take appropriate caution in describing the material rather than guessing at its origin (e.g. "fine grained white marble" as opposed to "Pentelic"). In the case of an Octavian/Augustus head (cat. no. 2) a stable isotopic ratio analysis was even performed and provided an 80 percent probability that the marble was indeed Luna, specifically from the Colonnata quarries at Carrara (10 n. 1). Why then is this degree of certainty not noted in the "tombstone" header? Such specific material sources are noted in other catalogue entries (e.g. cat. no. 15, a portrait of Marcus Aurelius), where the authors refrain from divulging details of material analyses. It is thus unclear whether this is a matter of inconsistency in standards or presentation.

The three short essays aim to contextualize discrete groups of artifacts. It is not surprising that no essays were included in the first two sections -- on "Portraits" and "Deities, Ideal Types, Animals." This is presumably because of the great diversity of objects included in both sections. Yet an introduction to sarcophagi would have been useful for the novice reader, and one on Palmyrene sculpture useful to most scholars, few of whom will have seriously considered this idiosyncratic group of (predominantly) funerary monuments. T. Najbjerg's article, "Antioch on the Orontes," is the most extensive, with separate sections on the historical development of the city of Antioch and the Princeton excavations there (1932-1939). It also provides a useful list of sources for further reading. One hopes in vain, however, for an overview of the sculptures from Antioch that would provide some sort of classification or determination of what characterizes them as distinct from other Roman, or at least Roman Syrian sculptures. R.G.A. Weir's essay on "Antiochene Grave Stelai in Princeton," on the other hand, provides a thorough analysis (replete with charts) of the form and iconography of these monuments, and especially of their inscriptions. He concludes that the Princeton collection provides a typical sample of known Antiochene grave stelai. The translation of Greek words (as is done in the text of catalogue entries) might have made this article more accessible to non-specialist readers. R. Wenning's article on "Hauranite Sculpture" (312-14) focuses on the origins of the Princeton sculptures from the Hauran (mostly from Seeia) and provides little information on the region itself: the region's name is not even noted on the map of Roman Syria (172).4

One may surmise from the thin coverage in the essays and the relative lack of introductory or explanatory material that a scholarly audience is intended. So this volume should be a standard item in every academic library that concerns itself with art, classics, ancient history, or even the Near East. It should stand the test of time as a sourcebook, thanks to the thorough treatment given to each catalogue entry. Few scholars will mind the occasional typographic error that has crept in: the extensive bibliography, useful footnotes, and excellent photographs more than make up for them. If The Art Museum would now see fit to make this material available on the web, it might eventually reach a wider audience, would certainly bring greater attention to the collection, and would probably boost catalogue sales.

The near "perfection" of this scholarly catalogue is enhanced by a remarkable international episode that it sparked. Apparently during his research on one of the objects, a fragmentary pediment from a funerary monument (cat. no. 11), P. discovered a reference to the same object, citing a report regarding its (hitherto unknown) discovery at Colle Tasso, near Tibur, rather than its Princeton location.5 In respect of Italy's 1939 law, whereby Italy claims as state property antiquities discovered in its soil, Princeton's Art Museum (who had not been aware of the fragment's origin, let alone its publication) thereupon returned the object to the Italian authorities and then requested that it remain at Princeton on long-term loan, for the purposes of further scholarship, as well as to make the artifact available to the public. P. and his Museum are to be congratulated on this remarkable act of international good will, as well as the production of a fine catalogue.


1.   R. Stillwell ed., Antioch-on-the Orontes II. The Excavations 1933-1936 (Princeton 1938); ibid. ed., Antioch-on-the Orontes II. The Excavations 1937-1939 (Princeton 1941). Exceptions are cat. nos. 68 (a head of a satyr with the hand of a hermaphrodite), 73 (a torso of a [Polykleitan] youth), 117 (the [early 2nd c.] stele of Eubolas) and 128 (the [2nd c.] stele of Helene). The last two, incidentally, were just published in C. Kondoleon's catalogue that accompanied an exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum: Antioch: The Lost Ancient City (Princeton 2000).
2.   With the exception of a torso of Dionysos that is published in B. Ridgway et al., Greek Sculpture in The Art Museum, Princeton University (Princeton 1994) 56-59.
3.   Ibid. Princeton's Byzantine sculpture has also been comprehensively treated, in S. Curcic and A. St. Clair, Byzantium at Princeton: Byzantine Art and Archaeology at Princeton University (Princeton 1986).
4.   Although Seeia and other Hauranite sites are noted on the map of Roman Syria (which comes 140 pages earlier than the article) the article makes no reference to that map.
5.   J. Bodel and S. Tracy eds., Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA. A Checklist (Rome 1997) 148.

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