Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.05.09

Helga Bumke, Statuarische Gruppen in der frühen griechischen Kunst. Jarbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, 32. Ergänzungsheft.   Berlin:  Walter de Gruyter, 2004.  Pp. x, 204; figs. 138 on 36 pls.  ISBN 3-11-018179-7.  €74.00.  

Reviewed by Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Bryn Mawr College (
Word count: 2266 words

The author's stated purpose in conducting this inquiry was to follow the development of free-standing groups -- both at large and small scale -- from the Geometric to the end of the Early Classical period as manifestations conditioned by their respective time span rather than to classify and define such groups in general, as is traditional.1 Yet, after an Introduction in which she outlines previous research (from Konrad Levezow in 1804 to Chrissoula Ioakimidou in 1997), Bumke herself divides her own material into typological subgroups with specific headings. Thus the examples from the Geometric phase (in the First Section) are articulated into "Combat Groups (I.A.1-3)," "Animal Groups (I.B)," "Ringdance Groups (I.C)," with an Excursus on chronology, and "Groups with undeterminable content (I.D.1-3)." One last category (I.E) discusses the three sphyrelata from Dreros. Likewise, the Second Section (Archaic Groups to the last third of the 6th Century B.C.) breaks down into "Combinations of similar types (II.A.1-4)" and "Combinations of different types (II.B.1-5)" of statues or statuettes, each with its own categories and sections of general discussion.

Section III treats the Late Archaic and the Early Classical periods together because a basic change in approach seems to connect them. The subcategories here are more varied. "Late-Archaic Duels (III.A.1-2, each with two entries)," "Early Classical Duels (III.B. 1-2)," "Early Classical Two-figured Groups without Iconographic Tradition (III.D.1-2)," "Early Classical Athletic Groups in the Minor Arts (III.E.1-3)," and "Multifigured Groups at large scale in the Late Archaic and Early Classical Period (III.F.1-2)." The alphabet letters missing from my outline (I.F; II.C; III.C and G) correspond to interwoven summaries of points made with regard to the material just discussed, and a concluding "Zusammenfassung" (pp. 191-194) attempts a general overview highlighting underlying time-specific principles and changes.

Because of the imperfect nature of our evidence, most modern studies have focused on Classical and Hellenistic groups, leaving out the early phases except for sporadic references to a few early examples, as part of the chosen typology -- for instance, the above-mentioned book by Ioakimidou, which catalogues rows of figures within their civic and political context.2 Bumke therefore has undertaken a difficult task, first presented in 1997 as a doctoral dissertation to the Free University of Berlin and then reworked for publication (until 2001-2002). She is well aware of the limitations of her material, and she makes them even stricter by excluding all possible akroterial groups, complex antefixes, pedimental compositions (although some of them were actually carved in the round), and attachments to metal vessels or other types of support, since all of these implied a predetermined viewpoint and special bracing. As a consequence, the items discussed in detail are few indeed (see below), and many other potential candidates are cited only in the very abundant footnotes, as clearly shown by the extensive indices (pp. 195-202).3 She is, moreover, quite objective in pointing out that even her chosen examples might be open to different interpretations and/or dating. Yet she believes that enough remains to draw general conclusions about the different approaches to the combination of figures during the three phases she has isolated. Because the synthesizing conclusions are so authoritative and extensive, with ample reference to ancient literature (especially the Homeric poems for the Geometric period) and modern theories (most notably those by A. Borbein and N. Himmelmann), I found myself compelled to break down the nature of the evidence presented, to test the potential validity of the deductions. The results leave me skeptical. I therefore want first to emphasize that much of value exists in the present volume. The careful scrutiny of the find conditions of the three sphyrelata from Dreros, for instance, is a true eye-opener and should be required reading. Equally thorough and engrossing are the discussions of "Kleobis and Biton" and of the Tyrannicides within the context of the possible relationship of the images to the historical event. The group of Athena and Marsyas attributed to Myron (as recomposed) is carefully analyzed according to the latest evidence. Finally, many new observations and personal conclusions are drawn from the remains of three statue bases: the dedication of the Orneatai at Delphi and those of the Achaians and the Apollonians at Olympia. What follows should therefore be read as the enquiring position of an advocatus diaboli rather than as the attacking rebuttal of a prosecutor.

Section I: Geometric.

Bumke analyzes 15 small bronzes, 2 terracottas and 3 sphyrelata. Nine of the small bronzes have a known findspot (Olympia, Samos, Tegea, Petrovouni of Arkadia, and Kato Symi on Crete). The remaining 6 are in private collections or museums, without safe provenience; the most important -- the man-and-centaur in New York -- is "allegedly" from Olympia, but this is not certain. A similar group in terracotta, now in the National Museum in Athens, is from an unknown findspot and context. A bronze man with his dogs fighting a lion, in the Ortiz Collection, came originally from the Zaimi Collection in Athens but may have been bought in Pisa, Italy, like other items from that source. The piece is unparalleled in Greece, and may be Etruscan, although the possibility that "Pisa" stands for Elis, rather than for the Italian town, is intriguing.4 Two more bronze figures, of smiths at work, are used purely for comparison, since they are not true groups, but one (in Belgrad) is "from Serbia," the other (in Copenhagen) from the art market. One (terracotta) nursing animal is in the Bastis collection, but said to be from Boiotia. All the small bronzes are characterized as "hieroglyphic" for the excessive rendering of some anatomical details that are meant to convey action; likewise, Homer emphasizes limbs and features rather than the entire human or animal body. Here my question is entirely technical: why couldn't this apparent deformation be simply a function of the casting process? It is essential, for solid casting, that all parts of a composition be interconnected to ensure the continuous flow of the molten metal, even if this requirement implies a degree of "unrealism." Further proof may be provided by the terracotta group of a man and a centaur (pl. 3a-b), where the arms of both figures are quite short and, as Bumke appreciates (p. 20) may be "gattungsbedingt" -- specific to their medium. Even more obvious is the contrast with the well-proportioned Dreros sphyrelata, whose technique virtually demands separation and independence, and which therefore cannot be ranked with the other groups for analytical purposes. Finally, I wonder whether such far apart regions as Samos, Crete, Arkadia, and Olympia would all respond to the same "Homeric" formulas that almost imply an overarching ethnic conception of the animate world.

Section II: Archaic to ca. 530.

For the first time, most of the groups analyzed -- eight of them in some detail, at least 3 or 4 more in brief mentions -- are in marble . One small bronze is also examined, and 2 terracottas are used as comparison, although the first one (from Thebes/Corinth [?] in the British Museum, pl. 13a and n. 300) is dated to the 7th century. Of the 8 marble items, only Kleobis/Biton (by an Argive sculptor) are in Delphi; all remaining examples, including the small bronze, come from the Ionic sphere: Samos, Miletos, Didyma, and the Sacred Way between the latter two sites.5 Most of these monuments were excavated in secondary contexts, often on reused bases or, at least, in uncertain sequence. A subsection (II.A.3, pp. 69-75) considers the phenomenon of repeated similar figures, although it is acknowledged (p. 71) that paint could have introduced differing details.6 Another subsection (II.A.4, pp. 75-80) investigates the use of antithetical (mirror-image) pairings without true group validity, such as the Karyatids of the Knidian and Siphnian Treasuries at Delphi, two korai from Kyrene, two kouroi from Samos that might have had locational purpose flanking an entrance, and lions guarding a tomb. One such "group," regrettably, is no longer valid: the so-called Rampin Horseman has lost his hypothetical companion, whose fragments have now been joined to two different riders from the Akropolis.7

On this evidence, it is concluded that groups from this period are composed from isolated "ciphers" turned into a unit by their position on a single base but without interaction, each functioning as its own representative but adding to its specific value/meaning by juxtaposition, although an attempt at centrality and/or symmetry might have been observed in the original setting. Here my question is geographic in nature. Given a distribution pattern so heavily slanted toward East Greece, is it sound to extend general comments to the entire Greek world? A certain amount of selectivity may also have entered the picture: a male torso and a hand holding a horn, both from Samos although now lost, have occasionally been identified as part of a group of Theseus battling the Minotaur. Bumke is probably correct in rejecting the suggestion but not for the reason she offers: because this subject, around 560/550, would be unique. Our evidence is so fragmentary that we can hardly assume we have a complete understanding of what was possible at any given time. It is useful here to remember that, until the 1984 discovery of the Temenos on the Sacred Way between Miletos and Didyma, no sphinxes in the round were known from Asia Minor, and no curved base was dated before the 5th century, when the change in shape was attributed to the changed display conceptions of the Early Classical period.8

Section III: Late Archaic to Early Classical.

Admittedly (pp. 106, 129), this is perhaps the most difficult period to analyze . In actual numbers of monuments discussed in detail, it breaks down into 2 Late Archaic and 5 Early Classical marbles, 3 Late Archaic and 3 Early Classical bronze figurines, and 3 multifigured bases to which no sculpture can be safely attributed. Yet these numbers are misleading. Of the earlier "marbles", the "Theseus and Prokrustes" (Akr. 145 + 370) were each obviously joined to another in some fashion, but the original poses are difficult to reconstruct. Bumke seems unaware that a newly effected join lengthens Theseus' left arm and shows it vigorously thrust away from the body.9 An Athena and a giant (Akr. 293 + 141) are not positively connected into a group (cf. p. 116 and n. 656). Definitely together are, however, a fragmentary Athena and a kneeling giant on a single base (Athens NM 229, pl. 23e) but both their chronology and their original function, as well as their provenience, are debated.10 Three human torsos with taurine head are discussed as in combat with Theseus, but only the first one (Athens NM 1664) could be a Greek original; the other two are definitely Imperial copies of a single prototype, possibly the group by Myron on the Athenian Akropolis, and therefore once in bronze, although modifications may have been introduced by the copyist.11 Also in bronze were the Tyrannicides by Kritios and Nesiotes, and the Athena and Marsyas by Myron, but they are known to us only through marble copies. The Goddess and the satyr were possibly displayed in isolation within their Roman contexts since they would have carried different connotations within a villa setting.

With this array of monuments, the geographic emphasis has shifted drastically to Athens -- and Athens alone. The Athena/Marsyas group is said to be unique in its relieflike composition, perhaps a Myronian peculiarity (p. 150). Ponderation and shifts in musculature are stated as common achievements of this phase, although several of the examples are known only through much later replicas in a changed medium, but confirmation is sought in the minor arts. There is no point in citing each of the 6 small bronzes used by Bumke as examples, since they are also compositionally different from works at large scale, at least until the Hellenistic period (pp. 156, 161). Their size ranges from ca. 7.5 cm. to ca. 21 cm. Two are said to be from South Italy; two are in Delphi; and one (from Messenia, p. 119 and n. 668) could be a man fighting a snake, but was more probably a piece without an opponent, simply in an attack pose. Finally, the 3 bases. Regrettably, no datable historical event can confirm their chronology. The offering of the Orneatai in Delphi is thought to be Archaic because the footprints of the figures in procession with sacrificial victims show the left foot forward (an early pose) and imply a bronze monument, only possible for the advanced 6th century (p. 162). The Achaian and the Apollonian dedications are connected with the masters mentioned by Pausanias: Onatas of Aigina and Lykios son of Myron respectively, but no precision is possible. The bases themselves are quite fragmentary but their arrangements of multiple personages, partly based on the periegete's description, are innovative and surprisingly three-dimensional, hardly in keeping with the evidence of the extant sculptures.

From my comments, readers may derive the impression that I am not in favor of formal analyses such as those attempted by Bumke. This is not entirely true; I am simply keenly aware of the fact that new finds can considerably alter previously held opinions, and that the Greek world presents a multifaceted reality hard to constrain within universal schemata, at least with regards to sculpture. As Anthony Snodgrass is said to have remarked once in a lecture: why is it that whenever a new Greek vase is discovered, it can usually be slotted into its approximate classification, but when a new sculpture comes to light we have such difficulty dating it? It is, however, this unpredictable variety that constitutes one of the greatest attractions of the study of ancient art and culture.


1.   P. 191: "Ziel der Betrachtung war es, die Bildung frei aufgestellter Gruppen von der geometrischen Epoche bis zum Ende der frühklassischen Zeit as jeweils zeitbedingtes Phänomen zu erschließen." See also p. 7, where the same objective is defined, together with the above-mentioned disclaimer: "Im folgenden soll daher nicht erneut der Versuch unternommen werden, die Zeugnisse frei aufgestellter Gruppen zu klassifizieren und 'allgemeingültige Gruppentypen' zu definieren. es vielmehr..."
2.   Ch. Ioakimidou, Die Statuenreihen griechischer Poleis und Bünde aus spätarchaischer und klassischer Zeit. Because of its chronological bracket, this book covers quite a few of the same monuments discussed by Bumke.
3.   For instance, Dermys and Kitylos, the embracing "twins" in the Athens National Museum, are cited only in ns. 372 and 588 because,qua stele, they are considered reliefs, despite their very high projection; the Akropolis Moschophoros, which Humfry Payne (Archaic Marble Sculpture from the Acropolis [London 1936] 1-2) described as the first true group of antiquity, is not even mentioned in a footnote, presumably because offering-bearers do not correspond to the author's conception of a group. One further restriction seems less justifiable and should therefore be quoted in its original form (p. 107): "Statuen, die zwar als Teile einer freiplastichen Gruppe identifiziert werden können, von denen jedoch allenfalls noch das Darstellungsthema bestimmt werden kann und deren ursprüngliche Kompositionen sich -- wenn überhaupt -- nur mehr ansatzweise rekonstruieren lassen, sind für eine Analyse der Gruppenbildung wenig aufschlußreich und werden insofern nicht eingehender behandelt." There follows a very long note 610.
4.   See Pl. 4a-c and n. 102 on p. 21.
5.   These include such important monuments as the Geneleos six-figured group and the 4 Cheramyes dedications from Samos, the 6 paired sphinxes and the seated figures (6 or 7 males, 5 females) from the Temenos along the Sacred Way, as well as the so-called Branchidai (at least 11 male and 4 female seated statues).
6.   In this connection, it might have been useful to mention the ca. 670-650 B.C. Isthmia perirrhanterion, where four apparently identical female supports are shown by traces of paint to wear different costumes: M. C. Sturgeon Isthmia 4: Sculpture I: 1952-1965 (Princeton 1987)14-61, esp. 41-45, Cat. No. 1, Pls. 1-26 and color Pls. A-B.
7.   Rampin Horseman, Akr. 590 and Louvre MA 3104: Bumke, p. 75 with n. 414, and p. 79. The fragments of the supposed second horseman have now been given to Akr.1359 and Akr.606 (the so-called Persian Rider): I. Trianti, TO MOUSEIO AKROPOLEWS (Athens 1998) 183.
8.   For the Samos fragments, see the refs. given in n. 592 on p. 102; the Theseus/Minotaur group "für diese Zeit einzigartig wäre." Archaic curved base: p.95 and n. 543, which attributes to E. Buschor and A. Borbein the theories on changed conceptions of groupings. See also pp. 184-185 n. 1028.
9.   That a piece (AS 21) excavated by O. Broneer on the North Slope of the Akropolis in 1933 belonged to the "Theseus" was recognized by K. Glowacki in his 1991 PhD dissertation for Bryn Mawr College. For the male torso with the added fragment see, e.g., Trianti 1998 (supra, n. 7) 174-75, figs. 181 and 183; J. M. Hurwit, The Athenian Acropolis (Cambridge 1999) 126 and fig. 104 on p. 128.
10.   See pp. 120-122 and esp. n. 670: the fragment is said to come from Lavrion, but Sounion and Thorikos seem more likely; the composition may have been in the round or part of a pediment; the group is either an Early Classical original or a Roman copy of a Classicizing work. Bumke's opinion is not clearly stated; the latest catalogue of the Athens National Museum (N. Kaltsas, Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Malibu 2002),96, no. 168, classifies it as a 1st c. A.C. copy of a Severe original.
11.   Minotaur torso, Athens NM 1664: Bumke (pp. 126-127) believes it is either an original of the 1st half of the 5th century, or a Roman variant of the Myronian group, in that the piece differs from the two Imperial copies; it was later reused as a fountain. Kaltsas 2002 (supra, n. 10) 96-97, no. 169, believes it is a Roman copy of the Myronian work. The two similar torsos of later date are in the Vatican and the Terme Museums respectively; given the difficulty of reconstructing their original pose, Bumke suggests (p. 124 n. 684, p. 127 and n. 702) that each piece may have been altered by the copyist to be set up in isolation, without its heroic opponent. See also p. 148 and n. 824 for the possible break-up of the Athena/Marsyas group in Roman times.

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