Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.02.36

Stephan F. Schröder, Katalog der antiken Skulpturen des Museo del Prado in Madrid. Vol. 2: Idealplastik.   Mainz am Rhein:  von Zabern, 2004.  Pp. xii, 537.  ISBN 3-8053-1758-1.  €86.00.  

Reviewed by Jens Daehner, Department of Antiquities, J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu (
Word count: 1851 words

Eleven years after the first volume of ancient sculptures in the Prado (Egyptian, Greek, and Roman portraits) was published, its author Stephan Schröder (S.) has presented us with a second, even heavier tome dedicated to the collection of Idealplastik, or idealized statuary.1 This brings the publication of classical sculpture in the Prado to a glorious end, making this old, long-slumbering collection one of the best-published of its kind.

The Prado's antiquities collection is indeed one of Europe's most important assemblages of Roman sculpture, less for its scope and contents than for its significance in the history of collecting and taste. With the cataloguing project complete, the collection has regained its deserved place not only in public and scholarly consciousness, but also in the Prado's physical gallery space, where the ancient marbles had long suffered from almost criminal neglect ("marginalized" would be a euphemism).2 All of this is thanks to the admirable dedication of S., who during the preparation of the second volume alone has survived four Prado directors, all of them duly listed in the foreword.

Production standards of this book are superior, the presentation is state-of-the-art, the photographic documentation excellent (photography by Peter Witte). Only in a few unfortunate cases, the famous Prado Diadumenos (cat. 104, pp. 68, 70) among them, are the sculptures in the photographs set against digital backgrounds and thus surrounded by dead space. This makes them appear flat (cat. 193, p. 422), or they seem to hover in a vacuum (cat. 180, p. 368; cat. 199, p. 446), all of which may be minor flaws, yet regrettable in a book focused on sculpture. Additionally, there are 28 full-page color plates preceding the section of catalogue entries. These have particular value in showing some of the pieces after recent conservation treatment, most notably the group of Muses from the Villa Hadriana (pls. 10-16) who had their restored heads interchanged. The black-and-white photographs within the catalogue entries are not always up-to-date, but can thus serve as additional documentation of a statue's earlier condition. The captions, however, should have been more descriptive in this regard.

Complementing the photography in many cases are schematic line drawings (by Laureano de Frutos), sometimes from different angles, that indicate the extent of later restorations by grey shading; the ancient parts are given in outline. This is an extremely helpful tool for the "reading" of restored statues, which have often been through complex physical histories. First employed in an installation of the Ludovisi marbles in 1992, this kind of illustration should become standard for the presentation of restored Roman statuary in both catalogues and museum galleries.3

As was the case for the first volume, the catalogue is published in separate German and Spanish editions. (German is the author's native language and one may ask why there is no English translation. But if this reader's residence, Los Angeles, is any indication, Spanish, not English, will be the Western hemisphere's global language of the future.)

Since there has been an excellent account of the history of the Prado's antiquities collection by Pilar León in vol. 1 (pp. 1-39), front matter in vol. 2 is limited to a three-part foreword, a two-page introduction into the category of Greco-Roman Idealplastik, and the inset of color plates already mentioned. In continuation of the first volume the entries begin with cat. 90; the catalogue is subdivided in chapters: Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman Eclectic Sculpture, Roman Funerary Sculpture, and Miscellanea. A "Note to the reader" would have made more sense at the beginning than on p. 519. The apparatus in the end follows the format of vol. 1 and contains bibliography, concordances, indexes of provenances, artist names, and mythological names, a summary of the metal analysis for the bronze Cupid (cat. 163), as well as a list of 17 objects not considered authentic and therefore not included in the catalogue.4

On first sight, the organization of the catalogue appears to be strictly chronological. Yet apart from two Archaic objects (cat. 90, 91) and eight Late Hellenistic "originals" (cat. 134, 146, 155/156, 158-61), the more than 200 remaining pieces are all Roman, which is, of course, not surprising for a princely collection of ancient marbles like the Prado's. What surprised me, however, was that S. decided to present the collection like an illustrated history of ancient sculpture (and he says so in the introduction, p. 2). Now everything falls into the traditional hierarchical categories: copies of Classical Greek statues (cat. 92-121), many of them masterpieces, carrying their conventional artist attribution in the titles;5 emulations ("Nachbildungen") of Hellenistic types (cat. 122-171); and "Roman Eclectic" works (cat. 172-205), which suggests creations derived from multiple Greek sources.

The term "eclectic" is used here to describe the "classicizing" or "historicist" character of Roman sculpture in general, pointed out by S. in the introduction (p. 1-3). He goes on to deplore that "so far there is no convincing ordering principle for Roman Eclectic sculpture."6 For the Prado pieces, S. goes by the predominant stylistic component in the mix. This way, creations in Early Classical fashion, like cat. 172 and 173, are discussed before works that borrow from later Greek periods. S. considers only cat. 196-205 to be of "uniformly" Roman style. Yet of these ten sculptures, five have an Egyptian subject, two depict Barbarians (the Dacian cat. 200 is doubtful, the "Indian" cat. 201 poorly preserved), cat. 197 is based on a Hellenistic model (but should be called Bacchus, not Dionysos), cat. 198 is described as a variant of the Andros-Farnese Hermes, a Late Classical Greek work, and cat. 202 is an Egyptian statue dated to the 4th century B.C.

By S.'s standards only one headless statue (cat. 199), restored as Apollo but interpreted here as Achilles, would qualify as truly (i.e., non-eclectic) Roman. But given the possiblity that it once carried the portrait of an "imperial prince" (p. 447), it may not even belong in the category of ideal sculpture.

Eleven pieces of "Roman funerary sculpture" (cat. 206-216) are discussed as a separate group after the statuary. Indeed, this is not ideal sculpture but a class of its own. There is some irony in the fact that exactly this kind of "marblework" has always been accepted as genuinely Roman, rather than being defined by the relation to Greek models. Here, but nowhere else in the catalogue, objects are listed in the chronological order of their creation. And this is why the material's organization did not entirely convince me. The sense that we are dealing with Roman statuary, and not Greek, is almost entirely lost. Interestingly, S. follows the same layout devised by Mansuelli for his description of the Uffizi marbles some 50 years earlier.7 The Prado's collection, however, is not comprehensive enough to tell the history of Greek sculpture by way of originals or at least, first-rate copies. One could perhaps have learnt more about Roman sculptural production, the taste for particular subjects or stylistic preferences of different periods, had these statues been presented, for instance, in thematic groupings.8

These general issues aside, the book is a full success on the level of its individual entries. In a traditional collection catalogue like this, most users will not look for a cohesive narrative capturing the essence of a collection, but for in-depth, comprehensive and up-to-date information on particular pieces. And this is where the publication really does excel. The scholarship is sound and thorough, each sculpture carefully researched and freshly examined with a curator's eye. The discussion offers a wide range of perspectives, covering multiple aspects of history, iconography, interpretation, typology and style. S. writes with an audience in mind that is not limited to specialists of classical sculpture. His texts are comprehensible on every level, placing the objects in various art-historical and cultural contexts. The general reader will appreciate just the right amount of background information that bridges otherwise disconnected arenas of scholarly debate. In this regard it is also a virtue that S., after giving previous scholarship its due, clearly positions himself on questions of interpretation or even offers entirely new suggestions.

In the San Ildefonso Group (cat. 181) S. sees "Orestes and Pylades Sacrificing," following the piece's first publication by Winckelmann in 1767. The so-called Apotheosis of Claudius (cat. 206), based on a new dating to the Augustan period and technical evidence found during recent conservation, is interpreted as a victory monument crowning the grave of Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, ancestor of C. Valerius Paulinus in whose villa at Marino this tropaion was found.9 An inscription on the Poseidon statue from the Hadrianic period (cat. 193 A-B) leads S. to identify the Prado sculpture with the god's image seen by Pausanias in the sanctuary of Palaimon at Isthmia (Paus. 2.2.1).

If there is one shortcoming in the discussions, it is issues of provenance and restoration history (cat. 206 being a notable exception). In a collection of such a distinguished pedigree like the Prado's one would expect more focus on questions of ownership history and the changes of physical appearance that went along with it. A glance at the index of provenances on p. 533, many of them newly established, suggests yet another, namely historiographic alternative to the present organization of the catalogue. Unfortunately, the format and outline of vol. 1 had set certain principles and it would have been unreasonable to revise them for vol. 2.10 But it is due to this system that the San Ildefonso Group (cat. 181), the Prado's most famous ancient sculpture, is now split up between the two volumes, the restored but ancient head of Antinous being discussed along with the portraits (vol. 1, cat. 57); the rest of the group as an ideal sculpture. In fact, part of the collection is now installed in the Prado according to provenance. The "Muses of Christina of Sweden," recently re-restored to their 17th-century appearance, have their own gallery as they did in Christina's time. To document restoration history in the catalogue, mid 18th-century drawings from the Prado's so-called Ajello Album are reproduced full-page for 33 of the entries. Although not discussed in detail, they are particularly useful where previous restorations are lost altogether.11

In summary, this heavy book is an important, profound, and attractive publication. The scholarship presented by S. matches the significance of the Prado's antiquities collection. Well written and superbly illustrated, this catalogue together with its first installment is an enormous accomplishment for a single author. Its scope and ambition set standards for the future publication of other collections of classical sculpture (e.g. in London or Dresden, to name but two major museums that have not issued catalogues of their possessions in more than a hundred years). Together with the recent conservation campaigns by Silvano Bertolin and others and the sculptures' new display in the Prado galleries, S. has blown the dust from this well-aged collection, which can now be rediscovered by art lovers and scholars alike. Its fascinating restoration history, featuring artists such as Ippolito Buzzi (of Dying Gaul fame), Orfeo Boselli, Ercole Ferrata, Francesco Nocchieri, Francesco Fontana, Bartolomeo Cavaceppi or Valeriano Salvatierra y Barriales, deserves to be written in detail and as a book of its own.


1.   S. F. Schröder, Katalog der antiken Skulpturen des Museo del Prado in Madrid, vol. 1: Die Porträts. Mainz, 1993.
2.   M. A. Elvira Barba--S. F. Schröder, Guía: Escultura Clásica. Museo del Prado. Madrid, 1999.
3.   A. Giuliano (ed.), La Collezione Boncompagni Ludovisi: Algardi, Bernini e la fortuna dell'antico. Venice, 1992.
4.   Preceding a similar list of dubitanda, a note in vol. 1, p. 306, said the publication of post-classical pieces was planned for vol. 3 of the ancient sculpture catalogue. But according to a claim on the dust jacket of vol. 2, there won't be a third volume. A number of the Prado's pseudo-antiquities have now been published in R. Coppel Aréizaga. Catálogo de la escultura de época moderna: siglos XVI-XVIII. Museo del Prado. Madrid, 1998. Since some of those are quite famous like the statue of a youth with long hair (inv. no. 85-E; Coppel no. 111), should they not have been discussed in the context of (authentic) ancient sculptures? They were clearly collected and for the longest time regarded as antiquities.
5.   There are grammatical errors in the titles of cat. 116, 153 and 187.
6.   As for eclecticism, the term's usage has become almost as arbitrary as the mixture of styles it intends to describe. In the way S. and others have applied it, "eclectic" equals Roman (cf. D. E. E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture. New Haven, London, 1992, 9-11). But as P. Zanker pointed out 30 years ago, eclecticism is originally a Late Hellenistic, and therefore Greek phenomenon (P. Zanker, Klassizistische Statuen: Studien zur Veränderung des Kunstgeschmacks in der römischen Kaiserzeit. Mainz, 1974, 76-80). Most of the Roman sculptures in the Prado, however, do not exhibit any purposeful combination of disparate styles. But the deliberate choice, I would argue, is the necessary premise for eclecticism. It is not a random (and often unconscious) mix of sources nor simply a coexistence of styles, but an artistic concept where separate or anachronistic models are blended to create a larger whole but remain visible, distinguishable elements of the combination. While most sculptures in the Prado fail to meet these criteria, probably the best work to illustrate the idea of eclecticism is the famous San Ildefonso Group (cat. 181). In it, recognizable models of 5th- and 4th-century statues are recycled and modified to form a most successful, which is to say, specifically Roman unity. The left figure is not only "reminiscent" (p. 372) but indeed a good copy of the Sauroktonos, the body's measurements being congruous with other replicas of this Praxitelean type (R. Preisshofen, "Der Apollon Sauroktonos des Praxiteles," Antike Plastik 28 [2002] 41-110, pls. 21-64, does not even mention the Prado figure). Although the arms are modified and the original head lost, Roman viewers will have recognized the famous Greek masterpiece in the San Ildefonso figure. S. calls the group a typical work of Late-Hellenistic/Roman eclecticism. Similar to how we think of archaism or classicism, eclecticism (with a capital E) is characteristic of some, but not all periods of Roman art, the second half of the 1st century B.C. probably being the most important one. Some two hundred years later, Mars-Venus-groups carrying Antonine double portraits and again combining 5th- and 4th-century B.C. Greek figure types, testify to another revival of eclectic(ist) sculpture. Not surprisingly, both phases overlap with classicist phases in Roman art (cf. Zanker, op. cit., 79).
7.   G. A. Mansuelli, Galleria degli Uffizi: Le sculture, vol. 1. Rome, 1958.
8.   For a recent example, see M. Moltesen, Imperial Rome II, statues: catalogue, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. Copenhagen, 2002.
9.   Cf. the exhibition catalogue La Apoteosis de Claudio: Un monumento funerario de la época de Augusto y su fortuna moderna. Madrid, 2002.
10.   This also includes the bibliographical references within each entry: the "unwieldy nature of the non-sequential note format" was already remarked upon by the reviewer of vol. 1 (R. A. Gergel, American Journal of Archaeology 98 [1994] 583). I too found the system cumbersome and would have preferred a more conventional bibliography plus endnotes with abbreviated citations.
11.   M. A. Elvira Barba, El cuaderno Ajello y las esculturas del Museo del Prado. Madrid, 1998.

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