Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.08.56

Harald Froschauer (ed.), Zeichnungen und Malereien aus den Papyrussammlungen in Berlin und Wien. Papyrussammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek (Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer). Neue Serie XXI. Folge (MPER) XXXI.   Berlin/New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2009.  Pp. xvi, 121.  ISBN 9783110207392.  $112.00.  

Reviewed by Eric M. Moormann, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (
Word count: 1836 words

The hot debate that is going on in Italy about the status of the Turin Papyrus named after the author of a text fragment by Artemidorus (P. Artemid.) as a genuine document or a forgery has not yet come to an end that satisfies the scholarly world. Outside Italy, however, more scholars than not seem to accept the extraordinary document, containing part of the Geographoumena by Artemidorus, including an uncompleted map and drawings of animals and of human figures as genuine. In any case, the lavish publications of the last couple of years have apparently kindled an interest for illustration of papyrus material. The book under review is an excellent example of this attention and, although the scraps of papyrus and parchment -- from 3 x 4 to 17 x 23 cm in size --rarely contain drawings of the same quality as the human heads on the recto of P. Artemid., they are worth being presented as examples of ancient drawing.

Froschauer combines material from Berlin and Vienna and provides extensive descriptions and comments concerning 26 illustrations on 23 papyri and brief presentations (descripta) of 31 more documents. All pieces are entirely or almost entirely unpublished. Froschauer excludes pieces already published in these collections and sometimes refers to them. One of his aims is to stimulate the discussion about the role of sketches in ancient art that was initiated by the publications of P. Artemid.1 He starts with definitions of terms like sketch, drawing, painting and model (Vorlage), a relevant task, since he wants to define the illustrations presented in the catalogue as examples of one of these categories, a task seen as very difficult. The function of the illustrations can differ: they either illuminate a text (e.g., mathematical drawings and maps) or serve as magical images. Moreover, we know sketches made by children as exercises in school. He takes the occasion to tackle the discussion about the existence of collections of illustrations in Antiquity (Musterbücher, Bilderbücher), a topic with a long tradition of debate, here well summarized and enriched. Froschauer comes to the conclusion that such books existed, either in the shape of papyrus scrolls or as codices. The use of these documents is poorly attested in ancient art, but he offers some striking cases, like the well-known Roman funerary relief of painters at work from Sens and the red-figure kylix in Berlin by the Foundry Painter of bronze workers in their workshop. As in other works, the main argument for the existence and circulation of example or model books consists in the existence of very similar images in various parts of the ancient world.2

An example of a painting on a papyrus that can be linked to art is P. Berol. 13275d (p. 8, pl. X.1), showing a nude Eros (not a woman, as Froschauer says) next to a shield that contains the portrait of a woman. Better parallels than his wooden carving (pl. X.2) are Roman sarcophagi representing imagines clipeatae carried by winged genii or Erotes. Froschauer makes clear how difficult it is to establish such relationships: the fragmentary state of the documents and the unclear relationship with the original document as a whole (only drawings or paintings, or with text) are frustrating. The examples published in this volume are of a sketchy nature and rarely form direct sources of inspiration for artists. Sadly, Froschauer has indeed almost no images that match paintings and sculptures known to us, but points to P. Artemid. and his no. 2, a Berlin fragment (see infra).

Regarding chronology, Froschauer has few data at hand, except when the illustration forms part of a written document that can be dated following the usual criteria adopted in papyrology. Most pieces are late, from the fourth up to the twelfth century, and some stem from the period of the Arabic domination of Egypt. Stylistically, I see some examples that might be older, but the author supports his chronology proposals with strong and convincing arguments.

The remainder of this review is dedicated to some of the papyri presented and Froschauer's comments on them.

Nos. 1 and 2 are the recto and verso of a single document. The recto has an Egyptian god in profile, probably Re-Harachte (falcon head) or Toth (ibis head). On the verso a small scheme of squares has been set out containing four figures that I cannot discern, despite the excellent quality of the reproduction. Here a drawing would have been helpful. Such squared papers were used for copying images on a different scale. This fragment had three lives viz. as an Egyptian Book of the Dead, a sheet in a workshop, and part of a mummy cartonnage.

No. 3 is the verso of a hieroglyphic document. A goddess is standing in profile to the right (rather confusingly, Froschauer describes the figure's left and right from her point of view, whereas art historians usually describe the image as seen by the beholder, except for left or right arm, etc.). She seems to be a nude goddess, an ideal subject for a larger artistic format, e.g. in the form of a relief on a temple wall. Again, there are two lives, as a text (now unintelligible) and as a preparatory drawing from the first century BC.

No. 4 is the interesting representation of Dionysus and a panther. The god is moving forward, attentively followed by his pet animal. The god's gesture is not that of the Apollo Lykeios, as suggested, but that often used by satyrs and known as aposkopon, spying. I have the strong impression that the couple is striving towards the now missing sleeping Ariadne at Naxos. Even if she was not there in the original, the maker of the sketch was practicing the representation of this narrative. Since the text on the recto is late, Froschauer concludes that the sketch was made in the sixth or seventh century, but without that element I would see no problem in dating it to the third or fourth century, and placing it within an entirely pagan context.

No. 5, a bust of a human figure in profile wearing a helmet and a cloak, is seen as a Hermes, but if the helmet were a petasos, the god would be nude or wearing only a chlamys. Personally, I think that Athena is a better candidate. Or, if the almost unreadable text indeed says Aineias, this warrior would be an alternative.

No. 6 is a ship, probably a Nile ship made of papyrus. I fail to see why the image must be specifically of a Christian nature, as argued by Froschauer.

Nos. 7 and 8 are recto and verso of a single piece. Again the description is confusing, mixing right and left of the head with headgear on 7. This woman might represent a turreted Tyche or a personification of Africa or Alexandria with the exuviae of an elephant, in both cases reduced to three spikes around the head. The stylized giraffe or camel on no. 8 is strange; it might even be a fantasy mix of the two, like the kamelopardalis on the Nile mosaic in Palestrina and in P. Artemid.3 Since both animal species were known in late Antiquity, the maker of the depiction had either no autopsy of them or really aimed at making a fantasy figure.

Nos. 9 and 10 are foliate motifs, the first finely worked out, the other extremely stylized. They are seen as trees of life, with seven branches, a feature that does not occur in nature and hence of consequence in this interpretation. Yet Froschauer remains rather prudent, and I personally would not exclude the alternative of preparatory drawings of foliate ornaments in painting or wood carving. If the author is right, the idea of an amulet for no. 10 is attractive (p. 52).

Nos. 11 and 12 are the two sides of another scrap of papyrus, carrying geometric drawings of uncertain age. No. 11 shows a diamond inside a square, a motif occurring in other papyri as well. Froschauer carefully looks for parallels in Egypt only and displays a profound knowledge of the material at hand. He suggests that it means the kosmos, the standing square representing the world and the turned one heaven. Other magic images include five five-pointed stars on no. 14, drawn when the maker utters a wish or magic formula, either in a Judeo-Christian or an Islamic context. The same might be true for no. 12, an eight-pointed star that is even read as a combination of a cross and a chi-rho sign. Froschauer tends to interpret these and other ornaments as expressions of symbols and magic. The rosette of no. 28 is seen as either a symbol of Lower Egypt or a symbol of the kosmos in a Christian vein. Similar is his reading of the eight-pointed star within a circle of no. 25. These rather form examples of omnipresent decorative elements.

Other abstract motifs also have a purely ornamental character, e.g. the eight-pointed star of no. 13, featuring as an adornment of Coptic textiles, and the Herculean knot of no. 15, which is also interpreted as a possible magic symbol, and the interlace of no. 24 (also seen as possibly magic, which I cannot manage to follow), as well as the three parallel zigzag lines on no. 17. Fragment 18 displays a pattern with triangles that, as the author correctly observes, has several parallels in ancient floor mosaics. Because of the Arabic letters on the verso the papyrus is dated to the Arabic period, and in that case I would rather think of ornaments on tiles. Nos. 19-20 have volutes, probably exercises for calligraphy and illumination.

An appealing coloured parchment, no. 21, shows a female dancer moving her arms, and a boy who plays a tambourine. The coloured fields on the left side may be, as I suggest, curtains that belong to the interior in which this scene takes place, rather than part of an ornamental zone around a medallion, as reconstructed. Its content can either be mythical, and then Dionysiac, or genre-like, representing a feast.

No. 22, a parchment, has two animals within a medallion. A hunting dog is easily recognizable, but I am not convinced by the interpretation of the big animal above it as a horse. The strange striped skin and the head of this animal (described as three dots, but in fact representing eyes and muzzle seen from above), as well as its dimensions, rather point to a gazelle or a feline.4

As attractive as the close reading of a small vessel with roses on no. 23 may be, there are no clues to interpret this charming adornment as a bowl of roses for the deceased's celebration during the Rosalia or the rebirth of Adonis. Without a context it simply is the source of an ornament in broidery on textile.

This quibbling only tries to do justice to Froschauer's fine work and to give some alternative readings. As a whole, the work is well produced and presents a work of high scholarly distinction.


1.   Froschauer's bibliography is updated to 2008, including the two key publications by the Italo-German team: Gallazzi, C./S. Settis (eds.) 2006, Le tre vite del Papiro di Artemidoro. Voci e sguardi dall'Egitto greco-romano, Milan 2006; C. Gallazzi, B. Kramer, S. Settis (eds.), Il Papiro di Artemidoro (P. Artemid.), Milan 2008. But he omits mention of any of his opponent's publications, for which I refer only to L. Canfora, L. 2008, Il papiro di Artemidoro, Bari 2008; idem, Artemidorus Ephesius. P. Artemid. sive Artemidorus personatus, Bari 2009. To my knowledge, the most recent discussion of the forgery of P. Artemid is an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Luciano Bossina, "Der Artemidor-Papyrus ist das Produkt einer digitalen Reproduktion", 25 June 2009), arguing that the convoluted image we know was manipulated, which might be an extra clue for the false nature of the papyrus.
2.   See also P. G. P. Meyboom and H. H. J. Brouwer, Il gatto ladro a Leida, in S. T. A. M. Mols/E.M. Moormann (eds.), Omni pede stare. Saggi architettonici e circumvesuviani in memoriam Jos de Waele, Napoli 2005, 229-242.
3.   Much profit could have been drawn from P. G. P. Meyboom, The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina, Leiden 1995, 119-121.
4.   Froschauer refers to the striped skin of a gazelle on another papyrus on p. 90, note 298, which provides a good parallel for our quadruped.

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