Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.09.47 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.09.47

Julia Habetzeder, Evading Greek Models: Three Studies on Roman Visual Culture.   Stockholm:  Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University, 2012.  Pp. 45.  ISBN 9789174475579.  

Reviewed by Sadie Pickup, Christie’s Education, London (

Preview and Introductory Essay

Opuscula 3: Marsyas in the Garden

These three studies on Roman sculpture are the outcome of the author’s doctoral thesis and were published in the same format separately in Opuscula 3 (2010) and 5 (2012). They are linked by their attempt to reinterpret various chosen works, not just as products of their Classical or Hellenistic heritage, but as examples of Roman visual culture. The aim, as stated, is to show that Kopienkritik (the examination of groups of similar sculptures in order to identify shared traits and differences), has not produced convincing interpretations of types and motifs, but also to present new explanations of selected sculptures. These are “Satyrs with cymbals”, best known through the example in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; “The Marsyas in the forum”, largely extant on a small-scale; and finally, kalathiskos and pyrrhic dancers, often known through reliefs. The common theme: Roman sculpture should be seen as an expression of contemporary visual culture, not merely a proceeding source.

The introductory section: “Evading Greek models. Three studies on Roman visual culture”, begins with a hypothetical question: “what if Roman sculpture had not been repetitive in any respect?” The methodology of Idealplastik (defined as statues showing certain images from mythology), is also presented. Another descriptive term, eclectic classicising repertoire, is introduced, but less well explained until the final article, relevant because of the choice to focus later on the constituents, particularly of the kalathiskos and pyrrhic dancers. In this first section, necessary background is given on topics such as the history of Roman ideal sculpture and the changing approaches to this subject, alongside an overview of the term emulation, often seen as a key idea to understanding the repetitiveness of Roman sculpture and based to an extent on the excellent work of Elaine K. Gazda.

Only on page 27 is the link between the three articles explained explicitly, although nevertheless before treatment of the first topic: “The impact of restoration. The example of the dancing satyr in the Uffizi”. As the title suggests the problems of restoration and the complex and often detrimental nature such work has on our understanding of ancient statuary are key. Satyr sculptures holding cymbals are chosen as a prime example of this problem. Some suggest they were part of “The invitation to dance” (a dual composition of satyr and nymph). Emphasis on the interplay between restored and ancient motifs marks out this article, focusing on the post-antique reception of these works. The major hindrance concerns the lack of instances where arms remain. Both those indicating gesture are bronze and have unknown, or possibly post-antique provenance and are therefore often discounted. Only one example from the Kerameikos is useful, with the remains of the left hand resting on a support. In conclusion, the author claims that 24, if not 27 extant pieces are not ancient renderings of the motif, reflecting the influence of the restoration received by the Uffizi work, likely contributing to the dissemination of this image.

Discussion then moves to “The invitation to dance”. The connection between it and “Satyrs with cymbals” is not easily established and there appears little firm reason to join them. Further issues surrounding the authenticity of the two bronzes formerly in Wiesbaden and Bucharest are considered in addition to a bronze head in the Museo de Valladolid, Spain. Again paucity of information proves limiting. A useful appendix provides data on the publication and level of restoration of Satyr sculpture ascribed to “The invitation to dance”, ancient marble reliefs holding cymbals and “Satyrs with cymbals” depicted by Clarac and Reinach, including sculptures taken from their seminal works collating statuary. The bibliography is ample, but there are inconsistencies in the placement of illustrations, hindering the flow of the text, with the reader forced to flick between pages - a not uncommon problem.

The second article: “Marsyas in the garden? Small-scale sculptures referring to the Marsyas in the forum”, is the most interesting and valuable treatment of the trio. The author came across an example of a “previously unrecognised sculpture type” when studying the collection of the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. She primarily uses four versions in her discussion: one from Paris, two from Rome (Palazzo Massimo and Vatican) and the one from Sweden. They have previously received only limited interest and are also restored in an apparently interpretive manner. Despite this aspect some striking similarities between them are highlighted, pointing to a single prototype and also the general assumption that they featured as fountain ornaments. These characters would certainly provide suitable garden decoration, but unlike other satyrs, those based on the type discussed do not reveal this purpose. Instead, they may refer to “The Marsyas in the forum”. One of the most striking deviations between these figures and other satyrs is their lack of wine- skin. This attribute may have been more important for the fountain figures, acting as a functional spout, but as suggested, not necessary for those replicating the image from the forum. Previous suggestions relating to interpretation of “The Marsyas in the forum” are provided: a symbol of fertility, liberty or civic liberty in a forum context. As elsewhere in this volume, previous scholarship is diligently outlined. The author’s interpretation, however, offers a bucolic significance, certainly conceivable for this character when found in secular, non-civic contexts.

The final article, “Dancing with decorum. The eclectic usage of kalathiskos dancers and pyrrhic dancers in Roman visual culture”, adopts a different approach in its attempt to outline potential components of these two representations. It is proposed that the kalathiskos dancers were adapted to include motifs more akin to the goddess Victoria, the pyrrhic dancers are possibly curetes. The term eclectic classicising is employed here, opposed to the more traditional Neo-Attic, on the premise that little of the iconography can be related to earlier Classical or Hellenistic models (although kalathiskos dancers are very much a Classical creation), and secondly because the use of various motifs in a Roman context reflect an attempt at novelty. This article considers how these motifs were used. The diversity of depictions of kalathiskos dancers suggest there was little attempt to follow one designated prototype. It seems that dress (particularly the short chiton) and appearance of these dancers were appropriated in some manner in order to represent Victoriae. In such instances these eclectic figures are represented with wings. Such a portrayal was seemingly popular during the Augustan period and demonstrates renewed enthusiasm for Classical prototypes. The choice to then discuss pyrrhica is less apparent. Although a lack of examples should not mean the dismissal of a piece outright, it does create problems. The choice to include them seems to be governed by the survival of their supposed model: although fragmentary, a base originally by Xenokles replicated in a Roman example in the Vatican. Apparently comparable depictions exist on only seven marble objects and four kraters. Analysis shows that these armed, male dancers are often combined with Bacchic symbolism, hence their identification in some instances as curetes (or corybantes), mythological protectors bringing agricultural prosperity. It is shown that there are similarities between the pyrrhic dancers and the curetes/corybantes, such as their movement, but at the same time differences, particularly in dress, makes an association difficult to substantiate, something the author herself admits. Little formal conclusion can be drawn, even if both male and female dancers seem to have an eclectic element to their presentation.

The three studies have clear value, not only because of their thoroughness, but also the new viewpoints they provide on these less widely discussed sculptures. Overall there is little to fault in presentation and execution, but positioning illustrations closer to the relevant section would be helpful. Ultimately, a frustrating lack of evidence means that many of the sensible suggestions made are unfortunately hard to validate.

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