Shortly after the publication of an edited volume on the same topic, Sascha Kansteiner presents a series of observations on ancient and pseudo-ancient ideal sculptures based on a life-long experience with looking closely at statues in collections of classical art all-over the world.1 More explicitly than in that 2016 volume, Kansteiner sketches the urgency of his work for the study of ancient art (especially ideal sculpture and its history). The author has carried out research on pieces which have played an important role – specifically, but not only, in German studies — on copy production in Antiquity, for which topic Paul Zanker’s 1974 Klassizistische Statuen forms an important hallmark and to which Salvatore Settis’ catalogue from a recent exhibition in Milan might be added as the latest publication on this subject.2 Kansteiner argues that the study of classical and classicistic sculpture has been biased by the inclusion of these problematic pieces. This implies that sometimes ‘types’ turn out to be unique ancient pieces, giving rise to an entire family of post-antique creations, whereas sometimes they are unique pieces like the Getty kouros which are not antique. Kansteiner also studies ancient sculptures that have played a role in debates and studies on replicas. In some cases this process of “Entlarven” (unmasking) might solve an aporia in scholarship. As a well- known case, which clearly exemplifies Kansteiner’s problem, I mention the Lupa Capitolina in Rome, never unanimously accepted in scholarship as an early- or mid-Republican masterpiece, but nowadays “entlarvt” (exposed) as a medieval bronze, yet still generating many dating proposals.3 Kansteiner does not speak of forgeries or fakes, but calls them “Neuschöpfungen”, new creations (p. 3), since they may show too great a difference from the source of inspiration or, conversely, too obvious a similarity.
Chapter 1 discusses various imitations of classical types like the Esquiline and Medici Venuses and the Spinario: here the new pieces follow the ancient models, often found just before the creation of the new works. In Chapter 2 we encounter deceptively ‘ancient’ works of art, good examples of the above-mentioned “Neuschöpfungen”, among which are some cases of famous works, well represented in important studies like Zanker’s. Most of them rely on models from the classical era, but there are also various Antinous portraits or statues thought to be Antinous, like the often mentioned Capitoline Antinous, whose head is an early eighteenth-century Antinous-like addition to a copy of a classical fifth-century Greek nude youth. In a phase prior to 1730, the figure had another head, as can clearly be seen on old drawings (figs 4-5), but this had never been observed. A fine instance is that of an Apollo together with a secondary figure, now in Potsdam: the head of the small boy is ancient, the group as a whole is a product of the mid seventeenth century.
Chapter 3 brings the reader to “Vermeintliche Neuschöpfungen” (alleged new creations) — a title conveying the difficulty of establishing the date of production of the pieces under discussion. They belong to the Roman era and have been variously judged by scholars. Among them — to mention two well-known examples — is the black basalt Apollo from the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine and the Severe style charioteer in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome Kansteiner gives the various opinions and analyses the reasoning before evaluating the sculpture in its own right. Other examples are known from various copies, e.g., the flying Nike statues in Berlin and Oplontis, and should for that reason be considered as reproductions of an opus nobile. Distinctive criteria are, among other features, the size of the figures, the completeness (various intact noses) or just the way a statue misses some part or has been restored, and the degree of correspondence with the prototype. This is discussed in chapter 4 about statues usually considered as ancient copies or variations. Among them is a variation upon Polykleitos’ diskophoros in Basel: the differences, the presence of the nose, and the Thasian marble, as well as the provenance from the Borowski collection, from which Kansteiner retraces other forgeries, are among the factors convincingly put forward. These sculptures seem to have been produced in the 1930s. Kansteiner reconstructs the provenance and acquisition histories of most cases and uses these data to underpin his analyses of the sculptures themselves. The study includes a number of “Teilimitationen”, (partial imitations) especially heads (Chapter 5, but also other chapters). The book ends with a brief summary of the main conclusions and observations, which might even serve as a good introduction to this complicated subject. An appendix contains analyses of a number of sculptures hitherto unrecognized as not antique, beginning with a recently sold torso from the collection of the fashion stylist Yves Saint Laurent, which belongs to a series of forgeries. Many of the studied pieces were on sale in recent auctions launched by the prestigious firms of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonham.
The book is not easy reading, especially when meticulous and detailed analyses of statues are not accompanied by illustrations and the reader does not have a rich library at hand. It is not clear how the pieces were chosen. Sometimes there is a sort of additional reasoning: from one find to the next, through similarity in style, forms of ‘restoration’ and types of marble used. Remarkably, there are various post-antique pieces made of Thasian marble (e.g., the above-mentioned Apollo in Potsdam, p. 28; a doryphoros in Berlin, p. 53), whereas Luni (Carrara) marble was the usual material available in Rome (see e.g. pp. 33, 34). A brief overview of Kansteiner’s criteria could make easier the consultation of these dense pages of profound scholarship.
In Kansteiner’s evaluation various arguments seem to be rather arbitrary. In discussing a small Doryphoros replica in Berlin, he gives the following arguments as reasons for considering this figure as not antique (p. 55): bad sculptural quality (so also p. 63: head in the Louvre) — although there are many bad antique statues as well —, the absence of patina which might have been removed by a restorer), the lack of good provenance — of course important, but also for this matter many good museum pieces lack sound data —, as well as the bad quality of the material. The same arguments appear in the discussions of other objects. It is not that I don’t want to believe in Kansteiner’s expertise, which I highly esteem, but these reasons can also be used a contrario. Here lurks the danger of ‘high’ quality = ancient against ‘low’ quality = not antique, and, therefore, a sort of super estimation for which Kansteiner also warns the reader in all his studies and which is part of the rationale for this book as well. Yet much can be learned from the fine observations and the criteria (brought together in the Summary) for the detection of pseudo ancient sculptures. This book is a must for art dealers, collectors, and museum curators, who may look at their sculptures with a different eye.
1. S. Kansteiner (ed.), Pseudoantike Skulptur I: Fallstudien zu antiken Skulpturen und ihren Imitationen, Berlin; Boston 2016. See my review in BMCR 2017.01.56.
2. S. Settis (ed.), Serial/Portable Classic, Milan 2015.
3. e.g. A.M. Carruba, La Lupa Capitolina. Un bronzo medioevale, Rome 2006; C. Mazzoni, She-Wolf. The Story of a Roman Icon, Cambridge 2010; M.R.-Alföldi, E. Formigli, J. Fried, Die römische Wölfin. Ein antikes Monument stürzt von seinem Sockel – The Lupa Romana. An Antique Monument Falls from Her Pedistal, Stuttgart 2011.