BMCR 2005.02.18

The Horse and Jockey from Artemision: A Bronze Equestrian Monument of the Hellenistic Period

, The horse and jockey from Artemision : a bronze equestrian monument of the Hellenistic period. Hellenistic culture and society ; 45. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. 1 online resource (xvii, 222 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates) : illustrations (some color).. ISBN 9780520928442. $65.00.

One of the most appealing and popular sculptures in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens is the bronze Horse and Jockey Group, which was recovered from the sea off Cape Artemision at the north end of the Greek island of Euboia. Parts were first found in 1928 with the remainder in 1936. Seán Hemingway began studying the group in a Bryn Mawr College seminar in 1992, eventually including it in his 1997 doctoral dissertation on all the Artemision bronzes. It is now, deservedly, the focus of this monograph. This book is the latest addition to forty-four others in the distinguished series on Hellenistic culture and society published by the University of California Press.

Hemingway’s book consists of five chapters with a conclusion and an appendix containing the results of chemical analyses and metallographic examination of the sculpture performed by Helen Andreopoulou-Mangou of the Chemistry Laboratory of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The Horse and Jockey is special in being one of the few original large-scale bronzes securely dated to the Hellenistic period. It is approximately life-size in scale and consists of a horse in mid-gallop, on which is seated a youthful jockey, who looks back over his shoulder. Remarkably, the unknown sculptor of this masterpiece has captured the excitement and vitality of a horserace in mid-action. H.’s scholarly and sober study combines a technical, stylistic, and iconographic examination of the group with archaeological, epigraphic, literary, and iconographic information on ancient horse racing to give a better understanding of the monument and the purpose of its commission.

H. helpfully begins his investigation of the sculpture in Chapter 1 by an explanation of hollow lost-wax casting methods and a brief survey of known Hellenistic bronzes. Contained within this corpus are such works as the sleeping Eros, the portrait of a philosopher from the Antikythera shipwreck, and the cache of bronze statues found in Piraeus in 1959, including the statue of Apollo, which many scholars think is genuinely Archaic rather than an example of Hellenistic archaistic style. Hellenistic bronze statuary served fundamentally public functions, and, to judge from the surviving examples, they consisted of statues of deities and heroes, portraits of rulers, philosophers, and prominent individuals, statues of athletes, and animal sculptures. The Horse and Jockey group is unusual in combining an athletic sculpture with an animal.

Chapter 2, “An Early Underwater Rescue Excavation,” providing basic documentation and description of the two statues, reads like an adventure tale involving thieves, stormy weather, perilous seas, and dramatic discoveries. An account of the find-spot and original recovery is given, as well as subsequent investigations of the Artemision wreck site. The conservation history of the statues is recounted with a report of the cleaning and restoration methods used. A thorough description of the preserved fragments, including drawings made by the author, is given.

Chapter 3 discusses the manufacturing technique of the pieces. Careful visual examination in the National Archaeological Museum revealed much information about the method of casting and later cold working of the surfaces of the figures. Both interior and exterior inspections were done. A review of knowledge gained about manufacturing techniques from other large-scale bronze equestrian statues, especially in the Hellenistic period, provides parallels for the techniques used to the make the Horse and Jockey. There are no exact parallels for the Artemision Horse and Jockey Group, however, since comparative equestrian statues are mostly of a marching “cavalry” type.

Chapter 4 discusses the style, chronology, and iconography of both statues in the group and takes into consideration previous scholarship, which offers a range in interpretations and dates for the pieces. An examination of the style and iconography of comparable works provides a more knowledgeable background against which to judge the Horse and Jockey Group.

Since the Horse and Jockey Group is one of the very few monumental representations of a horse race from Greek antiquity, Chapter 5 is devoted to the history of the single-horse race or κέλης. The origins of the κέλης in the Orientalizing period (seventh century B.C.) are traced and then its development through the Archaic and Classical period to the end of the Hellenistic period. The κέλης was a feature of the games at panhellenic sanctuaries and elsewhere and appears to have been a more limited activity than other types of horsemanship, judging from evidence which begins as early as the Geometric period. In addition to archaeological evidence, including sculpture, vase painting, and architecture in the form of hippodromes, there is epigraphic evidence, especially dedications and victor lists, and literary evidence.

Chapter 6 gives a synthesis of the study and an interpretation of the statue group. Although the two parts of the Horse were found separately and at a distance from each other, H. has convincingly demonstrated in his study that they belong to the same statue and that the Jockey goes with the Horse. A restoration of the group carried out in 1972 contains some problems: the Horse’s right foreleg could not be repositioned without damage and should be higher, and the style of the tail is too rigid. The Jockey leans too much to the left and his right leg should match the left in turning in to goad the Horse with his spurs. Greater thickness of the bronze in the hind legs of the Horse indicates that they would have been the primary supports of the group. Marks of wear on the Horse’s head and a pin beneath the chin support the reconstruction of an elaborate bridle, now lost. Both of the statues were cast in sections by the indirect lost-wax process and pieced together by flow welding. The Horse’s hoofs and the Jockey’s skin were originally patinated black. Original inlays were the eyes of both figures and the brand of a Nike figure on the Horse’s right hind thigh. Part of the inlaid right eye of the Jockey remains in place, although badly corroded.

Scholars have previously dated the group from the late fourth century B.C. to the first century B.C. H. concludes that the most likely date for the group is the second half of the second century B.C., based on a combination of classicizing features and realism in both statues, and the depiction of recognizable ethnicity and the twisting pose of the Jockey. The statues have been attributed previously to various sculptors, including Kalamis, Lysippos and the Pergamene school, but H. does not think that any of these attributions can be supported given the lack of enough original bronze works that can be securely dated to the Hellenistic period. The Jockey’s physiognomy and original black skin are those of an Ethiopian, but his hairstyle is Greek, which implies that he is of mixed heritage. He is most likely a professional or trained jockey. After considering three likely contexts for the original function of the Horse and Jockey (funerary, decorative, or dedicatory), H. argues that the best interpretation is that the group was set up in a sanctuary to honor one or more victories in horse races. The large size of the monument and the high quality of the sculpture suggest commission by a royal or wealthy Greek aristocratic.

Consideration of several late Hellenistic shipwrecks carrying cargoes of sculpture (the Antikythera, the Mahdia, and the Artemision) leads H. to conclude that the Horse and Jockey group was plunder of some kind. He goes on further to build a strong circumstantial case for its having been plundered from Corinth in 146 B.C. by Mummius, who then gave it to his first general, Attalos, who was shipping it to Pergamon when the ship was wrecked in the Trikiri channel north of Euboia. With a terminus ante quem of 146 B.C. and a stylistic analysis placing the statue in the second half of the second century B.C., the group is given a date of about 150-146 B.C.

H. is to be commended for producing a highly readable account of one of the most compelling statues to have survived from antiquity, and for his approach, which alternately presents a focus narrowed upon the Horse and the Jockey, then widened to include its context of other Hellenistic bronzes and its subject relating to Greek horseracing as one of the athletic events in the cult activity of religious sanctuaries. The monograph is an invaluable resource on not only this particular statue group but on these other topics as well. In addition, the study is a model in its presentation of visual evidence: photographs are plentiful, readable, and relevant; drawings are included that show in great detail the metallurgical joins, cast patches, hammered patches, modern restorations and added elements such as screws, holes and loses, and even enigmatic features. These drawings were made by the author himself of each of the four main views of both the Horse and the Jockey. It is a painstaking study that I recommend highly.