BMCR 2005.05.17

Looking at Greek and Roman Sculpture in Stone: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques

, Looking at Greek and Roman sculpture in stone : a guide to terms, styles, and techniques. [Looking at]. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003. xi, 125 pages : illustrations (some color), color map ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0892367083 $16.95.

The volume under review represents the latest addition to the familiar Looking at … series of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the second contribution that specifically addresses ancient art.1 In keeping with the overall objectives of the series, the primary purpose of this book, as set forth by Grossman (hereafter G.) in the preface, is to provide the museum visitor reading a label or catalogue with a “glossary of the terms commonly used to discuss sculpture in general, but in particular Greek and Roman stone sculpture” (p. vii). Not surprisingly, G. sets out to accomplish this task with a specific focus on the collections of the Getty — a limited scope which perhaps best explains certain inclusions/omissions from the glossary (see below). This bias toward the collections of the Getty also means that the majority of illustrations are taken from that institution’s holdings. Still, as G. notes, the terms chosen for the glossary are commonly employed in the field and thus applicable to the sculpture collections of any museum; this fact, in particular, means that the value of this work extends well beyond its intended function as simply a museum handbook.

From ABRASION to χ the bulk of the volume is given over to 204 entries listed in alphabetical order and covering diverse aspects of Greek and Roman sculpture. “Greek” here is taken in its broadest chronological sense, as entries like BRONZE AGE, CYCLADIC, MINOAN, NEOLITHIC, MYCENAEAN and images such as a Cycladic figurine (pp. xii and 38) and a Chalcolithic statuette from Cyprus (p. 91) attest. For the most part, the entries are well-chosen and expected in a reference work such as this. Broad categories include: art historical periods (e.g., ARCHAIC, CLASSICAL, EARLY CLASSICAL, HELLENISTIC), stylistic terms (e.g., ARCHAISTIC, CLASSICIZING, DAEDALIC, IDEALISTIC, VERISTIC), ancient sources (e.g., PAUSANIAS, PLINY), artists (e.g., ATTRIBUTION, LYSIPPOS, PHEIDIAS, POLYKLEITOS, PRAXITELES, SIGNED), typology (e.g., ACROLITH, BUST, CLIPEUS, EQUESTRIAN, KOUROS, KORE, PORTRAIT), scale (e.g., LIFE-SIZE, STATUETTE), drapery types and attributes (e.g., CAPSA, CHLAMYS, DIPLAX, HERAKLES KNOT, KOLPOS, PEPLOS, PRESS FOLDS, SHOULDER CORD, STOLA, TOGATUS), materials (e.g., ALABASTER, BASALT, LEAD, LIMESTONE, PIGMENT, PORPHYRY, ROCK CRYSTAL, STEATITE, TUFA, WAX), and methods/techniques (e.g., ADHESIVE, BINDER, CARVING, DRILL, EMERY, ENCAUSTIC, GILDING, GRID, INLAYS, JOIN, PIECING, POINT/POINTING, REPAIR, ROUGHING-OUT, UNDERCUTTING).

G. rightly notes that such categories are the usual focus of books dealing with Greek and Roman sculpture. In fact, many (but certainly not all) of the terms that fall into the categories I have artificially carved out above are commonly listed in separate glossaries at the back of basic survey books. The book’s real contribution stems directly from G.’s decision to highlight the importance of technical aspects of sculptural production and material analysis. Thus, in addition to single entries for QUARRY, MARBLE, PROVENANCE, and WORKSHOP, G. includes no fewer than 17 different types of marble exploited throughout the history of Greek and Roman sculpture. For example, alongside entries for CARRARA, PARIAN, and PENTELIC, one also finds AFYON, BIGIO ANTICO, BIGIO MORATO, DOLOMITIC, PAVONAZZETTO, and PROCONNESIAN. Moreover, G.’s own background and interest in conservation and material sciences means that the reader is offered definitions of INFRARED PHOTOGRAPHY, PETROFABRIC ANALYSIS, RAKING LIGHT and THIN SECTION MICROSCOPY, and also ελεξτρον σπιν ρεσονανξε σπεξτροσξοπψ and WEATHERING LAYER. While certainly welcomed by both students and scholars, one does wonder if such specificity will address the practical needs of the audience which G.’s book purports to serve.

In a volume such as this, which does not profess to be comprehensive and by its very nature must be selective, it may not seem appropriate to quibble about omissions. A case in point would be the inclusion/exclusion of the many sculptors known to us from ancient sources and inscriptions; here, choices based on the author’s own discretion seem justified. Nonetheless, there are several cases where the author’s selection of a particular term or category of terms and not others deserves comment. For example, while architectural sculpture is not a primary concern, entries are given for ANTEFIX, AKROTERION, CARYATID, and PEDIMENT FIGURES; yet, “metope” and “frieze” are excluded.2 Another minor example might be the lack of an entry for “Cult Statue”, an especially difficult concept about which a general reader might need clarification. The fact that G. not only includes a comparison chart of many Greek and Roman divinities (p. xi), but also makes reference to the practice of representing gods in sculpture (e.g., pp. vi and 14) draws attention to such an omission. Finally, a more problematic example of omission in an otherwise extensive catalogue is the complete exclusion of the term “bronze” (and any related terms). In the context of a reference work on Greek and Roman sculpture which: a) gives preference to sculptors who seemed to have worked almost exclusively in bronze (i.e., Polykleitos and Lysippos) and still others who worked in a variety of media including bronze (i.e., Pheidias and Praxiteles), b) actually employs the term in several entries, and c) includes other terms commonly associated with bronze sculpture (e.g., ξοπιες, γιλδινγ one wonders if such an inconsistency could have been avoided by the addition of one or two more entries. Admittedly, one could just as easily argue that the very title of the book justifies such an omission; still, some reference would have been welcome insofar as its inclusion would complement the other entries more directly related to stone sculpture. The same might be said for the omission of “chryselephantine” given the mention of Pheidias’s famous commissions in Olympia and Athens in the entry of that sculptor (p. 77).

As mentioned above, G. notes that at times terms are chosen specifically to highlight various aspects of the Getty’s collection. As a result certain terms, which otherwise might not appear in standard references on the subject, are singled out to comment directly on pieces illustrated from the collection (e.g., ALTAR, ATLAS, GORGONEION). Still, a consideration of several entries (as well as her own comments in the preface) reveals that direct reference to the Getty’s holdings was not a sine qua non condition for inclusion. As a result, individual entries can seem rather arbitrary. For example, why include KANEPHOROS/OI (and illustrate them with the Parthenon frieze), but not “hydrophoros/oi” or “arrhephoros/oi” or define the geographical area of MAGNA GRAECIA but not “Asia Minor”? Likewise, G. includes an entry for TEBENNA without a separate one for “Etruscan”. In a similar vein, some readers may question the decision to illustrate the controversial Getty Kouros (p. 63) for the entry of that Archaic statue type.3 Illustrations of non-Getty works such as Aristodikos (p. 17), the Auxerre kore (p. 39), the so-called Mourning Athena (p. 43), the Rampin Rider (p. 45), and the Lion’s Gate at Mycenae (!) (p. 71) indicate that a more securely provenanced example of a kouros could have been used, reserving the Getty Kouros to illustrate some other entry in the glossary (e.g., DOLOMITIC, STABLE ISOTOPIC RATIO ANALYSIS, ULTRAVIOLET LIGHT, or WEATHERING/ALTERATION LAYER). To her credit, G. maintains the current policy of the Getty and clearly underlines the interpretive problems surrounding the statue describing it as “Greek, about 530 B.C. or modern forgery”. Curiously, the term “forgery” does not appear in the glossary.

Quibbles aside, G. has produced a well organized and thoughtful reference book. The catalogue of entries is preceded by three charts (Chronology, Abbreviations, and Correspondence of Greek and Roman Mythological Names), as well as a useful map indicating the major sites referred to in the text (pp. ix-xii). Within the glossary itself, G. has continued the practice found in other volumes in the series of cross-referencing terms (indicated by small capital letters) found within individual entries and captions.4 An excellent series of drawings illustrates the various drapery forms found in Greek and Roman sculpture (pp. 116-24; the best and most comprehensive collection of such drawings I have seen gathered in one place and an excellent pedagogical tool). Likewise, an equally useful set of illustrations accompanies the entry for TOOLS (p. 107).5 A selected bibliography focusing on the technical aspects of sculpture, in keeping with the book’s emphasis, rounds out the volume (p. 125). An independent index is not provided, although the format of the glossary and the use of cross-referencing greatly diminish its necessity. The volume is wonderfully produced, practically free from typographical errors. The addition of 94 color plates to illustrate the glossary, each accompanied by a lengthy caption with dates, measurements, and description, makes the $16.95 price tag remarkable in an age of escalating publication costs.

Whether or not average museum visitors, confronted with a collection as diverse and extensive as the Getty, will purchase and make use of such a guide during their visit is perhaps debatable; nonetheless, G. has provided an excellent resource for students of Greek and Roman sculpture and a particularly useful supplement to required course readings. I recently used G.’s book as a required text for an upper level course in Greek sculpture at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with positive results. In fact, the criticisms I have noted above, especially with regard to certain omissions, are indirect praise for a book that accomplishes so much that it leaves the user (in my case, both the instructor and student) wanting more.


1. A. J. Clark, M. Elston, and M. L. Hart, Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques, Los Angeles, 2002.

2. Interestingly, panels from the east frieze of the Parthenon are used to illustrate the entries for CLASSICAL (p. 26) and kanephoros (p. 61).

3. The authenticity of this kouros, acquired by the Getty in 1983, has never been proven beyond the doubt of art historians and archaeometrists. In 1992, a rather unexpected but intellectually stimulating colloquium on the statue was held in Athens in conjunction with its temporary display at the Nicholas P. Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art. The colloquium papers, which included contributions by art historians, sculptors, conservators, and sculptors, were promptly published as The Getty Kouros Colloquium (Athens, 1993). The inconclusive results of this team of experts bears witness to our incomplete knowledge of both ancient Archaic sculpture and modern forgery practices and serves as a poignant reminder to both museums and scholars of the consequences of insecure archaeological provenances.

4. There are a number of inconsistencies in cross-referencing throughout the book. Some terms that appear multiple times are not always cross-referenced, while several others are overlooked.

5. Unfortunately, these instructive drawings are not cross-referenced within the individual entries for the various drapery and tool types, although the drapery illustrations are referenced in a “Note to the Reader” at the beginning of the book (p. ii).