BMCR 2018.05.17

Greek Art: From Oxford to Portugal and Back Again

, Greek Art: From Oxford to Portugal and Back Again. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017. vi, 58. ISBN 9781784915865. £15.00.

Table of Contents

The copying of famous works of art in antiquity is a well-known and well-documented phenomenon. Many relationships between sculptures of the Roman period and hypothetical Greek originals have been suggested and accepted with some caveats. Ancient artists also clearly repeated designs or motifs in a manner that cannot really be called copying, but suggests some sort of inspiration or transmission of images between artists. The transmission of designs in pattern books is a topic often hinted at or taken for granted by scholars of ancient art, and indeed one deserving of a focused and in-depth study. In this slim volume, Rui Morais seeks to bring together evidence for the transmission of “iconographic designs and decorative compositions” in antiquity, quickly covering a broad timespan and briefly touching on a great number of objects in a variety of media. The study of copies does not seem to be Morais’s aim, but copies are repeatedly discussed as examples. Throughout the book, Morais struggles to keep to the intended focus, and often digresses onto material that does not support his claims. Nevertheless, he provides a helpful introduction to the evidence available, from which it is hoped that he and other scholars may take on larger scale projects.

The book is divided into four chapters. In the first, “Prolegomena,” Morais lays out the subject of this study. Rather than the transmission of images by direct copies of finished works, Morais is interested in prototypes and models created for the purpose of transmission, meant to be copied by artists within a workshop or transmitted between workshops. Among the earliest examples of such models, Morais points to the limestone ostraka found in a tomb in Deir el-Bahri, dating to ca. 1470 BCE. The ostraka show figures (a human head, hieroglyphics) sketched in black on a red, squared grid. These ostraka were likely used as preparatory drawings for the tomb’s decoration, and other surviving Egyptian drawings on red gridlines can be assumed to have been made for preparatory purposes. Morais illustrates other examples on wood panel and papyrus from approximately the same period. The section concludes with evidence presented in Lise Manniche’s City of the Dead: Thebes in Egypt (1987), which describes two tombs, some 55 miles apart, decorated with certain identical scenes rendered in paint in one tomb and in relief sculpture in the other. Following Manniche, Morais takes this evidence as proof of the existence of pattern books from which artists took their designs.

The second chapter, “The Transmission of Iconographic Designs and Decorative Compositions in the Greek World,” draws together what little evidence exists for pattern books and the transmission of models and prototypes in Greece. Morais notes that the influence of ancient Egypt on early Greek art is well documented, but no actual preparatory drawings from Greek artists are known. The closest thing, and best medium for the transmission of designs among the latter, he states, are Greek pinakes. Terracotta pinakes dating back to the Geometric period are known, and some very fine 6th century examples in wood have been found at Pitsa, near Corinth. Morais claims that these pinakes “and other models, in different types of mediums…are testaments, direct or indirect, to the transmission of iconographic designs and decorative compositions” (13).

Morais then discusses several examples of multiple images clearly drawn from the same source. These include a fourth-century tomb at Lefkadia (the so-called Tomb of Judgement, though Morais does not identify it as such) that copies the Parthenon metopes as well as vase-paintings that draw on sculptural models. He offers examples of the same motif appearing in sculpture and vase painting, but argues that we should imagine both artists drawing from pattern books rather than vase-painters taking inspiration from sculpture because of differences in details and chronological gaps between the individual works. Morais discusses four amphorae from the workshop of the Red-line Painter that feature similar motifs. Two show Herakles with the Nemean Lion, one Herakles and the Cretan Bull, and the fourth Peleus wrestling Thetis. The heroes exhibit similar postures in the four scenes, and one could find many more vases from other workshops with figures in similar poses. Morais takes the similarity between these four vases from the same workshop as indication that pattern books of some form were used in the atelier.

Chapter 3, “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio,” addresses the use of pattern books by artists in the Roman world. Morais notes a few extant papyri that preserve drawings, some of which appear rather sketchy but none of which are clearly schematic drawings meant for reproduction like the Egyptian ostraka discussed in Chapter 1. He again comments that drawings of iconographic themes could be recorded on various media, but no true examples of pattern books are known. Morais states that paintings on wood panels are often mentioned in ancient sources as being of great quality and are attributed to famous masters. That several paintings treat the same scene indicates to him that all copies refer to some lost source in a pattern book. Perhaps the best evidence for such books is the repetition of scenes in wall paintings at Pompeii. Unfortunately, Morais only briefly mentions this phenomenon and gives no specific examples. He concludes this chapter by noting that “small objects, textile canvases and clothing (jackets, shawls, etc.) were perfect vehicles for the transmission of decorative themes and motifs” (32). It is easy to imagine that a small object or piece of clothing could travel a great distance with its owner (or by trade) and then have its decoration emulated by an artisan geographically distant from where the object was made. This seems a different phenomenon from the use of pattern books by artists. There is no doubt that artists took inspiration from many sources, but the question Morais seems to address is how artists recorded designs specifically for transmission to other artists and not how artists drew inspiration from the finished work of other artists.

The final chapter, “Case Studies,” presents three instances in the transmission of particular iconographic motifs. The first is the sculptural group of the three Graces. The famous composition is thought to originate from a Greek work of the 2nd century BCE. Morais illustrates several clear references to the group, in relief sculpture, painting, mosaic, engraved gems, terracotta lamps, and coins. The second case study centers on the Ludovisi Dionysos. This sculptural group shows an intoxicated Dionysos in an exaggerated contrapposto, accompanied by a satyr and a panther. Again, Morais illustrates parallels in several other media, but in most cases Dionysos leans more heavily on the satyr than in the Ludovisi group. The mosaic from Antioch (fig. 53) and the lamp from Carthage (fig. 53) are similar enough to suggest they were drawn from the same source but seem like a different image in the same genre as the Ludovisi Dionysos. The sarcophagus in Boston that Morais illustrates (fig. 50a-b) is another type altogether. (The detail Morais includes does not even show Dionysos, who is mounting a chariot drawn by elephants at the far left of the scene.) Morais’s final case study is the statue of Aphrodite attributed to Praxiteles, usually called the Knidia or the Venus Pudica, though Morais does not use either of these common names for the type. The body type came to be used for portraits of Roman matrons and appears on funerary sculpture. As with the previous examples, the type is replicated in various media over a long chronological span.

A study collecting the surviving evidence for pattern books and preparatory drawings or models in ancient art could shed light on an underexamined subject and perhaps give new insight into workshop operations and relationships between individual artists and workshops. Unfortunately, this book does not offer any clear evidence for what ancient pattern books may have looked like or how they were used, and cites only a few suggestive examples of their use. Morais offers many instances of clearly connected motifs or iconography, but few require the existence of pattern books as an explanation. While it is almost assured that artists working in all media relied on some sort of preparatory drawings or other designs on perishable materials, it is very difficult to distinguish between an image derived from such drawings and an image inspired by the finished work of another artist. Morais does not mention the Artemidoros Papyrus, which may contain the best example surviving of the type of preparatory drawings he describes.1 Furthermore, similarities in Morais’s examples of black-figure amphorae from the Red-line Painter’s workshop (fig. 20-23) could be ascribed to the particular habits of one artist or several artists trained in the same studio.

Though he brings up the phenomenon of ancient copies many times, Morais does not refer to the substantial body of scholarship on the copying of sculpture in antiquity.2 I have not followed all of his references, but some do not seem to exactly support his claims, or require more explanation of their connection to the topic at hand. For instance, (p. 17) Morais misconstrues Ernst Langlotz’s argument regarding the relationship of the sculptures of the North Frieze of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi and the work of the Andokides Painter. Langlotz does not suggest that the Andokides Painter’s work inspired the sculpture, but rather he uses the securely dated reliefs of the Siphnian Treasury to date the work of the Andokides Painter and the beginning of the red-figure technique.3

This book would have greatly benefitted from more careful editing. In many instances the language is less than fluent. There are also numerous errors in formatting and spelling, far too many to list. The book is well illustrated with 65 figures over 57 pages, but unfortunately several of the images are of poor quality and pixelated.

The topic of this book is interesting and certainly deserving of more attention. This book does not offer new evidence or approaches that significantly affect our understanding of the nature and use of pattern books in antiquity, but it may serve to spur more work on the subject which would bring innovative approaches to advance our understanding.


1. The quantity of scholarship on the Artemidoros Papyrus is considerable. The current consensus seems to be that it is authentic. For discussion of the drawings, see especially Kai Brodersen, Jas Elsner (eds.), Images and Texts on the “Artemidorus Papyrus”: Working Papers on P.Artemid. (St. John’s College Oxford, 2008). Historia. Einzelschriften 214 (Stuttgart 2009); and Gianfranco Adornato (ed.), Intorno al Papiro di Artemidoro III. I Disegni. Atti del Convegno Internazionale del 4 Febbraio 2011 presso il Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Firenze (Milan 2016).

2. For discussions of the practice of Roman copying of sculpture, see Milette Gaifman, “Statue, Cult and Reproduction.” Art History 29 (2006) 258-279; Mark Fullerton, “‘ Der Stil der Nachahmer ’: A Brief History of Stylistic Retrospection.” In Alice A. Donohue and Mark D. Fullerton, eds. Ancient Art and its Historiography (Cambridge 2003), 92-117.

3. Morais cites Brunilde Ridgway (“Sculptor and Painter in Archaic Athens.” In Papers on the Amasis Painter and his World (Malibu 1987), 81), who is in turn summarizing Langlotz ( Zur Zeitbestimmung der strengrotfigurigen Vasenmalerei und der gleichzeitigen Plastik (Leipzig 1920), 17-31).