BMCR 2019.09.29

Restaging Greek Artworks in Roman Times. Archeologia e arte antica

, , , , Restaging Greek Artworks in Roman Times. Archeologia e arte antica. Milano: Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2018. 300. ISBN 9788879168328. €72,00 (pb).

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This publication is divided into two parts that have separate aims: the first, to evaluate the iconography and technique of a Classical statue that surfaced recently on the antiquities market in Rome; and the second, to investigate the redeployment or “restaging” of Greek artworks, mainly marble sculptures, in Roman contexts.

Part I developed out of an international conference held in Pisa (2014) to discuss an under-life-size marble statue of Athena now in the collection of the Fondazione Sorgente Group in Rome. The sculpture, which was purchased from a dealer, is said to have been found in Rome, although no documentation has been published to prove the provenance or to disclose its history of ownership (p. 8). Athena is identifiable by the backwards collar-type aegis with gorgoneion clasp at the front. The statue leans forward, and this posture, taken together with cuttings for wings on the back and the subtly windswept drapery, has raised much debate on whether the statue was intended to depict the goddess in her association with Nike. In his publication of the Sorgente piece in 2013, Eugenio La Rocca called it Athena Nike and assigned it to the workshop of an Attic sculptor active in the years around 430 BC.1 Added importance accrued to the figure because its type was already known from an Imperial-period statue in the Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania). The contributors to the publication under review accept, or at least do not contest, La Rocca’s dating of the Sorgente statue.

Irene Bald Romano, who had officially published the Pennsylvania statue before the Sorgente figure was known,2 offers an astute reappraisal of the Athena/Minerva at Bryn Athyn. As a quotation of the figure in Rome in both composition and scale, the Glencairn statue now takes on added significance as an example of how an older model could be rearticulated for new consumers in new settings. Regrettably, these shifting meanings remain obscure because, like the Sorgente sculpture, the Glencairn statue’s provenance is murky. Romano marshals new archival evidence to reconstruct an engaging account of its acquisition and the personalities involved. She is skeptical of the reported find-spot at Cyrene and ultimately leans in favor of that origin as a fabrication designed to improve its sale on the antiquities market. A measuring mound on the lower left leg of the statue is especially noteworthy in light of the discovery of the Sorgente figure: the method, which implies production from a model, is evidence for a more widespread diffusion of the iconographic type than has been acknowledged. As Romano urges, we must consider “the possibility, even likelihood, that the sculptor of the Glencairn statue may never have seen the Sorgente statue and that there could have been other Greek and Roman statues of this same type of alighting or active Athena” (p. 24).

Olga Palagia conducts a technical study of the cuttings on the back of the Sorgente statue, raising new questions regarding its original identity and display. Palagia argues that the rectangular sockets used to attach marble wings are not original, as La Rocca had concluded, but are instead Roman alterations. It is relevant to note here that the Glencairn statue was, according to current consensus, not outfitted with wings; however, after personal autopsy, I think this conclusion deserves closer scrutiny.3 By contrast, other cuttings on the Sorgente statue, considered by La Rocca to be later repairs, are, in Palagia’s view, original, possibly having been used to attach the figure to the floor and tympanum of a pediment. Thus, according to Palagia, the statue may have been conceived as an architectural work for a temple. Having disassociated the wings, she envisions the original figure as a standing Athena supporting a spear in one hand and holding out an attribute in the other. It remains unclear to me, however, why this proposed stance would require the undeniable forward inclination of the upper body, even if, as Palagia notes, the sense of motion is not as dynamic as in certainly alighting figures.

Other contributors do not fully embrace Palagia’s finding that the wings of the Sorgente statue are a later addition, and thus they seek to reconcile an unusual winged Athena with known image-types of the Classical period. Kenneth Lapatin reviews the iconographic and literary evidence for Pheidias’ chryselephantine Nike held by the Athena Parthenos and another held by the statue of Zeus at Olympia. Lapatin finds that neither can be the immediate source for the Sorgente and Glencairn figures. Arne Thomsen discusses the iconography of, respectively, Athena, Nike, and Athena Nike with emphasis on Attic vase painting. Thomsen finds negative evidence for a winged Athena Nike before the late fifth century BC, but that chronological starting point is based on a poorly preserved inscription on a red-figured pot that is open to interpretation. Next, Eva Falaschi provides a careful and stimulating review of the literary and epigraphic evidence for the name of the Athena Nike cult and for its representations. She finds no evidence for a winged Athena Nike in the fifth century BC. Falaschi discusses some of the same historical sources cited by Thomsen, but with a much more critical range of possibilities, and for this reason, I would have preferred to read Falaschi’s contribution first. In the end, Thomsen and Falaschi would seem to bolster Palagia’s conclusion that the wings on the Sorgente statue are a later intervention, though this point is not made explicit.

Finally, Alexandra Carpino offers an interesting cross-cultural study of Etruscan bronze mirrors that depict the winged goddess Menrva, a local divinity who adopted iconographic elements of Athena. While Carpino documents the Etruscan tradition of winged Menrva dating back to the fifth century BC, the exact bearing of these Italic representations on the Sorgente and Glencairn statues is left open; neither statue is mentioned in the text.

Armed with authenticity as a Greek “original” very near the carving of the Parthenon sculptures, the Sorgente statue becomes paradigmatic of the artworks examined in Part II: a Greek-made sculpture, maybe carved by a known master, transported to Italy, possibly transformed with the addition of wings, and repeated by Roman copyists. It is worth stressing here that there remain serious gaps in our knowledge of the life history of the Sorgente statue, a point acknowledged in the introduction to this publication. As the evidence now stands, the statue must remain an evocative case study. In future research, drawings and detailed photography should be commissioned of both the Sorgente and Glencairn sculptures with special focus on documenting their cuttings. Moreover, technologies such as photogrammetry could provide an opportunity to manipulate viewing angles in order to compare the scales, styles, and techniques of the two statues in close space. To summarize, many issues regarding the identity, format, and function of the Sorgente figure remain unsettled. The suggestion that the wings of the Sorgente statue are not original is particularly difficult to reconcile if—as I have suggested above, in agreement with Carpenter—the Glencairn statue was also winged.

Part II presents a selection of papers delivered at the 25th Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (Leicester, 2015), in addition to new contributions, that offer fresh approaches to the Roman afterlives of Greek artworks. Gabriella Cirucci begins this section by transitioning our focus from the Sorgente statue to the wider issue at hand: how to interpret the “anonymous” archaeological evidence that stands in contrast to the “lost masterpieces” praised at length in literary accounts (p. 108). Cirucci provides a sketch of the challenges involved in identifying Greek works, in terms of both authorship and chronology, as well as determining their phases of use and alteration. The methodological issues that she has carefully highlighted will be an important starting point for future researchers.

Marina Caso presents a group of Greek-made sculptures found in Campania. She focuses on two case studies, both of which concern private residences that displayed, among other items, an Attic votive relief. Caso assumes, problematically, that the reliefs were originally erected in Greece and later removed to Italy. In the case of the Classical-period relief from Sinuessa, Caso notes (p. 125, n. 24), but does not engage, the findings of Iphigeneia Leventi, who argued that the sculpture was carved at Athens as a special order for export—in other words, that it was “restaged” from sanctuary to house, but maybe not from Greece to Italy.4 We must, I think, give more serious consideration to the possibility that sculptures carved in Greek workshops were occasionally traded west during the Classical period. Caso’s closing overview of the contemporary art market could have been strengthened by mention of the first-century B.C. Mahdia shipwreck, which contained antique Attic reliefs bound, presumably, for Puteoli or Rome.

The ground covered in the second half of this publication is traditional in its geographical scope, limited primarily to the Italian peninsula, especially the city of Rome. Richard Neudecker’s contribution on Greek sanctuaries is therefore most welcome. Particularly thought- provoking is Neudecker’s discussion of the “harvested” sacred landscapes left behind by Romans (p. 148). He draws attention to the visible gaps—for example, bases robbed of their statues, or re-inscribed dedications—that were preserved as meaningful religious markers of Roman manipulations in Greek sacred spaces.

In her second contribution to this volume, Eva Falaschi explores the afterlives of a painting of the Rhodian hero Ialysus by the fourth-century BC artist Protogenes. Falaschi synthesizes the life history of Protogenes’ painting, known only through ancient authors, by examining its literary reception. The following essay by Alessandro Poggio reconstructs, also using literary sources, the life history of a monument, the Roman Saepta, and considers the changing meanings of the artworks it contained.

Three contributions adopt the view that a Greek artwork could be redeployed not only as the material object itself, but also as the more abstract quotation of an iconographic model. Linda Pozzani, Mariateresa Curcio, and Gianfranco Adornato study male nude statues, seeking to challenge long-held conclusions that locate a source in Greek models of the Classical period.

In an important afterword, Christopher Hallett explains the deficiency in discussing the “restaging” of Greek artworks in terms of modern art collecting. Greek artifacts, he explains, were not only assigned new meanings in Roman contexts, but, perhaps most shockingly for modern audiences, also altered physically. For the Romans, the redeployment of Greek art routinely required readjusting, recarving, and recoloring. Hallett defends the quotation of an iconographic model as a method of “restaging,” and further argues that this approach may provide a new avenue for understanding Roman attitudes toward copies. Hallett proposes that, if Greek antiques were themselves routinely altered physically, then it may follow that Romans held similar views toward the production of “copies” that modify the prototype. Hallett concludes that originals and copies “provided the ideal raw material for acts of deliberate resemanticization” (p. 284).

This collection of essays brings critical attention to an exciting new addition to the corpus of fifth-century BC Greek sculpture. Moreover, it offers fresh perspectives on challenging questions regarding the Roman reuses and transformations of Greek art. No doubt, it is an important contribution that will generate new lines of inquiry; there is much food for thought here.

Authors and titles

Gianfranco Adornato, Irene Bald Romano, Gabriella Cirucci, and Alessandro Poggio, “Introduction”

Part I: The Athena Nike of the Fondazione Sorgente Group

Irene Bald Romano, “A Reexamination of the Glencairn Athena/Minerva and Its Relationship to the Fondazione Sorgente Group Athena Nike”
Olga Palagia, “A New Interpretation of the Fondazione Sorgente Group Athena Nike as Part of an Athenian Pediment”
Kenneth Lapatin, “Athena Nike and Athena’s Nike”
Arne Thomsen, “Athena, Nike, Athena Nike: Some Iconographic Considerations”
Eva Falaschi, “From Athena Nike to Nike Apteros: Literary and Epigraphical Sources”
Alexandra A. Carpino, “The Iconography of the Winged Menrva on Etruscan Engraved Bronze Mirrors from the 5th to Early 3rd Centuries BC”

Part II: The Afterlives of Greek Artworks

Gabriella Cirucci, “The ‘Greek Originals’ in Rome: An Overview”
Marina Caso, “Greek Sculptures in Roman Contexts: The Case of Campania”
Richard Neudecker, “Greek Sanctuaries in Roman Times: Rearranging, Transporting, and Renaming Artworks”
Eva Falaschi, “‘More than Words’: Restaging Protogenes’ Ialysus, The Many Lives of an Artwork between Greece and Rome”
Alessandro Poggio, “Experiencing Art in the Saepta: Greek Artworks in a Monumental Space of Ancient Rome”
Linda Pozzani, “Made by the Athenian Κλεομένης Κλεομένους: The Work of a Greek Sculptor Displayed in Rome”
Mariateresa Curcio, “Body Models in Roman Nude Portraits: Restaging Polykleitos?”
Gianfranco Adornato, “The Dilemma of the Prima Porta Augustus: Polykleitos or not Polykleitos?”

Christopher H. Hallett, “Afterword: The Function of Greek Artworks within Roman Visual Culture”



1. E. La Rocca, “Athena Nike of Fondazione Sorgente Group” in E. La Rocca, ed., Athena Nike: La vittoria della dea. Marmi greci del V e IV secolo a.C. della Fondazione Sorgente Group (Rome, 2013), pp. 31–71.

2. D. G. Romano and I. Bald Romano, Catalogue of the Classical Collections of the Glencairn Museum (Bryn Athyn, 1999), pp. 15–24. The figure is also known as the “Pitcairn” statue after its most recent collector.

3. R. Carpenter (“The Nike of Athena Parthenos,” ArchEph 1953–1954 (1958), vol. 2, pp. 41–55) identified narrow cuttings behind the shoulders as attachment points for wooden wings. Romano does not accept Carpenter’s interpretation; in her assessment, the right cutting is a pouring channel for attaching the arm (p. 20). In my view, the cuttings cannot be for lead because: (1) pouring channels were, in my experience, infrequently used for smaller-scale statuary; (2) at the left arm there is no communication between the cutting and the dowel for the arm; and (3) the cuttings were carefully squared.

4. I. Leventi, “Τhe Mondragone Relief Revisited: Eleusinian Cult Iconography in Campania,” Hesperia 76 (2007), pp. 107–141. A relief from Pompeii, also interpreted by Caso as a reused work of the Classical period brought from Greece to Campania, has been convincingly re-identified as a work of the first century BC/AD; see J. Powers, “The Votive Relief from House V.3.10 in Pompeii: A Sculpture and Its Context Reexamined,” in B. Longfellow and E. Perry, eds., Roman Artists, Patrons, and Public Consumption: Familiar Works Reconsidered (Ann Arbor, 2018), pp. 213–239.