BMCR 2022.10.50

Greek large-scale bronze statuary: the late Archaic and Classical periods

, Greek large-scale bronze statuary: the late Archaic and Classical periods. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies supplement 138. London: University of London, Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, 2019. Pp. xi, 184; 179 plates. ISBN 9781905670673 £100.00.

This book presents observations on eighteen large Greek bronzes, followed by three chapters on the techniques of production, and connections between style and technique. Dafas begins by noting the significance of the extensive studies of the Riace Bronzes in the early 1980s and the early 2000s, which provided impetus for growing interest in ancient bronzes.

Dafas states his achievements: “Through scrutiny of all surviving late Archaic and Classical large-scale bronzes, this study sheds light on the problematic cases that have not been studied adequately in the past, suggesting robust new theories and correcting previous erroneous assumptions regarding their origin, modern restoration, date, artistic attribution, identification, and, above all, their casting technique” (3, 153). His “meticulous study of the technical features of the material presented in this study points to different conclusions” from the many that have previously been proposed, by, for instance, Denys Haynes, Peter Bol, Caroline Houser, Edilberto Formigli, Claude Rolley, and this reviewer (139 with fn. 2).

During the Archaic and Classical periods, Dafas argues that “[i]ndirect [lost-wax casting] was mainly used for the naked bodies of male figures and the naked limbs of female statues, but always in combination with the direct method for the production of the heads and the garments” (142). He proposes that direct or indirect was chosen “to serve the stylistic needs of more or less complicated works,” depending on the intricacy of composition (149); and he asserts that the use of bronze allowed artists to design figures in more complicated poses with extended limbs, such as the Riace Bronzes, the Polykleitan Doryphoros and Diadoumenos, the Antikythera Ephebe, the Marathon Boy, and the Lysippan Apoxyomenos (147). But “an advanced version of the direct method, where the clay core was treated similarly to the original model of the indirect method, thus bearing many of the details of the figures to be cast, must certainly have existed, but… is difficult to detect with certainty” (152).

The chapters address eleven statues and seven heads. Those about statues cover “Findspot and Discovery,” “State of Preservation and Description,” “Restoration and Conservation,” “Technical Features and Casting Technique,” “Inscription, Stylistic Analysis and Date,” “Artistic Attribution,” and “Identification and Iconography.” A heading lists location and inventory number; material (bronze) and color (corrosion products); dimensions; and major elements – copper, tin, and lead (no sources are cited). The chapters about bronze heads are organized chronologically.

Although Dafas acknowledges problems with stylistic dating (146), he sticks with it (he dates both the Livadhostro Poseidon and the Piraeus Apollo to 490-480). He considers attribution problematic, but he claims to solve problems of identification. The 18-page bibliography runs to 2016; there are 179 plates, some with several images, most in color, and most taken by the author. Captions for the plates appear in a separate list, but without museum numbers. The text refers to details in the plates, which are often difficult to discern: he does not always write directly about the illustrations.

Readers will notice the omission of relevant works, among them the Ugento Zeus, the bronze Agon in the Archaeological Museum in Athens (inv. 26087), and the bronze Praxitelean Sauroktonos in Cleveland (inv. 2004.30). There are, however, illustrations of statues far removed from the main subject, such as the 3rd-century-AD bronze “Julia Aquilia Severa” (or Julia Mamaea) in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (inv. 23321; p 173-175). There is no index, and it is a test of patience to locate in the text the Piombino Apollo or the Aphrodite from Satala (pls 169c, 170a).

Some points are disputable. Dafas thinks “that the alloys used by bronzeworkers during the Classical period do not contain lead and differ from the leaded alloys used for castings during the late Hellenistic and Roman periods” (6; also 17, 83, 108); but the 6th-century Ugento Zeus is a leaded alloy.[1] He does not address the value of minor elements, of trace elements, or the need to evaluate analyses and, better yet, standardize methods.[2]

The description of direct and indirect lost-wax casting is not illustrated: readers might consult instead descriptions of casting, cold-working, and mounting by Peter Bol or Seán Hemingway.[3] Is the “clay core” simply that, or the wax covering it, or both, and which “special tools” were used to model the wax (7)? “Very thick walls, a great fluctuation in thickness, and no negative reproduction of its external contour in the interior” lead Dafas to consider the Delphi Charioteer a direct casting (29).[4]

Dafas does not adequately address some physical features, such as core pins/chaplets. A statue that he says was “produced by the indirect method with the use of moulds” (18, also 74, 127) needs explanation. Nipples were sheet-copper, not “separately cast” (8, 42, 75), as lips often were as well. Finally, “traces of the smoothing and polishing processes that took place during the final stages of cold-working” (91) may in some cases record modern attempts to remove corrosion products.

X-radiographs are not always illustrated. His interpretation of internal seams resulting from wax-to-wax joins as joins in the metal contributes to his belief that the torsos of the Artemision God, [5] the Antikythera Ephebe, the Marathon Boy, the Piraeus Apollo, and the Chatsworth leg were separately cast (pls. 40, 71, 81, 93, 152; figs. 69a and 70a, pl. 145). He seems not to recognize joins on exterior surfaces: flow-welded joins are marked by a string of ovals, often reinforced with rectangular patches. Early photographs of disassembled statues sometimes show that statues tended to break along the ancient joins.[6] The assertion that both hands of the Antikythera Ephebe “could also represent separate casts” (73) is not supported.

Dafas does not mention the letters “ΗΝΙ” incised in a fold of the Delphi Charioteer’s chiton.[7] He finds that Riace A is a direct casting and B is indirect, having a “more complicated pose” (149; 51-67), avoiding the ongoing controversy about whether the two statues are “Greek bronze originals” (direct) or whether they derive from a single model, combining indirect and direct processes, and avoiding chronological issues.

The Marathon Boy, which Brunilde S. Ridgway suggested was a Roman tray-bearer (83), “cannot be Roman . . .since its copper alloy contains only traces of lead” (83, also 17, 108), but he does not provide the data to support this assertion.[8]

Dafas sees the Piraeus Apollo as archaizing, Attic, and early 5th century, the three other Piraeus statues as dating to the 4th century. If the Apollo’s hair and pubes were gilded (100, 106, 115), there is no evidence of it; and it is equally suppositous to propose that “Undetected seams may well exist in the interior of the statue, suggesting that it was cast in more than four major sections” (103). It is not clear why the clay core material and bronze bits, along with the thickness of the statue (he reports 6 mm to 1 cm), suggest use of the direct lost wax process (104 and pl. 92).

Heads on display are difficult to examine, but what is visible should be addressed. For example, the Acropolis Warrior has a rectangular hole in the crown which Dafas implies goes through to the interior, but what was it for? And what about the large shallow circular cutting around it (123, pl. 134c)? Sheet-copper lips survive, but not the imagined Corinthian helmet (124), nor evidence that the head belonged to one of the statues mentioned by Pausanias (125). The “iconographic and typological discrepancies” that Dafas uses to argue that the Chatsworth head and Louvre leg come from different statues (128) contradicts conclusions drawn in a recent scientific study.[9] “Marks made by a sharp tool” on the leg (126, pl 143e) may very well be pockmarks left by removal of corrosion that had penetrated the base metal. The teeth of the Cyrene Berber are not silver (138), but bone; and the lips were originally overlaid with sheet-copper.[10] Dafas is correct, however, to see the Cyrene Berber as a combination of direct and indirect processes (137). In fact, it is widely accepted that variations on the direct and indirect lost wax processes co-existed and that the two processes were used together, as Edilberto Formigli so ably illustrated in his many studies of ancient bronzes.

Dafas has not proven that artists made directly the details of head, hair, and garments while nude limbs were indirectly cast until the “late Hellenistic and Roman periods, (when) all details were rendered on the original model, and an artist, therefore, could be involved only in the creation of the original model of the figure to be cast” (143). He recognizes that bronze gave “artists the freedom to create more complicated figures with protruding limbs” along with the initiative to innovate “during the high and late Classical periods” (147), but he illustrates his point with standing statues. Dafas might well consider studies dedicated to the piecing of bronze statues instead of mentioning “the piecing technique” in stone (147).[11]

This collection of available material on the statues considered is sensible and the methodical organization is commendable, as is emphasis on the value of autopsy. Readers should, however, approach the conclusions with caution. This book will not displace existing scholarship on the subject of the production of Greek bronze statuary. Its value will instead be that it may provoke further study of ancient lost-wax casting.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. Aims, Scope, and Objectives
1.2 Copper and Alloys
1.3 Casting Techniques
2.  The Statues
2.1 The Livadostra Poseidon
2.2 The Delphi Charioteer
2.3 The Artemision God
2.4 The Riace Statues
2.5 The Antikythera Ephebe
2.6 The Marathon Boy
2.7 The Piraeus Bronzes
3. Heads and Other Fragments
3.1 The Olympia Zeus
3.2 The Acropolis Warrior
3.3 The Chatsworth Apollo
3.4 The Porticello Bronzes
3.5 The Olympia Boxer
3.6 The Cyrene Berber
4. The Casting Techniques Reconsidered
5. Crossing Lines Between Style and Technique
6. Conclusions



[1] Nevio Degrassi, Lo Zeus Stilita di Ugento, Rome: Giorgio Bretschneider, 1981, 135.

[2] His source for the major elements in the alloy of the Artemision God must be Helen Mangou, who tested twelve elements in six places and analyzed the clay core: Helen Andreopoulou-Mangou, “Appendix: Table 1: Chemical Analysis of the Bronze God from Artemision in the National Archaeological Museum, no. 15161”, in Olga Tzachou-Alexandri, “Some remarks on the bronze god of Artemision”, From the Parts to the Whole, vol. 1, eds. Carol C. Mattusch, Amy Brauer, and Sandra E. Knudsen, Portsmouth (86-95), 95.

[3] Peter C. Bol, Antike Bronzetechnik: Kunst und Handwerk antiker Erzbildner, Munich: C. H. Beck, 1985, 118-178; Seán Hemingway, “Bronze sculpture,” in Making Classical Art: Process and Practice, ed Roger Ling, Charleston: Tempus, 2000, 37-46.

[4] François Chamoux writes otherwise, in L’Aurige de Delphes, Fouilles de Delphes 4.5, Paris, 1955, pl. 20. A new study of the Charioteer, directed by Sophie Descamps and Benoît Mille, will appear in 2023.

[5] Illustrated and correctly interpreted for the Artemision God by Tzachou-Alexandri, op. cit. fn. 2, figs. 5-6.

[6] See now the archival photographs reproduced by Georgianna Moraitou, “Mounting of large bronze statues for exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens: A review of 130 years in the display of bronzes”, in From Collection to Museum, Beirut: Museum of the American University of Beirut, 2020.

[7] See E. Bourguet, Les Ruines de Delphes, Paris 1914, 228 n. 1, and C. Picard, Manuel d’archéologie Grecque: La Sculpture, vol. 1, Paris 1935, 182 n. 4

[8] See essay on the Marathon Boy by Alain Pasquier in Praxitèle, eds Alain Pasquier and Jean-Luc Martinez (not, as per Dafas, Amandry et al.), exhib cat Paris: Louvre 2007, 112-115. For the Marathon Boy as a tray-bearer, see Brunilde S. Ridgway, Fourth-Century Styles in Greek Sculpture, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997, 343-344; also Gerhard Zimmer, “Klassizistische Jünglinge: Normative Menschenbilder in Umbruchphasen”, in Athen, Rom, Jerusalem: Normentransfers in der antiken Welt, eds Gian Franco Chiai, Bardo M. Gauly, Andreas Hartmann, Gerhard Zimmer, and Burkard M. Zapff, Eichstätter Studien Neue Folge vol. 66, 2012, 239-255; Carol C. Mattusch, “When a Statue Is Not a Statue”, Artistry in Bronze: The Greeks and Their Legacy, XIXth International Congress on Ancient Bronzes, eds Jens M. Daehner, Kenneth Lapatin, and Ambra Spinelli, Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute, 2017, 69-75.

[9] Cited: Anne Bouquillon, Sophie Descamps, Antoine Hermary, and Benoît Mille, “Une nouvelle Έtude de l’Apollon Chatsworth,” RA 2006,227-261.

[10] See Kenneth Lapatin, “Head of a North African Man,” Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, eds. Jens M. Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, Florence and Los Angeles: Giunti, 2015, 246-7.

[11] Simple piecing of bronze drapery is covered in, for example, Carol C. Mattusch and Henry Lie, The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, Los Angeles: Getty Museum, 2005,195-215; for sophisticated piecing in bronze, see Erik Risser and David Saunders, “Tiberius from Herculaneum: Methods of Assembling a Monumental Bronze Portrait,” Artistry in Bronze: The Greeks and Their Legacy, XIXth International Congress on Ancient Bronzes, eds Jens M. Daehner, Kenneth Lapatin, Ambra Spinelli, Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Conservation Institute, 2017, 61-68.