Greek Originals and Roman Copies

Anna Anguissola

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Greek Originals and Roman Copies

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The label “Roman copy after a Greek original” can be found in museums throughout the world on most Roman sculptures that portray deities, heroes, or athletes. Its origin goes back to the early 18th century, when learned travelers such as Joseph Addison and Jonathan Richardson Jr. first conjectured that most ancient statues known in their time were Roman copies after lost Greek prototypes. This idea held a central role in Winckelmann’s account of Classical art, destined to have a deep influence on later scholarship. By the mid-19th century, piecing together traces of the lost Greek works of art through their alleged Roman replicas (a method better known under the name of Kopienkritik) had become a compelling task for experts on ancient art. The practice of looking through the works of the Roman period in search of their models betrays a simplistic view of the relationship between Greek and Roman art. During the late 20th century, a parallel evolution of Greek and Roman archaeology led, on the one hand, to deemphasizing the role of copies for the history of Greek art and, on the other, to their rediscovery in the sphere of Roman civilization. Since the 1970s, historians of Roman art have underlined the importance of viewing images created according to Greek styles and iconographies as genuine expressions of Roman culture, interests, and values. The study of the “ideal sculpture” (in German, Idealplastik, i.e., statues that are “Greek” in form and content, although not replicating a specific prototype) has provided new categories to distinguish “real copies” from “creative imitations,” which also rely on prior tradition but have a very different indebtedness to their antecedents. Today, one of the first notions that a student of archaeology learns is that quotations of Greek sculptural styles, masters, and masterpieces played a central role within Roman culture and provided the visual translation for a tight semantics of “new Roman” values and qualities. Such issues, however, are far from being so schematic. Displaying the copy or imitation of an ancient masterpiece implied several stages of recollection, each of which could apply to different viewers, providing them with a comparable variety of ideas. Notwithstanding a number of recent publications, workshops, and roundtables on imitation in Roman art, several issues have remained open to debate and new investigation. How did workshop practices, regional traditions, and trade influence the individual features of items belonging to a larger replica series? To what degree were copies valued as works of art in their own right? Are copies a mirror for the dialectics of emulation between contemporary artists and their ancient sources? At the opposite end of this story, how present (both physically and ideologically) were real Greek originals in the towns, gardens, and private dwellings of the Roman world? How did the markets for “antiques,” copies, and “archaizing/classicizing modern creations” coexist?

Article.  18165 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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