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Since the eighteenth century, Greek sculpture has been the object of something akin to idolatry, and only recently have we been able to put it more in context. This is not to say that sculpture was the only form of Greek art generally appreciated: though in 1788, Abb Barthelemy in France was content to depend on literary texts to conjure up Classical Greece in describing the travels of the young Anacharsis; as early as 1750, Soufflot was drawing the temples of Paestum and Stuart and Revett were discovering the architectural monuments of Athens. But the widespread success of Winckelmann’s books, followed in 1766 by that of Lessing’s Laocoon, with its extensive theorization of the celebrated Vatican group, served to focus interest on sculpture. It is mainly in connection with sculpture that we have tended to speak of “the Classical beauty of Greece”. It is sculpture that is currently held to be the most representative and indeed the most excellent of the arts of ancient Greece. And it is an art with which we have the good fortune to be particularly well acquainted.

This emphasis would appear to be justified. Our admiration for vase paintings and mosaics was not shared by the Greeks, who considered them of minor importance, but they really did consider sculpture to be an outstanding feature of their civilization, worthy of the critical and historical interest attested to in many texts. And whereas buildings that have survived reasonably intact are few and far between, and major paintings have virtually disappeared, works of sculpture have been preserved in vast numbers. To be convinced of this, one need only cast an eye over the reserves of a great museum such as the Louvre. Chronologically, the works extant cover a good thousand years, without a break, from Archaic times to the Imperial period, and geographically they range from the Italian colonies to Asia Minor.

To this abundance of statues, statuettes and reliefs must be added written sources of two kinds. Firstly, inscriptions on the works themselves: during the Archaic period, these were commonly engraved on the statue itself, in particular on the thigh, but are more usually found on the pedestal; this eventually became the established custom. These inscriptions give, in whole or in part, the identity of the work, the date, the name of the votary or patron, and that of the sculptor. For instance, the base reproduced on this page states that the work was offered by a certain Cleiocrateia to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone, and was the work of Praxiteles. Most statues have been separated from their original pedestals, but attempts to match them are none the less instructive, making it possible to sketch out the careers of certain artists. Secondly, there are many texts concerning sculpture and sculptors, some literary, and some in the form of inscriptions, particularly lists of wages paid. Apart from Pliny the Elder, who wrote at length on Greek statuary in bronze and marble, there are no continuous histories of Classical sculpture, but Greek and Latin writers often touched on the subject from various points of view. In the nineteenth century, the German J. Overbeck made a collection of such passages, which, though not exhaustive, runs to some three hundred pages.

Given the abundance of surviving monuments and a mass of textual information, archaeologists of Greek sculpture would appear to be in a strong position. But much more than this is required if we are to obtain a complete and reliable picture.

The first obstacle is one common to the study of all relatively ancient civilizations: the older a work, the more likely it is to have been damaged, and the less we tend to know of its date, function, and so on.

It might reasonably be claimed that the fame of the Venus de Milo is owing to the loss of her arms; from this derives her strange fascination. But, in ancient times, there was nothing unusual about her. Her arms would have been posed in natural fashion; she may have held some object in her hands. She is by no means unique in this respect. The outstretched arm of the Ephebe of Antikythera, for instance, seems to make so striking a gesture only because he was grasping or holding up for inspection something that has since disappeared. Unfortunately, the restoration of missing parts of statues is virtually impossible. In architecture, the recurrence of basic elements often means that the whole can be reconstructed from a relatively small fragment. Sculptors, on the other hand, being subject to no consistent rule, were free to impart to an arm any movement they saw fit and to place in an outstretched hand any one of a number of objects. Reconstructions are therefore a matter of conjecture. We will never solve the mystery of the arms of the Venus de Milo, unless of course the originals one day come to light! Indeed, the only hope of restoring the integrity of statues lies in identifying broken fragments. And some sharp-eyed archaeologists have achieved miracles in this field. With the gradual addition of hitherto scattered fragments, an isolated head kept at the museum in Delphi has been transformed into a statue of Dionysos, while the kneeling Gaul of Delos has recently recovered his head and shoulders. But such operations may be jeopardized by unwise interventions: in order to fit replacement parts, the Neo-Classical sculptor Thorvaldsen sawed off the broken stumps of the statues from the pediments at Aegina — now displayed in Munich — and so destroyed all possibility of restoring heads or other fragments discovered at a later date.

The mutilation of statues is particularly regrettable because it often makes identification difficult. In fact a work may fall into one iconographic category or another, depending on its proposed reconstruction: if the Outstretched arm of the Ephebe of Antikythera was brandishing the Gorgon’s head, he was a Perseus; if his curved hand was plucking an apple, he was Herakles in the Garden of the Hesperides. In the same way the great bronze found in the sea near Cape Artenissium (p. 62) is a Zeus his hand is restored to hold a thunderbolt, or a Poseidon if it is grasping a trident, for apart from any name which may be inscribed on the base of a statue, now often separated from it, it is the attributes which usually make identification possible. This loss of identity leads to a series of confusions that can sometimes affect the attribution of a work to one sculptor rather than another. The Ares Borghese will provide a good illustration when we come to discuss Classical statuary, where such difficulties most commonly arise.

Besides the problems of restoration, identification and attribution, there is the difficulty of ascertaining two other important details in the history of a work: the date and place of its origin. To take chronology first: our knowledge of Greek sculpture is now good enough for us to be able to date most works unhesitatingly to within some fifty or a hundred years. But there are always difficult cases: there has been uncertainty over the date of the Venus de Mio, the Apollo of Piombino has varied between the sixth and the first century BC, and the statues of the temple of Lykosoura have been ascribed to various dates between the second century BC and the second century AD. It would not be too unkind to say that specialists regard it as their professional duty to find reasons, whether well-founded or otherwise, for contesting the generally accepted chronology.

We shall be accepting the usual chronology here, but it must be admitted that the evidence for dating works is reliable only up to a point. Ideally, the date is indicated by a text, such as the passage in Herodotus which tells us that the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi was built around 525 BC, or it may be inscribed on the work itself, for instance in the ease of the funerary stele of Dexileos , with its inscription saying that the young man had died “during the archonship of Eubulides”, namely, very precisely, in jg BC, but such good fortune is unusual. As information provided by the context of the archaeological excavation is not much more frequent, we can date works only by their style, that is, by their resemblance to or difference from works which have definite dates. When taken to extremes by scholars who believe they can pin a date down to the decade or even the half-decade, this method can be very dangerous, because the works used as points of reference are not always incontestably dated them- wives, and most of all because stylistic similarities and differences do not necessarily depend on period. They can equally well be explained, firstly by the differences between craftsmen of varying skill, tastes and ages; although the building of the Parthenon took only fifteen years, and work on the metopes seems very likely to have been completed in an even shorter period, their style is more archaic than that of other parts of the temple. Secondly, there are regional differences: not all parts of Greece developed at the same rate, and some lagged behind others, so that stylistically similar works may be of very different dates because they were not made in the same place.

We know that artistic chronology and geography affect the dating of a work; unfortunately we do not always have a very good idea of where any individual work was .ale. Indeed, apart from those relatively numerous cases where a work has come down to us through a trade in antiquities of doubtful legality, and those who profited by I have good reason to keep quiet about provenance, the first thing we know about a work is where it was found and consequently what it was used for. Very often, of course, when it was made for an everyday purpose, it must have been made where it was found: a funerary stele found and therefore used in Boiotiu is very likely to have been carved there. However, the situation is different with more important works, for two main reasons. First, as we shall see, from archaic times onwards leading sculptors worked far from their native cities, and second, the great temples received votive offerings from many different cities, which may have produced and transported the work rather than commissioning it at its destination. On Delos, for instance, statues given by Naxians stand side by side with statues given by Parians, and only debatable differences of style allow us to distinguish them.
Over and beyond these difficulties, common to all archaeological research, the study of Greek sculpture is more specifically subject to a kind of misapprehension quite frequent in Classical studies, which inclines to sup— pose that what is available to us now was important in Classical antiquity. Pompeii, for instance, was one provincial town among many, and owes its archaeological significance solely to its exceptional state of preservation. The same applies to sculpture, from two points of view. First, we are willing to grant sculpture pre—eminence in Greek art because a great deal of it has survived; yet there are good grounds for thinking that the Greeks themselves ranked painting much higher, and very few paintings have survived. Above all, in the field of sculpture itself we tend to believe that the items now extant are the very best that were produced. We take insufficient account of two major losses — of materials that have perished, and of originals by famous sculptors — which can be assessed only by the comparison of the surviving works with the evidence of literary texts.
In the first place, some of the materials used in statuary which has perished were those most highly prized by the Greeks. White marble from Mount Pentelikos, Paros, Naxos or elsewhere — and stone in general were not as exclusively used as we might be tempted to think from what we see today in our galleries of Classical antiquities. Greek sculpture employed many other materials. Wood was used chiefly in the creation of very ancient works, mainly the cult statues often called xoana. It was also used for making an extremely famous piece which has not been preserved: a cedar-wood chest ornamented with figures of ivory and gold, presented to Olympia by Cypselos, tyrant of Corinth. The combination of gold and ivory occurs in the technique described (from the words for those two materials) as chryselephantine, and literary tradition traces its origin back to the beginnings of the Archaic period. In I this technique, a wooden core was overlaid with carved ivory representing flesh, and plates of gold representing clothing. Several cult statues of the Classical period were of chryselephantine work, among them the Zeus in the temple at Olympia and the Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon, regarded as the two masterpieces of Phidias. Then there were other metals: iron, mentioned several times in the texts; lead, used for small figurines often made for magical purposes; and above all bronze, in which most of the famous statues were cast, including the Diskobolos of Myron, the Doryphoros of Polyclitus, and the Satyr of Praxiteles. Finally, various plastic materials seem to have been in restricted use: these included clay, the usual material for figurines of the kind traditionally called Tanagra figures, but not common for large works of sculpture except in Cyprus, although there are several famous pieces such a the figure of Zeus carrying off Ganymede at Olympia, aid the head of a Theban Sphinx; and, lastly, stucco, principally used in private houses to add relief ornamentation to polychrome walls.

There is no universally accepted hierarchy of the materials used in sculpture, any more than there is of the different arts, but it is unusual for a civilization not to arrange them on a scale of values. The Greeks had their own scale; they rated chryselephantine most highly — because it was the most expensive and thus rarely used then bronze, and then possibly wood because of the great antiquity of its use in sculpture. Marble came after these. Great sculptors did of course carve some of their masterpieces in marble, and Pliny tells us that Praxiteles worked better in marble than bronze, but of the three categories into which Classical sculpture as a whole was divided, marble came last, after chryselephantine and bronze. This
suggested by its constant use for works of secondary importance: for copies of famous bronzes, which will be described below; for votive or funerary reliefs provided by minor craftsmen, no doubt at a moderate price, to anyone ‘who wanted them; and for monumental sculpture. The 6.ct that architectural sculpture was viewed as work of secondary importance often surprises non-specialists. For instance, we customarily associate the statues on the pediments of the Parthenon and the Panathenaic frieze with the name of Phidias. However, though Phidias oversaw the construction of the Parthenon, his own contribution was the chryselephantine Athena Parthenon, and there is evidence that he worked on the architectural decoration of the temple. In fact it is unusual for Classical authors to give the names of the sculptors of pedimental statues, as they do in crediting those of the temple of Zeus at Olympia to Paionios and Alkamenes information provided by Pausanias and often disputed by modern scholars, who regard it as retrospective local glorification of the pediments — or in attributing the statue of the temple of Tegea to Skopas. The names of those men who carved the reliefs on friezes are not given at all.

So what is left? Wood is preserved only in very dry or very wet soil, and only a few remnants of wooden sculpture survive, including a large statuette from Samos. Very little chryselephantine statuary remains: the combination of ivory and gold was very fragile — in the middle of the Hellenistic period, the inventories of the temple treasuries at Delos tell us that a piece of gold had already come away from the statue of Apollo and when paganism came to an end it was tempting to reuse these two precious materials. We still have various small ivories and plaques of worked gold, but of the vast chryselephantine statues mentioned and sometimes described in ancient texts, the only parts now extant are three heads and some other life size Archaic fragments, much restored, which were discovered at Delphi in a trench dug beneath the Sacred Way. Finally bronze easy to melt and therefore to recycle for other purposes has largely disappeared. We owe the preservation of bronzes to special circumstances. The Charioteer of Delphi was found where it had been buried ever since Classical rimes; the Zeus of Cape Artemisium, the Ephebc of Antikythera and the Ephebe of Marathon , and the two statues more recently Wound off Riace owe their survival only to the shipwreck of the vessels taking them to Rome. In contrast to the almost total disappearance of any chryselephantine work and the rarity of sculpture using wood and bronze, thousands of marble works fill our museums. In short, the material most commonly found today was regarded as relatively .mediocre in Classical antiquity. Unfortunately for the archaeology of Greek sculpture, the durability of materials is in inverse proportion to their status in ancient times.

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