Greek or Roman?
Today you can phone up the British Museum and ask to put through to the “Greek and Roman” section as if the arts of those countries were inseparable. This coupling of Greek and Roman art began in the 18th century when archaeological studies were embryonic in nature and were conducted without much interest in historical chronology. For many people living in the age of neoclassicism, the word “Greek” was used to cover Roman art as well, which was typical of the unhistorical approach that marked the study of the antique in this time. Gradually, a more sophisticated view would be taken of the relationship between Greek and Roman art, as is shown by an extract from the Journal of the French romantic painter, Eugene Delacroix. The distasteful view of Roman art has never really gone away:
“That sense of taste perished amongst the ancients, not as fashion changes- a thing that is always happening with us, and for no valid reason- but along with their customs and institutions when it became imperative to please Barbarian conquerors (such as the Romans were in relation to the Greeks).”
Thus to Delacroix, the Romans themselves marked the start of a decline in the arts, especially emperors like Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, here on his death bed, which was the product of a debased society in which the public virtue that moved men to high endeavours disappeared, unlike Greek society. The pessimistic tone is Delacroix’s own, but the distinction between Greek and Roman culture makes one wonder if he knew about cultural variation through the archaeological work of Winckelmann who had written a History of Ancient Art which covered the art of Egypt, Greece, Etruria and Rome. As a painter growing up in the world of the neoclassical studio, Delacroix would have been aware of Winckelmann’s writings on Greek and Roman art, which surely educated him in the distinctions between the arts of different civilisations. Winckelmann and Visconti (closely linked with the Vatican collections) were of paramount importance in establishing a scientific accurate method when dealing with art of the Greco-Roman world. When reading through Haskell and Penny’s Taste and the Antique, one usually learns that it was two scholars who provided the most plausible and durable interpretation of a statue.
Sites of Interest.
As Irwin states, this desire for archaeological accuracy was paralleled by the visual recording of ancient sites. As we’ve seen, Panini was extremely skilled at this and his views of Roman monuments provided both scholars and the public with an overview of the ancient world and its arts. Panini and others, who painted, sketched or engraved sites of archaeological importance were part of the phenomenon known as the “Grand Tour.” Travellers visiting Italy sought out the three great artistic centres of Italy: Rome, Florence and Naples. Florence was the home of the Tribuna picture gallery, and such celebrated marbles as the Venus de Medici, which Napoleon pursued with as much energy as Hitler did with the Discobolus of Myron- see below. Naples was also important; the site of a dynamic art movement stimulated by the viceroys who governed the city. However, to tourists on the grand tour, artists, archaeologists and those fascinated by the civilizations of the ancient world, Rome would be the city of choice. With its sad grandeur, its palpable atmosphere of ancient times, and the beautiful sculpture gardens of the Pope and other Roman collectors, the city would prove irresistible to those thirsting for the art of the ancient world. Winckelmann’s scholarship would have only been known to the classical educated elite, and many of the visitors strolling through the sculpture galleries would have regarded Roman copies of Greek sculpture as “Greek.” That attitude has long been under revision with modern experts on Roman sculpture focusing on “Roman copies of Greek sculpture” as illustrations of Roman art. A selection of these from the Vatican and Roman collections will be considered after a look at Roman copies of Greek originals!
A Note on Greek Sculpture.
Greek sculpture is an immensely complex subject. There are several good, manageable introductions like Boardman’s little Thames and Hudson handbooks, each dealing with the main styles and periods of Greek sculpture; and books by R.M. Cook and Nigel Spivey. At the risk of oversimplifying, there are three main periods: archaic; classical; late classical and Hellenistic, though the last two are sometimes used interchangeably. Archaic sculpture (c. 660–580 ) was inspired by Egyptian art. The archaic style has the same monumental, free-standing, static type as the statues of the pharaohs. The expression is abstract; there is no attempt to convey a state of mind or an emotion. The archaeological museums and sculpture galleries in Rome do not have many examples of this period’s art, so the gap has been filled with the Kleobis and Biton (above) kouroi from Delphi. The “Classical” period covers the 5th century in Greece; a definition of the classical style is best left to John Boardman:
“We do well to remind ourselves that in this century and in Greece, for the first time in the history of man, artists succeeded in reconciling a strong sense of form with total realism, that they both consciously sought the ideal in figure representation, and explored the possibilities of rendering emotion, mood, even the individuality of portraiture. It marks a critical stage which determined that one culture at least in man’s history was to adopt a wholly new approach to the function and expression of its visual arts.”
Examples of classical period sculpture in Rome include the “Ludovisi Throne,” the Discobulos, or discus thrower of the sculptor Myron, and the so-called “Penelope”. The third period is called by Boardman the “late- classical”, which overlaps with what is usually called “Hellenistic” to reflect the spread of Greek art to the colonies and islands. The “late-classical” and “Hellenistic” periods were the most known epochs to the curators of the Vatican and other sculpture galleries. Under this label can be grouped the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoön, the Ludovisi Mars, and the Hermes Ludovisi, which inspired a portrait of the Emperor Augustus. During the Hellenistic period, Greek art became increasingly diverse appearing in such Greek centres as Alexandria, Antioch, Pergamum and other cities. By the 2nd century A.D. the burgeoning Roman Empire would assimilate most of Greek art, and with Delacroix’s observation in mind, debase the purity of Greek art by pandering to the tastes of a corrupt society.
A Note on Roman Sculpture.
As Diana Kleiner points out in her beautifully illustrated survey of Roman sculpture, Rome was once an empire and is now a metropolis; hence sculptural remains of both the city and the civilization need to be examined. Roman sculpture as a subject is vast, and as the empire stretched from the British Isles to North Africa and the Middle East, its art is heterogeneous. Roman art was influenced by other cultures, Greek of course, and Etruscan which it eventually shook off. If sculpture presents problems, it is doubly so for Roman painting. Hardly any has survived, and what remains is just a fraction of the art produced. Before art at Pompeii came to light, the only Roman painting known was the Aldobrandini Wedding, a wall painting dating from the time of Augustus. Where Roman sculpture was concerned, a “distinctive manner” emerged during the last two centuries before Christ. Apart from connoisseurship of the sculpture itself, helpful Information is found in such authorities as Pliny the Elder, medieval scholars, and of course renaissance humanists eager to dig up the ancient world and use its culture to define themselves. Though most of the Greek sculpture owned by the Vatican and other museums fall into the category of “Roman copies after Greek originals,” such works have been “evaluated as works of Roman art and of illustrations of the Roman taste of a given period.” For convenience, Roman sculpture can be divided up into the following categories, though these inevitably overlap. Firstly monuments including triumphant arches and columns, such as the Marcus Aurelius reliefs. Secondly, portraiture, both imperial and those of other classes. Thirdly, free-standing sculpture such as the statue of Augustus in the Vatican and the Ludovisi Group in the Terme. Fourthly, relief sculpture including scenes of everyday life, tombstones and religious objects.
1) G.P. Panini, Roman Capriccio: The Pantheon and Other Monuments, 1735, Oil on canvas, 99 x 135 cm, Museum of Art, Indianapolis.
2) Hubert Robert, An Artist Drawing in the Capitoline Museums, 1765, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, red chalk, 18 x 13 ¼ inches.
3) G.B. Piranesi, Paestum (nr Naples), Temple of Neptune, 1778, etching, 45.3 x 67.8 cm.
4) Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784, Oil on canvas, 330 x 425 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
5) Kleobis and Biton, kouroi of the Archaic period, c. 580 BCE, over 7 feet high, Delphi Archaeological Museum. Notes. According to Herodotus (1. 31) Kleobis and Biton were illustrations given by Solon to Croesus of what sort of men could be considered truly happy; for the wealth they possessed was sufficient for them; in addition to which they had great strength of body. (Pollitt). “ Kleobis example of the early Archaic style of about 600 B.C; better preserved of the pair. (Cook).
6) Discobolus, marble, height (excluding modern plinth) 1.55 m, Museo Nazionale Romano (Museo delle Terme). (H/P 32). Notes. Discovered on 14th March 1781 at the Villa Palombara on the Esquiline Hill. Famous despite being a copy of a bronze statue by Myron described by Lucian and Quintilian. “..bent over into a throwing position” (Lucian). “Discobolus of Myron” (Quintilian) Eagerly pursued by Adolf Hitler who eventually secured it. Inspired Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the Olympic Games in 1936. Excited archaeologists and art lovers alike. Pater said it conveyed the “unspoiled body of youth.” Myron was most famous for a statue of a heifer; he also made a Discus Thrower, a Perseus, a dog and sea monsters.
7) Athena/Minerva Giustiniani, marble, height, 2.23 m, Museo Vaticani, (Braccio Nuovo), Rome. (H/P no. 63), probably an Antonine adaptation of a bronze original of the 4th century B.C. First recorded in a set of engravings of the G collection (1631). Bought by Lucien Bonaparte in 1805 and installed in his coll in Rome. Sold to Pius VII and installed in the extended wing of the BN. In Perrier’s Segmenta, but not mentioned by Viscounti or Winckelmann, much to Goethe’s surprise who admired it. Said in the late 17th century to have been found in the Orto di Minerva, adjacent to the Church of Santa Maria Minerva, the site of a temple of Minerva erected in 62 B.C. by Pompey the Great. Minerva Medica, with the snake associated with Aesculapius the god of healing. Said to have had healing powers; superstitious used to kiss the statue’s hand.
8) Hermes Ludovisi, copy of an original of about 420-10 B.C., Museo Nazionale delle Terme, Rome. Notes. Originally carried a caduceus in the crook of his left arm; gesture of right hand (restored after other copies) is beckoning. Identified as Hermes Psychopompos, leader of souls and attributed to a monument in Athens for the men fallen at Koroneia (477). Otherwise known as Hermes Logios. The type was used for an Augustan portrait of Germanicus (Louvre, H/P no. 42).
9) Germanicus, marble, height 1.80 m, Paris, Museé du Louvre, (H/P, no. 42), inscribed in Greek by “Cleomenes, son of Cleomenes, Athenian,” could be a portrait statue of the young Augustus in the type of Hermes created in the early classical period around 460 B.C. Notes. First recorded in the form of a bronze copy made for Philip IV of Spain. Velasquez saw it in Rome, but then it was sold to Louis XIV much to the pope’s consternation. With its removal to France it became famous as well as ushering in countless speculation about its identity and the subject. Bellori (1664) called it a “nude Augustus”, but in the same year the English traveller Skippon called it a “Germanicus.” The sporting enthusiast Peter Beckford said it showed the general playing “Mora”, probably to his troops. On a more erudite level, Visconti connected it with the Mercury in the Ludovisi collection, especially as the tortoise was a symbol of the god. Visconti thought was a Roman general, of whom he mentioned a number, to whom the Greeks might have felt gratitude. More interpretations were tried but now it’s considered to be a portrait of the young Augustus.
10) Apoxyomenos (athlete scraping himself), about 330 B.C., copy of a bronze original made by Lysippus, Vatican Museums, Rome. Notes. Presents a clear break with frontal conventions and “demonstrates the new, slim, relatively small-headed canon.” Wether the figure was meant to be seen in the round is debatable. (Boardman). Pliny says there was “a youth scraping himself with strigil, which Marcus Agrippa dedicated in front of his baths and which the Emperor Tiberius was astonishingly fond of.” (Pollitt).
11) Ludovisi Throne, probably the Birth of Aphrodite, about 460 B.C. Museo Nazionale Romano (Museo delle Terme).
12) Unknown artist, Dancing Maenad, copy of original of 400 B.C., Rome, Capitoline.
13) Dying Gladiator, marble, height (with plinth), 0.93 m, length of plinth, 1.865 m, breadth, 0. 89 m, Museo Capitolini, Rome.
14) The Aldobrandini wedding, detail, wall painting cut from a late 1st century Roman house in 1601, Vatican Museums, Rome. Notes. Interpretations. Peleus and Thetis (Winckelmann), Alexander and Roxanne (Dutens), scene from Euripides’s Hippolytus (Muller).
15) Ludovisi Group, Papirius and his Mother, or Orestes and Electra by Menelaos (Sch of Pasiteles), last quarter of the first century B.C., Museo Nazionale delle Terme, Rome, “very skilful and eclectic work derived in part from Greek funerary art of the fourth century B.C, but itself dating from not earlier than the first century B.C.” (H/P no. 71). “voluminously draped woman’s posture and head are based on different late fourth century prototypes, while the boy’s body type and head find their closest parallels in Hellenistic sculpture.” (Kleiner). First recorded in 1623. Purchased by Italian government in 1901 and moved to the MN. Identification crisis.
16) John Singleton Copley, Mr and Mrs Ralph Izard (Alice Delancey), 1775, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, oil on canvas, 69 x 88 ½ inches (175. 3 x 224.8 cm).
17) Pompeo Batoni, A Knight in Rome: Charles Cecil Roberts, 1778, Oil on canvas, 221 x 157 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid
18) Ludovisi Mars, marble, height, 1.56 m, Museo Nazionale delle Terme, Rome, copy of the Antonine period of an original statue of Mars invented by both Scopas and Lysippus; a cupid was originally part of the statue, but this on is a late addition by Bernini . (H/P no. 58). Notes. Acq by Ludovisi about 1622. Rediscovered in 1622, the sculpture was apparently originally part of the temple of Mars (founded in 132 BCE in the southern part of the Campus Martius), of which few traces remain, for it was recovered near the site of the church of San Salvatore in Campo. Pietro Santi Bartoli recorded in his notes that it had been found near the Palazzo Santa Croce in Rione Campitelli during the digging of a drain. (Haskell and Penny 1981:260) The sculpture found its way into the collection formed by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi (1595–1632) the nephew of Pope Gregory XV at the splendid villa and gardens he built near Porta Pinciana, on the site where Julius Caesar and his heir, Octavian (Caesar Augustus), had had their villa. Included in Perrier; one of the casts made by Velasquez for Philip IV; French sought to get a cast of it too. Generally admired, especially the repose of the God (Winckelmann). For some reason it got linked with Commodus, son of Faustina and Marcus Aurelius, mainly for his gladiatorial antics.
20) Pompeo Batoni, Portrait of John Talbot, later 1st Earl Talbot, Oil on canvas, 108 x 71 3/4 in, Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
21) Apollo Belvedere, catalogued as copy of the early Hadrianic period of a bronze original by Leochares. A drawing made before 1509 records the Apollo in the garden of San Pietro in Vincoli, that is in the garden of Cardinal Giuilano della Rovere. Recorded in the Vatican by 1509, and in the Belvedere by 1511. It was in a niche by 1523, and remained there until it went to Paris in 1798. Earliest copy is a small bronze statuette at the Ca d’Oro in Venice. Many copies made from the 1540s and universally celebrated right into the nineteenth-century. Schiller rhapsodized about “this celestial mixture of accessibility and severity, benevolence and gravity, majesty and mildness.” In early drawings much of the left forearm and some of the right hand are missing, but additions were made in the 18th century. Reynolds wanted to refute the idea that the antomy was distorted, but he always maintained the statue was ideal. Winckelmann went completely over the top saying that the statue had been removed from Greece by Nero, and Augustus had had it taken to Apollo’s temple at Delphi. Benjamin West the American artist compared the Apollo to a Mohawk. Noble savage idea. Flaxman argued that it was even better than the Theseus on the Elgin Marbles. However French students in early-nineteenth century Paris dismissed the statue as a “scraped turnip”.
22) Funerary relief of Lucius Vibius and Vecilia Hila, 13 B.C.- A.D. 5, Museo Vaticani, (Galleria Chiaramonti), Rome. Notes. Lucius Vibius, freeborn son of LV and a member of the Tromentina tribe. Man’s portrait is in the veristic style of the Republic. Depicted as balding (like Julius Ceasar), has the sunken cheeks of the characteristic death mask type. Vecilia Hila wears a version of the nodus hairstyle favoured by Livia. The retrograde C following Vecilia’s name indicates she was freed by a woman. Between the couple is a bust portrait of their son, Lucius Vibius Felicius Felix.
23) Portrait of the young Marcus Aurelius, marble, Capitoline Museum, Rome, c. 140 A.D. Notes. Capitoline Museum Galleria 28 type.
24) Marcus Aurelius reliefs, marble: Clementia; Triumph; Sacrifice; Hadrianic relief, Museo Capitolini, Rome. (H/P no. 56).
25) Portrait of Marcus Aurelius, marble, 170-180 A.D., Rome, Museo Capitolino, Rome. Notes. Capitoline Imperatore 38 type. Same physiognomy as in youthful portraits: oval face, almond shaped eyes, aquiline nose, arched brows, semi-closed eyelids, drilled pupils and irises- but with a long and full beard. Hair extensively drilled so more shadow than curls. (Kleiner).
26) Portrait of Commodus, 180s, Vatican Museums, Sala dei Busti, .Notes. Whereas the reign of Marcus Aurelius had been marked by almost continuous warfare, that of Commodus was comparatively peaceful in the military sense but was marked by political strife and the increasingly arbitrary and capricious behaviour of the emperor himself. In the view of Dio Cassius, a contemporary observer, his accession marked the descent "from a kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron" – a famous comment which has led some historians, notably Edward Gibbon, to take Commodus's reign as the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. “Depicted as a somewhat older man, with a moustache and plastically rendered but short beard. His hair is as curly and tousled as in the Capitoline head, but the locks are arranged in a more haphazard manner over his forehead. Commodus’s arrogant personality is captured by the artist. (Kleiner).
27) Commodus as Hercules, marble, height, 2.12 m, Vatican Museums (Galleria Chiaramonti), Rome. (H/P no. 25). Disdaining the more philosophic inclinations of his father, Commodus was extremely proud of his physical prowess. He was generally acknowledged to be extremely handsome. As mentioned above, he ordered many statues to be made showing him dressed as Hercules with a lion's hide and a club. He thought of himself as the reincarnation of Hercules, frequently emulating the legendary hero's feats by appearing in the arena to fight a variety of wild animals. He was left-handed, and very proud of the fact. Cassius Dio and the writers of the Augustan History say that Commodus was a skilled archer, who could shoot the heads off ostriches in full gallop, and kill a panther as it attacked a victim in the arena. (Kleiner).
28) Commodus as Hercules, marble, Capitoline Museum, Rome, c. 191-2. Notes. Discovered, along with two tritons in the Villa Palombara on the Esquiline in 1874. “Commodus is depicted with his long, oval face, arched brows, and half closed eyes, large nose, small mouth and arrogant expression.” Hesperides. Herculean subject matter- three signs of the Zodiac. Bull, Capricorn and the Scorpion. These signs refer to October, a month connected with important events in the Emperor’s life, also a month he renamed after Hercules. The amazon and pelta refer to Rome’s barbarian enemies, over which C has triumphed, and has brought peace and prosperity, symbolized by the cornucopia to the Empire (orb). Commodus was fond of dressing as Hercules and he saw himself as a God on earth. (Augustan Histories).
29) Eugene Delacroix, Marcus Aurelius’s last words to his Son Commodus, 1844, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, oil on canvas, 348 cm × 260 cm (137 in × 100 in). Notes. The first text which speaks of the painting is the catalogue of the Salon of 1845 where it was exposed, which reads: "The figure of Marcus Aurelius, indeed sick and almost dying, seems to us in a too early decomposing state; the shades of green and yellow which hammer his face give him a quite cadaverous appearance", "some draperies may be too crumpled" and "some attitudes show a lack of nobility". The work received mostly negative reviews, but the writer Charles Baudelaire appreciated it and said: "A beautiful, huge, sublime, misunderstood picture [...]. The color [...], far from losing its cruel originality in this new and more complete scene, is still bloody and terrible".
30) Massive head of Constantine, from the Basilica Nova, marble, Capitoline Museum, Rome, c. 315-30.Notes. Head, along with other fragments of its arms, hands, and legs belonged to a thirty-foot seated statue of the emperor that occupied the west apse of the Basilica of Maxentius-Constantine. It was found in the building’s ruins in 1486. In 1951 the left breast of the statue in the basilica’s west apse was discovered- this indicated the figure had a nude chest. Contantine would have been shown in the traditional Jupiter pose. (Kleiner).
31) Same, hand.
 David Irwin, Neoclassicism, (Oxford, 1997), 27.
 Delacroix, Journal, 4th February, 1857.
 See the discussion in Michele Hanoosh, Painting and the Journal of Eugène Delacroix, (Princeton, 1995), 152 f.
 See for instance 22nd March, 1850.” India, Egypt, Nineveh and Babylon, Greece and Rome… all that has perished, leaving almost no trace; but that little bit that has remained is yet our whole heritage; we owe to those ancient civilizations our arts…the few correct ideas that we have about everything; the small principles that govern us still in the sciences, the art of medicine, the art of governing, of building, even of thinking.”
 Irwin, Neoclassicism, 27.
 R.M. Cook, Greek Art: Its Development, Character and Influence (London, 1972; Nigel Spivey, Greek Art (Oxford, 1997).
 John Boardman, Greek Sculpture: The Classical Period: A Handbook, (London, 1985), 7.
 John Boardman, Greek Sculpture: The Late-Classical Period: A Handbook, (London, 1995).
 Diana E.E. Kleiner, Roman Sculpture (New Haven, 1992), 2.
 Ibid, 15.