18 jul. 2011

Originals and copies.


The Romans admired Greek art, but used it in different ways. Contemporary scholarship has made much of the influence of the Greek legacy on Roman art, and this is a significant factor not only in sculpture but in painting and temple architecture. Artists from Hellenistic world came to work to Rome, while Greek works of art were imported in vast numbers as the spoils of war. Roman patricians were very keen to acquire works of this kind. In the first centuries of Roman civilization, Hellenistic art alone was regarded as worthy os esteem and the superiority of the Greeks was overestimated. The Roman craftsman was thought to have difficulty in imitating Greek work and to be quite incapable of creating anything of equal merit. Many sources bear witness to debates of this kind among the intellectual élite, and to the high prices fetched by works of art imported as war booty. In 146 AD, for example, after the fall of Corinth, many statues were brought to Rome and some were even distributed to other Italian cities. The architect Hermodorus of Salamis and several famous sculptors arrived at about the same time.

Despite the influx of original Greek works and the presence of Greek artists in the two centuries before Christ, Roman art was nevertheless acquiring an identity of its own. This was already apparent in architecture. It is a fact that no Greek building was ever really dismantled and transported to Rome. And despite close observation of Greek models, evident in Vitruvius, Roman architectural categories, being essentially functional, were not the same.

In the field of sculpture, and specially statuary, the study of Greek works, during the Imperial period in particular, resulted in Roman sculptors adopting a threefold approach: interpretatio, imitatio, aemulatio. Indeed, in attempting to tease out the originally of Roman art, we must not forget that under the cuirass of the Augustus of Prima Porta lurks the Doryphoros of Polyclitus, or that the Belvedere Apollo was inspired by Apollo the Archer from Asia Minor.

There are few Roman works modelled on Archaic masterpieces. The Webb head in the British Museum, carved in the Flavian period, is a direct imitation of the statue of Athenean Tyrannicide Harmodios by Antenor, thus contradicting the view that no copies were made of statues dating from before the late sixth century BC.

The copying and interpreting of models is a constant factor in art, and the influence of famous monuments can clarify the relationship between one work and another.

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