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Greek Mosaics, Sculpture, and Roman Taste Essay

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A Bronze Herakles in the Metropolitan Museum: Drunkard or Wrestler?

G.M.A. Richter compared the Hellenistic bronze statuette of Herakles, also known as a drunken Herakles from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to another bronze statuette in the Museo di Antichità di Parma (Italy). The author notices that Richter’s reconstruction of the arms is impossible because the tension and the bulging of the muscles are different in these two statuettes.1 The New York Herakles was most likely a part of a group since neither his face nor his posture indicates ‘drunkenness’; this Herakles is somewhat similar to a marble group depicting Heracles’ wrestle with Antaios.2 The hair, the torsos, and the legs of the statuettes are similar, although the marble group is not as finely modeled as the bronze one.3 Richter notices that New York Herakles must have wrestled too, but his hands were in another position.4 He concludes that New York Herakles is not connected to the Herakles in Parma, but most likely is a part of a group; the Libyan giant Antaios also might belong to this group.

Greek Mosaics in Their Architectural and Social Context

Pebble mosaics were widespread in Greece at the end of the fifth century BC, but nor earlier – before that, they were used as a flooring material. The tessellated mosaics became more popular than pebbled ones in the third or second century BC.5 Pebble mosaics were used in a dining room called ‘andron’. Such mosaics were waterproof and easy to clean. The ‘andron’ was often visited by guests during symposia that aimed to perfect the ties between them, while the decorations of the house were to impress the guests. Certain motifs (Dionysos and wine) could be found both in pebble and tessellated mosaics.6 Mosaics were composed in a way that all visitors could observe them; the most important person of the symposium would have had the best view. The houses in Macedonia are also examined to understand the role of mosaics. Their intention was to show the generosity of the host and emphasize the scale of the party.7Apparently, concludes the author, Hellenistic houses were more luxurious than Classical ones; the houses were decorated so that the visitors would surely pay attention to this luxury. By the second century, marble mosaic chips were also used in working areas and courts or as an imitation of luxury in the less expensive houses.8 Luxury houses were a sign of the host’s high position in social order, and exquisite mosaics were one of the several tools to prove it.

Greek Sculpture and Roman Taste

Roman sculptors often copied Greek sculptures, and such copies were sometimes an insipid example of machine work, not a masterpiece. However, some of the statues were created by brilliant artists, masters of the copying, e.g. the statue of Meleager of the Fogg Museum of Art was a copy of a work created by Skopas three hundred years earlier.9 These copies were imported to various countries and decorated luxurious houses of the wealthy. The size of the copies could vary; sometimes measurements were doubled or reduced. Some copyists (Sulla, Septimius Severus) copied statues in reverse and these works appeared to be originals. Attributes of the copies could be manipulated to create an impression that the statue was a new idea of the sculptor, e.g. Venus Genetrix is supposed to be a copy of a statue commissioned by Julius Caesar. Later copies of the Greek statues became public ornaments.10 Nevertheless, these copies remain to be the best example of the Greek sculpture and Roman taste.

Footnotes

  1. John F. Kenfield III, “A Bronze Herakles in the Metropolitan Museum: Drunkard or Wrestler?” American Journal of Archaeology 80, no. 4 (1976): 415.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 418.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ruth Westgate, “Greek Mosaics in Their Architectural and Social Context,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 42, no. 1 (1997-98): 93.
  6. Ibid., 102.
  7. Ibid., 106.
  8. Ibid., 111.
  9. Cornelius C. Vermeule, “Greek Sculpture and Roman Taste,” Boston Museum Bulletin 65, no. 342 (1967): 175.
  10. Ibid., 188.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "Greek Mosaics, Sculpture, and Roman Taste." August 10, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/greek-mosaics-sculpture-and-roman-taste/.

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