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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Early Hellenistic Coins from Rhodes

In the course of his conquests (336-323) Alexander the Great set up many mints (26 are known) to turn the booty captured from the Persian Empire into coins for his soldiers. His silver issues used the same basic design: on the obverse the head of Heracles wearing the lion’s skin and on the reverse the hero’s father Zeus, sitting on his throne and holding his scepter and eagle. Even after 323 BC, these “Alexanders” continued to be struck on a large scale (the last ones were issued as late as 65 BC). Instantly recognized and widely accepted, the posthumous coinage of Alexander served as the de facto standard in the Hellenistic economy.

While most cities in Asia Minor were following this trend, moving away from their own distinctive coinages toward that of their Macedonian conqueror, a few continued to produce their own civic issues. One of them was Rhodes, the largest and most important of the islands off the southern coast of Asia Minor (the Dodecanese) and indeed one of the great commercial powers of the eastern Mediterranean.

The coin shown above is a silver didrachm (worth two drachmae) dating from the second half of the third century or perhaps somewhat later. The obverse shows the head of Helios, the god of the sun and the patron deity of Rhodes. The god’s pose is nearly frontal. His head is surrounded by rays of light.

The poet Pindar, in an ode (Olympian 7) that was monumentalized in gold letters inside the Temple of Athena at Lindos, one of the island’s cities, tells how Helios came to be the island’s patron. The myth begins long ago, just after the defeat of the Titans. When the three sons of Cronus and Rhea cast lots for their portions of the world, with Zeus receiving the sky, Poseidon the sea, and Hades the underworld, Helios happened to be absent (for he was busy giving light and warmth to the world) and so received no realm. When he complained, Zeus offered to recast the lots, but Helios said that he would be content to have a certain island that he, the all-seeing god, knew was soon to emerge from the sea and destined to be “rich in nurture for men and kindly to their flocks,” i.e., fertile. Zeus nodded and Helios “mingled in love with Rhodes and sired seven sons whose minds were subtler than any of that day,” three of whom in turned sired the eponyms of the island’s greatest cities, Kamiros, Ialysos, and Lindos.

On the reverse, within a circle of dots, is the emblem of Rhodes, the rose (rhodon in Greek, which of course lies at the root of the name of Helios’s bride and the island itself). Above is the name of the Rhodian magistrate in charge of minting the coin, one Aristokritos. Below the rose is the abbreviated ethnic: the first two letters, rho and omicron, of the Greek place name ΡΟΔΟΣ (Rhodes). In the field to the right is a single rosebud on a stem with long tendrils; its stem crosses that of the central rose, terminating just below the first letter of the abbreviated ethnic. In the field to the left is an aphlaston (also called an aplustre), an ornament capping the stem or stern of ship.

A stylized representation of a many-beaked bird’s head with a long history (for which see Wachsmann 163-197), the aphlaston was a symbol of naval strength (hence the practice, widely attested in the ancient world, of cutting off and displaying the aphlaston of an enemy ship as a sort of trophy). The image to the right is of a rock carving at Lindos, with an inscription recording a naval victory.

Hoffmann (119ff.) sketches the iconography of Helios down to the third century and beyond. From ca. 500 BC the god appears on Attic vases as a youthful charioteer with a nimbus; by ca. 450 BC he has lost his beard. An red-figure calyx-krater dating from ca. 430 BC depicts a beardless youth wearing a solar disc and emerging from the Ocean in his four-horse chariot (cf. the image; the boys represent stars).

Rhodian coinage from the end of the fifth century shows a youth with radiating curls suggesting flames. The great sculptor Lysippus of Sicyon was especially noted for his statue of Helios driving his four-horse chariot at Rhodes (Pliny, Natural History 34.63), which, though lost, is known from copies and imitations, the best of which may be this metope (right) from the Temple of Athena at Troy (ca. 300-280).

Then there was Lysippus’s pupil, Chares of Lindos, who produced the huge statue we know as the Colossus of Rhodes (on which more below). One may, it is true, detect shifts in the iconography of Helios over time--in particular the influence of the portraiture of Alexander in the “long wavy strands centrally parted and falling like a shaggy mane along the sides of the face” as well as fuller cheeks and heavier brows and chin (Hoffmann 121). Yet the basic scheme did not change: a beardless youth adorned with his chief attribute, rays of light around the head.

Now let us look at another, earlier Rhodian issue:

The head of Helios on this silver didrachm, unlike the one we have considered hitherto, is shown in profile and wears a radiate taenia (a rayed band). Why the profile pose? Was it to draw attention to the radiate taenia? Richard Ashton thinks so. He argues that the series to which it belonged was struck between 304 and 265 BC for a special purpose: to pay for the construction of that huge bronze statue by Chares of Lindos mentioned above, the Colossus of Rhodes. The Rhodians were grateful to their patron god for protecting them when their city was besieged by Demetrios Poliorketes (Demetrios the Besieger--the name is ironic, since the siege was a failure). When Demetrios left in 304 BC, the proceeds from the sale of the siege towers he left behind--300 talents--were used to pay for the Colossus. If Ashton is right, Helios on the coins in this series is a reflection of the Colossus--in effect an advertisement for the project and a commemoration of it. And it deserved the attention. After all, it counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ashton may be right. But the truth is that the coinage tells us little about the Colossus that we did not already know: the god was shown as a beardless youth wearing a radiate crown. A relief (right) found on Rhodes, if it really “gives us an almost contemporary picture of the Colossus,” as Herbert Maryon believes, has the god shading his eyes with his right hand, gazing into the distance, with a piece of drapery hanging from his pendant left arm. Maryon argues that the drapery serves to mask a structural support.

Maryon's reconstruction is shown to the left. It should be noted, however, that the relief on which it is based has been dismissed as a generic self-crowning athlete by Reynold Higgins (134). The Colossus collapsed during the earthquake of 226 BC and remained on the ground for the next nine centuries.

The story of the island’s beginnings told of Helios’s devotion to it (as his chosen realm and even as his bride); Demetrius’s failed assault at the end of the fourth century seemed a confirmation of his favor. In turn the Rhodians showed their devotion to their patron deity by retaining their traditional Helios coinage despite the general trend toward "Alexanders" and even by commissioning an unprecedented monument to him, which may have been reflected in a special coin series emphasizing the god’s radiate crown.

  • Ashton Richard H. J. “Rhodian coinage and the Colossus.” Revue Numismatique, 30 (1988) 75-90.
  • Higgins, Reynold. “The Colossus of Rhodes,” in Peter Clayton and Martin Price, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (1990) 124-137.
  • Hoffmann, Herbert. “Helios.” Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 2 (1963) 117-124.
  • Howgego, Christopher. Ancient History From Coins. 1995.
  • Maryon, Herbert. “The Colossus of Rhodes.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 76 (1956) 68-86.
  • Nisetich, Frank. Pindar’s Victory Songs. 1980.
  • Thoneman, Peter. The Hellenistic World: Using Coins as Sources. 2015.
  • Wachsmann, Shelley. Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. 1998.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Forum Transitorium

It is late in the reign of Domitian (ruled AD 81-96). The emperor Domitian is about to make a major change in the area of the Imperial Fora. Between the Forum Augusti and Forum Iulium on the one side and his father Vespasian’s Templum Pacis on the other was a very old street, the Argiletum, which ran from the Subura to the center of the city, entering the old Forum between the Basilica Aemilia and the Curia. Like the Subura, the Argiletum was crowded, noisy, smelly, and disreputable, as least in the eyes of authors such as Juvenal and Martial.  A new temple precinct would put an end to all such commercial activity there.

One of Martial's poems (1.117) offers evidence that in AD 85 or 86 the new forum had not yet been built there. This passage is taken as a terminus post quem for Domitian’s intervention.

What Domitian decided to do was to monumentalize the Argiletum where it passed between the Forum Augusti, Forum Iulium, and Templum of Pacis.  He would build a new forum there, with a temple dedicated to Minerva, his patron goddess.  The forum was still under construction at the time of his assassination in AD 96 and was completed by his successor Nerva in AD 97: hence it is also known as the Forum Nervae.  But others call it the Forum Transitorium or Forum Pervium, to emphasize its continued use as the main thoroughfare between the Subura and the old Forum.  Just what name Domitian would have given his new forum will never be known, for the name was erased along with all other public mentions of his existence when the Senate officially condemned his memory in a damnatio memoriae.

The new forum was about 120 meters long but only 45 meters wide.  On its long sides it shared walls with the adjacent Forum Iulium, Forum Augusti, and Templum Pacis, and on each of its crescent-shaped short sides there was a gate, for this forum was to remain a thoroughfare.  Wheel ruts in the paving in front of the gate next to the temple may go back to antiquity.  If it was the smallest of the imperial fora, it was perhaps also the most frequently trodden.  A semicircular portico, the Porticus Absidata, was added behind the temple to serve as a grand entrance into the new forum from the side of the Subura.

At its northeast end stood a small temple to Minerva.  It was still in good shape in the seventeenth century, when it was removed to be reused elsewhere.  But the Marble Plan shows that it was hexastyle prostyle.  There was an apse at the rear of the cella for the cult statue of the goddess.

The narrowness of the space meant that there was no room for covered colonnades.  The Forum Iulium and the Forum Augusti and the Templum Pacis (with the exception of its northwest wall--a point to which we shall return) all had covered colonnades.  No room here for those, so the architect had a problem.  The solution was to set the columns close to the wall, with the entablature and attic projecting out from the wall over each of them.  The colonnade thus created cannot said to be “engaged” in the proper sense, since the column itself is not so attached to the wall that a part of its circumference is cut off by the line of the wall; instead, the column stands free but is attached to the wall by the entablature and the attic acting as a sort of bracket.

This is the first example of this bracketing in the extant remains of Roman architecture.  There is evidence for this development that’s a bit earlier in a painting, in Cubiculum 16 of the Pompeian Villa of the Mysteries, which of course must have been produced before AD 79, shown in the picture above.

Along each long side slender Corinthian columns of Phrygian purple marble created bays.  About eleven meters of the wall and two columns have been preserved.  The photo shows how much lower the ground was two millennia ago.  This ruin is known today rather unflatteringly as Le Colonnacce, “those ugly columns.”

The wall is tufa (peperino), with some of the marble lining still in place.  On the projecting entablatures above the columns and continuing along the wall between the columns is a frieze, poorly preserved, and a cornice.  Above the entablature is an Attic, some 4.4 meters tall, itself topped with a cornice.  In the single surviving bay there is a recess with a large relief panel showing a female figure.  We have to imagine a line of such bracketed columns all along the lateral walls of the forum, perhaps some twenty per side, producing some 38 bays, with recessed relief panels in each.  Holes in the front surfaces of the attic projections and on top of the attic cornices suggest that something was affixed to the front of, and on top of, each projection.  If we add all this up--meters and meters of frieze, relief panels in each bay, objects attached to the front and top of the projections--we end up with, well, a lot.

It was once thought that the attic figure was Minerva, repeated in each bay. That would mean as many as 38 Minervas!

Then in 1996 H. Wiegartz showed that the relief has a parallel in an inscribed stele found at Aphrodisias in Turkey representing the personification of the ethnos of the Piroustae, a people of Pannonia.  Both figures carry a helmet with a plume, a small round shield, a long cinched garment, a cloak secured at the right shoulder, and a broad belt.  The belts are nearly identical, right down to the little spur that is turned downward on the Roman relief, upward on the one from Turkey.  Wiegartz and others since have concluded that the attic figure preserved from the Forum Transitorium is non other than the personification of the ethnic group called the Piroustae.

It may be, then, that the Forum Transitorium featured in each bay a different personified people (ethnos) over whom the Romans claimed to hold sway.  A monument that gathered many ethne was in effect a display of Roman of the breadth of Rome's conquests.  The whole point was to show a great number of peoples.  Servius (ad Aen. 8.721) reports that “Augustus made a portico in which he assembled images of all peoples [simulacra omnium gentium], on which account it is called the Porticus ad Nationes."  This monument is lost, but the Temple of Aphrodite Prometor (i.e., Venus Genetrix) at Aphrodisias, excavated 1979-81, offers an analogue: it  featured the sculpted representations of some 50 conquered peoples in its portico, some of which have been preserved.

If the female attic figures represented were simulacra gentium, then it is possible that the reference was to Domitian’s Dacian campaigns in AD 86-88, for which he celebrated a double triumph in AD 89.  The metal objects affixed to the attic may have included the spoils from that war.  This may be guesswork, but its reasonable guesswork.

So we have a plausible explanation for a part of the sculptural program--the attic reliefs.  But what about the frieze?  And the decoration of the temple?  We hope to return to these questions in a future post.

[For those who cannot not accept the hypothesis that Domitian built the Forum Transitorium to commemorate his Dacian triumph in AD 89, there is always the explanation offered by James Anderson in 1982, which which we began: that Domitian’s aim was to close the Argiletum to commercial traffic.  Anderson argues that to that end Domitian moved the northwest wall of his father’s Templum Pacis, eliminating its covered colonnade to make room for his own project.  This has the advantage of explaining the asymmetrical layout of the Templum Pacis, whose rear wall does not have a covered portico to match that of the other three walls.]

  • Anderson, James.  “Domitian, the Argiletum an the Temple of Peace.”  American Journal of Archaeology 86 (1982) 101-110.
  • Claridge, Amanda.  Rome.  An Oxford Archaeological Guide.  2010.
  • Kleiner, Diana.  Open Yale Courses.  Lecture 13, chapter 6.
  • Kleiner, Diana.  Roman Sculpture.  1992.
  • Sear, Frank.  Roman Architecture.  1982.
  • Ward-Perkins, J. B.  Roman Imperial Architecture.  1981.
  • Wiegartz, H.  “Simulacra gentium auf dem Forum Romanum.”  Boreas 19 (1996) 171-179.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Villa Iovis

The ruins of Tiberius' clifftop retreat on Capri, the "Villa Iovis."  The church and statue (upper left) are of course modern.

In AD 27, at the age of 67, the emperor Tiberius left Rome for a tiny island three miles off the coast of Campania.  There he would spend most of days, ruling Rome away from the capital, until his death in AD 37.  Tacitus in his Annals (4.67) reports that Tiberius “so loathed … every place on the mainland that he buried himself on the island of Capri…. The solitude of the place was, I believe, its chief attraction, for a harborless sea surrounds it and even for a small vessel it has but few safe retreats, nor can anyone land unknown to the sentries. Its air in winter is soft, as it is screened by a mountain which is a protection against cutting winds. In summer it catches the western breezes, and the open sea around it renders it most delightful. It commanded too a view of a most lovely bay.… Tiberius had by this time filled the island with twelve country houses, each with a grand name and a vast structure of its own.”  Augustus had acquired the whole island from the city of Naples some fifty years earlier (Suetonius, Augustus 98), and had built villas there.  To judge from the so-called Palazzo a Mare, thought to belong to Augustus, on the island’s north coast, these were not particularly extravagant.  Augustus, after all, claimed to live modestly.

Tiberius made no such claim.  And of the twelve villas on Capri, it is generally supposed that his favorite was the so-called Villa Iovis on the eastern tip of the island.

Twelve villas?  And why the name Villa Iovis?  Suetonius says that after the fall of Sejanus the emperor did not leave the Villa Ionis (sic) for nine months.  In the sixteenth century it was suggested that the twelve villas were all named after the twelve Olympian gods, and that Villa Ionis was accordingly to be corrected to Villa Iovis--not Io’s Villa but Jupiter’s Villa.  This was of course no more than a guess.  The name Villa Iovis is thus perhaps just modern fancy.

The remains of the central vaulted substructure.  The preserved part of the floor (above) of the peristyle courtyard.

The Villa Iovis is perched on a steep cliff that drops nearly 1100 feet to the sea below.  The architect was faced with two limitations.  One was the size of the site.  The other was the lack of a spring.  Yet water would be had from … the sky-god himself!  So the villa was to be built around a core of rain-collecting cisterns in the form of tiered concrete barrel vaults in the center of the structure, covered by a large (100’ by 100’) square platform that may have been adorned with mosaics and even a peristyle of columns.  This central courtyard/cistern system took up fully one half of the surface area of the site.  Surrounding it were four distinct wings connected by staircases and ramps.  The result was quite compact, unlike most luxury villas, which were characterized by sprawl.  Compact, but still interesting: the different levels (there were eight stories in all) made it so.

From the southwest.  Model by Clemens Krause.

The visitor approached from the west, up a steep paved road, with the villa towering above him.  He entered through a vestibule at the southwest corner (shown in the illustration above).  A ramp took him up into a corridor.  To his left was the west wing, where several stories of small rooms housed the servants, some of whom were employed in the kitchen, projecting at ground level.  Turning right, he entered the south wing, which featured a suite of baths.

The north and east wings were for the emperor (mainly on the seventh story).  On the east were larger rooms and the aula, the great reception hall, extending into a semicircular exedra with large windows, behind which were niches to accommodate couches: facing the southeast or northwest, they offered both sun and shade.  

From the southeast.  Model by Clemens Krause.

This east wing and the rooms above commanded spectacular views of Sorrento and Vesuvius.  On the north side were the triclinium, which featured polychrome marble paving, and rooms for the emperor’s personal attendants as well as the quarters of the emperor himself, to which access was of course restricted (via a single corridor).  His rooms opened onto a loggia (terrace) from which he could look down over most of the island and the Bay of Naples.  A long ramp took him down to the ambulatio, a long walkway for physical exercise than extended along the cliff’s edge, with additional rooms opening off it that included a vaulted dining room.

A specularium or signal tower (for communication with the mainland via fire or smoke) and a lighthouse were located to the west and south, respectively.

Was this lofty seaside retreat unique?  No, not even in the vicinity.  Similarly situated was the villa on the tiny Isola del Gallo Lungo, about two miles off the southeast coast of the Sorrento peninsula.  Yet another example was the clifftop villa on the Isola del Isca near Sorrento.  In each case the water supply problem solved by building atop cisterns.

Nonetheless, the Villa Iovis is widely regarded as a special imperial building, partly because of its location, partly because its state of preservation permits a fair appreciation of it, and partly because of its design.

“Few Roman buildings that have come down to us convey such a vivid impression of the personality of the unknown architect and of his skill in wedding the unusual terms of his commission to the potentialities of a magnificent but difficult site.  Here, on a waterless mountaintop, throughout the summer months the emperor could conduct affairs of state or retire into absolute seclusion, enjoying the beauties of nature and as safe as human ingenuity could contrive, and yet maintained by an ample staff and surrounded by every comfort. … The diversity of interest resulting from the loose, spreading layout of most of these luxury villas was here achieved within the limitations of a compact, tightly organized plan by means of a skillful play of levels.  On such a site a more relaxed plan might well have spelled architectural confusion” (J. B. Ward-Perkins, 201).

  • Kleiner, Diana.  Roman Architecture.  Yale Open Lectures.  Lecture 11, chapter 1.  2/17/2009.
  • Krause, Clemens.  Villa Jovis.  Die Residenz des Tiberius auf Capri.  2003.
  • Mielsch, Harald.  Die römische Villa: Architektur und Lebensform.  1987.
  • Sear, Frank.  Roman Architecture.  1982.
  • Ward-Perkins, J. B.  Roman Imperial Architecture.  2nd ed.  1981.

Emily Claire Kibbe

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Kouros from Delphi

In an earlier post it was noted that most Daedalic figures are female.  Here we consider a male example: a bronze statuette of a youth, only about seven and a half inches tall.  It was found in the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi.  This is a significant piece, marking as it does the transition from Daedalic to Archaic.  The head is Daedalic, with its inverted-triangle face, large eyes, flattened crown, low forehead, straight hairline, and stylized coiffure in horizontal layers (the so-called Etagenperücke or “layered wig”) hiding the ears.  The hair closely resembles the Protocorinthian aryballos shown in our earlier post (3/3/17) and thus may be dated to around 650 BC or perhaps a bit later.

Like other Daedalic males, the youth is naked but for his rather prominent belt.  But what sets him apart from the Daedalic type is that his body is no longer static.  He is moving.  He has put his left leg forward, although most of his weight seems still on his right foot.  His arms are at his sides and he is clenching his fists.  This is a kouros, a form typical of the Archaic period, indeed the earliest example that has been completely preserved.

The term kouros means “youth” and refers to a standing nude male youth.  Martin Robertson offers this general description: “The figure stands with the left leg forward, the weight evenly distributed, arms at the sides, looking straight before him.  He is absolutely frontally constructed, in that there is no turn, twist or bend except the deflections caused by the movement of the legs, and these have no repercussions above the waist.  Nose, navel, fork are in one vertical plane; eyes, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles in parallel horizontal planes at right angles to it” (1.40).

It is generally supposed that this formula was borrowed directly from Egypt.  Let us compare the kouros from Delphi with a contemporary Egyptian piece, a statue of Metuemhet, a prince of Egyptian Thebes (right).  What leaps to the eye?   The two poses are very similar.  Nonetheless, there are notable differences:
  • The Egyptian wears a kilt while the Greek has only a belt.
  • The Egyptian is extending his left leg much farther forward than the Greek.
  • The Egyptian is leaning against a backboard of stone (seen between legs and between arms and torso), while the Greek is free-standing, independent. In fact the Egyptian statue is a block carved in very high relief, while the Greek one is in the round.

How exactly was the kouros type introduced from Egypt in the mid seventh century?  How did the Greek sculptors have contact with Egypt?  The historian Herodotus (2.152) reports that the pharaoh Psamettichus I (Psamtik I, 664-610 BC) hired Greeks as mercenaries and allowed them to settle in the Nile Delta.  Once there, the Greeks had but to go south to see life-size and over-life-size statuary in hard stone such as the statue of Metuemhet pictured above.

But Egyptian and Greek artists had different aims.  Thus the dynamism of a piece as early as the Delphi kouros already marks a departure from the Egyptian schema.  The Egyptian monumental sculptor was “not concerned to produce an impression of life (though marvelously vivid little statuettes show what he could have done in this line had he wished) but rather of static grandeur” (Robertson 1.41).  Indeed the Egyptian type had not changed much in two millennia, so that to “static grandeur” we might add “permanent.”  The Greek, by contrast, was on the path that would lead, in time, to statues that seemed to be alive.

It was to Daedalus, the craftsman of King Minos of Crete, that the Greeks credited this achievement.  The fifth-century playwright Euripides has a character say “Daedalus’s works all seem to move about and his statues to speak: clever man, that one!” (Eurystheus Satyricus fr. 372 ed. Nauck).  And Palaephatus reports: “It is said that about Daedalus that he made statues that walked on their own.  That seems impossible to me….  The truth is this: in those days the sculptors of gods and men made the feet joined together and the arms hanging down at the sides. Daedalus was the first to make one foot striding forward, which is why people said ‘Daedalus has made this statue walk!’” (De Incredilibus 21).

This seems odd to us, since Daedalus has given his name to the Daedalic Style, which was hardly dynamic.  But as we have already seen in our previous post (3/3/17), the name “Daedalic” is a misnomer.  And in the passages quoted above the underlying notion is that Greek artistry, embodied in the mythical figure of Daedalus, gave life to the lifeless.  The long line of kouroi, in the next two centuries, show the development quite clearly.  At the end of that long line stands the Kritian Boy, the piece generally taken to mark the transition from Archaic to Classical and often called the “poster boy” of the “Greek Revolution,” defined as close imitation of natural forms “corrected” or “perfected” so as to transcend the mundanely natural, with the result that a work could be at once astonishingly true to life and yet unlike anything ever seen.

Our little bronze statuette, the Kouros of Delphi, is a transition piece, too.  But it stands at the beginning of that long line, as a hint of things to come.

  • Boardman, John.  Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period.  1978.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M.  The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 BC.  1985.
  • Robertson, Martin.  A History of Greek Art.  2 Vols.  1975.
  • Spivey, Nigel.  Greek Sculpture.  2013.  Esp. 17-53.
  • Stansbury-O’Donnell, Mark D.  A History of Greek Art.  2015.
  • Stewart, Andrew.  Greek Sculpture.  2 Vols.  1990.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Kore of Nikandre

At first sight this seems an unremarkable statue.  If it offers another example of the Daedalic style, it can hardly compare on that score to the Lady of Auxerre, if only because of its badly worn condition.  In fact it is a significant piece, marking the passage, at least in the extant record, to a new material and a new scale.  At 5’9” it is life-size or over-life-size, and it is made of marble.  Thus it stands at the beginning of the great tradition of monumental marble sculpture in Greece.  In fact it is the earliest large-scale statue to have survived in any type of stone.  There is no telling whether it is earlier or later than the Lady of Auxerre.  The date is usually put at 650-625 BC. 

The statue was discovered in 1878 in the sanctuary of Artemis on the island of Delos, the island sacred to Artemis and her brother Apollo (it was, after all, their birthplace).  The findspot alone suggests that the statue was a dedication to Artemis.  But running along its left side is an inscription--one of the earliest in stone.  The words are written boustrophedon, i.e., from right to left and from left to right in alternating lines:

“Nikandre, the excellent daughter of Deinodikos of Naxos, sister of Deinomenes, now wife of Phraxos, dedicated me to the far-shooter, the pourer of arrows.”

The inscription confirms that the statue is a dedication to Artemis--the goddess is easily identified by the two archery-epithets.  And we learn a fair bit about Nikandre.  She defines herself by three men in her life: her father, brother, and husband.  But to whom does the pronoun “me” refer?  There are three possibilities:

  • Nikandre.  The statue is a likeness of its dedicator, left in the sanctuary as a worshipper in permanent attendance on the goddess.
  • Artemis.  The statue represents the recipient of the dedication, the goddess in whose sanctuary the offering is made.
  • Agalma.  The statue is merely an intermediary, a vehicle of the dedicator’s devotion to the goddess, perhaps a priestess. At all events, a “pleasing gift” (agalma).

This is a puzzle that cannot be solved.  There is a clue, but it leads nowhere: holes in the statue’s hands.  The holes were drilled there to hold accessories now lost.  What accessories?  Hypotheses abound.  If flowers or some other offering, then Nikandre.  If a bow and arrows or a leash for lions, then Artemis as archer-huntress or as Potnia Theron (Mistress of Animals: she is often depicted with a lion or other animal to either side).  But these are just guesses.  As for Nikandre herself, John Boardman (34) and Nigel Spivey (64) have suggested that she was a priestess at the sanctuary.  And “the last line of the inscription suggests that the statue was dedicated on the occasion of her wedding and release from service” (Hurwit 186).  Did the priestess leave the statue to mark the end of her service to the goddess?

The Kore of Nikandre follows the basic Daedalic pattern. The face is an inverted triangle. Little more can be said about it because it has been so battered, although it seems that its facial features were not so heavy as those of the Auxerre Kore. The hair falls in four segmented locks on either side, forming a larger triangular frame for the face. The arms are held stiffly at the sides. The kore wears a long robe divided by a belt. What appears to be a cape for the shoulders is material folded back (cf. the previous post on the Lady of Auxerre). The incised guidelines for the paint are worn off, as are all traces of the original colors. So we have to imagine how statue was decorated. The flesh was perhaps left in the color of the polished marble (whereas in limestone red was used for male flesh, white for female flesh). But the garment, the hair, and the details of the face were all picked out in color.

The form is severely frontal, not meant to be viewed from the side or from the back. The block is shallow, never more than about seven inches thick (see the image at the top of this post). Even when viewed from the front, the form retains the rectilinearity of the block from which it is carved. Hurwit thinks that the form recalls a centuries-long indigenous tradition of large-scale statues carved from wooden beams. The kore is plank-like because it renders in stone the form of the xoanon or bretas or kolossos: ancient wooden images “only barely human in form” (188). On the other hand, Boardman sees in the kore “a small terracotta writ large”: the technique borrowed from the East to make the Daedalic terracottas, whereby clay was pressed into the mold for the front only, was at first simply transposed to the new medium of marble (34).

The choice of material is nothing less than momentous.  For marble had not been used to make a statue in Greece for well over a millennium.  It was not that there was no marble to be had.  Nikandre hailed from Naxos, and Naxian marble was the best there was.  Naxos also yielded emery, the abrasive used to polish marble.  So why the long hiatus in marble sculpture?  For one thing, marble was very hard to carve, unlike, say, limestone.  Working marble was something of a lost art, requiring special tools and techniques.  So what induced the turn from soft to hard stone in the middle of the seventh century BC?  That is a great question.

For some, the answer is Egypt.  Andrew Stewart writes: “Archaic marble sculpture owed its inception to the Greeks’ rediscovery of Egypt” (108).  Likewise John Pedley: “Greek sculptors turned to a new material--marble--and a new scale.  As with architecture, the impetus for change came from Egypt” (148).  Greeks visiting that ancient land saw what could be done with hard stone (granite, basalt, porphyry, marble)--on a grand scale.  They resolved to give it a go themselves.  And they came back with more than just inspiration and carving know-how.  They also adopted the Egyptian canon or grid system, whereby grids were drawn on the blocks before carving to ensure uniformity in the representation of the human form.  An analysis of the proportions of the Kore of Nikandre shows a high degree of correlation (89%) with the Egyptian canon as revised in the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.  A coincidence?  Probably not.  Still, the Egyptian hypothesis has had its detractors: see the article by R. M. Cook).  We will return to this question when we come to look at the rise of the kouros.

  • Boardman, John, ed.  The Oxford History of Classical Art.  1993.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M.  The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 BC.  1985.
  • Pedley, John Griffiths.  Greek Art and Archaeology.  3rd ed.  2002.
  • Robertson, Martin.  A History of Greek Art.  2 Vols.  1975.
  • Spivey, Nigel.  Greek Sculpture.  2013.
  • Stansbury-O’Donnell, Mark D.  A History of Greek Art.  2015.
  • Stewart, Andrew.  Greek Sculpture.  2 Vols.  1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe

The Lady of Auxerre

This limestone statuette (at a little over 2 feet tall it is about one third life-size) is named for the French city in which it was first exhibited (retrieved from the storeroom of the Auxerre Museum in 1907, it was later moved to the Louvre in Paris).

The Auxerre Kore or "Lady of Auxerre" is widely regarded as the showpiece of the Daedalic style, partly because it is so well preserved, although most of the left side of the face is missing.  Its Daedalic features include:
  • severe frontality: it is meant to be viewed from the front, although the back is carved, too
  • minimal depth: this is a consequence of its frontality.  “There is little depth to Daedalic figures: faces are mask-like, bodies plank-like; the profile view tends to be minimal” (Spivey 63).
  • triangular face: the inverted triangle, with the chin rounded off to a U-shape
  • flattened head: a consequence of its triangularity
  • low forehead: a consequence of the flattened head
  • large eyes and nose, prominent eyebrows, thick lips
  • coiffure: the hair falls before each shoulder in four tresses crimped at even intervals and tied off at the ends in what look like little knobs.  The crimping or sectioning of vertical tresses the give the effect of horizontal bands: the lines along the two axes suggest a grid.  Yet for all this rectilinearity there are gentle curves, and the hair across the forehead is in curls.
  • the gesture: while the left arm clings to the side, the right is laid across the chest (more on this below)

The Lady of Auxerre is thought to have been made on Crete between 650 and 625 BC.  The nature of its limestone speaks for Crete, as does a comparison of its features with numerous works in other media from the island.  Indeed, Nicholas Stampolidis has argued that it comes from the necropolis of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna, comparing it to another statue discovered there, the Eleutherna Kore, of which only the lower half is preserved.  See the picture below, taken in 2004, when the two statues were juxtaposed in an exhibition at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens.

Like other female Daedalic figures, the Lady of Auxerre wears a long tubular dress that gives no hint of legs or knees, although her (rather large) feet do emerge below.  Her high, narrow waist is cinched by a broad belt.  Some have supposed that over her robe she is wearing a cape, sometimes called an epiblema.  Evelyn Harrison has shown that there is but a single garment, pinned in front on each side of the collarbone, and that what appears to be a cape is really the material of the back part of the robe pulled so far forward as to cover the shoulders.  The sleeve-like forms behind her arms are pouches of cloth which she could, at will, pull forward to cover the shoulders or push back to bare them.  A drawing by Harrison is shown to the right.

The statuette was originally polychrome, in other words, painted in various colors, like all Greek sculpture.  Some idea of the appearance of the Lady of Auxerre may be had from the painted plaster cast in the collection at the Museum of Classical Archaeology in Cambridge (pictured to the left).  The incisions in the stone offer a guide (they outlined the colors), along with a few traces of red paint on the statue’s chest.  The lower part of the robe was decorated with a squares-within-squares motif, echoed in the garment’s upper border at the neck.  Overlapping scales form the pattern on the upper part.  The belt and bracelet were painted to represent bronze or gold.  Such bronze belts are known from the archaeological record.  Does the painted cast at Cambridge seem gaudy?  Sir William Gell noted 200 years ago: “No nation ever exhibited a greater passion for gaudy colors.”

Finally, there is the question of the gesture of the right held to the breast.  What does it signify?  The truth is that no one knows for sure.  Nigel Spivey has suggested that the figure is a votary reaching forward in supplication (this explains the oversize hand, since it is meant to be closer to the viewer), “for the rules imposed by frontality would demand that an arm extended at the elbow be carved as lying across the belly” (Spivey 63).

This is a much-admired statue.  Robertson praises the tension between the formal and the dynamic: "The whole figure has a charm and a sense of life that seem achieved almost in defiance of the extreme formalism of its method” (38).  Stewart observes that the “delicate balance of straight lines and subtle curves, large volumes and precise transitions, sturdy modeling and eyecatching surface is what gives the piece its extraordinary sculptural power” (107).  But it remains a limestone statuette.  For a grander example of the Daedalic style in marble, we must turn to the Kore of Nicandre, the subject of our next post.

  • Boardman, John.  Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period.  1978.
  • Harrison, Evelyn.  “Notes on Daedalic Dress.”  The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery 36 (1977) 37-48.
  • Robertson, Martin.  A History of Greek Art.  2 Vols.  1975.
  • Spivey, Nigel.  Greek Sculpture.  2013.
  • Stampolidis, Nicholas.  “Eleutherna on Crete; An Interim Report on the Geometric-Archaic Cemetery.”  The Annual of the British School at Athens 85 (1990) 375-403.
  • Stewart, Andrew.  Greek Sculpture.  2 Vols.  1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Daedalic Style

A new style of sculpture appeared in Greece early in the seventh century, imported from the Near East. In the Levant there were terracotta votive figurines representing Astarte in the nude (Astarte is Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, war, sex, and power). These were mass-produced in molds. Hence they were easy to make, and they were cheap. In Greece the technique and the style were quick to spread. Soon the style found expression in media other than clay: wood, ivory, metal, and stone.

There are some male figures, always nude, except for a belt. But the favored subject remains the female figure. Unlike the nude Astarte, she is usually draped. She is strictly frontal, symmetrical, and static, standing or sitting with feet together and wearing a full-length belted robe.

The true hallmarks of the style are seen in the hair, head, and face. The hair takes the form of a big triangle, falling in front of the shoulders either in a mass with horizontal waves or layers (hence the term often applied to it, Etagenperücke or “layered wig”) or in heavy locks crimped at even intervals (the Perlenlocken or “strings-of-pearls-tresses”). Within this big triangular headdress the face is a smaller inverted triangle. The lower part of the face may have the shape of a V or be rounded to that of a U. The face is flat and sometimes buried so deep in the hair that the ears are covered. The top of the head is flattened to maintain triangularity, giving a “brainless look” (Andrew Stewart) and producing a low forehead with a straight hairline. The eyes are usually large and set rather high.

Sharp angles are rounded and most lines are slightly curved, in a movement toward naturalism. Yet the underlying design, that of an inverted triangle for the face within a larger triangle for the headdress, is unmistakable. (Indeed a frontal head alone--without a body--is enough to identify this style.) The resulting tension is thus described by Martin Robertson: “In the Geometric period no interest is shown in the human face as such; it is treated, if at all, in a summary and impressionistic manner. Here [in Daedalic art] we see, as in black-figure vase painting, the reimposition of Geometric discipline on a new realization of nature; and it is the tension between an ever-growing interest in natural forms and a stubborn sense of the decorative patter proper to a work of art that gives Greek art its peculiar character, not only in the Archaic period” (Robertson 1.34)

The Daedalic lies between the Geometric and Archaic periods. Why not just “Orientalizing,” to match the analogous and more or less contemporary period in vase painting? After all, the style was borrowed from the Near East. “Daedalic” as a term in art history goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is true that the tradition about Daedalus the artist goes back to Homer (Iliad 18.590-92). There is the builder of a dancing floor on Crete. Later authors tell us that he was the grandson of the early Athenian king Erechtheus and the creator of amazing life-like statues, even the inventor of sculpture.

For them it was only natural to associate the earliest statues with some protos heuretes (“inventor”), and Daedalus belonged to the world of Homer, the go-to source for early Greek culture then as now. The only problem was that Daedalus was Greek and in reality the origins of sculpture lay outside of Greece. For Sarah Morris, the attribution of sculpture to the Athenian Daedalus is yet another instance of “Orientalism” (Edward Said), which, taking for granted the superiority of the West, has denied credit to the East. “The modern convention recapitulates the ancient rejection of an Oriental role by substituting the name of a Greek craftsman to account for the most profoundly Oriental of Greek styles” (Morris 256). But the term is conventional, and it not likely to go away.

A periodization Daedalic art (into Proto-, Early, Middle, and Late) was attempted long ago by R. J. H. Jenkins in his Dedalica (1936). Few today would accept his chronology. Still, it will be useful to look at some examples of the style in different periods and media.

An early example of the new style is a bronze statuette from Olympia dating to c. 700-675 BC: a warrior, naked but for his belt and crested helmet, stands with his right arm raised to hold a spear (missing). His hair is an early rendition of the Etagenperücke.

Representing the Early Daedalic (675-c. 655) is this ivory sphinx from the sanctuary of Hera Limenia in Perachora. In this phase the faces tend to be long triangles, with the chin rounded off.

The Middle Daedalic (c. 655-630) has shorter and wider faces, with squarer chins. It is represented in the fragment of a limestone relief from the acropolis of Mycenae, shown in the picture at the top of this post. The date is 650-625 BC. A woman is drawing a cloak over her head, breaking the symmetry typical of Daedalic sculpture. Two rows of ringlets cross the forehead. She wears the Etagenperücke. This piece may be compared with the Lady of Auxerre, the subject of an upcoming post.

Also representing the Middle Daedalic is this torso from a female figurine, mold-made out of terracotta, from Crete, one of a series produced there from c. 680-625 BC. The detailed coiffure (Etagenperücke) and anatomy indicate a date toward the end of the series, c. 650-625 BC.

Yet another Middle Daedalic piece is this Protocorinthian aryballos (oil flask) from Thebes. The head was made with a mold. The decoration was by a known artist, the Boston Painter, and can be dated with some confidence to around 650 BC. Datable vases such as this one are important, for they give us a means of dating other Daedalic pieces, such as the ones to be featured in upcoming posts.

Representing the Late Daedalic (c. 630-600) is this torso of a seated woman from Eleutherna on Crete. The medium is limestone. The oval face points to a late date, c. 600.  The coiffure is crimped tresses (Perlenlocken).

Also late is this plaque of electrum (a natural alloy of gold and silver) from Kamiros on Rhodes, showing a bee goddess.  It was a piece of personal jewelry, “probably worn strung across the top of a garment, fastened at the shoulders,” according to the British Museum website.

Enough has been shown here to display the hallmarks of the Daedalic style and the extent of its distribution outside of Crete (if it is true that it emanated from that island). The examples shown also suggest the diverse media in which it found expression: clay (terracotta), bone, bronze, electrum, gold, wood (rare), limestone, marble.

Do all these pieces really belong to a single style? Today few would speak, with Robertson, of “the extraordinary unity of the Daedalic style” (1.36). Stansbury-O’Donnell is among those who find it fanciful. “Daedalic persists as a term to describe seventh-century sculpture, but it implies a greater unity of style and concept than exists” (135). Would it not be better to call it “Orientalizing,” putting the focus on the multiple sources of its inspiration rather than on a supposedly cohesive set of principles dubiously attributed to a Greek protos heuretes? Nonetheless, for the time being, the term and the concept persist.

  • Boardman, John. Greek Sculpture: The Archaic Period. 1978.
  • Carter, Jane.  "Daedalic Art."  In: Gargarin, Michael, ed.  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome.  7 vols.  2009.  1.353-355.
  • Hurwit, Jeffrey M. The Art and Culture of Early Greece, 1100-480 BC. 1985.
  • Morris, Sarah.  Daidalos and the Origins of Greek Art.  1992.
  • Robertson, Martin. A History of Greek Art. 2 Vols. 1975.
  • Said, Edward.  Orientalism.  1978.
  • Spivey, Nigel. Greek Sculpture. 2013.
  • Stansbury-O’Donnell, Mark D. A History of Greek Art. 2015.
  • Stewart, Andrew. Greek Sculpture. 2 Vols. 1990.

Emily Claire Kibbe