Online Review: Book

Die Römischen Skulpturen von Caesarea Mauretaniae: Denkmäler aus Stein und Bronze. Vol. 3, Bacchus und Gefolge, Masken, Fabelwesen, Tiere, Bukranien nicht Bennenbare Figuren. Vol. 4, Porträtplastik, Fragmente von Porträt- oder Idealplastik

Christa Landwehr


Reviewed by Niels Hannestad

Vol. 3, Bacchus und Gefolge, Masken, Fabelwesen, Tiere, Bukranien nicht Bennenbare Figuren. Pp. xvi + 127, pls. 80, Beilagen 32. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2006. €75.80. ISBN 10-3-8053-3441-9 (cloth).

Vol. 4, Porträtplastik, Fragmente von Porträt- oder Idealplastik. Pp. xx + 165, pls. 114, Beilagen 11. Philipp von Zabern, Mainz 2008. €75.80. ISBN 978-3-8033-3940-7 (cloth).

The two books under review constitute the final volumes of the catalogue of the Roman sculptures from Cherchel, Algeria. Work at the site has been time consuming, complicated, and troublesome. Some of the many obstacles are mentioned in the introductions, such as the author being threatened with arrest for working unlawfully in Algeria (C. Landwehr, Die Römischen Skulpturen von Caesarea Mauretaniae: Denkmäler aus Stein und Bronze. Vol. 1, Idealplastik, weibliche Figuren benannt [Berlin 1993]). The disorder in the museum is reflected in a certain lack of consistency in the organizing of the material. However, volume 4 offers the reader a very helpful concordance list (159–65) of catalogue and inventory numbers for all four volumes, making up 406 entries. Some pieces have disappeared or have found their way to other collections. Most of the sculptures are old finds, but new pieces (unfortunately badly registered) still surface, mainly as a result of construction work.

Volume 3 (with contributions by Amedick, Grassinger, and Zimmermann) deals with the male mythological figures, as a continuation of volume 2 (C. Landwehr, Die Römischen Skulpturen von Caesarea Mauretaniae: Denkmäler aus Stein und Bronze. Vol. 2, Idealplastik, männliche Figuren [Berlin 2000]) (vol. 1 is dedicated to female mythological sculptures). Volumes 2 and 3 start with gods, continuing the discussion of genre sculptures in the Graeco-Roman tradition. The dividing of the sculptures between the two volumes is not obvious. Volume 2 covers most of the gods, while volume 3 only has Bacchus. The material in volume 3 is organized in the following order: "Bacchus und Gefolge," "Masken," "Fabel­wesen," "Tiere," "Bukranien," and "Nicht benennbare Figuren." Added to the mythological sculptures is an over-life-sized portrait (cat. no. 256), which—because of the flat, broad diadem must be identified as a king—has generally been accepted as Juba I. A very close replica in the Louvre (inv. no. Ma 1885), also found in Cherchel, further makes the interpretation of the head as an unknown local god rather unlikely.

The first entry (cat. no. 176) is a large-scale standing Bacchus found in the West Baths (ht. 199 cm [without plinth]). The high-quality statue has secondarily served as a water spout, the water running through the panther skin draped on the trunk supporting the statue. Like some of the other mythological sculptures in Cherchel, this statue has a rather roughly carved neck support, as otherwise mostly seen in the eastern Mediterranean (e.g., Perge). One wonders whether this indicates long-distance transport or only signifies an individual workshop. The statue was, as mentioned, erected in a bath, where it has been mutilated by eager Christians offended by nude statues in such locations. The work was done with a pointed chisel, a fact which should have been noted in the catalogue.

Another high-quality Bacchus is catalogue number 179, of which only the head and upper part of the torso is preserved. The top of the head has been carved separately, as has the left arm, with the joint hidden by the drapery. The neck support is large and lumpy, and again one feels that transport could be the explanation. It may have been placed in a niche, as the back (not illustrated) is poorly finished.

A well-known classic, preserved in many variations, is the Spinario (Thorn-Puller) found in the West Baths (cat. no. 188). The boy (missing head and right arm) sits on a stone while working his foot to get the thorn out. His dog stands beside him, resting its head on his right thigh. Only its paws are preserved. For comparison, other pieces of the same type are included, with illustrations in Beilagen 2–5, which are most instructive.

A version of the Spinario motif is a small-sized group from the West Baths (cat. no. 190) combining Pan and a satyr (or Silenos). Despite the bad state of preservation, the exquisite carving reveals the high quality of the sculpture. Also found in the West Baths are two very similar groups (cat. nos. 191, 192) in small size of a satyr imposing himself on a hermaphrodite. The type is known in five close versions and may be regarded as a copy of a lost Hellenistic original. The small size indicates that the three sculptures were carved for private houses, to be transferred to the baths when sculpture in the round went out of fashion—a common phenomenon witnessed in other North African cities as well as in other parts of the empire.

The remaining catalogue entries in volume 3 present more bucolic figures, including several satyrs. Many are of very high quality, while others appear to have been produced by minor local workshops.

The pieces are generally dated to the Early and High empire, a few to the late third century C.E. The author neglects the current discussion concerning a new understanding of mythological sculpture going on since the early 1980s. As a result of this field of research, we can now conclude that the "pagan" tradition of mythological sculpture continued well beyond the mid fifth century. Some pieces are definitely Late Antique: catalogue numbers 177 (Bacchus), 189 (Spinario), 193 (head and torso of Pan), and 201–3 (heads of satyrs). Other pieces have been restored, implying the peculiar Late Antique technique. To prepare a joint, the two surfaces of a break were roughly shaped with a pointed chisel, then connected by an iron dowel, which was much larger than in any other period. Plaster filling completed the job. Sometimes the break could be restored without recarving, and only the large, often square, hole together with missing bits of marble reveals the work of a Late Antique restorer. Restored are two very similar groups, catalogue numbers 191 and 192, both representing a hermaphrodite and a satyr. They are rather fragmented and were presumably already in a bad state when restored. This goes in particular for catalogue number 192. Catalogue number 191 has one very obvious restoration: that of the right arm. The shoulder has been broken, the surface apparently smoothed, and a new arm has been attached with a dowel, of which a hole is left. Catalogue number 192, which has been in a worse state of preservation, has more such repairs: the torso of the satyr; the right arm, right leg, and head of the hermaphrodite, and the left hand of the satyr, placed under the right arm of the hermaphrodite. The left leg of the satyr was attached by a large wooden dowel, and the joint was hidden by the drapery, which shows that the joint was made in the workshop.

Interesting by itself is not that a few Late Antique pieces, some restored, have been found in Cherchel. What is significant is the very limited number. This pattern goes for most of North Africa, from Mauretania Tingitana to Cyrene, which is quite different from the northern Mediterranean provinces and the Near East, including Egypt. This may reflect an economic change in the villa culture of North Africa. A similar chronological profile is evidenced by the portraits discussed below.

Volume 4 publishes the male and female portraits. The catalogue numbers of the portraits run from 275 to 320, including some pieces discussed earlier. Then follow the headless statues, plus a few mythological pieces, and finally numerous fragments, mostly of parts of limbs, many of which have been part of Late Antique restorations, as witnessed by the joints.

The first entry is a portrait statue of Juba II already published in volume 2 (cat. no. 79). With the following entries (cat. nos. 275–87), we get a full-scale discussion of the portraiture of Juba II, including portraits not found in Cherchel but convincingly identified as this king. Some of the portraits are particularly high-quality examples. A chronological table (fig. 1.2) of the various portrait types is very useful. The presence of the many portraits can be no surprise, as Cherchel was the capital of the kingdom. Catalogue number 281 is a portrait of his wife, Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Marcus Antonius and the last queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII. The head is large, and she wears a diadem. The very high-quality piece has the characteristic wide-open eyes of the Ptolemaic royal tradition. Ptolemaios, king of Mauretania and son of Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra, was murdered in Rome by order of Caligula in 40 C.E. However, he is represented in several examples (cat. nos. 282–88), which are discussed with other portraits not found in Cherchel. Like those of his father and the one of his mother, some are great works in Roman portraiture. Apparently the old royal family was held in great esteem in Imperial times, and galleries containing their portraits (including the portrait of Juba I discussed above) must have existed. Where and how such portraits were displayed, we do not know. Most likely, several were displayed in public spaces in the same way portraits of Roman emperors were in all major cities of the empire.

Portraits of the Roman imperial household are scarce. A colossal portrait head of Augustus(?) (cat. no. 294), found in the West Baths, is considered to have been reworked into a female mythological head with a wreath of hair attached. The head in its original version is thought to have been sculpted during the reign of Claudius and later reworked in Hadrianic times. This would be very strange, indeed, but it is not likely, as any reworking of a representation of a deified emperor would carry capital punishment.

An over-life-sized cuirassed statue without head (cat. no. 321 [with appx. by Trillmich]), which was centrally placed in a public space, has been much debated. The large scale of the statue (estimated ht. 260 cm) and the exquisitely carved cuirass leave no doubt about the identification as an emperor. The absence of the head has contributed to the discussion of identity. The quality of the reliefs on the cuirass matches those on the statue of Augustus from Prima Porta. The Cherchel statue is tentatively identified as Claudius, which may be a possibility.

Some other heads are suggested to represent members of the Julio-Claudian family, but none is securely identified. Undoubtedly, catalogue number 313, a rather battered over-life-sized head of excellent quality with highly polished skin, is an emperor. It is regarded as a portrait of either Clodius Albinus or Septimius Severus (if so, it would be one of the very rare examples of the first official type). The condition, possibly caused by a damnatio memoriae, makes the identification as Clodius Albinus more likely.

The rest are private portraits, except for an Antinoos (cat. no. 303). The quality of the portraits ranges from very high, of municipal Roman standard, to mediocre locally made pieces. A naked male bust dated ca. 200 C.E. (cat. no. 314) is a most interesting portrait. The high-quality sculpture represents a male who is obviously blind in his right eye. Such verism is not common in Roman portraiture, and the phenomenon is thoroughly discussed with good illustrations in the Beilagen. The second but last entry (cat. no. 405), a very fine head of Pseudo-Seneca, was found in the early 1980s in Cherchel by gardening. It was correctly handed over to the museum, where it disappeared and was reported stolen to the police. In 1992, during Landwehr's second campaign, it was found in a box in a storeroom. The photographs of the unmounted head were taken when it was lying on a staircase. The final publication is left to the director of the museum.

A tiny portrait statue of a Cybele priest dressed in a toga (cat. no. 320) is the only one that is definitely late and correctly dated to the end of the fourth century–beginning of the fifth century. It is summarily carved with nonsculpted eyes and only scratches to render the hair. The back is unfinished and flat, with a heavy neck support to facilitate transport. The left arm is broken and repaired, presumably damaged during transport, which is often attested in Late Antique sculpture.

The four volumes, when taken as a whole, present a full-scale publication with detailed descriptions of the sculptures together with a wealth of information, including a huge number of references. The text is lavishly supported by high-quality figures based on the superb photographs of Florian Kleinefenn, and nearly every piece is also depicted from the back. However, could the reader have hoped for more? One could have hoped for discussions of contexts, workshops, import or local production, and in general the significance of the material as unearthed in a wealthy provincial capital. Rather, the sculptures are treated as if the publication was just a catalogue of any collection, most of the material gathered over time from various sources. Thus, several questions remain open, but the reader will be free to ask questions that may be answered based on this well-presented material. A fifth volume hinted at by Trillmich in the foreword of volume 4 may elucidate such questions.

Niels Hannestad
Department of Classical Archaeology
Aarhus University
8000 Aarhus


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