Online Review: Book

L'autel de Pergame: Images et pouvoir en Gréce d'Asie

Lisa R. Brody


By Françis Queyrel. Pp. 207, figs. 159, color pls. 21, tables 6. Antiqua Picard, Paris 2005. €55. ISBN 2-7084-0734-1 (paper).

Queyrel has written extensively on Hellenistic art, particularly the art of Pergamon, including several articles on Pergamene sculpture and an important recent book that focuses on Attalid portraits (Les Portraits des Attalides. Fonction et representation [Athens 2003]). In his latest publication, he chooses to examine one of the most significant monuments from the Hellenistic Age, the Great Altar at Pergamon, and the result reflects his obvious expertise and familiarity with the subject. This sophisticated study includes not only a detailed description and analysis of the altar’s two sculpted friezes but also an account of the altar’s discovery, an investigation into the function of the altar within its urban context, and an examination of its influences and styles. The illustrations include drawings, plans, and black-and-white photographs situated throughout the text, as well as a series of 21 beautiful color plates immediately preceding the introduction. All of the images are extremely high in quality; they provide vivid and clear accompaniments to the discussion, although some of the older photographs (particularly those from the Archives Bernard Andreae) lack the luminous quality of those taken more recently. Several of the photographs taken by Queyrel himself also benefit from oblique angles and close-ups, revealing details easily overlooked from a traditional head-on perspective. In many instances, the photographs are taken from a slightly lowered point of view; these show the figures as they would have looked to a contemporary observer, since the frieze in its original context was situated somewhat above eye level.

Queyrel differs from some earlier scholars in his approach to the Great Altar in that he takes care to look not only at the art historical value of its sculpted friezes but also at the archaeological context of the altar as a whole. The first chapter, an overview of the monument and its discovery, even includes a plan showing where the fragments of the Gigantomachy and Telephos friezes were discovered; many of them had been reused in the late fortification wall directly south of the sanctuary, variously dated from the sixth to the eighth centuries C.E.

The second chapter, the book’s longest single segment, discusses the figural decoration of the altar—the Gigantomachy frieze and the Telephos frieze. The Gigantomachy is presented first (lgth. 113 m), with a drawing of the preserved slabs showing the position of each divinity as Queyrel reconstructs them (50–1). His discussions of the gods’ identities involve iconography, inscriptions, and the theories of previous scholars, and are supported by photographs, though only of the better-preserved slabs. This section is summarized by an elaborate table that includes each divine figure and any inscription that accompanies it. Queyrel gives his identification of the god/goddess as compared with the suggestions of his scholarly predecessors over the past 100+ years (Puchstein, Winnefeld, Robert, Kähler, Simon, Schefold, and others).

The interior frieze of the Great Altar, depicting the story of Telephos, is discussed following a similar pattern. The surviving panels and their arrangement as reconstructed by Queyrel are shown in a drawing (80–1). In contrast to the composition of the Gigantomachy, the Telephos frieze is a continuous narrative, beginning with his conception and infancy and ending with his activities at Pergamon. Here, again, Queyrel summarizes his interpretation in a lengthy table, and here he argues for several more substantial departures from the analyses of previous scholars (Bachhenss-Thüriedl, Heres, Massa-Pairault). In this case, however, the validity of his assertions is often difficult to assess because not all of the critical scenes are illustrated. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the originality of the altar’s friezes (compared to earlier and contemporary representations of the Gigantomachy and of Telephos) and a brief discussion about what is known and/or theorized about the monument’s sculptors (also recapitulated in table form).

Chapter 3 returns to a more archaeological discussion of the Great Altar by addressing the original function of the monument. Was it a true “altar” or more of a victory monument? To which deity, if any, was it dedicated: Zeus, Athena, Agathe Tyche, multiple Olympians, or a divinized Attalid ruler (i.e., Eumenes II)? The ancient sources, examined first, are not authoritative on this issue. Although the monument is continually referred to by scholars as the “Altar of Zeus,” and is often associated with Athena, the city goddess of Pergamon, Queyrel convincingly argues that the Great Altar was designed to honor the 12 Olympian gods and one of the rulers of the Attalid dynasty, the divinized King Eumenes II. This conclusion affects our understanding of the monument’s date as well; although work on the architecture and sculpture probably began during the reign of Eumenes II (197–158 B.C.E.), its dedication to the divinized ruler would mean that it was consecrated after his death. Because they represent similar issues of combining votive dedications with victory monuments, Queyrel also discusses in this chapter the large and small Gauls. These bronze statues, known today in Roman marble copies, were originally set up on the Pergamene acropolis and the Athenian acropolis, respectively. He also comments intriguingly on the arrangement of the divinities on the Gigantomachy frieze, suggesting that their placement corresponds to the geography of their sanctuaries in the city (145). This theory recalls similar ideas that have been expressed about the positioning of the seated gods and goddesses on the east frieze of the Parthenon in Athens (see J. Neils, The Parthenon Frieze [Cambridge 2001] 187).

The fourth, penultimate chapter considers the aesthetic issues of both the Gigantomachy and Telephos friezes. The differences in mood and style between these two compositions are immediately obvious to any viewer, as are the compositional reliance on earlier sources, particularly the Parthenon. All these issues are clearly and logically presented, providing a nice summary of the primarily visual elements of the Great Altar’s sculptural decoration. This discussion is followed by consideration of the altar’s influence on subsequent art, Hellenistic and beyond.

A brief concluding chapter rounds out the insightful text and is followed by a lengthy bibliography, a glossary, two genealogical tables (one divine, one Attalid), a chronology, two maps, three indices (literary texts, inscriptions, and general subjects), and a list of photographic credits. Overall, Queyrel’s attractive new publication reflects a tremendous amount of expertise and research. Although unfortunately not as accessible to a general American audience as an English-language version would be, this book will interest any scholar or teacher of ancient Greek art and archaeology; it should be an automatic acquisition in any academic library with significant holdings in the classical field.

Lisa R. Brody
Yale University Art Gallery
P.O. Box 208271
New Haven, Connecticut 06520

Book Review of L’autel de Pergame: Images et pouvoir en Grèce d’Asie, by François Queyrel
Reviewed by Lisa R. Brody
American Journal of Archaeology Volume 111, Number 4 (October 2007), published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1114.Brody

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