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Akten des Symposiums “Sarkophage der Römischen Kaiserzeit: Produktion in den Zentren–Kopien in den Provinzen”/ “Les sarcophages romains: Centres et périphéries,” Paris, 2.–5. November 2005

Akten des Symposiums “Sarkophage der Römischen Kaiserzeit: Produktion in den Zentren–Kopien in den Provinzen”/ “Les sarcophages romains: Centres et périphéries,” Paris, 2.–5. November 2005

Edited by Guntram Koch and François Baratte (Sarkophag-Studien 6). Pp. xii + 264, figs. 18, b&w pls. 96, color pls. 4. Franz Philipp Rutzen, Ruhpolding 2012. €99. ISBN 978-3-447-06691-4 (cloth).

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The papers gathered in this collection originate from the series of recurring continental conferences on Roman sarcophagi, this one held in Paris in 2005 with the theme “Production in the Centers–Copies in the Provinces.” The 24 papers include contributions in German (17), Italian (4), French (2), and English (1). This lopsided proportion (which includes five chapters by the coeditor Koch alone) attests to the continued scholarly influence of the Germans in the field of sarcophagi studies, an influence that has been further cemented by their admirable commitment to disseminating its research outcomes in generously illustrated and immaculately edited volumes such as this one (since 2007, the publications of the Corpus des Antiken Sarkophagreliefs have operated under the editorial aegis of the German Archaeological Institute).

Generally speaking, contributions to previous volumes within the Sarkophag-Studien series have been characterized by their traditional art historical approach to the heterogeneous (if often idiosyncratic) material under study, with some authors treating particular objects and others taking a broader remit (such as an iconographic theme or geographic region). As a consequence, volumes in this series have tended to be of interest primarily to specialists in the field, while more cultural-historical and theoretically oriented work has seen publication in other venues (e.g., W. Hung and J. Elsner, eds., Res 61–62: Sarcophagi [Cambridge, Mass. 2012]; P. Zanker and B.C. Ewald, Living with Myths: The Imagery of Roman Sarcophagi [Oxford 2012]). The present volume is no exception to this trend, but it is unusual for its contributors’ sustained treatment of a single theme: the dynamic relationship between artistic copies and models as mapped through the interaction of workshops at metropolitan centers and local sites. The theme of artistic production has been of interest to sarcophagus specialists since the field’s inception, but one that has seen renewed interest of late, including among Anglophone scholars (e.g., B. Russell, “The Roman Sarcophagus ‘Industry’: A Reconsideration,” in J. Elsner and J. Huskinson, eds., Life, Death and Representation: Some New Work on Roman Sarcophagi [Berlin 2010] 119–47; M. Koortbojian, “Standardization and Transformation: Some Observations on the Roman Sarcophagus Trade and Sarcophagus Production,” in C. Hallett, ed., Flesheaters [Berlin (forthcoming)]). At the same time, in improving our understanding of the organization and specialization of individual workshops, the papers in this volume should prove of interest to Roman archaeologists generally, especially those concerned with issues of art and manufacture (e.g., see M. Flohr, B. Russell, and A. Wilson, eds., Art and the Roman Economy [Oxford (forthcoming)]).

The category of “workshop” might seem a self-evident one, and, indeed, it never receives definition in this volume from its editors. However, as Heilmeyer has argued elsewhere (“Ancient Workshops and Ancient ‘Art,’” OJA 23 [2004] 403–15), the modern study of ancient workshops is marked by a tension between art historians’ focus on the characteristic traits of preserved “artworks” and their artists (e.g., school of sculptors, artistic regions) and archaeologists’ interest in the specific contexts in which such works were produced (e.g., kilns, casting pits, quarries). The comprehensive understanding of workshops will thus require the synthesis of both approaches. Despite its sweepingly suggestive subtitle, the present volume sits firmly within the art historical camp, as Koch makes clear in his introduction (1–14). There he articulates the five criteria—material, form, ornament, iconography, and style—that he considers crucial to distinguishing between sarcophagi produced at major working sites (“the center”) and their local copies and imitations (for other methodological reflections, see also M. Galinier, “À vendre: Les sarcophages romains dans les ateliers, suggestions méthodologiques,” in M. Galinier and F. Baratte, eds., Iconographie funéraire romaine et société: Corpus antique, approches nouvelles? [Perpignan 2013] 81–116). Most of the subsequent chapters adopt Koch’s fine-grained approach (or a variant of it) through case studies of a single specimen or small group of works. All of them make useful contributions to our knowledge through their careful autopsies, comprehensive documentation, and high-resolution photographs (including nearly 400 black-and-white images, with several in color).

The chapters are divided into four sections: “Rome and Italy”; “The Provinces in the West”; “Athens and Greece”; and “Asia Minor, the East and Egypt.” Some of the broader questions that the papers raise (and partially answer) follow:

  1. How are metropolitan models adopted and adapted locally? Most of the papers contribute in some way to this question, and the answers are fascinating for their diversity. For instance, the designs of one, two, or more metropolitan centers (Athens, Asia Minor, Rome) may bleed into a single local sarcophagus, but those designs may be altered and combined in ways that render it an utterly novel product (Claverria, Vatta). In other cases, local carving practices or styles may blend equally with or even override the canonicity of metropolitan models (Bonnano Aravantinos, Ciliberto, Valbruzzi). Many of the papers, then, provide test cases for the phenomenon known as “distance-decay effect,” wherein cultural models get fuzzier the farther away they get from the center(s) of production.
  2. What are the mechanisms by which iconographic motifs and subject matter were transmitted? Where copies show a high degree of fidelity to models, sculptors are thought to have relied on pattern books or even plaster casts of particular figures or groups, as suggested for some Attic sarcophagi from Noricum (Pochmarski). But where that relationship gets blurry, such as the curious mélange of relief carvings that were inspired by designs from Athens, Asia Minor, and Rome and appear on locally produced limestone sarcophagi from Palestine, sculptors appear to have worked from memory (Foerster).
  3. What is the evidence for itinerant sculptors and the movement of workshops? Contributions in this area tend to be (by necessity) speculative, but suggest a variety of scenarios: for example, a garland sarcophagus from Arles is shown to be the product of a local workshop in which artists from Asia Minor worked with imported Proconnesian marble (Koch); a late fourth-century columnar sarcophagus from the catacombs of St. Peter is argued (rather creatively) to have been produced in Rome by sculptors who apprenticed in Asia Minor (e.g., Aphrodisias, Constantinople) and were active in Rome (among other cities) as traveling craftsmen (Bielefeld).
  4. What is the relationship between sarcophagi workshops and related industries? A number of contributions point to their interconnectedness: for instance, Stefanidou-Tiveriou presents evidence that the production of sarcophagi in Athens can be dated earlier (150–130 C.E.) and that this may be connected to the building boom of the Hadrianic period—a finding that has implications for the relationship between sarcophagus and other Attic sculptural workshops (e.g., Neo-Attic reliefs).
  5. What was the relationship between the sarcophagus commissioner and the workshop? This relationship has traditionally been (best) explored through the evidence of individual or special commissions, and this volume provides at least two possible examples: a Muse sarcophagus in Lisbon in which the canonical scene of Apollo among the Muses has been transformed into the deceased patron dressed in military garb (Schneider); an Early Christian sarcophagus in Lamta (Tunisia)—“the most important new Early Christian sarcophagus to have been discovered in the last decade” (147)—in which the traditional order of the composition is changed (the traditio legis scene is moved to the right) and the deceased (who is identified as a wealthy estate owner based on the surrounding imagery) is depicted larger than Christ himself (Koch). These compositional changes and other factors (e.g., materials) suggest that there was direct communication between patron and workshop. At the same time, these works return us to the broader issue of center vs. periphery, as they give evidence of local sculptors coarsening well-established prototypes.

Clearly, the debate over how to distinguish original works from copies or imitations and how to track patterns of influence between center and periphery (and vice versa) will continue to engage scholars (and it is to be hoped that there will be more interaction between continental and Anglophone scholars in future). In addition, there are many other fascinating lines of inquiry raised by the evidence of workshops, such as the historical contexts in which they produced sarcophagi for specific social groups, which go largely unexplored here but have seen some important interventions of late (e.g., R.R.R. Smith, “Monuments for New Citizens in Rome and Aphrodisias,” in F. de Angelis et al., eds., Kunst von unten? Stil und Gesellschaft in der antiken Welt von der arte plebea” bis heute [Wiesbaden 2012] 171–84). Even so, Koch is surely right in concluding (260) that the greater our knowledge of the organization and specialization of the sarcophagus industry, the better our understanding of the production of other artistic genres and, moreover, of the mechanisms of trade and the Roman economy at large (see ch. 7, “The Sarcophagus Trade”; B. Russell, The Economics of the Roman Stone Trade [Oxford (forthcoming)]). In interrogating the theme of copies/models from different local and regional perspectives, Koch and Baratte’s volume helps lay the groundwork for that understanding in new and highly significant ways.

School of Art
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, Illinois 60115

Book Review of Akten des Symposiums Sarkophage der Römischen Kaiserzeit: Produktion in den Zentren–Kopien in den Provinzen/ Les sarcophages romains: Centres et périphéries, Paris, 2.–5. November 2005, edited by Guntram Koch and François Baratte

Reviewed by Sinclair Bell

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 1 (January 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1181.Bell

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