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Women and Visual Replication in Roman Imperial Art and Culture

Women and Visual Replication in Roman Imperial Art and Culture

By Jennifer Trimble (Greek Culture in the Roman World). Pp. xi + 486, figs. 71. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2011. $125. ISBN 978-0-521-82515-3 (cloth).

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In the art of the Graeco-Roman world, repetition was, as the poet Horace (Ars P. 365) affirms, considered pleasurable. The concept has not fared so well in the modernist era, yet by the mid 1950s, semiotician Roland Barthes, in his deft analysis of the systems of meaning operative in contemporary French popular culture, could, riffing on Horace, declare: “For while I don’t know whether, as the saying goes, ‘things which are repeated are pleasing,’ my belief is they are significant” (Mythologies [Paris 1957] 12). That is in many ways exactly the point of departure for Trimble’s study of the social and cultural meanings of the process of replication that takes as its focus the familiar statue type dubbed the Large Herculaneum Woman (LHW). Chapter 1 (“Origins”) begins with the 18th-century excavation of the eponymous Large and Small Herculaneum Women, and, in discussing their early reception, the author makes it clear that her study is a departure from the long history of Kopienkritik, which sought to reconstruct a lost Greek original through the analysis of a Roman replica series (15). Although she freely acknowledges that the LHW type “was most probably already in existence in Hellenistic Greece” (267), it is the manufacture and social role of the datable marble examples, starting in the Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods, which have center stage. Chapter 2 traces the first phases of the process with a detailed discussion of quarries and the varying practices of roughing out statues, while chapter 3 discusses shipping distribution and a diverse range of finishing workshops across the empire. Chapter 4 concentrates on the varying contributions of head, body, and inscription to be found in LHW portrait statues, and chapter 5 considers viewer interactions with these statues primarily in second-century C.E. urban architectural contexts in Greece and Asia Minor. Chapter 6 (“Difference”) analyzes LHW statues from more distant locales: Carmo, in the Roman province of Baetica, Spain; Sarmizegetusa, Dacia; to outside the Roman empire altogether in Panticapaion, capital of the Cimmerian Bosphorus, a client kingdom of Rome. These LHW examples often vary markedly in form, size, and function (often funerary). They raise different questions about the interrelations of empire and place while simultaneously highlighting what had been “the canonical aspects of this type’s form and use” to signify the elite body and civic patronage in the Greek East (278). Chapter 7 (“Endings”) traces the multiple disruptions in production and supply, as well as profound shifts in patterns of civic benefaction that underlay the disappearance of the LHW type in the early third century C.E. A complete catalogue and an appendix on categories of dating based on style are also included.

Each chapter artfully interweaves traditional formal analysis with larger questions of the agency of objects, the process of reproduction, and the performative aspects of honorific portraiture, all informed by the work of theorists such as Alfred Gell, Walter Benjamin, and Judith Butler, among others. The thematic organization of the book means that different aspects of the same monument are discussed in different chapters—for example, the LHW portrait statue of Plancia Magna and inscriptions in chapter 4, its display context in her city gate complex at Perge in chapter 5. This can make it something of a challenge to trace a single monument, although the minimal but useful index helps. Moreover, the very structure of the book, the interrelatedness of its parts as well as its strategic repetitions embody the argument it presents: that the LHW type was “part of a highly networked cultural system,” indeed a Mediterraneanized culture (338–39).

I found chapter 5 (“Space”), with its emphasis on the visual dynamics of the interaction of distracted viewers in motion with these statues in the urban context of Perge, particularly thought-provoking, although I question whether public honorific portraiture in major cities and sanctuaries in the Greek East was necessarily so “canonical” (278, 280) for the LHW type in its second-century C.E. heyday. After all, its funerary use in Athens itself is in evidence from at least the Hadrianic era (cat. nos. 1, 3). On occasion, too, the dating of an LHW statue on stylistic grounds alone seems problematic. The headless statue of Servilia, daughter of Lucius, from Carmo, in the southern Iberian province of Baetica (cat. no. 163) is a case in point. The statue of Servilia was found in the central room off the gallery on the northwest side of a large tomb decorated with early first-century C.E. wall painting (L. Abad Casal and M. Bendala Galán, “La tumba de Servilia de la necrópolis romana de Carmona: Su decoración pictórica,” Habis 6 [1975] 295–325) and a Julio-Claudian male portrait head often associated, as the author acknowledges, with Carmo’s Lucius Servilius Pollio, prefect of Gaius Caesar and priest of the imperial cult in this period (CIL 2 5120) (183 n. 38, 275 n. 26). And yet, based solely on stylistic criteria, the author dates the Servilia statue to the mid second century C.E. It would be good to know how this coincides with the dating of the statue’s inscription. After all, if Servilia’s statue were from the early first century C.E., then this erstwhile “outlier” (264) could be a funerary trendsetter and further complicate the protean parameters of the local and the global in the distribution of LHW statues. That it is questions of context and meaning that this book inspires, however, only attests to what a paradigm shift this study of Roman statuary replication represents.

Barbara Kellum
Department of Art
Smith College
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Book Review of Women and Visual Replication in Roman Imperial Art and Culture, by Jennifer Trimble

Reviewed by Barbara Kellum

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 2 (April 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1182.Kellum

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