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Relief Sculpture of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
October 2008 (112.4)
Relief Sculpture of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
By Brian F. Cook. With contributions by Bernard Ashmole and Donald Strong. Pp. xvii + 125, pls. 63. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2005. $365. ISBN 0-19-813212-3 (cloth).
Close to 30 years after Waywell’s catalogue, The Free-Standing Sculptures of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (London 1978), and after decades of Danish excavations at Bodrum (see, most recently, K. Jeppesen, The Maussoleion at Halikarnassos. Vol. 5, The Superstructure [Aarhus 2002]), there finally is a comprehensive account of the monument’s famous friezes. With this book, the Mausoleum’s architecture and decoration are now fully published. The current work results from a collaboration of three scholars spread over two generations. Two contributors, Ashmole and Strong, died in 1988 and 1973, respectively. They were largely responsible for cataloguing the relief fragments preserved at the British Museum. To Cook, the volume’s editor and principal author, fell the task of dealing with the fragments in Bodrum and elsewhere, providing the introductory chapters and revising the entire catalogue, which consists of no less than 875 entries.
The purpose of the publication is as straightforward as it is traditional: namely to present a body of material that, like many famous works of ancient art, has received endless attention from scholars but never an adequate publication. The book addresses the physical and, to a lesser degree, historical evidence but is not concerned with new approaches or methodologies. The material is meticulously illustrated with photographs of every slab and fragment, their scale duly indicated on each plate. Higher resolution and heavier paper should have been used for the images. To facilitate the use of the catalogue and plates, a diagram indicating the (proposed) locations of the Amazon, centaur, and chariot friezes would have been helpful.
Destined to be the standard reference for the Mausoleum friezes, the book comes at a price: $365.00 in the United States. The volume appears slim, with 125 pages of text and 63 plates, but given the number of fragments discussed, it is a remarkable achievement. After all, the subject is the decoration of one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Cook, however, did not let himself be carried away by the weight of the monument’s reputation. It is, in fact, a major advantage that the book presents its topic in a concise and concentrated fashion. Because the information included was selected according to its relevance, while other facts were deliberately left out, the vast material thus becomes ultimately accessible and manageable. “The findspots of the fragments, even where known, are without value either for the original location or for their authorship, and have therefore been omitted from the catalogue entries” (28). In times when excavation context can assume political significance, to leave out this much archaeological data is a bold decision but one based on a thorough review of the available evidence, even if the intricacies of the review process are not spread out in front of the reader. In Cook the book had an authoritative and confident editor with a clear sense of balance between straightforward catalogue and applied criticism.
In his “Introduction”—modestly so named, for it contains a thorough revision of some widely accepted notions—Cook discusses the history of the discovery, excavation, and scholarship. Research on the Mausoleum friezes has long been overshadowed by Pliny’s account in the Natural History that four artists—among them, most famously, Skopas of Paros—were involved in the project; that the monument’s World Wonder fame was due to these four sculptors; and that each was responsible for the decoration of one side of the square structure. Seemingly well informed, Pliny, for instance, attributed the east side to Skopas. Thus, what scholars have long tried to determine was the original placement of the preserved frieze slabs, which has been seen as the key for their attribution to the different artists. As Cook demonstrates, however, many of the assumptions about authorship are based on misrepresented evidence and wrong claims, namely that the findspots of the relief slabs have a direct relationship to their original placement on the ancient monument. This situation can be blamed on Newton, who excavated the Mausoleum site from 1856 to 1858 and produced most of the material evidence but sexed up his reports to align them with Pliny’s testimony, which had clearly obstructed the hopeful excavator’s judgment. His disregard, if not willful suppression, of the friezes’ post-antique history—from the dismantling of the Mausoleum by the Hospitallers in the 15th century to the reuse of frieze blocks by Turkish builders—did serious damage to subsequent scholarship. “In this way Newton set scholars on a quest for the sculptors of the friezes that was to last for nearly a century and a half” (18). With Newton’s inaccuracies now exposed, the entire basis for attributing the frieze slabs to the Mausoleum sculptors mentioned in Pliny finally collapses. But these attempts at attribution have proven highly subjective no matter what. The ultimate futility of such efforts is beautifully illuminated by a table on page 20, where Cook traces how different scholars have attributed the Amazonomachy slabs to individual sculptors: every slab was given to Skopas at some point, and every slab has been attributed to at least three of the four masters. Clearly, the application of Meisterforschung on the Mausoleum’s relief sculpture, Cook concludes rather understatedly, “may be seen as unproductive” (28).
Nonetheless, that method had some serious consequences. According to Newton, the famous slab showing an Amazon in an advanced state of undress (pl. 9, slab no. 8, fig. G) was from the Mausoleum’s east side, for which Pliny says Skopas was responsible. Therefore, many scholars accepted Skopas as the author of the relief slab. Treu attributed to that sculptor a statuette of a maenad, which he had acquired for the Dresden Sculpture Collection, based on the parallels with the half-naked Amazon figure. Despite criticism, the “Maenad of Skopas” has remained a topos in the literature for more than 100 years. Not only were Newton’s seemingly objective reasons for the attribution of the frieze slab inadequate, as Cook demonstrates (26), but the Dresden maenad was also sometimes used in a circular argument to support that very attribution.
Although Cook is not entirely above Meisterforschung himself, he applies it much more reasonably and cautiously. He makes a cogent case for Pytheos as the master planner of the reliefs, which were executed by carvers also responsible for the sculptured coffers from the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene (26–8). The master sculptors mentioned by Pliny and Vitruvius, he argues, may have designed only the Mausoleum’s freestanding sculptures.
Cook sums up his review with an almost sobering statement, which deserves quoting here, as it candidly puts the friezes—installed at eye-level for admiration in the museum—into the necessary perspective (28): “The relief sculptures of the Mausoleum should … be seen not as outstanding works of art, worthy of attribution to sculptors with major reputations, nor even as significant reason for the fame of the monument, but simply as part of the architectural ensemble, embellishments on a building more truly remarkable for a colossal quantity of free-standing sculptures.”
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Book Review of Relief Sculpture of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, by Brian F. Cook
Reviewed by Jens Daehner
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 112, No. 4 (October 2008)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/584