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Pheidias: The Sculptures & Ancient Sources

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

Pheidias: The Sculptures & Ancient Sources

By Claire Cullen Davison. Edited by Geoffrey B. Waywell (BICS Suppl. 105). 3 vols. Vol. 1. Pp. xxvi + 656; vol. 2. Pp. viii + 560; vol. 3. Pp. xix + 396, figs. 246. Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, London 2009. £160. ISBN 978-1-905670-21-5 (vol. 1); 978-1-905670-22-2 (vol. 2); 978-1-905670-23-9 (vol. 3) (cloth).

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A timeless genre, endangered species, or zombie risen from the grave? Just when the artist’s monograph begins to resemble the dodo, it miraculously resurrects itself. After a lull in the 1980s, recent years have seen blockbuster exhibitions, sumptuously illustrated catalogues, and heavyweight monographs on Polykleitos, Praxiteles, and Lysippos; a compilation of “Phyromachos Problems”; and a monograph on Skopas (B. Andreae, Phyromachosprobleme [Mainz 1990]; H. Beck, P.C. Bol, and M. Bückling, eds., Polyklet: Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik [Mainz 1990]; D. Kreikenbom, Bildwerke nach Polyklet [Berlin 1990]; P. Moreno, ed., Lisippo: L’arte e la fortuna [Rome 1995]; A. Corso, The Art of Praxiteles. Vols. 1–3 [Rome 2004–2010]; Vol. 4 [forthcoming]; A. Pasquier and J.-L. Martinez, Praxitèle [Paris 2007]; G. Calcani, Skopas di Paros [Rome 2009]). Now comes Pheidias’ turn, with this massive, pricy, three-volume survey masterminded by Waywell. Following the quasiscientific, team-based model that now dominates European humanities research, it began with a Leverhulme grant to produce a computerized database first of the Ashmole photograph archive and then of all ancient written sources on Pheidias and modern attributions to him.

Invented perhaps by Douris of Samos and spectacularly reinvented by Vasari, the artist’s monograph continues to lead a chameleonlike existence. Whether rigorous, revelatory, and/or romantic, it continues to mix art history, biography, and criticism in volatile combination. As Guercio shows in Art as Existence: The Artist’s Monograph and Its Project (Cambridge, Mass. 2006), its impetus is basically utopian. By commuting biography into art and art into biography, it equates art and existence, turning otherwise disparate and discrete artworks into chapters of a life. Hence its continuing appeal.

Unfortunately, in the pre-Vasarian world, the serendipities of survival and the impact on the written sources of rhetorical, religious, and other agendas make this project at best problematic; and in the present case, the lack of Greek originals and the unruly plethora of replicas make it literally utopian. Phidias der Mensch (E. Buschor [Munich 1948]) is a phantom. So Davison offers us a “works + life” volume (including “Masterpieces by Pheidias and Statue Types Associated with Pheidias,” “The Parthenon,” and “The Life of Pheidias”); a volume of written sources; and a volume of photographs, bibliography, and indexes. Each work also gets a tripartite treatment: a discussion of the sources, an analysis of the attributions, and finally a catalogue of replicas.

By and large, Davison’s treatment is conservative and conventional: no surprises here. Although sometimes curiously missing the wood for the trees, she leans over backward to be fair to her predecessors—an increasing rarity in British academe. Of course, every specialist will find something to quibble with every few pages. I, for one, doubt that the unchiastic Sciarra Amazon is Polykleitan; I suspect that the Brazzà Aphrodite is fifth century (a contemporary version of Pheidias’ Ourania)—like the Medici type for the Lemnia; and so on. More alarmingly, though, Davison’s useful summaries of the scholarship and evenhanded comments on it cumulatively prompt the sneaking suspicion that much—even most—of it is simply solipsistic wishful thinking that a resurrected Pheidias probably would take one look at and die laughing. Annoyingly, the ancient literary and epigraphic sources, though laudably comprehensive and also given useful individual commentaries, are unnumbered.

I noticed some stumbles; although, since I have always studiously avoided the vast labyrinth of Phidiasprobleme, others will surely find more. Mathematically, the vote on the Ephesian Amazons cannot have been organized otherwise than Pliny describes it (1), and Keesling (“The Hermolykos/Kresilas Base and the Date of Kresilas of Kydonia,” ZPE 147 [2004] 79–91) has convincingly down-dated Kresilas to ca. 430–400 B.C.E., thereby removing the contest from the 440s (2–3). Apropos the Ourania, the fascinating terracotta fragment from Elis was fully published by Froning (“Überlegungen zur Aphrodite Urania des Phidias in Elis,” AM 120 [2005] 285–94) and requires more than a casual reference (36). Meyer’s and Harrison’s reconstructions of the Parthenos’ shield are mutually exclusive, so one cannot espouse both (95, 103). Given its early fourth-century context, the Agora token (93, 219, no. 95) all but proves that the Parthenos’ snake originally stood to her right, that the column was a later addition, and that Nike’s wings were lowered (cf. 126–39). In Studies Presented to Sterling Dow on His Eightieth Birthday (Durham, N.C. 1984 [279]), Tracy attributed the “Promachos” inscription, IG 1³ 435 (1098–112), to the cutter of IG 1³ 35, the Athena Nike decree of 424. In The Athenian Empire on Stone (Athens 2006), Stroud (who is preparing a new study of it) both questions its pertinence to the statue and down-dates it also. The Marathon base by the Athenian treasury at Delphi cannot date to the 470s–460s (307), since the footprints (fig. 10.2) show that the poses were Polykleitan. Happily, the Gauls did not sack Delphi in 279 (311); the photograph of the Louvre’s “Marcellus”/Hermes (490; see also fig. 17.2) is reversed; the dozens of statuettes of the Mother of the Gods in the Agora storerooms show that the Olympias/Sappho type cannot be she (cf. 515–16). In Greek Sculpture (A.F. Stewart [New Haven 1990] 33), I connected the Menon who denounced Pheidias in the Agora with the nearby House (and marble workshop) of Mikion and Menon; and Plutarch does not call him a “foreigner” (624; cf. 946–47).

Some updates merit mention. Concerning pages 86–8, Damaskos publishes another big replica of the Parthenos’ head with a Pegasus on her helmet’s right side and sphinx on top (“Eine Athenakopie des 5. Jhs. v. Chr. im kaiserzeitlichen Athen: Der Kopf NM 6694,” AM 123 [2008] 381–96). Concerning pages 511–12, in the same volume of AM Despinis publishes a second fragment of the Olympias/Sappho type, plausibly attributes them both to the original, and offers heterodox opinions on the latter’s identity (“Klassische Skulpturen von der Athener Akropolis,” AM 123 [2008] 235–340). In response to page 577, Barletta vigorously challenges Korres’ attractive theory that the Parthenon frieze was an afterthought (“In Defense of the Ionic Frieze of the Parthenon,” AJA 113 [2009] 547–68).

Finally, the illustrations. In a massive project such as this, some variation in quality is pardonable, but its genesis from the Ashmole Archive has resulted in a surprisingly uneven collection. For example, there is good coverage of the Amazons, the shield replicas, and the Elgin marbles but far too many Amazonomachy vases; there are only three photographs of Furtwängler’s Lemnia; there are no coins or lamps picturing the supposed head of the Promachos; and there are no illustrations of the Lyons Zeus or its replicas. Finally, the extended discussion of the copies of the Parthenos’ shield and the temple sculptures, endorsing the Pheidian character of the latter, is vitiated by the complete lack of the relevant photographic juxtapositions (583–612). Ashmole, a stickler for such things, would not have been happy.

Andrew Stewart
Departments of History of Art and Classics
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, California 94720-6020

Book Review of Pheidias: The Sculptures & Ancient Sources, by Claire Cullen Davison

Reviewed by Andrew Stewart

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 3 (July 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.Stewart

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