Fon­dazione Prada

Neue Luxury - - News - By Dr Sasha Gr­ishin

The great Ger­man poet, Goethe, who was a pas­sion­ate ad­mirer of Greek art, wrote “noth­ing gripped my whole be­ing so much as the Lao­coön group … I was in ec­stasies over it.” He penned this on view­ing a plas­ter cast of the orig­i­nal

1 in Mannheim in Ger­many. The fact that copies of the El­gin Mar­bles were be­ing made and sold in con­ti­nen­tal Europe so­licited joy for Goethe, not­ing that, “the Con­ti­nent will soon be swamped with these mag­nif­i­cent forms [plas­ter casts of the El­gin Mar­bles], like cheap cot­ton goods. I am go­ing to or­der the horse’s head at once so that it will be im­pos­si­ble to do with­out the he­roes that go with it”. Repli­cas of dif­fer­ent qual­ity, size and ma­te­ri­als dis­sem­i­nated around

2 the world our knowl­edge of the art of clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity in the modern era. In 2015 Fon­dazione Prada held two un­usual and provoca­tive ex­hi­bi­tions: Se­rial Classic in Mi­lan and Por­ta­ble Classic in Venice co- cu­rated by Dr Sal­va­tore Set­tis and Dr Anna An­guis­sola. While Se­rial Classic fo­cused on the idea of the Greek orig­i­nal and the se­rial pro­duc­tion of Ro­man copies, Por­ta­ble Classic ex­plored the ideas in­volved with minia­ture copies, where some­times de­tails from the dam­aged orig­i­nals were ‘re­stored’ and scale was a free vari­able. Although an­chored in the art of clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity, the two ex­hi­bi­tions posed very con­tem­po­rary ques­tions con­cern­ing copies and au­then­tic­ity and the so­cial func­tion of art in both an­tiq­uity and modern times. Each ex­am­in­ing the use of repli­cas and copies of Greek art in the Ro­man em­pire and be­yond which ques­tion­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of copy­ing in art.

From clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity, lit­er­ary sources pre­serve a cat­a­logue of some of the great names from An­cient Greek art, in­clud­ing Zeuxis, Apelles, Phidias, Poly­cli­tus, Prax­ite­les, My­ron and Lysip­pus. How­ever, their stand­ing as peo­ple in so­ci­ety was low. Re­garded as man­ual labour­ers, peo­ple who worked with their hands were thought of like black­smiths, and while they could pro­duce won­drous suits of ar­mour to save you in bat­tle, theirs was a skill not con­sid­ered wor­thy of a free­born man. Lucian, the great rhetori­cian writ­ing in the 2nd cen­tury AD, ob­served: “You may turn out to be a Phidias or a Poly­cli­tus, to be sure, and cre­ate a num­ber of won­der­ful works, but even so, though your art will be gen­er­ally com­mended, no sen­si­ble ob­server will be found to wish him­self like you; what­ever your real qual­i­ties, you will al­ways be ranked as a com­mon crafts­man who makes his liv­ing with his hands”. lutarch was of a sim­i­lar opin­ion:

3 “We de­light in the work, we de­spise the work­man, as, for in­stance, in the case of per­fumes and dyes; we take a de­light in them, but dy­ers and per­fumers we re­gard as il­lib­eral and vul­gar folk.”

4 The Ro­man philoso­pher Seneca was equally con­demn­ing of artists when he wrote: “I do not con­sent to ad­mit paint­ing into the list of lib­eral arts, any more than sculp­ture, mar­ble-work­ing, and other helps to­ward lux­ury.” Nei­ther the

5 Greek nor Latin lan­guages had a word for art as an au­ton­o­mous aes­thetic ac­tiv­ity; the Greek Τεχνη or the Latin ars im­plied the idea of hu­man skill, such as the skill re­quired to un­der­take an ac­tiv­ity like that of hor­ti­cul­ture. At the same time as the Ro­man literati ex­pressed their con­tempt for artists in gen­eral, and Greek artists in par­tic­u­lar, there was a flour­ish­ing cult of Greek art amongst Ro­man col­lec­tors and pub­lic of­fi­cials. Greek orig­i­nals were very hard to come by and were ac­quired at great cost, while Ro­man copies af­ter Greek orig­i­nals be­came a ma­jor en­ter­prise, with lit­er­ally thou­sands of copies, of dif­fer­ent di­men­sions and out of var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als, were pro­duced.

Both Fon­dazione Prada ex­hi­bi­tions stood Greco-ro­man thought on its head, chal­leng­ing the idea of a ‘unique ge­nius cre­ator’ by un­cov­er­ing the preva­lence of se­ri­al­ity. A cen­tral ar­gu­ment ad­vanced both in the ex­hi­bi­tions and in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing mono­graphic cat­a­logue, was that Greek art it­self had a propen­sity for the cre­ation of re­peat­able mod­els and, ac­cord­ing to a later source, Pliny the Elder, Lysip­pus him­self was re­spon­si­ble for some 1,500 works. Greek thought was gen­er­ally pre­oc­cu­pied with find­ing ‘or­der’ or a com­mon mea­sure, the gen­eral as op­posed to the ‘spe­cific’ and the ‘his­toric’ that was of­ten cham­pi­oned in Ro­man thought; one could think of the con­trast be­tween Homer and Vir­gil’s Aeneid, or Poly­cli­tus’s Do­rypho­rus with a Ro­man por­trait bust. The modern per­cep­tion of Greco-ro­man an­tiq­uity in the pop­u­lar Euro­pean imag­i­na­tion—with its gleam­ing white mar­ble sculp­tures that were thought of as unique cre­ations ed­i­fy­ing mythol­ogy and lore—are in fact a mis­con­cep­tion. The her­itage of thought of Jo­hann Joachim Winck­el­mann and Goethe was brought un­der ques­tion and an al­ter­na­tive idea of Greek and Ro­man art is pre­sented “whereby stat­u­ary white was colour, unique­ness was mul­ti­ple, and au­thor­ship shared”. Se­ri­al­ity, which is com­monly thought of as a modern or post

6 modern tra­di­tion, is shown as be­ing an in­her­ent part of clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity.

The pro­duc­tion of free-stand­ing bronze sculp­tures was car­ried out in Greece on a vast scale, with an es­ti­mate of be­tween 1000– 3000 bronze sculp­tures cre­ated in Olympia alone, not to men­tion huge en­sem­bles of bronze sculp­tures in Athens, Del­phi and Rhodes. To­day, only about 100 Greek bronzes sur­vive, none of which are con­sid­ered amongst the fa­mous mas­ter­pieces. In the Se­rial Classic ex­hi­bi­tion, the lost Greek bronze orig­i­nals, My­ron’s Dis­cobo­lus, Poly­cli­tus’s Do­rypho­rus and Prax­ite­les’ Satyr, were com­mem­o­rated with empty pedestals on which the lit­er­ary sources that speak of these lost orig­i­nals are dis­played. Next to them stood a se­ries of Ro­man mar­ble copies af­ter the lost orig­i­nals. The lost bronzes were orig­i­nally cast from moulds with ma­nip­u­lated and poly­chrome sur­faces, and most likely in a se­ries. Some se­ri­al­cast ter­ra­cotta busts from Medma (in present day Cal­abria in South­ern Italy) were in­cluded in Se­rial Classic to re­mind view­ers of the na­ture of sculp­ture pro­duc­tion in the an­cient world. The Ro­man mar­ble copies were also once poly­chrome and, to mark this fact, poly­chrome re­con­struc­tions were also in­cluded in the Se­rial Classic.

“We se­lected works that were rep­re­sen­ta­tive of dif­fer­ent as­pects of Ro­man copy­ing, en­cour­ag­ing the viewer to con­sider the rea­sons for and ex­tent of se­ri­al­ity while at the same time fo­cus­ing on the unique treat­ment of sur­faces and de­tails of each piece. We showed that the se­ri­al­ity in art was not, per se, a Ro­man in­ven­tion. In­stead, what is Ro­man about se­ri­al­ity is the spe­cific in­ter­est in— and de­tailed knowl­edge of—the mas­ter­pieces of an­cient Greek artists, as well as the use of copies as el­e­ments of com­plex vis­ual se­man­tics,” ex­plains Dr An­guis­sola. “How sim­i­lar could the repli­cas of a same sculp­tural type be? What was the ef­fect of mul­ti­ple repli­cas of the same type ex­hib­ited to­gether, next to one an­other? What ma­te­ri­als did the Ro­mans use for their copies— and why? How were copies made? The clos­ing sec­tion of Se­rial Classic, which fea­tured the ex­tra­or­di­nary mar­ble statue of Pene­lope on loan from Te­heran, posed the thorny ques­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween a sur­viv­ing Greek orig­i­nal and the Ro­man ver­sions of the same type.”

7 Ro­man ar­ti­sans were in­volved in a process of dou­ble trans­la­tion when mak­ing copies in mar­ble of Greek orig­i­nals in bronze, re­gard­less of how me­chan­i­cal and ac­cu­rate the process. One trans­la­tion fo­cussed on the medium, the other was scale, and in­vari­ably the ap­pear­ance of sur­faces with the tac­til­ity of the works and changes to small de­tails in the sculp­tures speak­ing to a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity. It is these sub­tle and, at times, not so sub­tle, shifts in the works that in­ter­ro­gate the no­tion of the ‘copy’ and the ‘orig­i­nal’ along with the val­ues that can be at­trib­uted to these works. Ro­man work­shops would make plas­ter casts af­ter the Greek ‘orig­i­nals’ and then, through a process of point­ing, mea­sure­ments taken from the plas­ter cast were trans­ferred onto the block of mar­ble that was then carved back through a process of tri­an­gu­la­tion.

A cu­ri­ous fact in the Ro­man love of se­ri­al­ity was that at times in Ro­man cities, two or three iden­ti­cal copies of the same work would be dis­played in the same room. This was not a ques­tion of as­sem­bling a rep­re­sen­ta­tive col­lec-

tion of a sculp­tor’s work, but of re­peat­ing the same work in an ef­fort to im­press an au­di­ence. The ex­hi­bi­tion rep­re­sented this pe­cu­liar­ity by pre­sent­ing life­size first cen­tury Ro­man copies made af­ter Prax­ite­les’ Satyr from the sec­ond quar­ter of the 1st cen­tury BC.

Re­flect­ing on the Ro­man fash­ion to make copies af­ter Greek orig­i­nals, Dr An­guis­sola ar­gues: “From the late Hel­lenis­tic through the early im­pe­rial pe­riod of Rome, art col­lec­tions tran­si­tioned from holy ded­i­ca­tions and com­mem­o­ra­tions of tri­umphs to in­di­ca­tors of so­cial and in­tel­lec­tual pres­tige, con­nected to es­tab­lished prac­tices of con­nois­seur­ship, pri­vate art pa­tron­age and the art mar­ket. First cen­tury CE Rome, as de­picted by Pliny the Elder, was packed with Greek art­works, on dis­play in the houses of the Em­per­ors, in pri­vate col­lec­tions, as well as in pub­lic build­ings (fora, tem­ples, por­ti­coes). The fash­ion for Greek cul­ture went far be­yond the fig­u­ral arts, shap­ing ev­ery sphere of the Ro­man pri­vate and pub­lic life. Greek gen­res, themes and styles be­came tools for in­ven­tive Ro­man lit­er­ary and vis­ual art­works ... Copies were used for a num­ber of rea­sons and in a va­ri­ety of ways in Ro­man cities and build­ings. Of­ten the se­rial pro­duc­tion of sculp­ture was re­quired by large dis­play con­texts that had to be fur­nished with a con­sid­er­able num­ber of art­works and eas­ily recog­nis­able or­na­ments quickly. At the same time, how­ever, the name and works of the fore­most Greek artists es­pe­cially of the 5th and 4th cen­tury BC were wide­spread knowl­edge in the Ro­man world. Icono­gra­phies, styles, and in­di­vid­ual art­works from the Greek past were as­so­ci­ated with a tight rhetoric of Ro­man qual­i­ties, virtues and ideals. Pre­cisely be­cause they were eas­ily recog­nis­able, the copies of such fa­mous art­works pro­vided a phe­nom­e­nal ve­hi­cle for the vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion of ab­stract con­cepts.”

The Por­ta­ble Classic ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sented on the ground and first floor at Ca’ Cor­ner della Regina in Venice, as­sem­bled over 80 re­pro­duc­tions of clas­si­cal sculp­tures. In Rome and sub­se­quent Euro­pean civil­i­sa­tion, the con­cept of du­pli­ca­tion emerged from a canon of supreme ex­am­ples of clas­si­cal beauty pre­served in sculp­tures that was known to the cognoscenti. As orig­i­nals were im­pos­si­ble to ac­quire, minia­ture repli­cas be­came fash­ion­able. High­light­ing this was the pre­sen­ta­tion of Far­nese Her­cules, which was dis­played as a 317 cm high plas­ter cast, next to which a se­ries of small-scale re­pro­duc­tions were pre­sented, mea­sur­ing be­tween 15 to 130 cm and made from mar­ble, bronze and ter­ra­cotta.

Por­ta­ble Classic also fea­tured a mix­ture of clas­si­cal small-scale bronzes, in­clud­ing Venus Pu­dica and other Venuses from Greek and later Hel­lenis­tic times jux­ta­posed with even later Re­nais­sance se­rial in­ter­pre­ta­tions. An­other sec­tion was de­voted to the great col­lec­tors of the 16th cen­tury, where clas­si­cal themed paint­ings by Lorenzo Lotto, Tin­toretto and Bernardino Licinio, cel­e­brated the clas­si­cal sculp­tures and plas­ter casts found in the col­lec­tions of their pa­trons. As wit­nessed in the se­lec­tion of paint­ings on dis­play, Re­nais­sance artists were chal­lenged by fa­mous works from an­tiq­uity, in­clud­ing Belvedere Torso and the Lao­coön, where they em­ployed small-scale repli­cas to com­plete the miss­ing parts of the clas­si­cal orig­i­nals.

“The no­tion of au­then­tic­ity and au­thor­ship, as well as the prac­tice of se­ri­al­ity, have been ubiq­ui­tous in the dis­course about art and the artis­tic prac­tice over the last cen­tury,” says Dr An­guis­sola, fur­ther re­flect­ing on the im­pli­ca­tions of these ex­hi­bi­tions for modern and con­tem­po­rary art prac­tice. “Are the items of a se­ries by def­i­ni­tion non- orig­i­nal? Does the copy pose a threat to the sta­tus of an orig­i­nal? What are the marks of the cre­ative hand of a mas­ter? What are the ef­fects, both from a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive and in the aes­thetic-emo­tional di­men­sion, of changes in size, ma­te­ri­als, and me­dia? All these ques­tions are just as ap­pli­ca­ble to con­tem­po­rary artis­tic prac­tice as they are to the study and un­der­stand­ing of the an­cient Greek and Ro­man world.”

The two Fon­dazione Prada ex­hi­bi­tions bring into ques­tion the role of copies in the art of clas­si­cal An­tiq­uity and, per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, ex­am­ine the orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance of clas­si­cal Greek sculp­ture. Se­ri­al­ity, re­pro­duc­tions and du­pli­ca­tion are not a new phe­nom­e­non in the glob­alised era, but ev­i­dently steeped in long­stand­ing tra­di­tions through­out West­ern his­tory. The Span­ish sur­re­al­ist artist, Sal­vador Dalí once fa­mously said, “dur­ing the Re­nais­sance, when they wished to im­i­tate Im­mor­tal Greece, they pro­duced Raphael.” In the after­math of these ex­hi­bi­tions one could say, “dur­ing the Modern era, when they looked at the copies of An­tiq­uity, they pro­duced Andy Warhol and his mul­ti­ples.”

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