“Possibly the world’s finest Greek portrait”: Demosthenes – from Knole to Copenhagen

The Copenhagen Demosthenes (WikiMedia Commons).

Among the most famous sculptures in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek is the portrait statue of Demosthenes (inv. 2782; Arachne entry with some further bibliography). The statue is reported to have been found in Campania, where it was once part of the collection of a palazzo in central Naples. In 1770, it then made its way to the country house of Knole in Kent (now owned by National Trust).

Frederik Poulsen, who was director of NCG from 1926 to 1943, was a prolific writer and gives an interesting account of the acquisition of the Demosthenes for the Copenhagen collection in the third volume of his memoirs, Foraar i Spanien, Sommer i England [Spring in Spain, Summer in England] (1950).

I provide a rough translation of the passage below (p. 121). The companionship that he mentions in the beginning here refers to Helge Jacobsen (1882-1946), the son of Carl Jacobsen, who at the time served as chairman of the Glyptotek’s board (see now “The Enigmatic Collector“). Sadly, I have been unable to locate the pub in which FP sealed the deal.

An aura of summer air and good companionship rests over the acquisition of the famous Demosthenes statue from Knole Park in Kent (southern England) in 1929. The offer came from the noble owner through the art dealer company Spink and Son in London and when the statue in its time had been characterised by the German Adolph Michaëlis as technically and artistically poorer than the even more famous Demosthenes statue in the Vatican, we first sent Elo to get this assessment confirmed or refuted. He came home filled with praise, and now Helge Jacobsen, accompanied by wife and daughter, and I departed. From London we drove south in the Spinks’ car, accompanied by a gracious representative from the company, to the hop gardens of Kent. When we saw the statue, we could almost not hide our enthusiasm, so powerful was its effect, much stronger than the Vatican’s statue, which I proved in a later publication. It was a good thing that the Spink representative did not understand Danish. After a cosy lunch in the pub “Seven Oaks”, I had a tense negotiation with this gracious gentleman in the beer garden, and I succeeded in getting the price down from 16.000 to 12.000 pounds. The statue, possibly the world’s finest Greek portrait sculpture, is honestly worth that.

Knole, photo: Nigel Turner (on Flickr).

Being Karian: On “Classical” Heritage in Bodrum

Gönül Bozoglu, Vinnie Nørskov and I have a new paper on “The Phantom Mausoleum: Contemporary Local Heritages of a Wonder of the Ancient World in Bodrum, Turkey” out in the Journal of Social Archaeology.

The paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork in Bodrum that we’ve done over a number of years and especially a series of interviews with local residents on the contemporary perception of archaeology and heritage. As the title suggests, the Maussolleion is very often perceived as a “phantom” in the cityscape. We discuss some reasons why this may be, including the curious place of “classical heritage” in the broader Turkish archaeological landscape and the consequences of “musealising” heritage within a living community. We also touch on the influence of Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (aka “The Fisherman of Halikarnassos”) on the understanding of Bodrum’s archaeological landscape.

Halikarnassos Maussolleion
The Maussolleion, Bodrum, photo: TMK, April 2018.

As the title our paper indicates, one of the striking things about the Mausolleion (or Mausoleum) is the absence of the kind of monumentality that is associated with the status of a “wonder of the ancient world” and that inspires a wide array of re-imaginations of its place and role in both ancient and modern culture. For example, we discuss notions of a locally specific “Karian” identity in this region of Turkey. Over the coming years, it will be very interesting to follow the impact of the Milas “Hekatomneion” on this framing of local archaeology in the broader Bodrum region.

Herodotus, Artemisia, Maussollos
(Modern) statues of Herodotus, Artemisia and Maussollos outside the entrance to Bodrum Castle. Photo: TMK, April 2018.

Robin Osborne on Phaleron and Rewriting Early Athenian History

Following up from yesterday’s post on the extraordinary finds from Phaleron, here’s an online lecture from Robin Osborne placing the mass graves (containing c.3% of the contemporary male population in Athens!) into the much larger context of archaic Greek political history and interpreting them as an expression of Athenian state power: “Archaeology and the Rewriting of Early Athenian History” (British School at Athens, 9 February 2021).

Violence and the Archaeology of Internal War

A recurring theme in my work on ancient iconoclasm is the social meaning of violence and especially “mirror effects” in the treatment of stone and flesh-and-blood bodies, a topic that I am once again pursuing as part of the DFG network on internal war.

For this reason, I was very much intrigued by the discovery in 2016 of two mass graves with the remains of 79 individuals (some shackled) dating to the seventh century BC at the site of the Stavros Niarchos Park in Kallithea and widely reported by various media at the time. The mass grave is in fact just a small part of a much larger cemetery with close to 1,800 burials, interred between the eighth and fourth centuries BC. The osteoarchaeological evidence has now been published with admirable speed and efficiency by Anna Ingvardsson, Ylva Bäckström and their collaborators in a laudable open access format in Opuscula, the journal of the Swedish institutes in Athens and Rome.

From Ingvardsson & Bäckström 2019, 13 (here).

Referencing Kylon’s attempted (mythical?) coup in 632 BC, Ingvardsson & Bäckström conclude (p. 79):

The scenario surrounding the depositions of the individuals in the mass graves at Phaleron is largely obscure and cannot be elucidated through the osteological field observation. However, it seems likely that the individuals died within a short period of time, some of them more or less simultaneously. Why and where the individuals were killed is a matter of conjecture; the observations from the field documentation neither validate, nor disprove the hypothesis that these individuals were the captives and victims of the so-called “Cylonian conspiracy”.

A hypothetical scenario is that a majority of the captives, probably in poor physical condition, e.g. starved, dehydrated,and beaten but otherwise in good general health, were brought to Phaleron in shackles, some of them plausibly tied to a frame with ropes, as suggested by their positions. The individuals may have been pushed to the ground, some of them perhaps kneeling, before fatal blows/punches to the head of the individuals not already dead were inflicted before the bodies were covered.

Making and Breaking the Emperors at Eretria

Some photos from a wet day visiting the excavations of ancient Eretria and its temple of the imperial cult with an interesting assemblage of seven heavily fragmented sculptures, possibly the outcome of late antique Christian response (see JRA 2001). We are eagerly awaiting Valentina di Napoli’s full publication of the finds.

Eretria Augusteum
The Eretria Augusteum. Photo: TMK, Oct 2020.
Eretria Augusteum
The Eretria Augusteum. Photo: TMK, Oct 2020.
Fragments of statues from the Eretria Augusteum (from JRA 2001, 124).

The Death of Spolia? Roman Re-Use Cultures

Scholarship on reuse in the Roman (and late antique) world is growing at great speed. I have recently reviewed this large volume on “La sculpture et sesames reemplois”, edited by Vassiliki Gaggadis-Robin and Nicholas de Larquier (forthcoming in Latomus, 79.4):

The volume compiles plenty of interesting new material, especially from the western Mediterranean, both in terms of recently excavated contexts of architectural and sculptural reuse and from the storerooms of local museums and collections. It is a rich hoard indeed…..

Yet there are also some obvious missed opportunities in the general presentation of this material. There are very few cross-references, and conversations between individual papers are generally not flagged or pointed out. Some chapters omit important new scholarship (such as Hendrik Dey on spolia in late antique fortifications, or Axel Gering’s extensive documentation of different practices of reuse in Ostia). Others are short and matter-of-factual without much discussion of the wider phenomenon of reuse and its aesthetic, social, religious and political implications. Overall, however, scholars interested in the rich life histories of Roman sculpture will find plenty of interest in this volume. 

This volume follows several other collections on Roman re-use cultures that have appeared in recent years, including “Reuse and Renovation in Roman Material Culture” (2018), edited by Diana Y. Ng and Molly Swetnam-Burland, (see my review of this for JRA), and, on a less art historical note, “Recycling and Reuse in the Roman Economy” (2020), edited by Chloë N. Duckworth and Andrew Wilson.

Work by many other scholars, such as Simon Barker, Jon Frey, Ine Jacobs, Anna Leone, Yuri Marano, Beth Munro, Panayotis Panayides, and Anna Sitz is also very relevant for revealing the many dimensions of Roman and late antique reuse culture. For more general approaches, there is the very useful Discard Studies website. Perhaps then we can finally lay the old ghost of “spolia” to rest?

Earthquakes, Sculpture and the Archaeological Record

Tumbled columns on the Northern Street
Earthquake “rubble” at Northern Street, Scythopolis (Beit Shean). Photo: TMK, May 2009.

Archaeoseismological research typically focuses on urban landscapes (see, for example, Andrew Wilson’s recent piece on Aphrodisias, or my own humble contribution on the Lykos Valley). Late antique assemblages of earthquake rubble at sites, such as Scythopolis (above), indeed show very nicely how earthquakes could affect urban life in devastating ways.

What is much less systematically discussed in scholarship is the impact of earthquakes on the sculptural landscape of ancient cities and sanctuaries. After all, statues were often placed in relatively exposed locations – such as on pedestals and bases – that would have made them prone to both direct and indirect effects of earthquakes. This point – that I have impressionistically explored in a contribution to this volume – is very nicely underlined in the image below of a “survivor” from the 8.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Stanford University (and the surrounding communities) on 18 April 1906.

Fallen statue of Louis Agassiz, Stanford main quad, photo: Frank Davey, 1906.

Graphs, Statues and Social History

Chronological overview of the dedication of confederate monuments, by Southern Poverty Law Center. Large version available here.

I first became aware of this graph of the chronological distribution of confederate monuments last year when Jen Trimble gave a virtual paper for our sculpture seminar. Not all of these monuments are statues, but many are…..The graph has since then appeared in Alexander Bauer’s JSA paper, “Itineraries, iconoclasm, and the pragmatics of heritage“. It was first published as part of a fantastic resource by the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy.”

The graph is a really nice representation of the social contexts in which a specific group of (modern) sculpture was dedicated and is as such a wonderful resource for studying statues as social history. In the context of the ancient world, it resonates with the slightly more crude graph below that represents the slow, steady decline in numbers of new imperial portrait statues and that is taken from a classic long review piece by Bert Smith (and which since then has been followed up in work by the Last Statues of Antiquity project).

What these graph don’t do, of course, is to represent how people have engaged with individual statues after the singular moment of dedication, a topic that we began to discuss in more detail in our volume, “The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture“, published a few years ago, and on which future research will hopefully provide new ways of representing using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

The “end” of imperial portrait statues as illustrated by Smith 1985, Fig. 1.

Safeguarding Statues in WWII

With colleagues, I am doing work on a group of sculptures now in the small archaeological museum in Agrinio. The sculptures were excavated in the 1920s, long way before the current Agrinio museum opened, and for fifty years or so they were housed in Athens. While looking into their history of display (and restoration), I was reminded of the extraordinary images from 1940-41 when the heroic staff of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens worked hard to keep the collection safe from harm. Statues (and other objects in the museum) were sealed and buried in underground pits. Incidentally, some of the sculptures treated in this way originally had been found in pits (e.g. the Sounion kouroi recovered by Staïs in the early 20th century). The sculptures were not freed or “excavated” again until June 1946. The museum made a collection of photos of these efforts available here, some highlights of which I showcase below.