Roman Copies of Greek Statues

  • Head of Athena
    2007.293
  • Torso of a centaur
    09.221.6
  • Statue of a wounded Amazon
    32.11.4
  • Statue of Diadoumenos (youth tying a fillet around his head)
    25.78.56
  • Statue of a wounded warrior
    25.116
  • Statue of a woman
    03.12.17
  • Fragmentary head of a deity wearing a Dionysiac fillet
    1992.11.66
  • The Three Graces
    2010.260
  • Head from a statue of Harmodios
    26.60.1
  • Fragment from the Eleusinian Relief
    14.130.9
  • Relief of a dancing maenad
    35.11.3
  • Statue of Herakles seated on a rock
    11.55
  • Statue of Eirene (personification of peace)
    06.311

Essay

In the late fourth century B.C., the Romans initiated a policy of expansion that in 300 years made them the masters of the Mediterranean world. Impressed by the wealth, culture, and beauty of the Greek cities, victorious generals returned to Rome with booty that included works of art in all media. Soon, educated and wealthy Romans desired works of art that evoked Greek culture. To meet this demand, Greek and Roman artists created marble and bronze copies of the famous Greek statues. Molds taken from the original sculptures were used to make plaster casts that could be shipped to workshops anywhere in the Roman empire, where they were then replicated in marble or bronze. Artists used hollow plaster casts to produce bronze replicas. Solid plaster casts with numerous points of measurement were used for marble copies. Since copies in marble lack the tensile strength of bronze, they required struts or supports, which were often carved in the form of tree trunks, figures, or other kinds of images.

Although many Roman sculptures are purely Roman in their conception, others are carefully measured, exact copies of Greek statues, or variants of Greek prototypes adapted to the taste of the Roman patron. Some Roman sculptures are a pastiche of more than one Greek original, others combine the image of a Greek god or athlete with a Roman portrait head. The meaning of the original Greek statue often lent beauty, importance, or a heroic quality to the person portrayed. By the second century A.D., the demand for copies of Greek statues was enormous—besides their domestic popularity, the numerous public monuments, theaters, and public baths throughout the Roman empire were decorated with niches filled with marble and bronze statuary.

Since most ancient bronze statues have been lost or were melted down to reuse the valuable metal, Roman copies in marble and bronze often provide our primary visual evidence of masterpieces by famous Greek sculptors. All the marble statues in the central area of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum are copies made during the Roman period, dating from the first century B.C. through the third century A.D. They replicate statues made by Greek artists some 500 years earlier during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.

Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2002

Citation

Department of Greek and Roman Art. “Roman Copies of Greek Statues.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rogr/hd_rogr.htm (October 2002)

Further Reading

Hemingway, Sean "Posthumous Copies of Ancient Greek Sculpture: Roman Taste and Techniques." Sculpture Review 60, no. 2 (Summer 2002), pp. 26–33.

Ridgway, Brunilde S. Greek Sculpture in the Art Museum, Princeton University: Greek Originals, Roman Copies and Variants. Princeton: Princeton University Museum, 1994.

Ridgway, Brunilde Sismondo. Roman Copies of Greek Sculpture: The Problem of the Originals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

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