The 2,359th Meeting of the Society

March 4, 2016

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club

From Fragments to Classical Forms

Reconstructing Greek Bronzes and the Greek and Roman Trade in Art

Carol C. Mattusch

Mathy Professor of Art History, Emerita
Department of History and Art History
George Mason University

About the Lecture

The exhibition Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World will be on view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art until March 20, 2016. The exhibition demonstrates how artists and artisans captured the dynamic realism, expression, and detail that characterized what we call ”Hellenistic.” This lecture will explain why many of the bronzes in Power and Pathos are incomplete and why so many ancient bronzes have disappeared. It will discuss several questions about the bronzes: What did the complete statues look like? What can we learn from the fragments we can recover? What were the sculptures used for? Were all the bronzes “decorative” statues or did some of them serve other functions? The lecture also will discuss the mass production of bronzes in the Hellenistic world and the ancient market for public and private statuary, and discuss its implications for the modern concept that Greek bronzes were “originals,” a notion derived from the few bronzes that have been recovered in modern times.

About the Speaker

Carol C. Mattusch is the Mathy Professor of Art History in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. She has taught at GMU for almost four decades, specializing in Greek and Roman archaeology and art, and on the rediscovery of classical antiquity. She has also served for many years as a member of the Managing Committee for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and she currently serves on its Executive Committee. She served as academic advisor to the Power and Pathos exhibit of bronzes currently at the National Gallery of Art, and she wrote several entries in the catalogs for the exhibit.

Carol is the author of numerous books, including: The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum: Life and Afterlife of a Sculpture Collection; The Victorious Youth; Classical Bronzes: The Art and Craft of Greek and Roman Statuary; Greek Bronze Statuary: From the Beginnings through the Fifth Century BC; and Bronzeworkers in the Athenian Agora. She has authored chapters in The Handbook of Engineering and Technology in the Classical World; The Art of Antiquity: Piet de Jong and the Athenian Agora; and Greek Sculpture, Function, Materials and Techniques in the Archaic and Classical Periods. She also has written many scholarly articles.

Carol has received a variety of awards for her scholarly work and her books, including: The Charles Rufus Morey Book Award of the College Art Association and the James R. Wiseman Book Award of he Archaeological Institute of America. She is the recipient of the Paul Mellon Senior Fellowship and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Paired Fellowship for Research in Conservation and Archaeology of the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts.

Carol earned a BA at Bryn Mawr College and a PhD in Art History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Minutes

President Larry Millstein called the 2359th meeting of the Society to order at 8:05 p.m. He announced the order of business and welcomed new members. The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. President Millstein then introduced the speaker for the evening, Carol C. Mattusch. Her lecture was titled “From Fragments to Classical Forms: Reconstructing Greek Bronzes and the Greek and Roman Trade in Art.”

President Larry Millstein called the 2359th meeting of the Society to order at 8:05 p.m. He announced the order of business and welcomed new members. The minutes of the previous meeting were read and approved. President Millstein then introduced the speaker for the evening, Carol C. Mattusch. Her lecture was titled “From Fragments to Classical Forms: Reconstructing Greek Bronzes and the Greek and Roman Trade in Art.”

Dr. Mattusch began by describing the current exhibition of Hellenistic bronzes at the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition’s title, “Power and Pathos,” shows two related aspects of its subjects: their power in society and their pathos, or passions of their lives.

The Hellenistic Period began with the conquests of Alexander the Great, whose armies conquered the Persian empire and territory extending to the Indus river. Alexander’s army brought Greek culture to these territories and brought back new ideas, social and religious customs, arts, and technologies. After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his empire was divided into several kingdoms. The Hellenistic Period ended in 31 BCE at the Battle of Actium with Rome’s conquest of the last Hellenistic kingdom – Cleopatra’s Egypt.

Dr. Mattusch explained that the Power and Pathos exhibition presents not only the art of the Hellenistic Period, but also presents other aspects of the period. For example, it also examines the technology used to construct the works and how changes in the market for these pieces resulted in changes in production techniques. The exhibition also examines changes in the purposes and uses of these works from their original creation in Greece to their use (and reuse) in Roman culture.

Dr. Mattusch then discussed one production technique that was used to satisfy market demand for large numbers of custom statues. Our knowledge of this comes from archeologists and statue bases marked as being made by a sculptor named Lysippos. Lysippos’ method was to manufacture bases and stock figures and then to customize them to the needs of the individual customer by modifying, for example, what the figure was holding.

Most of the finds of ancient bronzes come from the sea often from shipwrecks. Some appear to have been broken up for scrap metal. Most are usually recovered in small pieces.

Once recovered from the sea floor, ancient bronzes must be desalinated, cleaned up, and preserved to prevent degradation. Dr. Mattusch explained that conservation practices change over time. In 1900, conservators would scour pieces down to the base metal. Modern cleaning methods do not go as deep, leaving a slightly mottled green appearance. This careful conservation not only protects the statue, it can preserve minor details that can help provide clues to the statue’s origin.

Dr. Mattusch noted, for example, that one of the sculptures appears to have a cauliflower ear, indicating that the figure was previously a boxer or wrestler despite now being dressed in the robes of a public figure. Other details that are important to identification include the kind of drapery worn and the items that are be held, such as scrolls or laurel wreaths.

Reconstructing the original purpose of a statue can often involve substantial detective work, especially because statues are so often found at sea without any other artifacts nearby. Dr. Mattusch explained that curators review contemporary writings and paintings to attempt to find similar poses, dress, and accessories that could help provide context for a statue. A bronze sculpture may also have an inscription inside, or share a characteristic metal alloy that links it to other sculptures, thereby indicating a common creator or region of origin. Dr. Mattusch noted that the type of stone in stone statues can be telling, because the Greeks used the exceedingly hard mineral basenite, for example, solely for images of gods and pharaohs. The Romans continued this tradition.

Dr. Mattusch concluded by explaining that, for the Romans, as for us today, these statues provide a reminder of the values, culture, and history of the classical past.

After the conclusion of the talk, President Millstein invited questions from the audience.

One questioner asked about the relative lack of women represented in the statues on display. Dr. Mattusch noted that there are a few female statues, but they tend to be of goddesses rather than human women. This likely reflected the relative predominance of men in positions of power in Greek and Roman society.

Another questioner asked about the actual manufacture of the statues. Dr. Mattusch explained that these bronze statues were created through the “lost wax” method.

After the question and answer period, President Millstein thanked the speaker, made the usual housekeeping announcements, and invited guests to join the Society. At 9:35 p.m., President Millstein adjourned the 2359th meeting of the Society to the social hour.
Attendance: 91
The weather: Cloudy
The temperature: 4°C
Respectfully submitted,

Preston Thomas
External Communications Director