Roman Copies Of Greek Originals Essay

2322 words - 9 pages

The construct of the ‘Roman copy’ in art history has deeply rooted and extensive origins. Whilst this prejudiced was attached to Roman sculpture from an extremely early time in modern archaeology and art history, the construct viewed in a current context reveals issues with both its development and contribution to historical understanding and education. The construct is formed upon several main factors that have recently been called into question by revisionist historians. Firstly, the development of the construct by conservative historians during the 18th century, a context that valued artistic originality and authenticity, lead to it’s popularisation and circulation as a respected model. Secondly, the construct rests entirely on the presumption that Greek art is in fact aesthetically and artistically superior, insinuating a negative predisposition towards Roman artistic workmanship and aesthetics. Lastly, technological advancements aiding historiography have asserted the fact that many conclusions drawn by conservative historians through their methodology are in fact irrefutably incorrect. While the basis for much of the conservative historians argument has been seen as flawed, or otherwise seriously questioned in terms of accurate and reliable history, the construct of ‘Roman copies’ of Greek originals has remained a legitimised understanding and interpretation of Roman art for centuries. The question can then be raised as to whether the attention given to this aspect of history is worth the fact that much of the history being taught is now being heavily questioned.
One major area of debate surrounding the theory of Roman ‘copy’ of a Greek ‘original’ is the perception that Greek art is inherently superior. This view was first held by leading historians such as Furtwangler and Winckelmann, and since emulated by most classical art historians. The import of these historians in the cannot be understated, as expressed by Tanner, “The practice of classical art history … was largely modelled on German exemplars, giving rise to broadly similar styles of scholarship … through a process of competitive emulation.” Throughout Winckelmann’s influential work, Greek artistic superiority is clearly established, “The only way to become great, or, if this be possible, inimitable, is to imitate the Greeks.” Views towards both Greek and Roman art have since been influenced by this inherent and negative bias towards Roman sculpture, even allowing for the traditional art-historical taxonomy of Roman sculpture to include in it the category of ‘copies’. Through the writings of Moon, it is clear that the perception is still apparent, “our handbooks are littered with scholarly distaste at having to work from such inadequate and second-rate reproductions [as Roman sculpture]”.
In retrospect, many of the conclusions drawn by the contemporary historians on the matter of Greek artistic superiority have been either realised to be incorrect or simply based on...

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