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Greco-Roman Art

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Roman copies of Greek statues

Romans had a tradition of replicating Greek bronze statues of the 5th and 4th centuries BC.

In the late 4th century BC, the Romans expansionist policy culminated with their suzerainty over the Mediterranean in the 1th millennium BC. Educated Romans wanted objects that would evoke Greek culture. To meet this demand, copies of famous bronze statues were produced in marble. Molds taken from the original bronzes were used to make plaster casts that could be shipped to workshops anywhere in the empire to be replicated in marble. These new statues ranged from carefully measured, exact copies to variants that incorporated contemporary taste. Because stone lacks the tensile strength of bronze, supports were necessary – usually in the form of tree trunks. By the 2nd century CE, the demand for copies was enormous.

Roman copies often provide our sole evidence of masterpieces by famous Greek sculptors.

Most freestanding Greek statues were of bronze, but all except a few ancient bronzes were lost or melted down to reuse the valuable metal. However, Roman copies testify to the enduring influence of Greek art and suggest the power of the bronzes they reproduce. Greek bronzes were left their original color – a golden brown that resembled suntanned skin. With inset eyes, silver teeth, copper lips, and colored borders on the drapery, these figures must have seemed astonishingly lifelike as they stood in the powerful Mediterranean light.

From the Renaissance onward, art patrons have prized Roman copies of Greek statues as decoration for their great houses in much the same way the Romans did.

Until the mid-19th century, copies that were dug up were heavily cleaned, and missing parts were carved to complete the statues. However, as appreciation developed for the integrity and beauty of the original, fragmentary works, this type of restoration ceased, and in some cases the modern additions have been removed.