The Cleveland Apollo: Roman Copy or Greek Original?

The importance of clear provenance and an unusual claim about the origin of a key work has rebounded from the 2013 exhibition “Praxiteles: The Cleveland Apollo” at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The origins of the bronze statue of Apollo have been called into question, having been obtained from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealer with offices in New York and Geneva whose name has come up recently in connection to both a sarcophagus returned to Turkey and artifacts taken from Iraq and Iran. Further, Michael Bennett, the CMA’s curator of Greek and Roman Art, has claimed that the apollo sculpture is not a “Roman copy,” as once believed, but in fact an original Greek bronze – nothing less than the work of sculptor Praxiteles. The bronze statue was purchased by CMA in 2004 for $5 million.

To make matters more confusing, the museum owns another well-known statue (currently authenticated as Roman), which is also commonly called “the Cleveland Apollo.”

Setting the matter of the authorship of Praxiteles aside, Bennett’s claim would still make the sculpture quite an extraordinary object, as so few Greek originals exist. The denigration of the “Roman copy” was an idea put forth by legendary German art historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann in the 18th Century. Since then, slowly, these copies have come to be regarded as expressive originals in their own right, largely owing to the work of Italian archaeologist Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway.

Roman imperial culture created a demand for works of art that evoked the mythologized Greeks. 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. Most Roman copies were made between 100 BCE and 300.

 Reference: “Cleveland Museum of Art Curator Makes Controversial Claim that Bronze Apollo Statue is a Greek Original.” Cleveland Leader Staff. The Cleveland Leader, 14 August 2017. 

Jane Francis. “The Modern Problem of Roman ‘Copies.’” Mouseion: Journal of the Classical association of Canada, 2004, Vol.4(3), pp.345-364 

Apollo Sauroktonos (Lizard-Slayer), c. 350-275 BCE, now attributed to Praxiteles, Cleveland Museum of Art.

Wounded Amazon, c. 150, Roman Copy after a Greek Original, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 32.11.4.

Rosso antico torso of a centaur, c. 150, Roman Copy after a Greek Original, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nr. 09.221.6.

Athlete or Apollo (The Cleveland Apollo), Possibly 1st Century BCE. Bronze with silver inlays.  The Cleveland Museum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, Nr. 1927.170.

Further Reading: “Roman Copies of Greek Statues.” Department of Greek and Roman Art. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2002).

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

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

 Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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