Dillon, Sheila.: The female portrait statue in the Greek world. 254 p., ISBN 9780521764506, $90.00.
(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010)
Compte rendu par Iphigeneia Leventi, Université de Thessalie, Volos

Nombre de mots : 2049 mots
Publié en ligne le 2011-06-22
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=1253
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          This book by Sheila Dillon (Duke University, U.S.A.) has an innovative subject, the study of the female portrait statue in the Greek world, which has never been the title of a monograph and a special study in itself. This is actually a treatment of female portrait statues from the late Classical period, that is the fourth century B.C. and especially its second half, when female portraiture first emerges as a subject in sculpture, down to the Hellenistic period, when this phenomenon grows. Dillon, moreover, traces also its survival into the Roman Imperial period in the Greek East. She sets out to study the Greek female portrait statues from the view point of their three basic components, the base bearing the dedicatory inscription, the body, and the head. Thus, she eschews the traditional approach of tracing the stylistic development of the drapery and determinating the chronology, on which previous studies in Hellenistic sculpture have focused thus far. Furthermore, she especially concentrates on the public contexts in which these female statues were displayed.


          In chapter 1 (p. 9-59), the author investigates the public honors for women that were associated with the dedication of their portrait statues. The public places where female portraits were set up were primarily sanctuaries, where women served as priestesses or assumed other cultic duties, but female portrait statues were erected later in the Hellenistic age also in other public places. The bases allow us to study the commemoration of women with portraits both historically and archaeologically and may provide useful keys for establishing the date when such statues were dedicated. Cultic service was the primary reason for setting up a female portrait statue, either by the demos or by members of the woman’s family. Female portraits may even comprise part of larger family groups donated by men where they serve to emphasize the roles of wives, mothers, or daughters. Such monuments can be associated with the pretensions of the male elite to advertise their status and powerful role in addition to their religious piety in the Hellenistic city. On the other hand, in the individual sphere of the house, female portraits also appear, paired with portraits of male relatives, especially husbands (the charecteristic example being the Cleopatra and Dioscurides portrait statues on Delos). It is interesting, however, that sometimes women erected either statues of themselves or of a close female relative or even a family group, although this practice is far less common throughout this period than dedications by men. A general charecteristic is the increase in the number of female portraits, attested from the second century B.C. and following the increase in the number of male portraits. The scale of the female portraits can be significant in distinguishing them from statues of female deities, but sometimes the difference is difficult to discern as both deities and mortals can be rendered at the same scale. The majority of female portrait statues are made of marble, but bronze, possibly gilded, may additionally be used (see the well-known fragmentary statue in Izmir Archaeological Museum and the new, still unpublished, intact portrait statue found in the sea near Kalymnos, now in the Kalymnos Museum). Several types of bases are used for female portraiture, even columns in exceptional cases (Phryne and Aristaineta at Delphi).


          In chapter 2  (p. 60-102), Dillon discusses portrait dress in terms of different options that the sculptors and patrons of these female statues had, along with developments over time. Her basic thesis here is that new formats and up-to-date drapery styles like the thin transparent mantle and the more realistic treatment of the drapery were in use simultaneously with more traditional formats and styles, especially in the late Hellenistic period. As a result, the appearance of an individual female portrait seems to have been a deliberate option and not a matter of strict chronological development. Old-fashioned styles are preferred for female deities as opposed to female portraits, but the phenomenon of divine imitation influenced the adoption of traditional and conservative drapery styles for portraits of priestesses. An example here is the portrait statue of Nikeso from the sanctuary of Demeter at Priene donning a special, highly elaborate mantle. Traditional drapery styles are observed to have been popular in mainland Greece, whereas the modern and skillfully textured, luxurious style occurred in the new Hellenistic cities in the Aegean and Asia Minor. Moreover, the author categorizes the existing variety of drapery styles and gestures of the female portraits from the mid-fourth century B.C. to the late Hellenistic period in ten broadly-defined types. This enables us to discern the variety and creativity of female drapery formats that guaranteed the individuality of their subjects; such statues types demonstrate that sculptors never sought to reproduce a given statuary prototype by a famous sculptor in contrast to the practice in Roman Imperial times. As the treatment of the heads of the female portraits was highly standardized, the individuality of the woman portrayed was mainly expressed through the elegance, complex elaboration of her drapery, as well as her gestures.


          Open gestures tended to be combined with traditional Classical costumes that advertised the cultic actions of the subjects portrayed, whereas arms held close to the body were associated primarily with modern Hellenistic types. The overall display of technical skill and realism expressed in a variety of ways differing social factors such as age and status of the women, but also reflected existing artistic tradition and patrons’ practices, financial means, as well as local context and habits. Colorful public images that often concealed the female body beneath layers of expensive drapery belonged to elite women and were striking examples of a conflicting interplay between feminine virtues and modesty on the one hand and conspicious visibility with sexual connotations on the other.     


          Chapter 3 (p. 103-134) deals with the most neglected side of the late Classical and Hellenistic female portraits: their faces. As indicated above, these are not realistic renderings of the physiognomic identity of the portrait subject but generic types that conveyed the idea of female beauty. Thus, female portrait faces do not change over time and therefore cannot be the subject of stylistic analysis, as is the case with male Hellenistic portraits especially from the second century onwards. Dillon claims that this practice in rendering the female portrait face reflects the few public roles held by women, as opposed to men, with the predominance of their participation in public religion activities, and the collective identity shared by late Classical and Hellenistic women. The inaccessibility that sculptors had to the women of the elite classes as portrait subjects may have also played a significant role to the lack of individuality in treating the female face. Moreover, this chapter tries to associate variations in hairstyles and facial types with differences in age, between younger women, whose portraits follow the iconography of Artemis and mature women, whose images draw on Aphrodite’s iconography.            


          The final chapter 4 (p. 135-163) treats  the “not portrait” style of female portraits in the Roman East, that is the survival of idealized, generic and traditional female portraiture in the first century B.C. and Roman Imperial times. Dillon here presents three case studies: the female statues found both in the sanctuary of Artemis Polo and at the Arch of Caracalla on Thasos, and then those from Aphrodisias and Perge in Asia Minor. The Hellenistic tradition of the generic portrait faces prevails on Thasos, while in Aphrodisias this phenomenon is rather a minority choice, and here we encounter different practices, with mature female portraits displaying the traditional Hellenistic type, while young women may more often adopt Roman fashion hairstyles combined with ideal facial features. Finally, in Perge the portraits of the aristocratic civic benefactor, the middle-aged Plancia Magna, are highly idealized and this style is also curiously adopted for the imperial portraits of Sabina and Marciana. Clearly, in this case, local custom dictates the rendering of faces so that the ideal of female beauty has priority over realistic likeness even in the Imperial portraits, and the accompanying inscription is the critical means of identification.


          The study is accompanied by a general conclusion (p. 164-167) and four Appendices (p. 169-178) that index the surviving dedicatory inscriptions for female portraits in Athens, Attica, and Delos in the Late Classical and Hellenistic periods. The Female Portrait Statue in the Greek World by Sheila Dillon is a welcome monograph on a subject neglected in the research of Hellenistic sculpture. It focuses primarily on the context and function of these ancient portraits, giving a wealth of information and sufficient bibliography. It can be said that the study corresponds to the aims the author has tried to pursue. The photos are enough though one could ask for more, especially in chapter 4, but not all are of good quality. Sometimes there are interesting views like the back view of Kleopatra (fig. 41) or the back of the statue of the priestess Nikeso (fig. 65), which are rarely illustrated in books, but the images are not always sharp.


          The author offers some fresh ideas, though one may not be in agreement with all of them. I will mention a few objections here. I am not convinced that the diaphanous mantle was a means to distinguish representations of mortal women from female deities in sculpture. Transparent mantles are worn, for example, by Hellenistic Muses, and deities on the Gigantomachy frieze or non-portrait statues associated with the Pergamene altar in the mid-2nd century use this device in their costumes.  Another issue would be the use of the Greek peplos, which, according to Dillon, when worn without a tunic (chiton) beneath may be ceremonial dress, as is the case in the Classical period. I do not agreee with this suggestion especially for the late Classical period where the Attic peplos is the standard garment for a host of Athenian maidens denoting their youthfulness on grave reliefs. The peplos alone is indeed rarely donned by Hellenistic portrait statues, but is quite often worn under a mantle. The accurate recognition of garments worn underneath a mantle is still a problem in several studies of Hellenistic female statues, not only in this book. Megiste in the Athens National Museum (p. 82, fig. 34), who is rather correctly identified as wearing  a sleeveless chiton that clings to the upper body, is treated here in the section on peplophoroi. I do not, however, share the opinion of the author that the attire of Megiste makes clear reference to Aphrodite, since that goddess’ representations are nude, seminude or draped with more virtuous garments in this period; it rather denotes the youthfulness of the portrayed subject. As an other example, one could relate the female statues of priestesses and initiates set up in the sanctuary of Artemis in Messene that sport the high-girt peplos with long overfold, that is, the Attic peplos, (p. 81) with the youthful age of these girls.


          One also cannot be sure that the underlife-size marble statue of a woman from the Maison des Cinq Statues in Delos, is actually the portrait of the woman who resides the house, as Dillon suggests (p. 14 with n. 51, 112-113 fig. 3). Rather, the traditional identification with a Tyche statuette may be upheld, since the drapery type draws on a well-known statuary type of this goddess (the Fortuna Braccio Nuovo). By contrast, the statuette of the priestess Leirio dedicated to the Eleusinian Kore at the sanctuary in Kyparissi on Kos may well be the portrait of this woman in the guise of the goddess she served (p. 14 with n. 52), as we have parallels for this practice in the portraits of priestesses, such as Nikeso from Priene.


          Finally, a few inconsistencies may be noted. For example, in figs. 4 and 42, we have the head and the whole statue of a woman in Kos Museum inv. 6, but there is no cross-reference in the corresponding places in the text or notes (nn. 56 and 380 respectively). Similarly, between another statue in the same Museum, inv. 13 (fig. 43), and its head (fig. 62), there is mere repetition of literature in the respective notes (nn. 386, 484). But, all in all, this book is intriguing, easy to read, and provides a lot of information, as well as stimulates scholarly interest in further research.