Queyrel, François : La sculpture hellénistique. Formes, thèmes et fonctions. Collection "Les manuels d’art et d’archéologie antiques", 22,5 x 28 cm, 432 p., 415 ill. en noir, 55 en coul., ISBN : 978-2-7084-1007-7, 89 €
(Picard, Paris 2016)
Compte rendu par Sean Hemingway, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Nombre de mots : 2621 mots
Publié en ligne le 2017-01-27
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=2768
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          Hellenistic sculpture inspires but it can be confounding too. The product of a complex period of three centuries within a vastly expanded Greek world after the conquests of Alexander the Great it is in many ways a game changer for Greek sculpture. In the periods that preceded the Hellenistic Age one stylistic trend tended to dominate Greek sculpture whether it was the formal abstraction of Geometric art, the mannered rigid symmetry of Archaic sculpture or the austere majesty of Classical sculpture. In Hellenistic times there were many different sculptural styles in use concurrently depending on the needs of the commission, the preferences of the client, the creativity of the artist, and undoubtedly a host of other factors. Given the vast geographical parameters of the Hellenistic world with its many kingdoms and outlying territories, new discoveries are made continuously. Yet significant issues hamper interpretation such as the dearth of Hellenistic sculptures with well-dated archaeological contexts of use. Archaeologists and art historians must be vigilant to keep up with the ever-growing assemblage of often fragmentary sculptures, the complex data that are generated about them and especially maintain an open mind as to the interpretation and re-interpretation of this multi-faceted kaleidoscope of material. The book under consideration, La Sculpture hellenistique Tome I: Formes, themes et fonctions by Francois Queyrel, is a welcome and significant addition to the literature on this fascinating subject. Queyrel is an established scholar who has made substantial contributions to the study of Hellenistic sculpture, especially Hellenistic royal portraiture. He brings his extensive knowledge and the thoughtful inquiry of a seasoned professor to this in-depth survey, covering much well-trodden territory as well as recent discoveries and scholarship, infusing his text with his own assessments of the material. Anyone looking for a competent guide to this complex subject will appreciate Queyrel’s new book; like Virgil leading Dante through the circles of Hell, Queyrel can navigate you through this exciting and at times treacherous terrain. This book is the third in a series on Greek sculpture published by Picard. The first two volumes, written by Claude Rolley, presented Greek sculpture from its origins until the fifth century B.C. (published in 1994) and the Classical period (published in 1999). As its title suggests, a second volume on Hellenistic sculpture is also planned which will present regional studies.


         Queyrel begins with an introduction to how Hellenistic sculpture has been understood in modern times from the Grand Tours of Europe in the 18th century when for many people Hellenistic art was much of a jumble with Greek and Roman art of other periods. Unlike Hesiod’s five Ages of Mankind or Lucretius’s more nuanced evolutionary development, the term Hellenistic is a modern invention coined by Johann Droysen in Hamburg in 1836. Queyrel acknowledges that there is a paradox in the kind of survey he is presenting since a manual like this tends to simplify the subject. Given that the Hellenistic Age is much more complex than preceding periods, he has organized his material to include selective in-depth examples that make clear the complexity of his topic. He has two primary approaches for the book. One is a deconstruction of the notion of Hellenistic art as the same, which passes for the history of its reception to modern times. The second is an examination of the concept that there was a new material aesthetic, which is known from ancient texts about Hellenistic art and can be discerned in the sculpture itself.


         His first chapter defines the period chronologically between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. and the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. For Droysen it is the period when Greek civilization became universal. Queyrel questions whether we should speak of one period or many and himself sees at least two major periods with a split around 160-150 B.C. The first period is defined largely by Alexander the Great’s empire and its division under his Successors until the fall of Macedonia to Rome in the Battle of Pydna in 168 B.C. The second period is increasingly dominated by Rome. We speak of a kind of koine or common language of the Hellenistic world, which was first unified under Alexander the Great. This is reflected to some extent in the sculpture and I suitably note that Queyrel’s figure 2, which illustrates the fabrication of a bronze statue, is closely adapted from my own drawings of the indirect lost wax process made in 1995 for Carol Mattusch’s “Fire of Hephaistos” exhibition, but with the body of a philosopher instead of an athlete. Queyrel makes use of a wealth of epigraphic sources, such as honorific decrees and literary texts, notably papyrus fragments of works such as the epigrams of Poseidippos of Pella, to provide insight into the ancient point of view.


         For his first in-depth discussion of a specific sculpture, Queyrel uses the Laocoon, famously discovered in Rome in 1506. Queyrel recounts the history of the reception of the sculpture from the Renaissance through the 17th century when it became the foremost ancient sculpture, especially in France, and the eighteenth century including nocturnal visits to the statue by torchlight that heightened for the viewer the expressions of agony, to its time in the Louvre under Napoleon before its return to the Vatican in 1815. With the display and acquisition in 1816 of the Parthenon marbles at the British Museum the Laocoon began to lose its prominence. Queyrel discusses the restorations made to the Laocoon and the many different copies and adaptations that it has inspired.


         In the next chapter, Queyrel chronicles the shifts in perception of the Laocoon in the late 19th century and 20th century. Queyrel observes that the discovery of the Great Altar at Pergamon played the same role for Hellenistic art that the discovery of the Laocoon did in Rome during the Renaissance. The impact on the public was sensational. The director of the Pergamon excavations exclaimed, “We have found an entire artistic epoch!” The stylistic connection between the giant Alkyoneus on the Great Frieze and Laocoon was seen immediately and led to dating the Laocoon around 160 B.C. The subsequent discovery of the sculptures in the Grotto of Tiberius at Sperlonga in 1957, which included a monumental group signed by the three sculptors to whom Pliny attributes the Laocoon, and with their own complicated questions of analysis, has added significantly to the debate over the date of the Laocoon and its interpretation. The Laocoon embodies all of the complexities of the study of Hellenistic sculpture including whether it is a direct copy or a faithful reflection of or even a recreation in the manner of an earlier masterpiece.


         In Chapter 4, Queyrel discusses different perspectives for the study of Hellenistic sculpture. Besides the many issues noted at the beginning of this review, Queyrel emphasizes the importance of trying to capture the mindset of the ancient spectator. Our mental image of hyper-realism today is different from the realism of antiquity. To make his point, he shows a photograph of a studio model imitating the statue of the Dying Gaul from the Ludovisi collection (his plates 4 and 5). Hellenistic sculptures often are not strictly realistic but dramatize the depiction for added emphasis. Queyrel notes that the ancient spectator would have brought their own feelings to the message presented by a sculpture. Modes of gesture change in the Hellenistic period. References to Classical gestures always remain but in the Hellenistic period it is an art of modified citation and new meanings are layered on. With the globalization of the period, Queyrel raises the difficulties of discerning regional artistic schools amid a world of the koine where exchanges are numerous and artists and artworks circulated widely. Queyrel notes that regional production can be discerned in specific sculptural types such as draped figural statues. He uses the term “glocalization” for the practice of conducting business according to local and global considerations. The permeability of regional centers combines with the true originality of individual sculptors.


         In Chapter 5 Queyrel uses an in-depth examination of the Venus di Milo to explore the issue of international artists. As with the Laocoon, the issues of the discovery, its original context, restoration, date and interpretation are complex and carefully considered by Queyrel. Generally speaking, Melian sculptures can be of high quality, like the Venus di Milo. It is very hard to know whether the statue is the product of a local artist working in the koine or a sculptor brought in from elsewhere for this local commission. The sculpture borrows from a popular Hellenistic type of Aphrodite and gives it a local message that is adapted intelligently.


         In Chapter 6 Queyrel presents the Alexander Sarcophagus, which he argues convincingly is the best example of Greek art that responds to local demands in a territory conquered by the Macedonians. The sarcophagus was made for Abdylonymus, King of Sidon, who knew Alexander the Great and died in the late fourth century B.C. It was certainly carved by Greek, probably Athenian, sculptors and creates a synthetic vision of the relationship between Greeks and Persians. Queyrel sees the long East side as an idealized victory of Alexander which synthesizes all of his victories and the long West side with its hunt to symbolize the King of Sidon’s close personal relationship with Alexander and his debt to Alexander for his throne. The different sculptural reliefs of the sarcophagus can be seen as a reinvention of history, which holds our attention on singular moments of the dead and perpetuates their memory eternally in stone.


         Chapter 7 examines the modern reception of Hellenistic sculpture. In the Renaissance, there was a great interest in humanism and ancient history. Portraits of illustrious men were popular, not just the twelve Caesars but other great historical figures such as kings, generals, philosophers and men of letters. Renaissance scholars were not particularly interested in the Hellenistic period per se but in the continuum of antiquity. One area of interest though in Hellenistic art were the Alexandrian grotesques that inspired Renaissance artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci. Queyrel discusses various other Hellenistic motifs that were adopted by European artists such as Pergamene models, the Pseudo-Seneca, a favorite of Rubens, and the blind Homer portrait, which was popular among many artists; Rembrandt’s painting “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer” in the Met’s collection is but another fine example to add to Queyrel’s discussion. Another approach to the study of ancient art was founded in the study of lost texts in the centuries following the Renaissance by eminent antiquaries such as Nicolas Joseph Foucault (1643-1721), who formed a distinguished collection of antiquities. The Count of Calyus produced a monumental 7-volume work on antiquities in the mid-18th century that began to include archaeological analysis when the discipline was just beginning. Particularly influential was Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s formalist approach to Greek sculpture with his idealistic vision that one could have certain sculptures, whether through originals or copies, serve as beacons in the history of Hellenistic sculpture, which he saw as a period of decline and decadence after the great Classical Age that preceded the death of Alexander the Great. Archaeological discoveries, especially the Pergamon Altar, in the late 19th century added significant new original Hellenistic sculpture that contributed to a change in perception of the period and its sculpture. Plaster casts were an important tool for the study and appreciation of ancient sculptures. Artists studied and copied casts and antiquaries collected them. The practice of making casts was adopted in France in the 17th century and more widely in Europe in the 18th century. Significant collections were begun in America, at the Met and elsewhere, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The casts, most commonly left white, promoted a preference for the appreciation of form over color in the ancient sculptures that they represented.


         In Chapter 8 Queyrel takes a fascinating look at the Hellenistic tradition of reception of sculpture on which Pliny’s well-known remark (HN 34.51-2) is founded. Art criticism developed in Alexandria at the great library there along the same lines as philology. Older sculptors were more revered with an especial appreciation for the fifth- and fourth- century B.C. artists who created divine images and portraits. The history of art was constituted in part in the context of the museum at Alexandria in the first quarter of the third century B.C. as is shown through the epigrams attributed to the poet Poseidippos, which Queyrel examines in some detail. There is a new aesthetic of the early Hellenistic Age for portraits of men of letters and kings discussed by Queyrel through a number of examples including the bronze portrait of King Seuthes III with its fearsome realism. Queyrel looks here too at the Terme Boxer as another complex original bronze statue of the Hellenistic Age. A number of Classical models are rejected at the beginning of the Hellenistic period although there is a return to Classicism later on. Queyrel examines many issues surrounding Roman copies, their study and interpretation. To illustrate the issue of the problem when an original is lost and known only through copies, he considers the monumental Farnese Bull group.


         In Chapter 9, Queyrel looks at form and polychromatic variation. Queyrel reviews the extensive scholarship, which began very early, focused on form, including complex sculptural groups. He contrasts the study of form with the study of color, which although also recognized early on, has taken on much greater significance in more recent studies. Detailed scientific analyses and virtual reconstructions have begun to tackle the complicated issues surrounding ancient polychromy and the implications for understanding what Hellenistic statuary would have looked like in antiquity.


         Chapter 10 assesses the important phenomenon of retrospective styles in Hellenistic sculpture with a fresh look at the variety of types, contexts and uses for such sculptures. Here Queyrel also challenges us to reconsider some famous statues such as the Apollo Belvedere and the Artemis of Versailles, often seen as copies of lost Classical masterpieces of the fourth century B.C., as possible Hellenistic creations or adaptations. He also examines the series of bronze Apoxyomenos statues, which were a central feature of the recent exhibition “Power and Pathos,” organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum. Chapter 11 presents the numerous problematic issues of Hellenistic chronology. Queyrel believes that we can try to trace a general evolution of Hellenistic sculpture but we must recognize that the history we reconstruct is full of lost works reconstituted with a margin of uncertainty and error since our understanding of the lost works is based on later copies.


         The second part of the book is devoted to the principle categories of Hellenistic sculpture. There are chapters on cult statues, portrait statues with a general introduction to the vocabulary of portraiture, and draped portrait statues. A general discussion of victory monuments is followed by an in-depth examination of the Nike of Samothrace recently conserved re-studied at the Louvre. A separate chapter is devoted to the victory monuments over the Gauls, followed by an in-depth analysis of the Greater Attalid Dedication and the Lesser Attalid Dedication on the Athenian Acropolis. Queyrel devotes a chapter to architectural sculpture. The last chapters discuss sculpture with epic themes, mythological figures, variations on the theme of sensuality, genre figures and private household sculptures. The final section of the book consists of a lengthy catalogue of all the sculptures illustrated in the book including brief descriptions and selected bibliographic references. There is a chronology of events from 334-31 B.C. and a glossary of terms. The book lacks a concluding chapter, which is perhaps intended for the second tome. Given its broad scope, many readers will likely consult specific chapters of the book rather than read it from cover to cover although either approach is possible.