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Spirantia aera, vivos vultus – “Breathing bronze, living faces”: the making of portraits at Aphrodisias and Rome

Lecture by UrbNet Visiting Professor Christopher Hallett (University of California, Berkeley). Lecture 1/6 in the lecture series "New research on the materials of ancient sculpture".

Info about event


Tuesday 23 March 2021,  at 13:00 - 14:00


UrbNet, Centre for Urban Network Evolutions


For almost the entire history of Greek and Roman art bronze was unquestionably the leading sculptural medium for public statuary monuments; and in their carving and formal properties marble statues regularly imitated bronze ones—as best they could.  In the latter part of the second century AD, however, (roughly speaking, the Antonine Age), because of changes in imperial fashion, and the development of new techniques for working stone, marble became the leading medium for public portraiture, and top-flight bronze workers even began to imitate marble sculptors.

Taking as my example a well preserved marble portrait head of superlative quality discovered in 2005 at Aphrodisias, in this paper I reflect on the ancient rivalry of bronze and marble; and on the way in which the intended display context of Roman busts and statues can be shown to have affected the treatment of the entire face and head of the individual represented, right down into the sculptural techniques employed in the rendering of details.

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