1902 Encyclopedia > Archaeology > Study of Classical Archaeology

(Part 8)


Study of Classical Archaeology

The province of classical archaeology is to investigate and determine the results of artistic activity among the Greeks and Romans, so far as that activity manifested itself in works of form and substance as opposed to the artistic expression of though by unsubstantial means, as in the case of poetry or music. It ranges from the Greek temple as the highest form of artistic expression in this sense to the other extreme of the simplest object shaped for a purpose by human hands. A stone, rudely hewn, with some design, an artificial tumulus, and common clay utensil, each represent, in a humble fashion, a thought artistically expressed in substance, and each reflect more or less accurately the artistic spirit of the time at which they were made. It ranges also from the earliest examples of workmanship down through the historical periods of development and decline. So far classical archaeology may properly be called a section of the general history of art. It owed its independent position entirely to the peculiar circumstances under which its investigations are conducted. For example, when called upon to determine the date of an inscription from the forms and disposition of its letters, which, as works of art, must reflect the taste of the period in which they were incised, it has to bring to bear on the question a knowledge of palaeopgraphical eccentricities. Or when the date of a coin has to be fixed, the standard on which it has been struck and the historical circumstances connected with it must be taken into consideration. Such, at least, is the practice of journal and societies devoted to classical archaeology. On the other hand, recent writers desire to confine these collateral inquiries to within the narrowest possible limits. They have agreed to dismiss altogether mythological researches, which in Gerhard's time formed one of the principal occupations of archaeologists. Most of them consent to epigraphy being classed under philology. With regard to numismatics, however, opinion are still divided as to whether it should be included under archaeology, on the ground of the immense importance of coins as monuments of art, or whether, on account of their historical value, the study of them should be classed under philology. A similar question has been raised regarding topography. (See Conze, Ueber die Bedeutung der classischen Archäologie, Wien, 1869; Preller, Ausgewählte Aufsätze, pp. 384-425, über die wissenschaftliche Behandlung der Archäologie; Stark, in the Philologus, xiv. p. 645, and xvi. p. 85.)

The material for the study of classical art consists of literary records an actual remains, among the former being included, though from another point of view belonging to the latter class, the inscriptions which have been found incised on sculptures, or more frequently on the bases left behind in Greece as worthless by the plundering Romans. The literary records have been collected by Overbeck, Antike Schriftquellen, Leipzig, 1868, and the inscriptions alone more recently by Hirschfeld, Tituli Statuariorum Sculptorumque, Berlin, 1871. The actual remains may be arranged under the three classes of architecture, sculpture, and painting, with the first mentioned being included the industrial arts, in which principles of construction were applied, e.g., the furniture of temples and dwelling houses, as opposed to the imitative arts. In the case of architecture proper, owing to the immovable nature of its monuments, dependence has to be placed on the trustworthiness of drawings and descriptions made on the spot by travelers. Sculpture, on the other hand, being comparatively easy of transport in all cases, and having been for centuries the object of extraordinary avidity among cultivated people, is now fairly represented in all its important stages in any one of the principal museums of Europe. Paintings, in its highest sphere, may be said to exist only in the record supplied by the occasional statements of ancient writers. But these statements embody the opinions of those whose judgment in regard to sculpture we have the means of verifying, and unless there were reason to suppose that persons accustomed to exact the greatest refinement in sculpture were lightly gratified in the matter of painting, their desultory remarks will furnish some idea of the ancient manner for which the remains of wall painting at Pompeii will serve as a foundation, though apparently executed by workmen rather than artists, and that at a time when the art had sunk to its lowest ebb. The skill in drawing attained by ordinary workmen is amply displayed in the painted vases.

Without attempting to subject the history of art to systematic study, the Greeks and Romans nevertheless devoted much attention to special branches of it. The fruits of their labours have in great part perished; but from what remains, and from the notices of what is lost, it appears that t heir researches took the direction either of explaining the principles of art, and especially those of architecture, or of collecting facts concerning artists and their works, or of describing the works of art which existed in this or that place, as in a catalogue. Of the first class of works we have lost all - and they were many - except Vitruvius. Of the second the losses are known to have been great, and, poor though the substitute for them undoubtedly is, we are still fortunate in possessing such in the notices collected by Pliny in his Historia Naturalis. We have besides a long series of epigrams, for which there was do dearth of point, in the works of well-known artists. For a similar purpose the rhetoricians chose frequently to draw comparisons from or to describe works of art; but owing to the object they had in view, they have left little that is of much practical good for the history of ancient art.

The same applies to the epigrammatists. (See O. Benndorf, De Anthologiae Graecae Epigrammatis quae ad artes spectant, Bonn, 1862). With regard to Pliny, it seems that, though himself destitute of all critical faculty in matters of art, he frequently drew his notices from excellent authorities. The third class of ancient writers on works of art were the Periegetae, of whom only Pausanias survives (A.D. 160-180), his Helados periegesis [Gk.], in then books being of the highest value from an antiquarian point of view. For the criticism of art it brings little benefit.

As to the fate of works of art during the early centuries of Christianity, the first record we possess is that of Nicetas Acominatus, of chonae in Phrygia, who died in 1216 (Narratio de Statuis Antiquis quas Franci post captam, anno 1204, Constantinoplin destruxerunt, Leipzig, 1830). In 1460 we have an anonymous description of Athens (ta theatra kai didaskaleia ton Athenon [Gk.], see L. Ross, Archäologische Aufsätze, i. p 245), from which may be gathered a tolerable idea of the deep ignorance of the times. In Rome the rule was to destroy as far as possible all ancient sculptures, except such as were in some way identified with Christianity. The reaction against this manner of proceeding at first took the form of collecting ancient sarcophagi for the modern purposes of burying grounds. By the 15th and 16th centuries this taste had developed into an enthusiasm, which spread even into the south of Germany, for the possession of ancient sculptures as models for the study of artists. In the beginning of the 17th century this enthusiasms gave way to a habit of viewing ancient works of art only as so many illustrations of ancient beliefs and modes of life, a habit in which the French and the Dutch were distinguished, and of which the results are nowhere more apparent than in Monfaucon's L'Antiquite expliquée et representée en figures, Paris, 1722, with its uncritical text and inaccurate engravings. The taste of the times preferred literature to art, and accordingly the collection of ancient monuments, adapted to the illustration of classical writers, and especially the poets, was assiduously followed. A typical example of the one-sidedness of this tendency is to be seen in Spence's Polymetis, or an Enquiry concerning the Agreement between the Works of the Roman Poets and the Remains of the Ancient Arts, London, 1755, fol. A really valuable work of the period, however, was the collection of passages in the ancient writers bearing upon artists, entitled Catalogus Artificum, by Fr. Junius (François Dujon), which retained the position of a standard work until supplanted by Sillig's Catalogus Artificum, Dresden, 1827, which in turn held its ground until the appearance of H. Brunn's Geschichte der Griechischen Künstler, 2 vols., 1853 and 1859.

Up to the middle of the 17th century no steps had been taken to visit and explore the monuments of Greece. The pioneers in this work were J. Spon, a physician of Lyons, and George Wheler, an Englishman, who traveled together in 1675-76 through Italy, Dalmatia, and Greece, and published each a separate account of their journey (J. Spon, Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatia, de Grèce, et du Levant, Lyon, 1678; G. Wheler, Journey into Greece, London, 1682). In the year previous to their arrival in Greece, the Marquis de Nointel, French ambassador at the Porte, had paid a short visit to Athens, and set Carrey, a French artist, to work to draw the sculptures of the Parthenon and some of the buildings of the town. These drawings are now in the Bibliothèque at Paris, and though mostly sketched hurriedly, or from an awkward point of view, form an invaluable record of the sculptures of the Parthenon, destroyed shortly after (1687) by the bombardment of Athens by the Venetians under Morosini.

The discovery of Herculaneum in 1720 and of Pompeii in 1748 opened a new era in the history of archaeology. The antiquarian spirit gave way to an historical and scientific method, of which Count Caylus (Recueil d'Antiquites, Paris, 1752-54, 7 vols.) may be regarded as the forerunner, and Winckelmann (1717-1768) as the actual founder. The fame of the latter rests on his two great works - (1.) the Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums, Dresden, 1764, and with additions, 1767; and (2.) Monumenti Antichi Inedita, Rome, 1767, 2 vols. fol. It was in the former that he elaborated his two theories - first, that the quality of artistic production is always in harmony with the character and the events of the times; and, secondly, that ideal beauty originates in the union of individually-beautiful forms observed singly and part in nature. Whatever may be said of the narrowness or want of precision in his artistic and philosophical speculations, is still stands to his great praise and renown that he was the first to undertake a vigorous examination of the terms, beauty and ideal, in their relation to nature. It was through his influence that the history of the ancient art was introduced into the course of academical study by Heyne, that Goethe, Lessing, and Herder turned each the force of his consummate genius to ancient art, and that the publication of ancient monuments with critical apparatus received a new impulse. Among the immediate disciples of Winckelmann were Zoëga (1755-1809), Visconti (1751-1807), and Millin. After Winckelman, the next history of ancient art that appeared was Meyer's Geschichte der bildenden Kunste bei den Griechen und Römern, Dresden, 1824-36, 3 vols.; contemporary with which the only important contributions to the subject were those of C. A. Böttiger and Hirt.

While German activity was engaged on theories of art based principally on the monuments existing in Italy, a practical view of the subject was taken in England, the first issue of which was that Stuart and Revert went to Athens in 1751, and spent nearly three years in exploring and drawing its remains, the result appearing in the work Antiquities of Athens, vol. i., 1762; vol. ii., 1787; vol. iii., 1794; and vol. iv., 1816. The task begun by them was taken up by the Society of Dilettanti (founded 1834), whose first expedition under Dr. Chandler, Revert, and Pars, an artist, in Greece and Asia Minor, was productive of two works - (1.) Ionian Antiquities (published in 1769, and again, largely increased by the researches of William Gell, in 1797); and (2) Unedited Antiquities of Attica, 1817. At this time, Lord Elgin, then British ambassador at the Porte, had a large force of workmen employed in removing the sculptures of the Acropolis of Athens, which, after years of tossing hither and thither in London, at last, in 1816, found a resting-place in the British Museum, of which they continue to form the greatest ornament. In 1811-12 a number of English, German, and Danish travellers (Cockerell, Forster, Stackelberg, Haller, Linckh, and Brönstedt) undertook the exploration of Aegina at their own expense, and were fortunate in the recovery of the sculptures of the temple of Athene, now in Munich.

In 1812 the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Phigalia was explored by Cockerell, its sculptured frieze recovered and obtained for the British Museum, and its architecture elucidated in the still unapproached work of Cockerell, The Temples of Jupiter at Aegina, and of Apollo at Bassae, near Phigalia, 1860. Among the other researches undertaken about this period were - (1.) The French Expedition scientifique de la Morée, the chief result of which was the discovery of some fragments of the metopes of the temple of Zeus at Olympia. (2.) The excavations on the Acropolis of Athens, directed by L. Ross, in 1834-36. (3.) The excavations of Angell and Harris on the Acropolis of Selinus in Sicily in 1822-23, resulting in the recovery of three sculptured metopes of a very archaic style, and fragments of three more metopes (Samuel Angell and Thomas Harris, Sculptured Metopes of the Ancient City of Selinus in Sicily, London, 1826, fol.) (4.) The exploration of the same site by the duke of Serradifalco (L'Antichità della Sicilia, Palermo, 1834), with the further gain of four metopes sculptured in a more advanced style (O. Benndorf, Die Metopen von Selinunt, Berlin, 1873). These sculptures are in the Museum of Palermo. (5.) The extensive operations in Etruria from 1828 onwards, the enormous spoils of which, consisting of painted vases, bronzes, &c., led to the foundation of the Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica at Rome, which has continued uninterruptedly, with the support of the Prussian Government, its publication of Annali, Bulletino, and Monumenti, furnishing a complete repertory of archaeological research up to the present day. (6.) The removal of the sculptures on the Acropolis of Xanthos (Fellows, Asia Minor, 1839, and Travels in Lycia, 1841), and the remains of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (Newton, History of Discoveries, &c., 1862, and Travels in the Levant, 1865), have been the principal additions of that class to our national collection, which, however, has been immensely enriched in objects of minor artistic importance, but of great archaeological interest, from excavations in Greece, at Camirus and Jalyssus in Rhodes, in Sicily, in the Cyrenaica, and in Cyprus. In the Crimea the excavations of the Russian Government have brought very important treasure to light (Antiquités du Bosphore Cimmérien conserves au Musée Impérial de l'Ermitage, Petersburgh, 1854; Comptes Rendus de Commission Archéologique, from 1859).

The rapid and vast accumulation of new material after the time of Winckelman required a new informing spirit. The first to assume this function was Thiersch, in three articles, "Ueber die Epochen der bildenden Kunst unter den Greichen," 1816, 1819, 1825, in which he endeavoured to prove the influence of the Egyptians and Phoenicians on early Greek art. Against him appeared K. O. Muller, denying altogether an exoteric influence, and comparing the development of Greek art to the organic development of plants, its various periods being coincident with the marked periods of political history. These opinions he propounded first in a series of articles (Kleine Schriften, ii. pp. 315-398), and afterwards in the celebrated Handbuch der Archäologie (1830; 2d ed. 1835; 3d ed. 1848, with additions by Welcker,) which, with the plates by Oesterley (Denkmäler der alten Kunst), is still unsurpassed in its kind. Müller's view has continued to be adopted by all the leading archaeologists since his time, among whom may be here mentioned Gerhard, Welcker, Otto Jahn, and the historians of art generally, Schnaase, Kugler, and Lübke. Besides the Handbuch, however, with its additional volume of Denkmäler by Wieseler, it is necessary, for the most recent information, to consult Brunn's Geschichte der Griechischen Künstler, 2 vols.; Overbeck's Geschichte der Griechischen Plastik, ed ed., 1872; Friedderich's Bausteine, Berlin, 1868; Kleine Kunst und Industrie, Berlin, 1871, by the same author; G. Semper, Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten, Munich 1860-63; C. Botticher, Die Tektonik der Hellenen, 2d ed., Berlin, 1872-3; Helbig's Wandgemälde Campaniens, 1868; vol ii. of Schnaase's Geschichte der bildenden Künste; Helbig's Untersuchungen über die Wandgemälde Campaniens, 1873; the publications of the Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica of Rome, and the Archäologische Zeitung of Berlin. It is not assumed that this list exhausts the number of books that may be consulted with profit; but it is hoped that no essentially important work has been overlooked.

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