Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Roman Copies of Greek Statues

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In the late fourth century B.C., the Romans initiated a policy of expansion that in 300 years made them the masters of the Mediterranean world. Impressed by the wealth, culture, and beauty of the Greek cities, victorious generals returned to Rome with booty that included works of art in all media. Soon, educated and wealthy Romans desired works of art that evoked Greek culture. To meet this demand, Greek and Roman artists created marble and bronze copies of the famous Greek statues. 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.


All the marble statues in the central area of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum are copies made during the Roman period, dating from the first century B.C. through the third century A.D.

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Although many Roman sculptures are purely Roman in their conception, others are carefully measured, exact copies of Greek statues, or variants of Greek prototypes adapted to the taste of the Roman patron. Some Roman sculptures are a pastiche of more than one Greek original, others combine the image of a Greek god or athlete with a Roman portrait head. The meaning of the original Greek statue often lent beauty, importance, or a heroic quality to the person portrayed. By the second century A.D., the demand for copies of Greek statues was enormous—besides their domestic popularity, the numerous public monuments, theaters, and public baths throughout the Roman empire were decorated with niches filled with marble and bronze statuary.


Since most ancient bronze statues have been lost or were melted down to reuse the valuable metal, Roman copies in marble and bronze often provide our primary visual evidence of masterpieces by famous Greek sculptors. All the marble statues in the central area of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum are copies made during the Roman period, dating from the first century B.C. through the third century A.D. They replicate statues made by Greek artists some 500 years earlier during the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.


Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art