Master of Classical Greek Sculpture: Scopas in Boston (Olga Palagia)

“Master of Classical Greek Sculpture: Scopas and Boston”
2002 Estelle Shohet Brettman Memorial Lecture by Olga Palagia, Professor of Classical Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Art History, Athens University

Abstract: Scopas, once of the great Greek sculptors and architects of the 4th century BCE, gained fame for his work on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and eventually recognition as an important influence on the High Classical style and development of European Art. Professor Olga Palagia reviews his career and points out the stylistic links between his work and sculptures in the MFA's collection, including a masterful bronze head of a goddess.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss one of the finest pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which so far has not received the attention it surely deserves. I think this neglect is in part due to its odd provenance. Anyhow, it seems to me that it is possible to associate the life-size bronze head (Fig. 1) with the style of Scopas, and in order to show you how, I would like to begin with an introduction to the artist.

Scopas, from the Greek island of Paros, and active in the fourth century BCE, was one of the great masters of Classical antiquity. Paros is of course famous for its quarries which produce luminous white marble. The island was the home of many sculptors. Not all of them, however, were members of a native school, nor did they always use the marble of their own island. Scopas is a case in point, as we shall see. His work survived for hundreds of years after his death and remained influential as attested by numerous Neoclassical revivals throughout antiquity. He was chiefly famous for the sculptures he contributed to the decoration of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in the second quarter of the fourth century. This was the colossal funerary monument of a local ruler in Caria that lent its name to all subsequent mausolea. Unfortunately, no original work signed by Scopas' hand has come down to us. We do not even have signed statue bases as we seem to have of other artists of his generation. Information on Scopas' career is mainly provided by the Greek author Pausanias, who wrote a description of Greece in the second century CE, about six hundred years after Scopas' time, and by the Latin author Pliny the Elder, during the first century CE, in an encyclopedia that included descriptions of works of art. Even so, we have enough evidence to reach some conclusions about Scopas' personal style and to assess his contributions to the development of Greek sculpture.

Scopas appears to have been an itinerant artist. It is clear from the ancient sources that he had no established workshop practice like his contemporary and rival Praxiteles, who was based in Athens. Even though Scopas was mainly active in Boeotia, the Peloponnese, and Asia Minor, his style draws upon the Attic School. Pliny (Natural History 36:26 & 28) remarks that it is not always easy to distinguish between him and Praxiteles, and this should not be dismissed as a rhetorical statement.

Unlike Agorakritos, the great Parian sculptor of the fifth century BCE, who employed Parian marble for his cult statues, Scopas' known works were mainly of Pentelic marble, quarried on Mount Penteli near Athens. According to Pausanias (Description of Greece 8:28.1 & 47.1), Scopas' pairs of statues of Asclepius and Hyegeia at Gortys and Tegea in the Peloponnese were of Pentelic marble. Even the free-standing sculptures of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus have now been shown to be of Pentelic marble. Some of the colossal marble portraits, however, carried heads in Parian marble, for example, the portrait of the so-called Mausolus in the British Museum.

Scopas' versatility is attested by the fact that he was also a practicing architect, responsible for the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea. Oddly enough, this temple is the only extant original by his hand. It is dated to the early third quarter of the fourth century BCE on the basis of the style of its pediment sculptures. There is strong Athenian influence in the style and proportions of the architecture. Not only do the engaged interior columns draw on the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, built by Ictinus, architect of the Parthenon, but also many of the dimensions of the plan echo those of the Propylaea on the Athenian Acropolis, built by Mnesicles. Scopas' great innovation is the extension of the engaged Corinthian columns along the back wall of the cella, thus forming a Π - shaped colonnade articulating the interior. The use of half-columns, however, eliminates the structural purpose of such a colonnade, reducing it to a decorative feature. It has been suggested that the interior colonnade of Corinthian half-columns also carried a top row of Ionic half-columns, thus crediting Scopas with the invention of the two-tiered colonnade carrying two different orders. There is, however, no evidence to support this. The latest reconstruction of the interior favors a single Corinthian order elevated on a high podium. The hypothetical top Ionic colonnade inside the cella is based on an emendation of Pausanias' text (8.45.5), reading "inside" instead of "outside". This is what Pausanias wrote about the Temple of Athena Alea: "The temple as it stands today is the finest and largest in the Peloponnese. Its columns are Doric as well as Corinthian, and there are also Ionic columns outside. I was informed that the architect was Scopas of Paros, also responsible for many statues in mainland Greece, as well as in Ionia and Caria. As for the pediments, the front one has the Calydonian Boar Hunt... The rear pediment shows the battle between Telephus and Achilles on the plain of the Caicus River." Pausanias does not name the artist or artists of the pediments but goes on to say that Scopas made the statues of Asclepius and Hygeia in Pentelic marble that stood on either side of the cult statue of Athena Alea in the cella. 

Modern scholarship has always associated the pediments and acroteria with Scopas. These survive in a rather battered and truncated condition having been used as building material in the modern village of Tegea. They began to be retrieved from the house walls in 1879 and are now divided between the local museum in Tegea and the National Museum in Athens. The rather forceful and emotive style of these has characterized all further attributions to our master. But the rest of the figures are cursorily modeled and do not match the high quality of the temple designs and its moldings. In addition, even though Scopas is generally acknowledged to belong to the Athenian School of sculptors, these heads have affinities with other architectural sculptures from the Peloponnese. For example, the deep-set eyes with sharp eyelids, the half-open mouth exposing the upper rows of teeth, and the upward gaze find their closest parallels in the heads from the pediments of the temple at Mazi near Olympia, now in the storeroom of the Olympia Museum. Scopas' style, as known to us today, is based on a string of attributions emanating from the assumption that the Tegea pediments are products of his workshop. This, I think, has resulted in a distorted view of his true contribution. We should bear in mind that architectural sculptures in Classical Greece tended to remain anonymous since the great masters took up different kinds of commissions, like cult or portrait statues. Architectural sculptures are intensely studied today on account of the scarcity of other large-scale original material. There are, of course, exceptions to prove the rule that pediments were usually relegated to less famous sculptors. Pausanias, for example, names the sculptors of the pediments of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Paeonius for the east pediment and Alcamenes for the west.

Since Scopas' involvement with the architectural sculptures of Tegea is not in fact documented, let us, for the sake of argument, discount them as evidence. What other kinds of leads do we have? To begin with, Scopas is credited with the cult statue of Aphrodite Pandemos in Elis, near Olympia. Once more Pausanias will be our guide. When he visited Elis, he saw a temple with an open-air precinct, both dedicated to Aphrodite. The temple contained a cult statue of Aphrodite Ourania (the Heavenly) by Phidias, while the adjacent open-air precinct had a bronze cult statue of Aphrodite Pandemos riding a billy-goat, which was by Scopas. The fact that Ourania and Pandemos were worshiped in such proximity indicates that the epithets represent two closely related aspects of the same goddess. Scopas' statue is very likely reproduced on Roman coins of Elis, like one specimen from the reign of Hadrian. On it, Aphrodite sites side-saddle on a goat galloping to the right, her cloak drawn up over her head. The gallop and the billowing drapery suggest that the goddess is crossing the sky, and that Pandemos is simply another aspect of Ourania. The frontality of the female rider is readily compared to the west acroteria of the Temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus, dating from the 370s BCE. Even closer is an acroterion with Aphrodite riding a goose in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Fig. 2), where the motif of the billowing cloak is reproduced. The hairstyle and the high girding date this Aphrodite to the third quarter of the fourth century BCE. But the most faithful reflection of the coin type is on a votive relief from the Athenian Agora. Aphrodite rides a she-goat, as indicated by the suckling kids. The question that springs to mind is: what is Scopas' Aphrodite doing on an Athenian relief?

In Classical Athens, Aphrodite Pandemos had her own sanctuary, located on the south slope of the Acropolis. According to Pausanias, she was a civic goddess, since her cult was introduced by the Athenian hero Theseus in association with the foundation of the city of Athens. Pausanias goes on to say that the original cult statues of Aphrodite and her companion Peitho (Persuasion) had long since vanished, but that the statues that stood in his time were by famous sculptors whom he does not name. The goat-riding Aphrodite has often been associated with Pandemos on the south slope of the Acropolis. Her statue there may have been a variant of Scopas' statue in Elis.

Another attribution, that of the Pothos, will serve to place Scopas more firmly in the Athenian School, demonstrating his affiliation to the style and iconography of that School, whose chief representative in the fourth century was Praxiteles. It will become clear at the end of our discussion that the attribution of the Pothos is still anchored to Tegea, though not to architectural sculptures.

During his visit to the temple of Aphrodite in Megara, Pausanias (1.43.6) noticed a group by Praxiteles depicting Peitho and Paregoros, personifications of persuasion and consolation; in the same breath, the author referred to Scopas' three statues of Eros, Himeros, and Pothos, personifications of Love, Desire, and Longing. He then wondered if their functions were not identical even though their names were different. I take this remark to imply that they were iconographically related. Apart from Paregoros, otherwise unknown in art, Peitho, Eros, Himeros, and Pothos are regular companions of Aphrodite, and some literary sources name them as her children. In Attic red-figure vase painting of the late fifth century, all of them, in various groupings, are frequently associated with wedding and courting scenes such as the Judgement of Paris, his courtship of Helen, and the Wedding of Dionysus and Ariadne. In such episodes, Eros, Himeros, and Pothos are identical little boys with wings, distinguished only when named. Their attributes are interchangeable. Three cupids, named Eros, Himeros, and Pothos attend the Judgement of Paris on a hydria once in Berlin. The same threesome accompany Dionysus and Ariadne on a crater in Ruvo. Peitho and Himeros among other personifications appear on a pointed amphoriskos in Berlin with Aphrodite, Helen, and Paris. Peithos stands on the left, contemplating Helen sitting on Aphrodite's lap, while Himeros further along is earnestly addressing Paris. Pothos usually carries women's accessories, as on a lekythos in London, where he brings Helen's mirror and a box of toiletries with her clothes to her while she is taking a bath. When associated with the Dionysiac thiasos, he plays music, e.g., the double flute on a bell-krater in Providence and the tombstone on a pelike once in a Parisian collection. Eros carries a torch in wedding scenes, while Himeros carries one on the company of Peitho, perhaps in an abbreviation of a courtship scene. 

Given the association of Peitho with Eros and his siblings in Attic iconography, it is very likely that the statues of Peitho, Paregoros, Eros, Himeros, and Pothos by Praxiteles and Scopas formed a single group celebrating Aphrodite's pivotal role in courtship and weddings. In this light, Adolf Furtwängler's attribution to Scopas of the statuary type of the winged boy, chiefly known through a copy in the Conservatori Museum in Rome, appears particularly inspired. The finest copy perhaps is a headless one in the Heraklion Museum on Crete. Everyone agrees that the figure leans so far out of balance, that it must have formed part of a larger composition. Furtwängler's attribution was based on a Roman gem in Berlin. Furtwängler did not attribute this type to Scopas' group in Megara, but to his Aphrodite and Pothos said by Pliny the Elder (Natural History 36:25) to be on the island of Samothrace. The connection with Samothrace has persisted to this day but it is hard to accept. Pliny says that the Samothracian statues were worshiped with mystery rites and therefore almost certainly represented one of the pairs of the Great Gods of Samothrace, not the Greek Aphrodite and one of her cupids. Pothos' attributes as established by the gem in Berlin and the Roman copies are the goose and the torch. The torch is related to wedding iconography since torches were always carried at weddings, and therefore associates the Pothos with the Megara group. The goose is one of Aphrodite's birds, sometimes borrowed by Eros as well. Furtwängler named our figure Pothos because he believed that it was part of the Samothrace group which did not include Eros. But we have no evidence giving either the torch or the goose to Pothos. Attic iconography shows him as a musician or an attendant carrying ladies' accessories. It is therefore reasonable to suggest that the extant type may well be either Eros or Himeros, who are often shown with torches at weddings.

The style is peculiar, even disturbing, as we are faced with an infant blown up to adult size, and supported by nothing more substantial than his own drapery. We must remember, however, that the goose is not the only feathery creature in this composition. Our boy is winged too, and therefore not subject to the laws of gravity. His hairstyle is reminiscent of that of his mother; long, waved tresses caught in a bun at the back, similar to the hair of Praxiteles' Cnidian Aphrodite. The shifting of the boy's weight onto an external support, his sinewy outline, female hairstyle, and even his two-dimensional aspect are all reminiscent of Praxiteles' Apollo Sauroctonus. In fact, the Praxitelean overtones of our statue have often been remarked. This may not be surprising if we accept that it was part of a group comprising two statues by Praxiteles, but the affinity might go deeper than that.

The "Pothos" is usually placed at the end of Scopas' career in the 330's, after his involvement with the temple of Tygea. This brings us back to the question of the statues of Asclepius and Hygeia in the cella. In 1901, a fine life-sized female head came to light next to a base before the southeast corner of the temple of Athena Alea. The excavator resisted the impulse to attribute it to Scopas' Hygeia by pointing out that the head was of Parian marble, whereas Pausanias specified the marble of the Hygeia as being Pentelic. In addition, it was found outside rather than inside the cella. Although popular imagination was quick to label the head as Scopas' Hygeia, scholars have always been careful to point out the Praxitelean overtones of her style which do not match that of the pediments and discount any association with Scopas. The pronounced asymmetry of the face is due to an abrupt turn of the head which would not be appropriate for a cult statue. The statue should be restored either seated and turning its head sideways or in quick motion.

It was recently suggested that the head belongs to a statue from the altar of Athena Alea which carried statues of the Muses, but does not come from Scopas' workshop. The hairstyle suggests that she may be either Aphrodite or Artemis. And she is almost the twin of the "Pothos". Even if one takes into account the different angle of inclination, for the so-called Hygeia head is meant to be seen from above while the Pothos is best viewed from below, and also the fact that one is an original marble of the fourth century BCE while the other is a copy, there are noticeable similarities in the rendering of the hair, the ear, the mouth, and the chin. The nose of the Pothos is restored in the Conservatori copy. The hairstyles are similar when seen not only from the side but also from above; note the parting in the middle and the strands waved up over the ears, forming a bun at the back of the head. In sum, even though the findspot, marble, and statuary type do not support the attribution of the head to Scopas' Hygeia, the association with Scopas or his workshop should be retained. The statue was probably an independent dedication statue standing outside of the temple.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a life-size bronze female head which is similar in style to the so-called Hygeia (Fig. 1). It originally belonged to the Collection of Count Tyszkiewicz, which was formed in Egypt and Italy in the early 1860's. The collection acquired in Italy included pieces from Greece as well, for example, a small bronze statuette in this museum known as the Manticlus Apollo. The lack of lead in the metal alloy of the bronze head indicates that it was made in Greece, not Italy. Its similarity to the alloys of the Piraeus Athena and the Marathon Boy point to a late Classical or early Hellenistic date. Most scholars in fact agree that it is a late classical or early Hellenistic original. It has long been known as a portrait of the famous Ptolemaic queen Arsinoe II in her teens. Arsinoe was the daughter of Ptolemy I, the Macedonian king of Egypt, and had a tempestuous career, culminating in successive marriages to her two brothers, Ptolemy Ceraunus and Ptolemy II. She is the most important Ptolemaic queen after the famous Cleopatra and has left an important legacy on account of her patronage of the arts and the large number of portraits erected during her lifetime and after. She was probably born around 316 BCE. If the bronze head was her portrait, it would have to date from the end of the fourth century or the beginning of the third. Its stylistic date, however, is earlier. The identification of the head with Arsinoe has to be abandoned for several reasons. Quite apart from the fact that there are scarcely any Ptolemaic royal portraits in bronze, the features of the bronze head do not correspond to those of Arsinoe on her coin portraits. Arsinoe's hairstyle, when not covered with a veil, is distinctly different, as shown in various marble portraits in the Greco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt. As a matter of fact, the hairstyle of the bronze is not normally found on human figures. It was a short-lived fashion found only on divine figures like the Tygea head, and suggests a young goddess rather than a queen, possibly Artemis or Aphrodite. If we compare the MFA bronze to the head from Tygea, bearing in mind the difference in material, scale, and pose, also the fact that the bronze head has been squashed and its right side disfigured, we are struck by the similarities in the modeling of the eyebrows and the narrow eyes, the shape of the face, the chin and the hairstyle; the nose differs probably because it is bent out of shape. It is still possible to detect Scopaic influence in the bronze. Assuming that the Egyptian provenance is correct, was this head made in or imported to Egypt under Ptolomy I? There is noting from his reign to compare it with. There are in fact very few bronzes from ancient Egypt. Two other possibilities present themselves. Perhaps the provenance of the head was confused, and it was actually acquired in Italy, along with the other Greek pieces in the collection. Or it could have been imported to the Egyptian market in the 19th century. At any rate, the assumed provenance cannot detract from the importance of the piece.

But there may be more surprises lurking for us in Boston. If we are agreed that the head from Tygea is a key piece in determining Scopas' style, it may help us in our attempt to recognize Scopas' contribution to the sculpted decoration of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Pliny the Elder and Vitruvius between them name several famous sculptors of the Athenian School who contributed to the sculptural program of the Mausoleum: Scopas, Timotheus, Bryaxis, Leochares, and possibly even Praxiteles. The distinction of their individual styles among the sculptural remains of the Mausoleum, however, has proved a vexed question. Different sections of the Amazonomachy frieze used to be ascribed to four masters: Scopas, Timotheus, Bryaxis, and Leochares. But recent research has established that Pliny's distribution of four sculptors to the four sides of the monument is far too simplistic, especially since more than four workshops and perhaps as many as seven were involved in the overall decoration. Attribution of the surviving fragments of the friezes and free-standing sculptures to individual sculptors has proved a frustrating exercise. However, a recent comparison between the head from Tygea and the head of Apollo from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus now in the British Museum has proved particularly apt. The style of the two heads is so close, that we can ascribe both to the same workshop, namely that of Scopas.

Scopas' activity in Asia Minor was not confined to the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Caria. Pliny the Elder and Strabo record other statues of his, scattered up and down the west coast of Asia Minor. He made a cult statue of Apollo in the Troad, statues of Athena and Dionysus in Cnidus, and of Leto in Ephesus. But his involvement in Caria may have left another legacy beside the Mausoleum. The Museum of Fine Arts owns an over life-size marble head of Zeus found in Mylasa in Crete (Fig. 3). The head is of Pentelic marble and carved in the late classical manner of the fourth century BCE. It represents the patron god of Caria, not the Greek Zeus but the so-called Zeus Labrandeus, an Anatolian deity, who served as the dynastic god of the rulers of Caria. His symbol is the ax, and his chest usually is covered with the peculiar egg-like objects that are typical of Anatolian deities. He is so represented in a document relief found in Tegea, probably related to a dedication or a benediction of the Carian rulers. He is flanked by the siblings and successors of Mausolus, Ada and Idrieus. Their rule coincides with the construction period of the temple of Athena Alea and the relief has been associated with Scopas because of his connection with both Tegea and Caria. Given the high quality of the head of Zeus in the Museum of Fine Arts and its entirely Greek style, which is inspired by the head of the Olympian Zeus by Pheidias, created about a hundred years previously, its attribution to one of the sculptors of the Mausoleum is certainly plausible. Whether we are again dealing with the Scopas touch, who can say?

Figure 1. Bronze head of a goddess, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 96.712. Fourth century BCE.
Figure 2. Aphrodite riding a goose. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 03.752. Fourth century BCE.
Figure 3. Head of Zeus Labrandeus. From Mylasa, Caria. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 04.12. Fourth century BCE.