6. The Apollo from Salerno: Hellenistic Influence in Southern Italy
- Silvia Pacifico, Museo Archeologico Provinciale di Salerno, Italy
The bronze head of Apollo found in the waters of the Gulf of Salerno in 1930 still offers an opportunity to discuss the date, casting, production, place of manufacture, and function of the work of art in antiquity.
Laboratory analyses show that the bronze has percentages of copper (81%), lead (11%), and tin (5.5%) that can be associated with alloys found in the Roman Imperial period. The presence of copper seems to have been more elevated in the oldest bronzes (84–92%). Further evidence confirms that during the Roman phase, for large-scale bronze statuary, the lead content reached 20 percent and the tin, 10 percent. In terms of manufacturing, the head was made with the indirect lost-wax technique: the top of the head was joined above the fillet, as were individual curls.
The head once belonged to an over-life-size sculpture, probably wearing a cloak and intended to be seen mainly from the front for a religious purpose or as a symbolic expression of elite power. The size and softness of forms define a composition of elements expertly aggregated as often in bronze and terracotta. The rhythmic complexity, resulting from the movement and inclination of the head, seems to be subjected to a single principle: a rendering style of curves and contours inherited from the Hellenistic Baroque. The features that might suggest an Italian production (that was able to combine tradition and innovation) still have to be evaluated and analyzed more in depth. Influences from both the cosmopolitan Hellenistic world and the Vesuvian region as well as from, even more extensively, Magna Graecia, may also be present.
The bronze head of Apollo found in the waters of the Gulf of Salerno in 1930 still offers an opportunity to discuss the date, casting and production, place of manufacture, and function of the work of art in antiquity.
Laboratory analysis shows that the bronze has percentages of copper (81%), lead (11%), and tin (5.5%) that can be associated with alloys found in the Roman Imperial period.1 The presence of copper was higher in the oldest bronzes (84–92%). Further evidence confirms that during the Roman phase, for large-scale bronze statuary, the lead content could reach up to 20 percent with tin up to 10 percent.2
In the artistic history of the Italian peninsula, the period ranging from Hannibal’s invasion to the battle of Actium is undoubtedly the hardest to analyze. After the Hannibalic wars, the Italian territory acquired greater political autonomy and the Roman Republic started to become a single cultural unit. The classic artistic themes of the Hellenistic courts were rendered through new interpretations. Hellenic culture in Italy got its foothold in Taranto, from whence it spread throughout the peninsula. Its counterpart is in Sicily, where mostly Alexandrian themes were diffused.
The literary sources confirm that, mainly starting from the second century BC, a great many works of art were transferred to Rome as war booty from the Mediterranean East. Many notable Italian and noble Roman families sought to make this culture their own, recalling the luxurious environment of the northern Grecian courts, of Egypt, and of the Hellenistic East. The Roman nobilitas adhered to these canons starting from the first century BC. The discoveries of Hellenistic bronze armor in the region of Latium and the bronzes and ivories from Palestrina testify that, at least for the dominant classes in Rome, there existed a formal culture in which skilled workers were able to create sophisticated works of art.
In terms of manufacture, the bronze head under discussion was made by the indirect lost-wax technique; the top of the head was joined above the fillet; and some individual curls were also cast separately and joined. The head once belonged to a larger-than-life-size sculpture, probably wearing a cloak and intended to be seen mainly from the front for a religious purpose or as a symbolic expression of elite power. The size and softness of the forms define a composition of elements expertly aggregated, as often happens with bronze and terracotta. The rhythmic complexity, resulting from the movement and inclination of the head, seems to be subjected to a single principle: a rendering style of curves and contours inherited from the Hellenistic Baroque (fig. 6.1).
The features that might suggest Italian production—combining tradition and innovation—have yet to be evaluated and analyzed in depth. Influences from both the cosmopolitan Hellenistic world and the Vesuvian region as well as from, even more broadly, Magna Graecia, may also be present.
This Hellenistic matrix in the Apolline iconography is discoverable also in the Roman coins of Campania, which were widely diffused throughout the territory. Starting from the third century BC, the stater from Sessa Aurunca, an inland Campanian town, reveals a new image of Apollo. On this coin, his mane of hair reaches the shoulders; his head is crowned with a laurel wreath; and the rings of the neck are very pronounced, as in the Apollo from Salerno.
Campania represented an environment that connected the tendencies and symbolism of the Hellenistic art with the rest of southern and Apennine Italy. More precisely, the maritime towns of Campania (Cuma, Puteoli, Neapolis, Paestum), in contrast with the inland towns, maintained a Hellenistic manufacturing tradition with a characteristic manner of portraying the deities and famous characters of Hellenism. These characteristic motifs are developed to a high degree of stylistic maturity and come to life in the figurative art of the Late Republic and the Early Imperial age, the phase to which the Apollo head likely belongs.
In the wider frame of the particular political and commercial interests along the Campanian coast, Rome had in 197 BC approved the Lex Atinia de coloniis deducendis for the foundation of five maritime colonies in Campania economic; the colony of Salernum was founded shortly thereafter, in 194 BC. Thanks to the creation of the Via Popilia in 132 BC, it soon became an important commercial confluence, reaching a high level of prosperity and wealth in the Augustan age.
Neapolis (modern Naples), a few kilometers away from Salernum, was an active center of figurative art from the earliest Imperial times. There were a great many bronze artisans who produced work for export as well as for the surrounding areas. According to some literary sources, there was a sculptor named Pasiteles, born in Neapolis, who worked in the first century AD. A note in Pliny’s Natural History, taken from Varro (Naturalis historia 35.39–40), reports that Pasiteles was born on the “Grecian Italian coast”—that is, in Magna Graecia. The term was earlier used generically to indicate most of southern Italy, but during Varro’s age it referred to the coastal towns from Cuma to Taranto. The literary tradition suggests that Pasiteles’s activity was mostly carried on between Rome and Neapolis, and that he was able to sculpt in every medium. We cannot exclude the possibility that our Apollo is the product of one of the flourishing Neapolitan workshops in which artists like Pasiteles worked, or even is a work of his followers.
The cult of Apollo has very ancient manifestations, especially along the Ionic and Campanian coasts, which were rejuvenated during the time of Sulla3 and even more strongly during the Pax Augustea. Apollo, a bright deity, was a fitting emblem for the political program of renewal and purification pursued by Octavian-Apollo. The building of the temple of Palatine Apollo in Rome and the renewal of the surrounding area were among the key points in the thoughtful and global project of cultural propaganda planned by Octavian during the years of his rise to power and its reinforcement after the victory at Actium. Apollo represented the official protector of Octavian/Augustus or, according to a well-planned line of propaganda, his divine parent.
We can also assume that the Apolline allegory, shown through the detailed style and the formal magnificence of our Apollo, is a symbolic expression of the power of a restricted elite (fig. 6.2). Outside the confines of Rome, the forms of communication of the central power and its modalities of reception by the local elites found their expression in a complex game of interactions. The ties between Rome and Campania were strengthened and most fully expressed during the Augustan age through the creation of regio I.
To the Romans, Campania is the ideal place to heal the disagreement between luxuria and mos maiorum through the experience of otium. The collecting of and taste for art, the luxurious furniture and decorations, the practice of the thermal baths, and the theater experienced in the villas of Campania became paradigmatic of the golden age as promoted by Augustan propaganda.
Mostly probably, the bronze Apollo is proof of how the most influential Campanian families, whose lives were spent on the coast, adhered to and identified themselves with this cultural program and with the mythology of the mastery of the princeps.
We still have to evaluate and analyze the aspects of the head that indicate the characteristic features of this Italian production. The artisans’ ability to meld tradition and innovation reflects both the cosmopolitan heritage of the Hellenic universe and a parallel elaboration of Vesuvian and, on a larger scale, Magna Grecian influences, played out at that particular moment of transition from the tumultuous Republican period to the florid Augustan peace of whom Apollo is the tutelary deity.
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