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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
 

F. B. Tarbell, A History of Ancient Greek Art

Greek Sculpture - General considerations

Materials and technical processes

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A Greek marble statue or group is often not made of a single piece. Thus the Aphrodite of Melos was made of two principal pieces, the junction coming just above the drapery, while several smaller parts, including the left arm, were made separately and attached. The Laocoon group, which Pliny expressly alleges to have been made of a single block, is in reality made of six. Often the head was made separately from the body, sometimes of a finer quality of marble, and then inserted into a socket prepared for it in the neck of the figure. And very often, when the statue was mainly of a single block, small pieces were attached, sometimes in considerable numbers. Of course the joining was done with extreme nicety, and would have escaped ordinary observation.

In the production of a modern piece of marble sculpture, the artist first makes a clay model and then a mere workman produces from this a marble copy. In the best period of Greek art, on the other hand, there seems to have been no mechanical copying of finished models. Preliminary drawings or even clay models, perhaps small, there must often have been to guide the eye; but the sculptor, instead of copying with the help of exact measurements, struck out freely, as genius and training inspired him. If he made a mistake, the result was not fatal, for he could repair his error by attaching a fresh piece of marble. Yet even so, the ability to work in this way implies marvelous precision of eye and hand. To this ability and this method we may ascribe something  of the freedom, the vitality, and the impulsiveness of Greek marble sculpture – qualities which the mechanical method of production tends to destroy. Observe too that, while pediment-groups, metopes, friezes, and reliefs upon pedestals would often be executed by subordinates following the design of the principal artist, any important single statue or group in marble was in all probability chiseled by the very hand of the master.


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