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The Learned Collector

Mythological Statuettes and Classical Taste in Late Antique Gaul

Lea M. Stirling

Publication Year: 2005

Inspired by a classical education, wealthy Romans populated the glittering interiors of their villas and homes with marble statuettes of ancestors, emperors, gods, and mythological figures. In The Learned Collector, Lea M. Stirling shows how the literary education received by all aristocrats, pagan and Christian alike, was fundamental in shaping their artistic taste while demonstrating how that taste was considered an important marker of status. Surveying collections across the empire, Stirling examines different ways that sculptural collections expressed not only the wealth but the identity of their aristocratic owners. The majority of statues in late antique homes were heirlooms and antiques. Mythological statuary, which would be interpreted in varying degrees of complexity, favored themes reflecting aristocratic pastimes such as dining and hunting. The Learned Collector investigates the manufacture of these distinctive statuettes in the later fourth century, the reasons for their popularity, and their modes of display in Gaul and the empire. Although the destruction of ancient artwork looms large in the common view of late antiquity, statuary of mythological figures continued to be displayed and manufactured into the early fifth century. Stirling surveys the sculptural decor of late antique villas across the empire to reveal the universal and regional trends in the late antique confluence of literary education, mythological references, aristocratic mores, and classicizing taste. Deftly combining art historical, archaeological, and literary evidence, this book will be important to classicists and art historians alike. Stirling's accessible writing style makes this an important work for scholars, students, and anyone with an interest in Roman statues of this era. Lea M. Stirling is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Manitoba and holds a Canada Research Council Chair in Roman Archaeology. She co-directs excavations at the ancient city of Leptiminus, Tunisia.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. vii-viii

The present book has been a long time in the making, from nascent ideas in classes with Jeremy Rossiter and Thelma Thomas, through its original recension as my 1994 doctoral dissertation (University of Michigan), to the much-expanded present format. I extend...


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p. ix

List of Figures

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pp. xi-xiii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-14

Vivid descriptions of two diametrically opposed responses to mythological statuary in Gaul from the later decades of the fourth century have come down to us through accounts of Ausonius of Bordeaux and St. Martin of Tours. Though contemporaries, the two men had different educational backgrounds and personify contrasting...

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2. Findspots, Functions, and the Burden of Proof: Some Questions of Methodology

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pp. 15-28

Before addressing the statuary assemblages of villas in Gaul (chap. 3) and other Roman provinces (chap. 6), it is necessary to consider some basic issues of methodology and interpretation.1 Statuary found in a late antique house under the Via Giovanni Lanza in Rome perhaps epitomizes the most straightforward...

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3. Late Antique Villas in Southwest Gaul and Their Sculptural Collections

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pp. 29-90

The three most famous sculptural collections of late antique Gaul come from the villas of Saint-Georges-de-Montagne, Chiragan, and Montmaurin. Though each of these sites had multiple mythological statuettes of late antique date, none of the assemblages is without some difficulties for the reconstruction of an ancient...

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4. Issues of Style, Chronology, and Origins

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pp. 91-137

“The execution of this statuette is quite faulty,” wrote Theodore Amtmann of the Venus of Saint-Georges-de-Montagne (fig. 7). He explained, “the neck is overly long, the head out of proportion, the arms stiff, the legs swollen: in a word, all the characteristics of the late empire.”1 While Amtmann clearly viewed these characteristics...

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5. Paideia and the World of Ausonius of Bordeaux: The Social Environment of Late Mythological Statuary

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pp. 138-164

The issues of iconography, display, style, and transport previously examined lead to the crucial question of taste: why did late mythological statuettes carry such appeal for Aquitanian landowners? The classical education system, known as paideia in the eastern empire, is the key to understanding this taste. We are fortunate...

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6. Learned Collectors across the Empire

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pp. 165-227

Late antique interest in domestic statuary was by no means limited to Gaul, as the international distribution of late mythological statuettes already suggests. Surveying statuary assemblages from villas and houses across the empire provides important evidence for identifying regional characteristics in Gallic collections and assessing...

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7. Statuary, Paideia, and Collecting: Conclusions

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pp. 228-232

Statuary found in Gaul has provided the core material for fresh analysis of three important topics for the study of late antiquity: late mythological statuettes, classical education, and private collecting of sculpture. The first topic has not previously received a dedicated study of this length, the second topic has been little investigated in...


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pp. 233-281


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pp. 283-305


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pp. 307-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025343
E-ISBN-10: 0472025341
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472114337
Print-ISBN-10: 0472114336

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 613205641
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Learned Collector

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Marble sculpture, Roman -- France, Southwest.
  • Figurines -- France, Southwest.
  • Mythology, Classical, in art.
  • France, Southwest -- Antiquities, Roman.
  • Sculpture -- Collectors and collecting -- France, Southwest.
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