In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

290 twelve The Disappearing Imperial Statue Toward a Social Approach Benjamin Anderson The declining production of sculpture in the round during late antiquity can be traced both in the archaeological and in the literary record. Only rarely, however , can it be quantified. The best-­studied subset of late antique sculptural production is the corpus of attested imperial statues. Already in 1982, a catalog of literary and epigraphic attestations of imperial statues from AD 364 to 609 was published by Rudolf Stichel.1 On the basis of Stichel’s catalog, R. R. R. Smith produced a striking visual representation of the apparent decline in production over this 250-­ year period, which has become the standard visual shorthand for “the end of the statue habit.”2 Smith’s graph counts individual imperial statues, thus producing especially high numbers for the fourth and early fifth centuries, when monuments frequently honored multiple co-­ emperors. Still, even if one follows Stichel’s catalog in counting monuments, not statues, the resulting picture of a precipitous numerical decline between the later fourth and later fifth centuries is unmistakable, as is the end of imperial statue monuments in the early seventh (fig. 1). My thanks to Anthony Kaldellis, Paolo Liverani, and Rolf Schneider for directing me to useful bibliography sources. 1.  Stichel 1982, 75–­ 115. Stichel’s catalog could be updated with discoveries made in the intervening decades (e.g., Alpi 2011), but these would not change the overall picture significantly. 2.  Smith 1985, fig. 1, reproduced by, e.g., Bauer and Witschel 2007a. At 217 Smith argues for a correlation between the number of statues attested in the literary and epigraphic record and the actual production of statues, against Stichel’s more cautious assessment of the sources: Stichel 1982, 18–­ 19. the disappearing imperial statue    291 I. State of the Question Such a phenomenon calls for an explanation; but what kind of explanation might be deemed sufficient? It can be assumed that the production of imperial statues was not an entirely autonomous realm, detached from other cultural and social phenomena. Thus the first question is whether imperial statues should primarily be considered as a subset of statues in general, or as a subset of imperial images in general. An implicit answer lies behind each of the two major accounts that have been offered for the decline in production. The first account provides an aesthetic explanation of the phenomenon, according to which statues of the emperor were replaced by images in various two-­ dimensional media, especially painting and mosaic. The decline in the production of imperial statues is therefore seen as a result of the broader decline in the production of statues in general. The second account provides an iconographic explanation of the phenomenon, according to which late Roman imperial statues no longer represented individual emperors, but supraindividual aspects of the imperial office, so that the production of new statues became redundant. The decline in the production of imperial statues is therefore seen as a result of declining demand for imperial images in general. Both approaches, the aesthetic and the iconographic, identify important aspects of the late Roman reception of statuary. Nevertheless, serious objecFig . 1. Statue monuments to emperors and their families, 364–­ 610, after Stichel 1982. The solid line tracks number of monuments per year in a regnal period, and the hollow line tracks the total number of statues in a regnal period, plotted against the first year of the given period. Drawing by the author. 292    the afterlife of greek and roman sculpture tions may be raised against both. Let us begin with the aesthetic argument, according to which the continuing production of imperial statues into the seventh century represented the conservative retention of an artistic genre, sculpture in the round, which had already become obsolete by the middle of the sixth century. Its eventual abandonment was thus inevitable.3 The emperor did not, however, disappear from the urban landscape, but was rather represented in different media and contexts, especially in paintings or mosaics within churches.4 The increasing significance of two-­ dimensional media in late antique artistic production is an undeniable and highly significant phenomenon, and there is no doubt that it affected the representation of the emperor as well.5 Constantinopolitan examples include the Forum of Leo I (457–­ 74), in which that emperor ’s accession was represented in mosaic; the mosaics of the Chalke of Justinian I (527–­ 65); and the Portico of Maurice (582–­ 602), whose paintings represented the emperor’s youth...


Additional Information

Print ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.