Hellenistic sculpture II is the sixth in Ridgway’s now almost complete survey of the history of Greek sculpture, with only the final volume on the 1st century BC awaiting completion. Her approach follows that of her teacher, Rhys Carpenter, whose Greek Sculpture (1960) is the most rigorous statement of the formalist approach in classical art history. Like Carpenter’s work, Ridgway’s offers scrupulous and detailed visual analysis of the techniques and working practices and the motifs which made up the style of the period with which she is concerned. Unlike Carpenter, Ridgway has no overriding thesis concerning any law-like or regular evolution of artistic style, but recognizes the internal diversity of Hellenistic Greek sculpture, as well as its regional variability and the non-linear characteristic of formal development.
This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. On the one hand, it is a good deal more intellectually open than Rhys Carpenter to the range of factors — material, social, cultural — which may have affected the development of Greek sculpture. On the other hand, her study lacks any clear line of systematic argument evaluating the relative importance of such factors in relation to the purely internal formal development of a tradition. Consequently both the goals, and at first sight the apparent achievement of the volume, are rather modest, to `expose the insecurity of some traditional attributions’ of sculptures to the 2nd century and to `confirm others’ (p. 12).
The approach is archaeological. An introductory chapter sets and justifies the chronological parameters. The second and third chapters explore the sculpture of Pergamum as the dominant centre of patronage of the century, and in particular the Great Altar of Zeus as the defining monument of the period. The following chapters explore categories of sculpture: architectural sculpture, sculpture in the round, funerary and votive reliefs, cult statues, and copies, with a concluding chapter of `odds and ends’. The formal analysis is often superb: few have looked at so many monuments so carefully as Ridgway. She has developed a very useful vocabulary for describing the characteristic motifs of different styles and periods, and makes good use of it in analysing both the innovations of second century sculpture, and its continuities with the past. This generates important new insights, particularly on workshop techniques: the increasingly heavy use of the drill (p. 115), the historical layering of iconography as an indicator of the `accumulation of models in carvers’ ateliers’ (p. 108), the regional continuity in sculptural practice, for example carving triglyph and metope in one piece in Paestum (p. 142).
Often, however, it is the asides, rather than the core of the analysis, which are most interesting. The lack of connection between theme and deity in the architectural sculpture of temples is read in terms of a shift from temple sculpture as civic propaganda to a more purely decorative function (p. 108). Sculptural decoration in architecture expands from religious to purely secular categories of building and is found primarily in Anatolia, not the Greek mainland. Grave reliefs flourish above all in Asia Minor, with a strongly cultic focus, putatively linked to `eastern religions and philosophies connected with the ruler cult’ (p. 193). All this provides much food for thought but is tossed out without any of the careful thought or serious analysis that Ridgway offers in her more purely stylistic diagnoses of time and place of production of specific artefacts.
All serious students of Greek sculpture will need to read’this book — or perhaps better to consult it: the rather list-like presentation of the materials, and the absence of any overriding argument motivating the analysis, does not make for easy reading. Students who are not specialists would do better to go back to chapter VIII of Rhys Carpenter, which covers much of the same ground in rather more vigorous and engaging style. Whilst Ridgway does not, perhaps, much advance our understanding of the social and cultural dynamics of stylistic developments in 2nd-century sculpture, she certainly sets on a much surer foundation our knowledge of the basic archaeological materials from which such a history could be constructed.