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Genre and originality in Hellenistic mosaics

Westgate, Ruth Caroline 1999. Genre and originality in Hellenistic mosaics. Mosaic 26 , pp. 16-25.

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Many figured scenes and motifs appear more than once in mosaics of the Hellenistic period and beyond. These repeated scenes are often interpreted as copies of famous paintings, identifiable from literary sources, and their transmission is usually explained by the movement of craftsmen or the circulation of hypothetical 'pattern-books'. This paper analyses some examples of repeated compositions, to show that the process of transmission was more complex than this. Some scenes probably were more-or-less exact copies of a specific original, although the prototype could be a sculpture or manuscript illustration rather than a painting. In other cases, however, the similarities between scenes are less close. Some appear to be generic works based on a common theme, which could be re-invented to suit the requirements and means of each customer. In addition, the artists seem to have had at their disposal a repertoire of stock figure-types and compositional formulae, shared with artists in other media, which they could combine in different ways to create an infinite variety of scenes. These stock elements need not have been transmitted in a physical form, but could have been drawn from memory as required. Greek mosaicists were not merely skilled copyists reproducing the work of others; they were also capable of creating original compositions.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
Publisher: ASPROM - The Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics
ISSN: 0286-9626
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:53

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