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The Appiades of Stephanos in Herculaneum and Rome: A New Identification of the Bronze ‘Dancers’ from the Villa dei Papiri

Kenneth Lapatin

Getty Museum

In the 250 years since their discovery between April 1754 and October 1756, five statues of women wearing Doric peploi (Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale 5604, 5605, 5619, 5620, 5621) have been variously identified. Produced by the indirect method of lost-wax bronze casting, each was assembled from multiple components. Emulating “Severe Style” sculptures of Early Classical Greece, all stand with feet flat, weight on one leg, with the knee of the other, relaxed leg interrupting columnar folds of drapery falling from the waist. The figures undeniably constitute a group, but are distinguished by individual hairstyles and different positions of arms and hands: two adjust their garments; two may have held now-lost objects; and one appears to have been doing both. In his excavation plan of the ancient villa, drawn between 1754 and 1758, Karl Jacob Weber described the bronzes simply as “draped women” (muger vestida); Weber’s supervisor Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre was similarly vague (Comparetti and De Petra 1883: 167-69, 224: XVIIIXXI; Mattusch 2006: 365). The common identification of the figures as “dancers” is often attributed to Johann Joachim Winckelmann, who praised the statues as the “most beautiful” found at Herculaneum, but also observed that they “show little action. Neither do they have any attributes that would allow us to identify them with any certainty.” Winckelmann noted that one “raises her skirt a little as if she is dancing,” but he ultimately identified them as nymphs, “very reminiscent of the description by Longus [Daphnis and Chloe 1.6]…because they too stood around a pool” (Mattusch 2011: 50–51, 88). Subsequently, other scholars (see Lapatin 2019: 175 for bibliography) have called them priestesses, vestal virgins, maidens, matrons, actresses, kistophoroi (basket carriers), kanephoroi (jar carriers), hydrophoroi (water carriers), and Danaids, mythical daughters of King Danaios of Egypt (or Argos), punished for the murder of their husbands by being tasked perpetually to fill leaky jars.Because Roman writers mention statues of Danaids prominently displayed in the portico Augustus built adjacent to the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine and three female hip-herms carved in dark stone recovered there resemble some of the Herculaneum sculptures (Antiquario Palatino 1048, 1053, 1056: Mattusch 2006: 213; Quenemoen 2006), the identification of the bronze peplophoroi as Danaids has gained wide acceptance. Healey (2019), however, has challenged the notion that the abbreviated, decorative hip-herms, rather than large-scale statues in the round, represented Danaids on the Palatine. Meanwhile, as part of an interdisciplinary imaging project addressing ancient replicas, Sengoku-Haga et al. (2010 and forthcoming) observed that specific features of the Herculaneum peplophoroi are virtually identical. This is not surprising as the bronzes were produced in a single workshop (re-) using models and molds. Unexpected, however, was their discovery that the faces and feet of some of bronzes also closely resemble those of a marble statue of a male athlete (Villa Albani 906) signed by the first-century BC sculptor Stephanos. Among other works of Stephanos known to ancient writers was a group of Appiades (nymphs of the Aqua Appia, Rome’s earliest aqueduct) mentioned by Pliny the Elder (Natural History 36.33). Ovid (Ars Amatoria 1.81–82; 3.451–52) provides further information about these figures: they evidently adorned a fountain near the Temple of Venus Genetrix in Rome’s Forum Iulium (Ulrich 1986).

Scholars still debate the identity of the owner of the Villa dei Papiri, but the best candidate remains Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. Although the mechanisms by which sculptural replicas were com-missioned and produced in ancient Rome remain elusive, Stephanos’s workshop (and the molds within it) that produced the Appiades for Caesar might also have been available to Piso to provide a nearly contemporary duplicate set of bronze Appiades for his luxury Villa on the Bay of Naples, contributing to the creation there of a mythical, paradisiacal environment (see Zarmakoupi 2014).

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Vesuvius: Texts Objects and Images

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