Our research team is monitoring a trend we think will pick up even more steam in 2023: a spectacular resurgence in the decorative and architectural use of figurative art – particularly classical Roman and Greek sculptures – in installations across both institutional and residential spaces.
As sculpture becomes increasingly more popular with contemporary designers, we think it’s timely to examine the manner in which our ancestors selected and interacted with statues and contrast this with the possibilities available in our present age.
We know that Cicero, for example, was concerned with two specific concepts. In his letters to T. Pomponius Atticus and M. Fadius Gallus in the early 60s BC, he outlines his “ideology of display” – selection of a sculptural object must:
- be harmonious with the space it occupies;
- reflect the sensibilities of the owner.
In one case, Cicero is irate because a statue of Mars has been selected for his garden – and he asks angrily: “what good is that to me, the advocate of peace?”
Vitruvius, another Latin author, criticizes the people of Alabanda, in present-day Turkey, for thematic mismatch in their selection and misplacement of public art: “in the gymnasium the statues are all pleading cases, whereas in the forum they are throwing a discus, running, or playing ball.”
Greek sculpture was followed by Roman imitation, until the renaissance created the conditions for the explosion of sculptural creativity and excellence.
Ancient statues connected patrons and viewers with the past but also inspired them to artistic creativity. This was a primary consideration for the design of outdoor spaces, gardens, and courtyards. Later, these sculptures moved indoors, and became artistic and cultural centerpieces inside the palaces and villas of the powerful.
Beginning in the 1500s, the Italian elite collected ancient statues in order to claim a direct connection with the past, and statues on display in one’s house helped convey the notion (sometimes fictive) of a long and distinguished family genealogy. Powerful cardinals and popes built spectacular collections of antique and heritage works. The Cesi, Farnese, Mattei, and Medici used their extraordinary social position and purchase of older collections to endow themselves with elite and rarified status.
The 18th century was an Age of Restoration. As statues were used as status-enhancers for their collectors, they tended to be installed in ever more formal settings, appropriate for their higher status. This preference gave rise to the practice of restoration, as formal architectural settings outfitted with niches and colonnades required whole statues rather than fragments. Collectors wanted complete images even if the process of restoration compromised their authenticity as antiquities.
In 1794, hundreds of statues, including such masterpieces as the Apollo Belvedere, left Rome for Paris under the terms of the Treaty of Tolentino negotiated by Napoleon. Along with Egyptian antiquities acquired in Napoleon’s campaigns, the many classical marbles established the Louvre as one of the world’s leading collections and the French as imperial in their archaeological endeavors.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the restorer/craftsman became the “conservator,” and studios transformed into scientific “laboratories.” Derestorationwas the practice of removing the embellishments to the originals and revealing the underlying object in its original form. The parallel paths of restoration and conservation emerged as a debate between aesthetics and objective interpretations of science.
To a large extent, we now have less of a need to restore and greater appreciation for the effects of time – the object is simultaneously a historic record and a work of art.
Which brings us to the contemporary scene; we see an increasing use of artclones to extend the cultural legacy of historical works beyond the walls of the museum – and into the personal space of the individual.
In 2023, we predict an explosion in the use of artclones to add visual interest and depth to a space. Already, we see interior designers leading this charge. The present resurgence of figurative art has led to more opportunities to showcase sculptures and replicas, with more collectors buying three-dimensional art.
Artclones allow for the democratization of collecting – enabling the public to make authentic art a part of their everyday lives. What do we mean by democratization? One possibility is the ability for the public to own an authentic, officially-licensed replica of the original work – one which, in the past, would have been out of reach. Another possibility is the ability to choose the color of the artclone. Each artclone is a faithful clone of the digitalDNA of the original masterpiece.
Do you fancy a blue or a vermillion Caesar Augustus? You decide.
Barbara Dal Corso works at the intersection of art and technology. She is the co-founder of ARTficial, the maker of the world’s first officially-licensed artclones.
The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture, edited by Elise A. Friedland and Melanie Bruno Sobocinski, with Elaine K. Gazda, Oxford University Press, 2015.