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Customer Review

on 28 October 2007
A highly entertaining and thought provoking book that will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in classical art. This book is full of excellent illustrations and is good value for money. It explodes many myths such as being able to precisely identify works and ascribe them to artists named in classical texts. Often experts disagree on dates for statues by hundreds of years. The identification of the Laocoon with a work described in Pliny is a key example. We want it to be true but what's the evidence?

Another key theme is the importance of copying in the ancient world. A Roman workshop has been found with plaster casts of masterworks. Obviously there was big business in churning out copies of `greatest hits' for the villas of the empire. In the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum 51 bronze and 24 marble satues were found! Often we can find parallel statues where a similar pose of a figure from mythology is used, but each one has its variation on the theme. Because of this it's often impossible to tell whether we are dealing a faithful copy of an original work by Praxiteles for instance, or a Roman variation.

In a lot of ways we see the Greeks through Roman eyes. In fact experts often disagree on whether some works are Greek originals or Roman copies.

Other key topics explored are the ancient arts connections to power, status and sex.
The opening chapter on painting is particularly good. A Greek epigram on a painting by Timomachus of Medea shows how sophisticated the ancient response to art could be. Most of the chapter focuses on Pompeii as this is where most of the surviving painting comes from. But as a relatively insignificant provincial town, how typical were these works and would the best of them be as good works in Rome for instance?

Overall I highly recommend this thought provoking book.
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3.7 out of 5 stars