Biard, Guillaume : La représentation honorifique dans les cités grecques aux époques classique et hellénistique, (Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, 376), 21 x 29,7 cm, 632 p., 52 pl., ISBN : 978-2-86958-277-4, 89 €
(École française d’Athènes, Athènes 2017)
Compte rendu par Sheila Dillon, Duke University

Nombre de mots : 2229 mots
Publié en ligne le 2018-01-23
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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          This impressive new study, based on a doctoral dissertation submitted in 2012 and written under the direction of Bernard Holtzmann, is one of the latest contributions to the growing body of recent and important research on honorific portraiture in ancient Greece. Like the best of these studies, it analyzes the full and diverse range of evidence available for the subject – epigraphic, historical, archaeological, spatial, iconographic – but unlike some recent monographs (e.g. J. Ma, Statues and Cities, 2012, C. Keesling, Early Greek Portraiture, 2017), it has a much broader chronological purview, which is one of its many strengths. The geographic focus is mainland Greece, the Cyclades, Asia Minor, and the Black Sea, although important documentation from Cyprus and Ptolemaic Egypt are also taken into account. Biard’s aim is to analyze the political, social, and cultural roles portrait monuments played, and to explore how these honorific representations and the reasons they were set up changed over time. The broader chronological sweep, from the Archaic to the early Imperial period, but with a primary focus on the Classical and Hellenistic periods, reveals the central place that the representation of historical individuals occupied in both the history of the Greek city and the history of Greek art.


         Biard’s text is divided into three parts consisting of thirteen chapters, plus an introduction and a general conclusion. The first part of the book (chapters I-III) focuses on the history and the historiography of the genre, the second (chapters IV-VII) on the material evidence, and the third (chapters VIII-XIII) on the iconography of honorific representation. There are five very useful appendices that catalogue the epigraphic evidence for the honorific representations discussed in the text, comprising 907 individual entries. They are organized in the following categories: A - the location of honorific representations according to decrees; B - painted honorific representations; C - honorific statues in bronze; D - honorific statues in marble; and E - private honorific representations from the evidence of statue bases. These appendices represent a veritable gold-mine of information for scholars working on honorific portraiture. A series of indices follow that allows for easy navigation of the almost 400 pages of text. The book is generously illustrated, with 38 figures within the text and 52 high quality black-and-white plates at the end.


         In the introduction, Biard clearly sets out the aims, methods, and scope of his study, and he defines a number of important terms. Foremost perhaps is his use of the term ‘honorific representation’ (la représentation honorifique) rather than the more usual ‘honorific portrait’, in order to move away from the modern idea of a physical likeness to the subject depicted that the term portrait tends to carry with it. This is a very welcome and indeed productive move, as for too long the study of Greek portraiture has been fixated on the development of increasing realism or likeness to the person portrayed, an aspect of ancient portraiture that is both impossible to evaluate and in most cases seems not to have been a primary concern of the genre. Biard also includes a wider range of formats and categories of individual representation than is typical in many studies of honorific portraiture: he considers images that are sculpted, painted, and in relief, dedicated both privately (e.g., by family members) and publicly (e.g., by the demos), and commemorative representations of the deceased, as they share many features with honorific representations of the living. Self-representations are excluded, in particular the statues that victorious athletes were allowed to set up as a privilege of victory, although the honorific representations set up in their honor by their native cities are integrated into his analysis.


         The first part of the book is an historical study of the genre of honorific representation. Chapter I provides an overview of the mechanisms by which public honors were decided upon, financed, and realized in the late Classical and Hellenistic periods, and the kind of individuals who received them. Many of the parameters and procedures were set in Athens in the fourth century BC, although the range of honorees expanded in the Hellenistic period. Chapter II traces the origins of honorific representation, and argues that votive monuments of the Archaic period and victory monuments of the fifth century are important precursors of the genre; that is, the later system of honorific representation is inherited from aristocratic votive practices of the Archaic period. Biard uses the ancient literary sources on individual votive images in fifth-century Athens to great effect to suggest the existence of a lively public debate about the place of such aristocratic monuments in a democratic, isonomic society. In Athens, private votive images of the fifth century, such as the eikonion of Themistokles or the votive portrait of Perikles, are compensation for the much more modest, indeed anonymous, nature of the public honors granted to victorious generals by the city of Athens in this period. The situation, however, seems to have been quite different outside of Attica, and begins to change in Athens itself at the beginning of the fourth century. As many scholars have suggested before him, Biard identifies the portrait of Conon set up in the Athenian Agora in c. 394 BC as a crucial turning point in the history of honorific representation, but he sees this monument as much as marking the end of an era as defining its beginning. That is, the public honorific statue of Conon marks the point at which the public institutions of the Athenian democracy assert themselves as the only authority that can define and reward merit and excellence, which previously had been the purview of the aristocracy. A fundamentally ostentatious aristocratic practice – the setting up of statues of individuals – becomes a democratic tradition. Chapter III discusses the ambiguities of the genre of public honorific representation, which, it is argued, is partly due to its roots in Archaic votive practice.


         The second part of the book addresses the material evidence for the subject.  Using the inscriptions gathered in the appendices, Chapter IV surveys the different types or forms of honorific representations, including painting and relief, and statues in marble and bronze. Chapter V looks at the placement of statues in Greek cities and sanctuaries. Locations are divided between statues in the open air (e.g., in front of facades, in theaters, in front of gates) and those in a closed or covered environment (e.g., temples, bouleuteria, gymnasia, niches or covered exedrae, and in houses). He observes that the earliest honorific statues were placed in the open air, while interior or covered spaces seem to become a more popular location for statues in the Hellenistic period. This movement inside to interior display locations seems to have had an effect on the material of the statue, as marble is more commonly used in these contexts. This shift in material also affected preservation – the marble statues of the late Hellenistic period are preserved in much greater numbers than the number of bronze statues of the Classical and Hellenistic periods combined. Chapter VI explores the range of statue bases and how their forms change over time, while Chapter VII considers what these bases can tell us about their mostly missing statues, such as material (marble or bronze), format (standing, equestrian, chariot), and whether the statues were reused, moved, or destroyed.


         The third and final section is an analysis of the iconography of honorific representations; that is, what did these images look like?  The focus here is primarily on the statue bodies. Biard is very up-front about the difficulties of this task – a vanishingly small number of statues are preserved together with their inscribed bases, many statues that are preserved are fragmentary, headless, and without context, and most of the bronze statues, which represent the most important and prestigious examples of the genre, are missing completely. Although there is not much that is new here – the extant examples are all well-known and mostly well-studied – Biard does about the best anyone has at collecting and analyzing the full range of available material. Chapter VIII considers images at the margins of the honorific genre: the statues of the Tyrannicides and the images of the Hellenistic kings. The Tyrannicides are considered first, as Biard, following most scholars, believes this Athenian monument played a central role in the genesis of honorific representation. Representations of the Hellenistic kings are included in this marginal or exceptional category as their images were heavily influenced by the iconography of heroes and the gods. Such divinizing tendencies were, however, adopted in some late Hellenistic portraits of private individuals and of Roman magistrates, which justifies their inclusion in his study. Chapter IX explores the images of soldiers or military generals, who were represented in the Classical and Hellenistic periods in cuirassed statues, equestrian statues, and nude statues. Chapter X considers the largest category of male honorific representations for which we have the most extant examples: athletes; magistrates, orators, benefactors; priests. Other than the athletes, most wore the civic costume of himation or himation and chiton. Two much shorter chapters follow, one on female honorific representation (Chapter XI) and the honorific statues of infants and adolescents (Chapter XII), a category not typically included in studies of this kind, but one that definitely belongs.


         Chapter XIII tackles the thorny concepts of likeness, realism, and mimesis, and their relationship to the representation of the individual. As Biard points out, the inscribed decrees sometimes specify the material of the image (marble, bronze, gilded), its format (standing, equestrian), and the preferred location of the monument (typically, in the most prominent place), but they say nothing about the appearance of the portrait, its likeness or similarity to its subject. Perhaps this is expecting too much of documents that are overwhelmingly formulaic. However, the character traits for which the person received the honor are sometimes mentioned, so, Biard argues, we should probably think of the images as a visual representation of these traits, a material translation of the ethos of the individual. Honorific representations are, therefore, meant to be exemplary, and to provide the viewer with a model to emulate; they are ‘a mirror of virtues’. The final section of the chapter deals with the more individualized and expressive (‘veristic’) male portraits of the late Hellenistic period, of which the portraits from Delos are the best-dated examples. Biard, rightly I think, suggests that we should not think of these images as more faithful likenesses, but as the visible expression of a desire for individualization. This desire probably had various causes, one of which may have been the sheer increase in the number of portraits as well as the contemporary development of portrait formats, such as busts and herms, that focused attention on the face.


         A concluding chapter helpfully summarizes the main results of Biard’s analysis of this rich and diverse data set. He underscores the protean nature of the genre, which makes it very difficult to answer the deceptively simple question he asked at the very beginning of his study: what is honorific representation? It is this protean character, however, that is key to understanding this important genre of Greek artistic production. While public honorific portraiture as a reward for civic benefaction may have been an invention of early fourth-century Athenian democratic institutions, the setting up of images of exemplary individuals has its roots in Archaic votive practice, a practice that continued to exert its influence into the Hellenistic period. Of course, the emergence of public honorific representations did not put an end to private votive images; both genres continued to coexist (sometimes on the same statue base!) and to influence and imitate one another visually and epigraphically, and both occupied the same civic and sacred spaces. In fact, it would seem that the prestige of public honorific representation was one important factor in the increasingly popularity of private votive portraiture in the late Classical and Hellenistic periods. The explosion in the Hellenistic period in the sheer number of both publicly decreed and privately dedicated honorific monuments pushed the genre to its limits and led to a number of innovations, including new display contexts and new formats, and perhaps the invention of a new image style – the ‘veristic’ style.


         Two main interpretive threads that run throughout the book are worth highlighting, as they have the potential to shape research going forward. One is the conclusion that it is impossible and indeed unproductive to try to divide these monuments, as is usually done, into the distinct categories – e.g., votive, honorific, commemorative, public, private – and then to treat these categories separately. Not only was there constant interplay and reciprocal influences between, for example, public honorific statues and private votive monuments, but also many monuments were at once votive, honorific, and commemorative. Second is the continuity with earlier votive practices; that is, the setting up of an image of an individual as an exemplum for the community is a tradition that begins in the Archaic period. While this idea is not completely new, Biard makes the case in a more compelling way and with a broader range of material evidence than previous scholars have. In short, Biard’s book is essential reading for anyone interested in honorific portraiture in ancient Greece.