Color head-and-shoulders portrait of Dillon Gisch

Dillon Gisch

Arthur Ross/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Rome Prize
January 11–August 6, 2021
PhD Candidate, Department of Classics, Stanford University
Project title
Replication and Difference in Images of “Modest Venus,” 200 BCE–600 CE
Project description

Praxiteles’s Knidian Aphrodite was one of the most famous statues in the ancient Roman world. It was so famous that, even more than 1,500 years after its destruction, more than five hundred images that replicate its distinctive vulva-covering gesture survive. In the past, historians of Greek art have primarily studied these replicas to reconstruct Praxiteles’s masterpiece and, by extension, his artistic genius. I take a different tack by studying how surviving “replicas” were engaged in contextually dependent dialectics of replication and differentiation in the Roman world. Over five case studies, I investigate how premodern textual sources, second century BCE Volterran stone ash urns, first to third century CE Roman commemorative stone sculptures, second to third century CE Syrian bronze statuettes, and second to sixth century CE Macedonian and Moesian stone and bone funerary sculptures each appropriated well-known “modest Venus” types and adapted them to engender different, contextually dependent viewer responses. In so doing, I show how considering these images as Roman visual culture can shed new light onto old images.