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The Inscriptions

Inscriptions on stone are precious evidence for Greek sculpture of all periods. Unfortunately, comparatively few are exactly datable, through the inclusion of a magistrate's name or a reference to a known historical event. Personalities mentioned in the text can sometimes help towards an approximate dating, if their life-spans or family trees are otherwise attested. For the rest, however, the general content of the inscription and the stage of development of the script (an increasingly hazardous criterion after ca. 400) are our only guides. The form of the monument and the type of inscription can sometimes help, or at any rate give an initial or terminal date. Thus the use of columns as statue-bases stops at Athens ca. 460, and Attic decrees honoring public benefactors with portraits cannot be earlier than 394.

For our purposes, inscriptions fall into two classes: those engraved on the sculpture itself or its base, and those not.

Since most Greek sculpture was religious, most inscriptions on it are votive or funerary. Early votive dedications are often cut on the statue itself and are regularly in verse. Thus (Boston 03.997):

“Mantiklos dedicated me to the far-shooting Lord of the Silver Bow, a tithe
You, Phoibos, might give me some pleasing favor in return.
” Formulas vary, but the dedicant's patronymic, city, and profession, the occasion or purpose of the dedication, and the sculptor's signature can be added, especially later. Thus, ca. 300,

“Megakles son of Megakles of Rhamnous dedicated (this) to Themis; he was crowned by the demesmen for his fairness when Kallistrato was priestess, and he won victories as boys' and men's trainer, and when Pheidostrate was priestess of Nemesis, as chorus-master in the comedies. Chairestratos son of Chairedemos of Rhamnous made it.

IG, 22 no. 3109. Athens 231
Such texts are often critical for identifications: with her attributes missing, the Themis herself would otherwise be anonymous, and in the case of the Samian group by Geneleos (Stewart 1990, fig. 97), the seated figure (which looks male) is named Phileia.

In the archaic period, the statue itself sometimes speaks in the first person. Compare the following with Mantiklos' dedication: "I am Chares, son of Kleisias, ruler of Teichioussa. The agalma is Apollo's." (Boston 03.997; Stewart 1990, fig. 107.) This suggests a kind of animism that in fact harmonises closely not only with the feelings that led the Greeks to see a god in a river, or to animate mirror-supports as human figures and table legs as lions' paws, but also with their idea that a craftsman's work was divinely inspired, and so somehow numinous. In monumental sculpture, at least until the growth of classical rationalism, the temptation to make the statue's novel and arresting naturalism explicit in this way must have been almost overwhelming. Furthermore, as personal statements by the subject of the statue, such inscriptions help to individualize the work and so herald the emergence of portraiture. As for the word agalma, "delight", this becomes standard archaic usage for "votive", and eventually comes to describe statues of divinities and temple-sculpture in general.

From ca. 350, both official and private honorary dedications of portraits, a result of increasing individual self-assertion as the polis declines, become ever more popular. Thus: "Her mother Archippe, daughter of Kouphagoros of Aixione, dedicated Archippe, daughter of Kleogenes of Aixione. Praxiteles made it" (Marcadé 1957, 115).

Sculptors made dedications too. Though relatively rare, they persist throughout the period, and testify to the profits the trade could bring. The earliest sculptor's signature (ca. 630) is one such: "Euthykartides the Naxian dedicated me, having made [me]" (Stewart 1990, fig. 40).

Sepulchral inscriptions are almost as numerous and heterogeneous as votives. The simplest type includes only the deceased's name, but more grandiose monuments are more forthcoming, and again often speak in verse. Thus from early sixth century Boeotia: "Amphalkes erected this for Kitylos and Dermys." (Athens, NM 56; Stewart 1990, fig. 61). And from late sixth-century Attica:

“Stay and mourn at the tomb of dead Kroisos
Whom raging Ares destroyed one day, fighting in the foremost ranks.

“The tomb of Phrasikleia.
Maiden ("kore") I will always be called
Since instead of marriage this is what the gods have allotted me.
Aristion of Paros made it.

Classical gravestones sometimes include the names of other family members, and occasionally praise the deceased in somewhat stilted verse:

“Dexileos son of Lysanias of Thorikos
Born in the archonship of Teisandros [414/3]
Died in that of Euboulides [394/3]
Among the five riders at Corinth.

“She left a husband, brothers; for her mother, grief,
A child, and mighty virtue's ageless fame.
Mnesarete attained to every virtue's goal
Yet here Persephone's chamber holds her fast.

IG 22 no. 12151
Classical Athens also erected official carved war-memorials; Dexileos himself is mentioned on the one for 394.

Some of these inscriptions have included sculptor's signatures. These began around 630 (Euthykartides: Stewart 1990, fig. 40), fifty years before vase-painters' signatures but nearly a century after the first potters', and by ca. 500 were usually cut by professional masons, not the sculptors themselves. A personal act of self-assertion by artists, this move was virtually unprecedented: we have only a handful of Egyptian signatures, and none from elsewhere. Yet even in Greece, signatures are relatively infrequent (rather over a thousand survive), as in Renaissance Italy when Raphael signed only a few paintings and Michelangelo only his Pietà and that in a fit of pique. Yet this by no means diminishes the significance of the practice: what is astonishing is that artists signed at all.

The usual formulae are represented by the signatures of Chairestratos, Praxiteles and, Aristion, above, though occasionally "the work of..." is used instead (T 152). At home, most sculptors omitted the ethnic ("of Athens", etc.); architectural sculpture and gravestones were almost never signed. Several sculptors may collaborate on a group, like Polykleitos's followers at Delphi around 400 (each man taking two or three statues, cf. T 85), or Hagesandros, Athanodoros, and Polydoros of Rhodes at Sperlonga; dual signatures sometimes appear on one base (Kritios and Nesiotes, ca. 470). Here it is uncertain how the work was divided, though in Hellenistic Rhodes bronze portraits often bore the signatures of artist and caster. In Attica, even early signatures were cut on the base, not the statue itself; elsewhere, they gravitate there by ca. 500, though Hellenistic exporters sign on the supports of their statues, which then get a base on arrival. Whether their statues are copies or not, they sign with their own names, but Greek originals taken to Pergamon and Rome received new bases bearing their real authors' names, as on a recent find from Ostia (T 155).

Very occasionally, the sculptor ventures something more. In mid sixth-century Attica, the remarkably self-assertive Phaidimos ("brilliant") calls himself sophos, "clever", and describes a kore of his as "beautiful to behold" (Jeffery 1962, 137, 139 nos. 44, 48), while on a Boeotian stele of ca. 490 where one foot has been boldly foreshortened we read "Alxenor of Paros made me: just look!" (Stewart 1990, fig. 254). And ca. 420, Paionios proudly announces below his Nike at Olympia that "he also won the competition for making the akroteria for the temple [of Zeus]" (T 81; Stewart 1990, fig. 408-11).

Sometimes, to conclude, inscriptions were added to sculptures for clarification. The names of Dermys and Kitylos are inscribed beside them, a practice that recurs on the friezes of the Sikyonian and Siphnian treasuries at Delphi, ca. 570 and 530, and on later relief sculpture, both architectural and votive. At both Tegea and the Mausoleum, ca. 350, letters were cut into the backs of the figures to mark their positions in the ensemble.

Inscriptions dealing with but not directly appended to statues fall into two main classes: decrees and public accounts. The democracies, especially Athens, inscribed official resolutions to erect temples from ca. 450, and from the fourth century as the cities' dependence upon outside benefactors grew, so did the passing of honorary decrees. "So that all will know that the Athenian people remembers and thanks its helpers, and worthily honors their beneficence for all time, [BE IT RESOLVED] to set up a 3000-drachma bronze statue of Asklepiades in Byzantion, and to crown it with a 1000-drachma golden crown...." (IG 22 no. 555: ca. 305). Honors to sculptors, even, are occasionally found: a particularly full and revealing example is translated in T 137.

Public accounts are the reverse side of the coin. Those for Pheidias's Athena Promachos (ca. 450) and the Parthenon (447-432) are the earliest, but are too fragmentary to quote here. The Erechtheum inscriptions (409-406) are more complete, especially concerning the frieze (T 80; Stewart 1990, figs. 433-35). Here, both resident aliens (Mynnion and Soklos) and citizens (Phyromachos and Iasos) are hired on piece-work rates, and payments are carefully matched to the size of the job. Elsewhere, and at other times, we learn that conditions varied markedly. Thus at Epidauros ca. 380, T 88 tells us that the temple's architectural sculptures (Stewart 1990, figs. 455-65) were paid for in lump sums in advance.

Like the literary sources, the epigraphical evidence can be a goldmine if used imaginatively. Occasionally it allows us to correct the testimony of the literature and often supplements it, particularly in the Archaic and Hellenistic periods. Some inscriptions may furnish crucial information as to the wealth, status, and self-evaluation of sculptors; others can be used to gauge patrons' motives and to chart patterns of patronage; while still others such as epitaphs point to the way in which the sculpture itself should be "read." The art historian neglects them at his peril.

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