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Marble sculpture in Syria

Greco-Roman marble sculpture from Syria
(Sculptures from Roman Syria II: The Marble Statuary)

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Detlev Kreikenbom, Prof. Dr. Thomas-Maria Weber-Karyotakis, Dr. Karl-Uwe Mahler

Start of the project: 01/01/2009

Cooperation partner: Direction Générale des Antiquités du Liban / Beirut
Direction Générale des Antiquités et des Musées de la Syrie / Damascus
Mission FranÇaise en Syrie du Sud (Prof. Dr. J.-M. Dentzer) / Paris

Catalog staff: Susan Downey / Los Angeles; Elise A. Friedland / Washington;
Laure Hosri / Beirut; Caterina Maderna / Heidelberg;
Dagmara Wielgocz / Warsaw;
Ignacio Arce / Amman; Peter C. Bol / Freiburg;
Konrad Hitzl / Greifswald; Andreas Kropp / Nottingham;
Andreas Schmid-Colinet / Vienna; Rolf A. Stucky / Basel

Syria, one of the richest imperial provinces of the Roman Empire, has been relatively well researched with regard to its local sculpture productions in the southern basalt zone, in the Palmyrenian oasis and on the upper reaches of the Euphrates. In contrast to this - and especially in comparison to other provinces of the Imperium Romanum - there is a lack of an adequate model of the marble imagery imported from the Mediterranean region or created locally. However, this important group of monuments is of fundamental relevance for clarifying the transfer of Greco-Roman pictorial motifs into local oriental art. The reception was accompanied by new assignments of meaning and formal transformations, each of which required a detailed examination.

Goal setting
The project documents and analyzes for the first time in their entirety the Greek and Roman round sculptures from the greater Syria region (state territories of today's republics of Syria and Lebanon including the modern Turkish Hatay) that have been identified to date. The study, funded by the German Research Foundation, focuses on sites on the Syrian coast, the hinterland, the steppe desert and the Euphrates valley. The period to be considered extends from the 6th century BC. BC to the Umaiyad period (8th century AD). The results are presented in a volume of about 600 pages in the series “Sculptures from Roman Syria”: “II: The Marble Statuary”.
The project is not limited to basic research for “pure” catalog work. Rather, the pending questions go far beyond art-historical aspects and penetrate into the realpolitical as well as social, religious and mentality-historical fields of interaction of an ancient oriental society. Traditional art archaeological methods such as copy criticism and style analysis - supplemented by the scientific isotope analysis - are to be used to clarify the chronology and artistic landscape provenance of the individual marble sculptures. The aim here is to develop generally applicable criteria for distinguishing imported sculptures from native-oriental works made of marble. By integrating it into the topographical context, statements about thematic, also religiously motivated iconographic preferences in certain types of settlement and architecture are possible. The so far unanswered question about the adoption of foreign models by local sculptors' workshops can only be discussed through precise knowledge of the imported statuary models that exist in Syria. A significant aspect of the investigation in this context will be the question of phases of iconoclastic activities as well as their effects and causes.