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    Why the Greeks by not being collectors in the modern sense were spared faking in art—How the Romans became interested in art—Genesis of their art collections—The first collectors and their methods—Noted citizen’s indictment against art plundering of Roman conquerors—Attitude of noted writers towards art, and art collecting.

The collector, the chief patron of fakery, being somewhat of a selfish lover of art, it is quite natural that the Greeks, who saw in art a grand means of public education and enjoyment, cannot be called art collectors in the modern sense of the word. Consequently there was hardly room for sham art in a country where art as the direct emanation of public spirit was rigorously maintained for the sake of the people. It was the temples that became art emporiums—museums that everyone was allowed to enjoy—or free institutions, like the pinacotheca of the Acropolis, the collection of carved stone at the Parthenon, the gymnasium of the Areopagus, containing a collection of busts of the most celebrated philosophers. With this public spirit in the enjoyment of art Delphi gathered a famous picture gallery in the oracular temple and, according to Pliny, possessed no fewer than three18 thousand statues, one of them being the famous golden Apollo. From this temple Nero carried off five hundred bronze statues, and later on Constantine removed many of the remaining works of art to Constantinople. An identical spirit of public enjoyment of art had turned the temples of Juno in Olympia, of Minerva in Platæa and Syracuse into veritable museums of art and—curiosities also. The temple of Minerva at Lyndon in the island of Rhodes, for instance, contained a cup of electrum (amber) offered by Helen of Troy, which was said to have a cavity cut to the exact shape of the bosom of the beautiful wife of Paris (Pliny, XXXIII, 23).

That the Greeks at their highest historical level did not indulge in the private and artistic delights of the collector may also be gathered from the poor construction of their usual dwelling-houses. It is well known that thieves, more especially in Athens, were called “wall breakers,” and obtained this odd nickname from their peculiar method of entering houses, namely, by making a hole through the wall rather than troubling to unlock the door. Such flimsy dwellings can hardly have sheltered the treasures of an art collection. Thus simplicity of customs and a clearly defined manner of enjoying art, saved the Greeks to a great extent from a regular trade in antiques with all its strange and deplorable etceteras.

As a matter of fact, we have no information as to anything that might be called a private art collection in Athens, though quite consistently, considering their extreme passion for knowledge, the Greeks had fine private libraries, such as those of Aristotle and Theophrastus. But even these, though containing the rarest and most precious works, were true libraries, not collections of elaborate volumes. The mania for fine bindings of costly materials was later on the caprice of the learned Roman, not of the Greek.

The home of the “collector,” and consequently of his faithful companion, the faker, was Rome.

The Roman was not a born lover of art. In fact during19 the early and primitive period of its existence Rome had not only been somewhat negative as regards art, but was even rather averse from its enjoyment. It took centuries for the Roman to overcome the belief that matters of art were trifling amusements that might be left as toys to their conquered people. Thus for a long time Romans saw in the enjoyment of art the chief source of the weakening and degeneration of the enemies they had subjugated. Springing from a progeny of soldiers and agriculturists, born to conquer the world, the Roman citizen assumed as an aphorism the Virgilian saying that his sole duty was to subjugate enemies, by granting them pardon or humiliating their pride.

Thus the early Romans not only show great ignorance as to marvels of art, but even contempt for them. When art treasures were brought to Rome as booty for the first time by Marcellus from conquered Sicily the Senate censured such an innovation. Fabius Maximus, called the “shield of Rome,” rose among others in protest, saying that after the siege of Tarentum, he, unlike Marcellus, had brought home only gold and valuable plunder. As for statues, more especially images, he had preferred to leave to the conquered people “their enraged gods.” In fact the only statue Fabius took away from Tarentum was the Hercules of Lysippus, a bronze colossus which must have appealed to him either for its heroic size or the large quantity of material.

A type of the early ignorant Roman art collector is given by Lucius Mummius, the general who destroyed Corinth, and of whom Velleius Paterculus tells (I, 13) that in sending to Rome what might be styled the artistic booty of the destroyed city he consigned the statues and paintings to those in charge of the transport with the warning that should the goods be lost they would be held responsible and would have to reproduce them all at their own expense.

Even when with the progress of time art was finally appreciated in Rome, the old contempt for it was transferred in a way from the product to the maker. Thus with the feeling that seems to characterize the parvenu in art, and20 with inexplicable inconsistency, the Roman lover of art persisted in seeing in the artist either a slave or a good-for-nothing, and never for a moment regarded the artist as worth the consideration he granted to art. Notwithstanding his belief of being a lover of art and an intelligent connoisseur, Cicero calls statues and paintings toys to amuse children (oblectamenta puerorum). In his fourth oration, In Verrem, he candidly confesses that he fails to understand the importance attached by Greeks to those arts which the Romans most rightly despise.

Valerius Maximus, who lived at the time of Tiberius, that is to say when Rome had fully completed its education in art, calls the profession of the painter a vile occupation (sordidum studium), and wonders how Fabius, a Roman and patrician, can bring himself to sign his painting with full name and qualification, “Fabius Pictor” (VIII, 14, 6).

In one of his letters (No. 88) Seneca, the contemporary of Nero, states that sculpture and painting are unworthy to be classified as liberal arts. Petronius, the magister elegantiorum of Rome, two hundred years after the destruction of Corinth, that is to say when Rome had reached its maturity in the understanding of art, calls Apelles, Phidias and other famous artists of Greece, crack-brained (græculi delirantes).

With such an innately negative sense of art and strong racial prejudice, it is not surprising that when brought to an appreciation of art by circumstances, the Romans, though willing and fully prepared to pay extravagant prices for works of art, should still retain their old contempt for artists, those græculi delirantes who had come to beautify the Capital as slaves or tempted by gain.

As a result of this peculiar feeling and in full contrast with the Greek sentiment which has handed down to posterity a great deal about the artists who lived in Athens and the honours they received, Rome has preserved for us hardly a name of painter, sculptor or architect. And they must have been legion if we consider the magnitude of the work accomplished. Vitruvius (VII, 15) informs us that21 Damophilus, Gorgas, Agesilas, Pasiteles and other artists were called to Rome by Julius Cæsar, and that so many Greek artists were in Rome that when the temple of Jupiter Olympicus was to be finished in Athens the citizens were obliged to send to Rome, as none of their architects were to be found in Greece.

It is interesting to trace how the Romans gradually became collectors of art, and how there gradually developed in Rome a whole world of lovers of art with all its true and fictitious enthusiasms, furnishing a group of varied types of collectors not altogether dissimilar from those of our modern society of lovers of art.

As we have said, conquest and booty furnished the first articles of virtu. At first statues and objects of art of all kinds were brought to Rome without discrimination, then education gradually progressed, taste developed and plunder became more enlightened. Fulvius Nobilior, to quote one of the many conquerors who brought artistic war booty to Rome, enriched it with 285 bronze statues, 230 marble ones, and 112 pounds of gold ornaments. Following the custom of the Greeks, the Romans at first presented statues and paintings to various temples as ornaments.

Later on, with more discrimination and less greed, Roman officials proceeded to a systematic spoliation of Greece and the Orient of their treasures of art. Statues and paintings followed in the triumphs of Roman generals as did slaves and prisoners of war. Occasionally returning officials brought home with them pillaged artistic mementoes of the place they had been ruling in the name of mighty Rome. Thus Fulvius, consul in Ambracia, brought home the finest statues of that country. One of these mementoes was excavated in the year 1867; it bore the naive and candid confession of the consul:—

Marcus Fulvius Marci Filius
Servii Nepos Nobilior
Consul Ambracia

22 Having carried off the statues of the Nine Muses in his conquest of Ambracia, this same Fulvius Nobilior placed them in the temple of Hercules. At this time Roman conquerors had progressed, and they already travelled with experts and advisers. Fulvius Nobilior was accompanied by the poet Ennius (Strabo, B. X, 5), whose suggestion it may have been to place Hercules in the midst of the Nine Muses playing the lyre like an Apollo, a metamorphosis of the god showing that the Roman had finally harmonized “Strength,” his chief and most cherished quality, with the gentler feelings of an understanding of art. This “Hercules Musagetes” seems to symbolize a first conquest of art over the rude, sturdy Roman character.

Departing from the established rule of presenting their artistic plunder to the temples after it had followed in their triumphs to enhance the importance of their conquest, in time the generals began to keep part of the spoil themselves. In this way were the first private collections in Rome formed.

The real artistic education of the Romans dates from this time. The passion and ambition to enrich and embellish private houses helped to teach what was worth consideration. Sulla, who plundered Greece and Asia Minor, is said to have acquired a sure eye for valuable objets de virtu; Verres, who with an excellent eye had robbed and collected all that came within his reach, was perhaps Rome’s best connoisseur of art. He and Sulla were practically the first to organize that enlightened manner of plundering subjugated countries that finally made Rome the first emporium of art in the world.

Naturally, these early Roman collectors rarely bought their articles of virtu. When they could not obtain by pillage they had ready to hand a speedy and coercive means of gratifying their artistic craving. Sulla placed on the proscription list the names of all possessors of artistic objects who were so unwise as to refuse to give them up to him. Mark Antony did the same to Verres. The latter paid with his life his refusal to offer the despotic Triumvir some famous23 vases of Corinthian bronze which he sorely longed to have in his collection.

It was, we repeat, in Sulla’s time that the passion for collecting arose among the Romans, not only guided by an artistic sense of discrimination, but with all the peculiar characteristics that seem to attend the development of this passion.

Sulla’s collection—to which the spoils of the temple of Apollo in Delphi and of the temples of Jupiter in Elis and Æsculapius in Epidaurus, considered the richest emporium of art in Greece, had contributed—must have been magnificent and without an equal—except, perhaps, that of Verres, Sulla’s pupil, who surpassed his master in the art of plundering, and sacked Sicily of all the island possessed of art.

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