Monday, January 25, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Margareta Staub Gierow, Pompejanische Kopien aus Dänemark, Studi della Soprintendenza archeologica di Pompei 24. Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider, 2008. Pp. 308; 386 color ills. ISBN 8882654400. €230.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Patrick Kragelund, Danish National Art Library



The Danish National Art Library (founded with the Royal Academy of Arts in 1754) has since 1846 collected drawings and models documenting major trends in Danish architecture. Among these drawings, a substantial group illustrates the crucial role of Greek and Roman antiquity in the education of Danish architects, from the mid 18th century till the late 1920s when new techniques, aesthetics and social ideals gave altogether different foundations to the education of architects.

Of special interest are the drawings documenting the early Danish involvement in excavating and restoring the Athenian Acropolis and building the new, neo-classical capital of modern Greece.1 But also the Italian section holds material of interest for architectural historians as well as classical archaeologists. The study by Staub Gierow focuses on the copies of Pompeian wall paintings. As editor of four Case in the Häuser in Pompeji series Gierow brings firsthand archaeological expertise to the task; adding to this, her Scandinavian origins have enabled her to decipher many of the material's manuscript legends.

The book has brief introductions on the wider European context, on the architects whose drawings are represented in the catalogue and, finally, a summary of the catalogue's findings, with a detailed topographical list of the monuments depicted in the material. Then follows the catalogue proper which discusses 386 drawings by 15 Danish architects who worked for shorter or longer periods in Pompeii between 1840 and 1923, by far the largest part of the material predating 1850. All copies, in aquarelle or lead, are splendidly reproduced, the captions providing basic information concerning size, legends, and catalogue numbers. In 317 out of 386 cases, the often unidentified motif of the drawings is established, with useful reference to the familiar standard grid system specifying region, insula and house number as well as the essential bibliography. In addition to the (unacknowledged) identifications already offered by the Library's catalogue, a comparison suggests that Gierow herself has succeeded in identifying more than a hundred locations, adding to which she has rectified a considerable number of previous mistakes. This is a fine and useful achievement. The visual material is often new or, alternatively, of a quality far superseding the otherwise available documentation. The catalogue lists drawings of relevance for more than 70 Pompeian sites; for a single location like the Casa dei Dioscuri there are here 31 new copies. The rendering of the colors is fine, but some of the drawings could have been sharper. Entries are usefully grouped according to monument, thus allowing scholars working on the Pompeian material to check where there is new information to be gained. Since excavations reach back more than two centuries, many of the paintings and objects copied in these drawings have not--or only partially--survived the havocs of time, neglect and climate. In many cases drawings like these are the best available evidence. As her track record leads to expect, Gierow is good on this aspect, carefully indicating where there seem to be no parallel depictions; or where the Danish drawings capture details not otherwise on record. Gierow is conscious that the copyists are themselves artists, sometimes adding details or fundamentally altering the aspect of the original. Gierow has an archaeologist's fine eye for such details--but on the whole, the artists' schooling and admiration for antiquity made reverential accuracy almost second nature, the originals often seen as evidence of august perfection. Their comments on the colors illustrate a similar attitude: 'The marbling of the yellow and green stones has been added; in fact they were monochrome'; 'The black grounding should be a bit lighter (i.e. than on this aquarelle).'2

However, as an edition publishing the holdings of a specific collection the catalogue has serious drawbacks. An outline of the history of the collection and a correct indication, in the preface or elsewhere, as to where the items it describes actually are located and might be consulted, for instance with reference to the library homepage Danish National Art Library is curiously absent; so is a proper declaration of the copyright to these images. Gierow could with profit have listed relevant online resources, for instance referring to the digitized version of the standard nine volume dictionary of Danish art history, Weilbach. Dansk Kunstnerleksikon (Copenhagen, 1994-2000) rather than to the biographies in the printed version, which is no doubt inaccessible to most of her readers. In the handling of the archival material, there are, moreover, infelicities that could easily have been avoided. Reproducing in facsimile a list of the architect Martin Nyrop's sketches from Pompeii, Gierow assumes to be dealing with an autograph allowing her to draw inferences about Nyrop's archaeological knowledge (pp. 17-8). But as shown by the catalogue entries facing each item, the list was drawn up by a library staff member.

More seriously, Gierow fails to offer a clear declaration as to her criteria for selection. One gets the impression that the catalogue includes all the library's drawings of this character--Gierow's reference to the "gesamten Material' (p. 9) suggesting that she shares this view. Be that as it may, the catalogue does not acknowledge that it omits more than a hundred no less important copies, among them some of the earliest, drawn by Christian Hansen (1803-83) who was in Pompeii in 1833; similarly with Gottlieb Bindesbøll (1800-56), in Pompeii in 1835.3

These errors do not of course detract from the value of the individual catalogue entries. But it would be welcome if the present review could serve as an encouragement for someone to follow in the footsteps of Gierow and publish the remainder, preferably in a less costly, more easily accessible format. For such a new project, it seems, however, that a somewhat broader approach would be advisable. In the present catalogue, the focus is emphatically archaeological. The drawings are evidence, and little attention is given to their original purpose and function. True, the preface (6-9) offers a sketchy outline of the impact of Pompeii on European art history--but the outline is almost completely unrelated to the very collection Gierow has chosen to catalogue. No reader of Gierow would for instance guess that the architects of such neoclassical masterpieces as the polychrome University of Athens4 and the Copenhagen Thorvaldsen's Museum5 (itself a treasure house of Pompeian decoration) had themselves studied in Pompeii and that their drawings from Pompeii go far in illuminating their ideals and interests. Similarly with the drawings by Georg Hilker (1807-75) that constitute more than a third of the collection here published. Gierow fails to mention that the Academy sent Hilker to Italy in 1838-40 with the express purpose to study and copy Pompeian wall painting. While acknowledging his career as a celebrated painter of Pompeian decorations, Gierow will not venture further than to suggest that his drawings "probably' were used for teaching purposes. The stamp showing their provenance being KUNSTAKADEMIETS SKOLER ('The Schools of the Academy of Art') makes this blindingly obvious. Indeed, Hilker whose work as academy teacher of decorative painting provided the foundation and paved the way for a remarkably strong Pompeian tradition in 19th century Denmark, published a selection of his drawings in 1846-47. As he specifies in its preface, he hoped that this work would provide his colleagues and pupils with a tool of study and imitation that could vie with the forbiddingly costly editions of Wilhelm Zahn.6

Gierow quotes but has clearly not consulted Hilker's Studier efter Pompeianske Decorationer (Copenhagen 1846-47). Given the importance of his drawings, this is unfortunate since his edition is a crucial key to understanding their peculiar nature. Constrained by the limited Danish book market, Hilker had no chance of rivaling the splendid pages in Zahn whose first volumes had been his eye-opening introduction to the marvels of Campanian wall painting. Where Hilker attempts to supplement his admired model is with drawings of greater precision and, of course, with decorations not previously published. Hilker's outlines and copies are thus drawn to measure and the lithograph plates annotated with a hand painted color sequence ranging from A (white) all through the 26 letters of the Danish alphabet to Ö. Many of his extant drawings are clearly preparations for a fuller edition, with measures, color samples and annotation, but as it turned out the subscription only permitted Hilker to edit eight in double folio. Of these eight black and white lithographs (plus one in color accompanying the original subscription), Gierow publishes 11 drafts, clearly without knowing their original purpose: Hilker's color print = Gierow no. 178; Hilker no. I = Gierow no. 135 and 136; no. III = Gierow no. 24; no. IV = Gierow nos. 84, 85 and 87; no. VI = Gierow 73; no. VII = Gierow 250 and no. VIII = Gierow nos. 97 and 338. Hilker has furnished these lithographs with captions offering brief information concerning provenance, time of finding (when known to Hilker) and comments on the coloring; two of these captions provide welcome information as to the colors of motifs only partially preserved (Gierow nos. 84, 85, 87) or not otherwise on record (Gierow no. 97) 7; one of the sheets adding new details as well as a complete color scheme for Gierow no. 250, a wall otherwise only known imperfectly from a print in Mazois8 from 1829. Of Hilker's two remaining prints one is a detailed rendering, again with color scheme, of a wall in the atrium of the Casa della Fontana piccolo (then called Casa della seconda Fontana di Mosaico, Reg. VI 8, 23.24 = Hilker no. V), a decoration for which this seems the only complete record;9 the other reproduces a long lost painting excavated in 1825 in the Casa del poeta tragico (Reg. VI 8, 3 = Hilker no. II)--but this is a different story that could suitably become part of an edition to follow up and supplement this valuable first installment.

Table of Contents:

Vorwort und Einleitung; Abkürzungsverzeichnis; Verzeichnis und Lebensdaten der Kopisten; Martin Nyrop: Verzeichnis seiner Pompejikopien; Topographisches Register; Katalog: Motive aus identifizierten Gebäuden; Veduten; Kopien mit unbestimmbaren Provenienzangaben; Kopien ohne Provenienzanabe, die nicht identifiziert werden konnten.


1.   Margit Bendtsen, Sketches and Measurings. Danish Architects in Greece 1818-1862 (Copenhagen 1993); Ida Haugsted, Dream and reality, Danish antiquaries, architects and artists in Greece (London 1996).
2.   Gierow no. 70 (Nyrop); Gierow no. 11 (Winstrup): 'Den sorte Bundfarve maa vaere noget lysere', where Gierow mistranslates the Danish maa ('should be') with 'ist vielleicht'--but in the main the translations are trustworthy
3.   For a brief presentation (with summary in English): K. de Fine Licht, 'Antikke billeder. Bindesbøll, Hilker og Winstrup i Pompeji', Synligt og usynligt. Studier tilegnede Otto Norn (Herning 1990) 255-60.
4.   For Christian Hansen's University and other works in Athens, see Aristea Papanocolaou-Christensen, Christan Hansen. Breve og Tegninger (Copenhagen 1994) and Haugsted (n. 1) 223-29; Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, München (Cat.), Das neue Hellas. Griechen und Bayern zur Zeit Ludwigs I (Munich 1999) 557-59.
5.   On Thorvaldsen's Museum, see e.g. John Henderson, The Triumph of Art at Thorvaldsen's Museum, 'løve' in Copenhagen (Copenhagen 2005).
6.   Wilhelm Zahn, Die schönsten Ornamente und merkwürdigsten Gemälde aus Pompeji, Herkulanum und Stabiae, nebst einigen Grundrissen und Ansichten nach den an Ort und Stelle gemachten Originalzeichnungen, Les plus beaux ornemens et les tableaux les plus remarquables de Pompei, d'Herculanum et de Stabiae, avec quelques plans, et vues, d'après les dessins originaux (Berlin 1828-57).
7.   'The candelabra and Tripod are painted in gold on a green background; the candelabra's base and the rounded section at the bottom of the tripod are in sealing wax red. These decorative items are all depicted roughly in half size' (Kandelabren og Trefoden ere ... malede som Guld pa en grøn Grund. Foden paa Kandelabren og det halvrunde Parti nederst paa Trefoden er en lakrød Farve. Alle disse Enkeltheder ere omtrent i halv Størrelse.)
8.   Charles François Mazois, Les ruines de Pompéi, dessinées et mesurées par F. Mazois pendant les années MDCCCIX MDCCCX MDCCCXI (Paris 1829) vol. III, 26.
9.   Unaware of Hilker, Thomas Fröhlich, Casa della Fontana piccola, Häuser in Pompeji 8 (München 1996) 53 with pl. 340 discusses what little remains. Details of Fröhlich's reconstruction confirm that this was the wall Hilker copied.

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