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There is a relationship between my Parthenon discoveries and Rembrandt. Both suggest we are grossly undervaluing Roman art because we have wrongly attributed the superior part of the Parthenon sculptures to Phidias. There is now strong evidence to suggest the best of the Elgin Marbles are Roman not Greek. A respected connoisseur, Richard Payne Knight insisted the sculptures were Roman at the time Elgin was selling his collection but everyone wished to go on believing they were Greek, so that view prevailed till now.

I recognised a chimney used by Phidias himself to melt bronze so close to the Parthenon that it’s smoke slowly destroyed his sculptures on the west facade. They had to be replaced – probably by Hadrian (117 – 138 AD) that is 570 years after the original works, plenty of time for the acid produced by the mixing of smoke and rain to penetrate the marble bruised by the earlier method of carving with iron or bronze tools. The replacements, carved with steel and improved geometry, were damaged much later by the Venetian bombardment of 1687. They are without smoke staining and the damage is clearly much newer than that on the east pedimant.

The evidence for these different causes of damage is very clear at the British Museum because the east pediment sculptures are all damaged by smoke coming through the building and seeping up to stain the sculptures from below, Clearly they were not sufficiently damaged to need to be replaced. Only the horse of Selene which is particularly vulnerable is Roman and it is very obviously crisper, cleaner and better than the horses of Helios which are genuine Greek and in my view artistically third rate; while the Horse of Selene has mistakenly come to representthe height of Greek achievement. These cleaner, crisper qualities are seen again on the west pediment added to which the damage from cannon is clearly far less weathered than the weathering on the Horses of Helios. Once we acknowledge that there were two sources of damage: the first from smoke the second from cannon, the evidence is widespread and entirely consistent.


I have never doubted that Roman portraits are infinitely more characteristic, individual and in every way better than the Greek. Greek idealized heads are unrecognisable as a particular individual. Rembrandt must have been of the same opinion because he actually bought 30 Roman portraits for his collection and we know they were very highly valued in his time. Rembrandt went further and filled two books with drawings of them. Though the books themselves have been lost the results of these studies are obvious in his drawing and painting. He did not visit Italy where the worship of ancient Greece was all pervading he was interested in imitating nature “anything else was worthless in his eyes”. His works all prioritise truth over idealised beauty.

The subject matter of the majority of his drawings was from the Bible. He was a first generation Protestant, the Bible had just been translated into Dutch so he was also of the first generation to be able to understand the psychological nuances of the stories without the interpretation of a priest. My video on his drawing “David on his Deathbed” describes how accurately he depicted those nuances. The accuracy was based on his command of space relationships between the protagonists as well as their gestures.

Rembrandt the great portraitist used an assemblage of geometric forms as the basis of individual portraiture. The classical Greek egg as a basis for a head is far too generalised. What critics are pleased to describe as idealised, is better, more truly described, as generalised or formulaic. With Roman portraits we can name each emperor without doubt. My analysis of a bust of Hadrian, (Apollo August 1972) shows how the business of copying naturally results in geometry and how that geometry became admired and emphasised. Rembrandt was not alone in recognising the importance of three dimensional geometry. Most artists use Roman geometry as a basis for their male portraits even Ingres, the great defender of the classical tradition almost inevitably used Roman form as the foundation for his male, and Greek for his female portraits. A whole sequence of great artists mainly rely on Rome: – Masaccio, Holbein, Rembrandt, Degas, Van Gogh and Giacometti; so have thousands of minor artists. The idea of despising Roman art seems to be rooted in the teachings of the critic Winckelmann (1717-1768). As far as artists’ instinctive choice is concerned it is clearly nonsense.

A factor that undoubtedly fed the value of Greek art was it’s scarcity. Roman generals and emperor's had been stealing Greek examples since Greece became a colony in 146 BC. Anyway, the ethnicity of Roman sculptors is not clear-cut. The Greeks had century's of experience in carving before Italians became involved. Many of the studios are likely to have been run by Greek masters. All the marble for the Parthenon sculpture is Pentelic, therefore the replacements were almost certainly made in Athens; it is their date that defines them as Roman.

We know for sure that Greeks also were measuring from 480 BC onwards because measuring bosses were found on the sculptures in Olympia. What is less clear is what they were measured from; life casting in wax is proven in the Bronzes of Riace (OJA 2004) the same waxes used as the original models would be the best answer to that mystery. Summer sun would prevent their use for 3 months, otherwise wax is ideal: light, adaptable and best of all - many positives can come from one plater negative mould.

These are facts as clear as checkmate; they should not be subverted by ‘professional opinion’. Yet the OJA article on the subject has been neglected by the establishment. . The naturalism of the soles of the feet could not have been observed. The rest of the bodies are modelled in exquisite detail such as has never been seen since from a sculptor/modeller unaided. Rembrandt’s reflections again are far too numerous and precise to be the product of “17th century imagination” (see YouTube, The Adoration video; the odds against the use of a reflection there must be astronomical). Yet forty years after my publication (Burlington 1977) these facts are still denied by the acts and judgements of Rembrandt experts. If this degree of bias had happened at a football match there would have been hell to pay immediately. Why are Rembrandt’s fans less active on his behalf?

The Roman contribution to the European tradition in art has been neglected, so aesthetic judgement has suffered. There is an ugly pattern of behaviour from the referees of art today: they do not stick to civilised rules. Modern experts use taxpayers money to subsidise outrageous works and insulate themselves from government oversight by continuously backing art with no genuine basis for consideration. Naturally, the government cannot comprehend what they are doing and wash their hands of responsibility. The practice of the visual arts have been seriously damaged by experts in theory. Without public interest the experts will not reform. Please participate in these discussions.


My other ebooks and essays

Rembrandt's Character