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Plate 1.65: Roman Net-Fighters
Scholarly Commentary with DZI View for Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 1.65. Commentary by Noah Heringman.
Plate: Engraving by George Vertue (1684-1756), the lower half from his own drawing and the upper half from a drawing by Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635-1700). Divided horizontally, this plate depicts two very different works of art that represent the same subject: gladiatorial combat in the Roman Empire, specifically the type of gladiator known as a retiarius or net-fighter. The print shows two retiarii, but the plural form of the heading might also suggest a systematic effort to compare different representations of this type of gladiator in different media from different parts of the empire. The fuller Latin title in the original table of contents for Vetusta Monumenta may be translated as follows: “A plate showing three views of net-fighters; the first two are taken from a drawing made by Bartoli at Rome; the view at the bottom of the plate shows a relief recently excavated at Deva [Chester].” The relief, from the collection of Dr. Richard Mead, was exhibited at the meeting of 25 November 1742 and two weeks later Vertue exhibited the first of several drawings that he made of it (SAL Minutes IV.141-42). The engraving was then ordered at the end of February 1743 and Vertue delivered the finished prints at the end of September (152v., 167v.) The minutes give no direct account of the upper half of the plate, which must have been conceived early in 1743 to serve as a kind of visual-verbal gloss—together with John Ward’s (1678/9-1758) explanatory Latin text—on the relief depicted in the lower half.
Object: The upper half reproduces a seventeenth-century drawing by the Roman artist Pietro Santi Bartoli of a late-third or early-fourth-century CE Roman mosaic (58 x 58 cm) depicting two phases of a combat between a net-fighter (retiarius) and his opponent or pursuer (secutor). The mosaic was originally discovered in Rome in 1670 and was in the collection of Santi Bartoli’s patron, Cardinal Camillo Massimo. The lower half depicts the sculptured fragment of a second-century Romano-British stone frieze, possibly from a tomb, showing another retiarius, with some traces of an opponent remaining on the left. The stone was found during construction work in the city of Chester in 1738 and measures 26.2 x 18.7 x 4.3 cm (Jackson 1983, 90). The upper half of the plate includes an explanatory account of all the images by John Ward, and the two scenes from the mosaic are labeled, as in the original, with the fighters’ names. The mosaic is now in the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid, and the relief, which was believed lost for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is now in the collection of the Saffron Walden Museum. The Bartoli drawing of the mosaic is included in an album that almost certainly belonged to the owner of the Chester gladiator, Richard Mead (1673-1754), and is now in the Glasgow University Library (Pace 1979, 126). A colored print, based on another copy of the drawing, was published in France fourteen years later (Caylus 1757, Plate XXXI).
On the Top Image: ASTIANAX VICIT KALENDIO Ø
On the Center Image: ASTIANAX KALE NDI O Ø
Along the Left Margin: Ex binis his tabellis superior tessellato opere confecta, Romaeque in cardinalis Maximi palatio servata, a Petro Santes Bartolo pulchre delineata fuit. Duplicem autem pugnae ejusdem gladiatoriae statum exhibere videtur, qua Astianax secutor cum Kalendione retiario commissus eum devicit. Hoc enim ordo situsque verborum satis manifesto indicant. Credibile est autem non tantum fama eos celebres gladiatores fuisse, sed rei etiam eventum praeter expectationem cecidisse, quod posteris memoriam ejus conservandi occasionem praebuerit. In parte enim tabulae inferiori Kalendio adversarium suum reti jam captum quasi tridente percussurus repraesentatur; pugnae tamen exitum votis ejus non respondisse litera Ø, quae mortem denotat cum tridente supra caput posito, ostenditur. In parte igitur superiori idem Kalendio, sive ab adversario dejectus, sive prolapsus, humi decumbens, dextraque pugionē (quem Strabo lib. XIII. retiario tribuit) tanquam se defensurus, protendens conspicitur: titulo illo praefixo ASTIANAX VICIT KALENDIO Ø. Qui cum virga autem adstant, arbitri pugnae esse videntur.
Altera tabella retiarium tridente ac reti suo instructum exhibet; quae anno 1738 Devae ab operis, dum aedium fundamentum viro honesto, Johanni Philpot, in macello pararent, est effossa. Ex scandula, lapidis genere, quod in Mona insula nascitur, facta est, opere anaglyphico ejus-[demque]
Along the Right Margin: demque, magnitudinis, qua hic conspicitur. Ab operis autem inter fodiendum effracta fuisse videtur; nam aderat etiam secutor, clypeo ac gladio armatus, quorum vestigia adhuc remanent; cetera vero inter rudera sunt amissa. Quod dextro gestat humero, a vetere scholiaste in Juvenalem VIII.208. galerus dicitur, quem ita describit: Galerus est humero impositum gladiatoris hujusmodi aliquid, quo citius sporsum funem vel jactatum retium colligat. Brachium fasciis obvolutum est, ne vulneribus pateat; item cingulo circumdatus est, unde pendet velamen; celera nudus. In eo autem imago haec a Kalendionis discrepat, quod galerum illa in sinistrum gerat humerum. At hoc forsan errori artificis tribui debet, ut etiam quod tridentem dextra manu teneat. Nam cum reti prius uti solebant, ut dextra ferrent, ratio facile persuadebit. Unde dicto loco Juvenalis:
Movet ecce tridentem,
Postquam vibrata pendentia retia dextra
Ubi ea mens poetae esse videtur, cum rete dextra jecisset, eadem manu adversarium tridente postea percutere voluisse; prout in tabula apparet superiori.
Bottom: Altera ex his tabellis de Bartoli exemplari, altera de ipso archetypo, Sumptibus Societatis Antiq. Lond. descripta aerique incisa fuit; quorum utrumque conservatur in Museo Richardi Mead, M.D.
On the Top Image: Astianax defeated Kalendio
On the Center Image: Astianax Kalendio
Along the Left and Right Margins: Of these two images the upper one, composed of mosaic work and preserved in the palace of cardinal Massimo, was beautifully drawn by Pietro Santi Bartoli. It seems to depict two different moments of the same gladiatorial contest, in which a secutor [“chaser”] Astianax engages with a retiarius [“net-man”] Kalendio and vanquishes him. The order and position of the words indicate this clearly enough. Moreover, it is likely not only that these gladiators were famous, but that the outcome of the match was unexpected because it offered an opportunity to preserve its memory for posterity. For in the lower part of the picture, Kalendio is represented as he is about to strike his opponent, who is already caught in his net; that the match did not turn out as he had hoped, however, is shown by the letter Ø, which, together with the trident placed above his head, indicates death. Then, in the upper part, the same Kalendio is shown lying on the ground, either thrown by his opponent or having fallen, and thrusting with his right hand a dagger (which Strabo bk. XIII says belongs to a retiarius) as if to defend himself, with the following caption given above: ASTIANAX DEFEATED KALENDIO Ø. Also, the ones standing there holding a rod seem to be judges of the contest.
The other image shows a retiarius equipped with a trident and his net; it was excavated in the year 1738 at Chester by workmen while they were preparing the foundation of a house for John Philpot, a gentleman, in the butchers’ market. Made of slate, a type of stone that comes from the Isle of Man, it is a work of bas-relief and of the same size as is shown here. It seems, however, to have been broken by the workers while digging; for there was a secutor on it too, armed with a shield and a sword, traces of which still remain; the rest was lost among the rubble. What he wears on his right shoulder is called a galerus by an old scholiast on Juvenal VIII.208, which he describes thus: “Galerus is something placed on the shoulder of a gladiator of this type, with which he collects an unfurled rope or a cast net more quickly.” His arm is wrapped in bands to protect it from blows; he also wears a belt, from which hangs a garment; he is uncovered everywhere else. This image, however, is different from that of Kalendio in that Kalendio carries the galerus on his left shoulder. But this should perhaps be attributed to a craftsman’s error, and so too the fact that he holds a trident in his right hand. For logic tells us that they would carry it in the right hand after they previously used the net. Hence, Juvenal from the already cited passage: “Look, he’s brandishing a trident. Once he has poised his right hand and cast the trailing net without success” [2004, 341]. The poet’s point here seems to be that after he cast the net with his right hand, he later wanted to strike his opponent with the trident, holding it in the same right hand, just as is shown in the upper image.
Bottom: These images—one from a copy by Bartoli, the other from its original—were drawn and engraved in copper at the expense of the Society of Antiquaries, London; both are preserved in the Museum of Richard Mead, M.D.
Preparatory Drawings: Click here to see the Preparatory Drawings for Plate 1.65.
Commentary by Noah Heringman: The Chester gladiator shown here is not one of the best-known ancient Roman finds of 1738. That distinction belongs to the theatre at Herculaneum. However, a century later the two sites were conflated when this sculptured image of a retiarius or net-fighter entered the collection of the Saffron Walden Museum, where it was mistakenly catalogued as a discovery from Herculaneum (Jackson 1983, 90). Members of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) were certainly aware of the proliferating discoveries at Herculaneum by the time this print was published, for the reading of an eyewitness account of these discoveries is recorded in the minutes for 19 June 1740 (SAL Minutes IV.7). The commentary engraved in the top half of the plate correctly identifies the find spot and does not mention Herculaneum, but it does incorporate the relief in a more symbolic way with the archaeology of ancient Rome by including two other, smaller images of a retiarius from a Roman mosaic. Like other prints of Romano-British subjects in Vetusta Monumenta, Plate 1.65 claims a place for British discoveries in the history of classical antiquity. Unlike the others, this plate also visibly claims a place for itself in the broad discursive field of neoclassicism, represented here by the work of the Roman artist and antiquary Pietro Santi Bartoli. Bartoli’s drawings of gladiatorial combat from a Roman mosaic are framed by the two columns of text provided by John Ward, who became director of the SAL in 1747. The upper half of the plate thus provides a visual-verbal gloss on the Chester gladiator below.
Both the slate relief and the drawings came from “the Museum of Richard Mead, M.D.,” as it is styled in the bottom caption. Through Mead, court physician to George II and one of the most celebrated collectors of his day, the SAL gained indirect access to the European network of artists and antiquaries who had been actively involved in the remediation of ancient art for decades. The print afforded an opportunity to publicize this affiliation, benefiting both parties, without displacing the Society’s founding emphasis on the “History of Brittish Antiquitys” (SAL Minutes I.3). News of Mead’s acquisitions was reported several times at meetings of the SAL in the 1730s and 1740s. The Chester gladiator is, however, the only artifact from Roman Britain to be mentioned in the Minute Book entries relating to Mead’s collection, beginning on 11 November 1742: “Mr Folkes from Dr Mead acquainted the Society that he had in his possession a RETIARIUS lately found in digging a cellar at Chester, which he would shew to them when they pleased, and if they thought fit might have a drawing of it” (SAL Minutes I.139v). Other entries relating to Mead refer to drawings from his collection, drawings made of Roman antiquities in situ by Italian artists. The two drawings by Bartoli that Vertue engraved in the upper half of this plate, further documenting the equipment and technique of the retiarii, belong to a collection of Roman drawings that was among Mead’s prize possessions—so precious, in fact, that it was withheld by his family from the sale of his collection after his death in 1754 (Pace 1979, 126). In life, as well, Mead made strategic choices about the use of his collections, and it is notable that he never joined the SAL, though his older brother Samuel did (Hanson 2009, 171-82).
By selecting these drawings to accompany the relief, in collaboration with Mead, Vertue expands the field of evidence for viewers of this print. He offers the Chester relief and the mosaic drawn by Bartoli as representative works of art documenting a Roman imperial practice. The net-fighter is a subtype of gladiator first recorded in the time of Caligula, originating significantly later than the other types but extremely popular by the mid-second century CE (Junkelmann 2000, 124). By juxtaposing his engraving of the sculpture with Bartoli’s drawings of the mosaic, Vertue also foregrounds the two modern media that serve the purposes of antiquarian research. Ward’s Latin text, by far the longest explanation included with any plate in Vetusta Monumenta up to this point, completes this complex media ecology. The plate may therefore be seen as a collaborative effort to place a British find and British scholarship in a cosmopolitan neoclassical context, a synthesis that deviates from the pattern of partisan conflict between “Roman” and “Gothic” antiquaries highlighted by Joan Evans in her account of the SAL in the 1730s and 1740s (Evans 1956, 98-99).
In addition to sculpture, mosaic, drawing, engraving, and print, Roman wall painting might also be cited as a medium addressed by this print. Roman painting was a major interest of Mead, who acquired at least one large painting—cut from the wall after being discovered in “the ruins of Augustus’s palace” and shipped from Rome (SAL Minutes III.21)—as well as the album of at least 126 colored drawings of ancient wall paintings and mosaics by Bartoli (Pace 1979, 128-29). While the SAL minutes record extensive discussion of the Chester gladiator, there is only one uncertain reference to the two drawings reproduced in the upper half of the plate, taken from a mosaic originally in the collection of Bartoli’s patron, Cardinal Camillo Massimo. In February of 1743, Vertue called on Mead at the Society’s direction to seek his permission to publish a print and came back with the following report:
Although a mosaic would not typically be described as a “singular stone” today, it may be inferred that Mead showed Vertue the corresponding drawings from his collection and that they decided to include both the Chester retiarius and the mosaic showing the retiarius Kalendio (via Bartoli’s drawing) on one plate. Vertue’s report also provides evidence of Bartoli’s reputation. By the time of his death in 1700, Bartoli was widely known as an engraver of Roman antiquities (Modolo 2018), but Vertue’s report indicates that by the 1740s Bartoli’s drawings were also attracting increasing attention and were being engraved by others (cf. Pace 1979, 126). Many of these drawings were originally commissioned by Massimo, a major collector who is mentioned in the text on this plate as the first owner of the mosaics after their discovery. Mosaics of this type (wall emblemata) are sometimes understood as an outdoor species of wall painting, and Bartoli’s drawings blur the line between these two media.
Mr Vertue gave in a farther account of the Retiarii, and of the Drawing by Pietro Bartholi from a singular Stone at Rome, and that tho Mr Lethieulier has a print of it done by Rotti deceased, yet the Pope has preserv’d all that artist’s works, which are scarce. It is submitted to your ballot the next opportunity for a plate to be engraven. (SAL Minutes IV.152v.)
British connoisseurs including Mead as well as John Talman (1677-1726), the founding director of the SAL, became increasingly active in the marketplace for Roman antiquities after 1700. The minutes do not record how the Chester gladiator came into Mead’s hands, but there can be little doubt that increased interest in Roman Britain went hand in hand with collecting activity in Italy. The initial description of the relief, accompanied by a rough sketch in the Minute Book, recalls other chance finds uncovered by construction workers that proved to be major discoveries, such as the bronze head of Minerva found at Bath in 1727 (Plate 1.34) or the Lincoln hypocaust discovered in 1740 (Plate 1.57):
Ward incorporates these facts, silently correcting the date of the discovery, at the beginning of the second paragraph of his text on the plate. His explanation of the images situates the discovery in the wider context of classical scholarship, ranging from ancient literary texts that mention retiarii to Bartoli’s and Massimo’s work in the previous century. After the relief was exhibited on 25 November 1742, Vertue was asked to call on Mead to make a more finished drawing, with which he returned on 9 December (IV.144v.). This may be the drawing currently held in the British Library and identified there as a “preparatory sketch” for this print. This plate concludes a series of six plates on Roman subjects published between 1737 and 1743 (Plates 1.47, 1.48, 1.50-1.52, 1.57, and 1.65); such a strong emphasis on one period over a short time suggests a combination of neoclassical fashion, renewed attention to previously known Roman sites, and increased attention during new excavation work.
Mr Vertue bro:t from Dr Mead the Retiarius w:ch was found in the year 1740, in digging the foundation of a house belonging to Mr John Philpot in Fleshmongers lane, near the east gate, in the city of Chester. The relief is cut in Manks slate, or such Slate as is found in the Isle of Man of the same size with the drawing belowe, the remaining part being broke off by the workmen and lost among the rubish. (SAL Minutes IV.141v.)
Vertue’s innovative organization of the pictorial space makes this a peculiarly information-rich composition, inserting facts about retiarii into a dynamic equation that balances the aesthetic value of sculpture and mosaic and of engraving and drawing, respectively. By breaking Ward’s 350-word essay into two columns, he creates a vertical frame for the horizontal display of the drawings, with added space for a bit of the wall beneath the lower panel of the mosaic—masonry that seems to merge into the stone below. The experiment succeeds, but it is not surprising that Ward’s long text on the next plate set (Plates 1.66-1.68) was set in moveable type and printed on separate sheets, an arrangement that became the norm for Vetusta Monumenta soon after this point. The text here remains the longest explanatory text engraved on any plate in Volume I (excepting those that are facsimiles of documents, and hence all text, such as Plate 1.62). Ward’s paragraph on the drawings explains the bottom-to-top sequence in which the two mosaic panels should be read, a sequence confirmed by subsequent scholarship: although Kalendio is initially shown below, “about to strike his captive adversary...the end of the battle did not fulfill his prayers,” as the upper portion shows him lying prostrate, adding the verb “vicit” to clarify that his opponent Astianax has won. Ward refrains from aesthetic judgment, but notes one discrepancy between Kalendio’s equipment and that of the Chester gladiator, who wears the galerus on his right shoulder. (He appears ready to throw the net with his dominant left hand, which will then grasp the butt end of the trident.) Vertue’s engraving captures the roughness of the slate, creating a contrast between the relief and the smoother, more delicate designs above. Ralph Jackson points out that this relief seems “to betray Celtic influence on purely classical subjects” in the “bold and straightforward manner” in which “the hair, eyes, and musculature are all executed” (Jackson 1983, 93). The contrast may also suggest greater fidelity to the original object in the lower half, but it should be noted that Vertue’s engraving subtly restores or “corrects” some aspects of the relief, if perhaps more discreetly than Bartoli, who was known even in his lifetime for favoring “‘correct’ antique design” over the “often defective ancient original” (Pace 1979, 123; Whitehouse 2014, 286).
Modern scholarship is more attentive to the differing functions of the relief and the mosaic. These differences further accentuate the visual contrast between the two halves of the plate. Jackson (1983) points out the fragmentary images of a sword and shield on the left side of the relief that prove it to be the fragment of a larger frieze, possibly from a tomb, but possibly also an architectural ornament from the Chester arena—which, as Jackson shows, stood quite near the spot where this relief was found. Tony Wilmott provides evidence from other tombs that support the former hypothesis and argues that this image was made to commemorate “a specific and well-known individual” (2007, 145). If so, it would be appropriate to show him victorious, and Jackson suggests that “we are shown the moment of victory of the retiarius, his net retrieved, while the secutor kneels in submission” (1983, 92). This suggestion may, however, betray the influence of Vertue’s composition, for a victorious retiarius here would complement the vanquished one above. Both these modern scholars attend to Vertue’s engraving as well as the original object, but they do not mention (or show) the upper half of the plate, which is also less apt to be noticed by other scholars, since both the mosaic and Bartoli’s drawings survive. Jackson adds that “tool-marks were commonly left on stone sculpture” in the expectation that it would be painted (93), and although Vertue and Ward are unlikely to have known it, this supposition mitigates the roughness of the slate and diminishes its difference from the colored mosaic.
The mosaic offers a more complex historiography. Since it was discovered in situ in 1670 in a newly excavated third-century CE Roman bath building (Whitehouse 2014, 311), there is little doubt about its original context and function. Massimo had the mosaic removed and commissioned Bartoli’s drawing soon after the discovery. Of five surviving copies of the drawing, four are in Bartoli’s hand, while the fifth may be by his son Francesco (Whitehouse 2014, 299). These drawings and the mosaic all changed hands multiple times both before and after Vertue’s print was made in 1743. Of the three mosaics discovered at this site, one was a large pavement showing nereids and sea monsters, engraved by Bartoli himself and published posthumously by his son (Bartoli 1706). The two others were both wall emblemata—smaller images assembled in the workshop and mounted in the wall—showing gladiatorial combats (Donderer 1983). Both were acquired by Massimo and documented by Bartoli. Vertue’s engraving is the first of either to be published. The same image of Astianax and Kalendio was chosen for publication by Comte de Caylus, who published a hand-colored engraving of it alongside the pavement from the same site (Caylus 1757, Plates XXXI-II), and by Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1767, 2, Figure 197). Of the six collections of Bartoli drawings compared by Whitehouse, only two have all three mosaics and only Mead’s set (the Glasgow Massimi album) has them in close proximity, with the two sets of gladiator images appearing on one page (2014, 298). Carol Pace suggests that Bartoli copied these particular drawings from an earlier, “more carefully executed” set that shows “the division of the tesserae,” unlike these versions, which are “more impressionistic, resembling copies of paintings rather than mosaics” (1979, 131). Vertue’s engraving and Caylus’s later one both share this painterly quality, although the color in Caylus’s version helps to bring out certain details that are not apparent in Vertue’s engraving, such as the pool of blood under the prostrate retiarius. The pool is much larger, however, in the original mosaic, which also uses blue tiles to indicate the partially shrouded face of the secutor. The secutor’s face is one of several details rendered more naturalistically in both the drawings and the engravings. The two gladiatorial mosaics were acquired by Charles III of Spain when he was King of Naples (1734-59) and eventually passed to the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid (1867).
Both the mosaic and the relief are pictured in modern histories of gladiatorial combat (Junkelmann 2000, Figures 132, 216; Dunkle 2008, Figure 18), but the most valuable materials for this history were discovered later, in 1767, when a gladiatorial barracks was unearthed at Pompeii. According to Junkelmann’s catalogue of gladiators’ equipment, all four surviving examples of the galerus—the shoulder guard of the retiarius, shown on the Chester gladiator’s left arm and Kalendio’s right—originate from this one find spot at Pompeii (2000, 186-87). Junkelmann notes, however, that the site was initially misunderstood as a military barracks; its association with the amphitheater was not firmly established until 1853, when Raffaelle Garrucci recognized the galerus from pictorial sources as belonging specifically to the retiarius, along with other evidence that he marshaled to secure the identification of the site (43, 81). The retiarius is unique among gladiators not only for this specialized armor, but also because he wears no other armor at all. Along with his conventional opponent, the secutor, the retiarius became the first gladiator type to be clearly identified by modern scholars (45), partly because of the large number of surviving visual depictions from the second century CE onward (125). The retiarius’s bare head and his trident make him easy to spot. However, only five objects in the large corpus surveyed by Junkelmann actually show the net for which the retiarius is named. Two of these five are depicted on the Vetusta Monumenta plate.
As an easily recognized type of gladiator, the retiarius is also representative for the reception of gladiatorial combat in modern times. Juvenal’s reference to the “shameful tunic” of the retiarius Gracchus probably applies to this aristocratic individual rather than the type, but in citing this passage Ward introduces a moralizing tone that conditions many later representations of retiarii and of gladiators in general. The tunic, worn in the upper half of the plate by Kalendio, but not by the Chester gladiator, may have signified that the wearer was a gladiator by choice and not a slave, but it is distinctly different from the tunic worn over both shoulders by the two referees in the mosaic (summa rudis, with the rod, and secunda rudis) to signify that they are citizens (Junkelmann 2000, 49). The tunic gathered below the waist of the defeated retiarius in Jean-Léone Gérôme’s painting Pollice verso (1872) –whose net and trident have fallen to the ground—seems to develop this ancient association of effeminacy and immorality. The retiarius facing off against Kirk Douglas in Spartacus (1960) is of African descent, as the retiarius commemorated in an ornate third-century tomb relief along the Appian Way also seems to be (Junkelmann 2000, Fig. 16). Another, much simpler tomb relief from Tomis shows the retiarius’s trident protruding into the border around the frieze (Fig. 159), as the Chester gladiator’s also does. Comparatively little scholarship on gladiators was published by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquaries, partly due to the moral opprobrium associated with this blood sport, so Vertue’s print should be regarded as a significant contribution for its time. It is preceded by only one exploratory publication about a Roman amphitheatre in Britain (Stukeley 1723), and English antiquaries were certainly unaware that Britain had numerous amphitheaters where these combats were held. The legionary amphitheater at Chester, discovered in 1929, is the largest found in Britain to date, a fact that lends credence to Wilmott’s supposition that the relief depicted here commemorates “a specific and well-known individual” (Wilmott 2007, 145; Wilmott and Garner 2018).
Vertue’s print of the retiarii continues to hold its value as documentation, while also providing rich material for reflection on the changing role of the artist-antiquary and on classical reception more broadly. Vertue derives a double authority from the original Romano-British artifact in the lower half and, in the upper half, the remediation of a Roman object by way of a highly respected artist-antiquary who preceded him, Bartoli. The care employed in executing this plate gave it a long scholarly shelf life. Jackson singles out the lower half of the plate: “Though slightly inaccurate, somewhat idealized and partially restored this is the best published drawing [sic] of the relief and was the source for a number of later illustrations” (Jackson 1983, 87). His praise for Ward’s text is even less equivocal, putting it forward as “an accurate and perceptive description...from which all later accounts were ultimately derived” (cf. Wilmott 2007, 141). Wilmott, reflecting on the interpretations by Jackson and Ward, comes to the independent conclusion that the Chester gladiator wears his galerus and manica on the “wrong” arm because he was really left-handed and was “celebrated for his unusual mode of fighting” (146). Jackson in 1987 had not ruled out Ward’s conjecture that the equipment might be misplaced due to a “craftsman’s error.” Vertue stopped short of correcting this “error,” but he did restore the upper right corner of the panel, which is missing. He also brought the points of the trident forward, in front of the border, and slightly refined the anatomy of the figure—especially the facial expression, which he was apt to soften in his engravings of other types of artifacts as well (e.g., Plate 1.4).
Bartoli’s “improvements” to the mosaic, reproduced faithfully by Vertue, go considerably farther, marking the difference between his brand of connoisseurship—equally concerned with preserving or documenting originals, but more committed to a hierarchy of aesthetic values dominated by painting—and Vertue’s approach two generations later. Caylus’s commentary on the same scene suggests that Bartoli’s rendering is to be preferred because the original mosaic is “mediocre” and “crude” [grossier] (Caylus 1757, 29); he speculates further that it was done in imitation of placards used to advertise upcoming gladiatorial combats and imagines it as a decoration from a training room. Ward comments more obliquely on the association of gladiatorial spectacle with popular culture, and also seems tacitly to assign Bartoli a higher artistic rank than the original producers of the ancient objects. Vertue is likely to have felt a stronger sympathy with the maker of the relief.
There is no direct evidence concerning Ward’s or Vertue’s views of the mosaic itself, but one clue may be found in an earlier plate, the Lincoln hypocaust (Plate 1.57). Three years earlier Mead loaned a set of drawings supposedly made in the Baths of Titus to assist Vertue in engraving the hypocaust, the completest discovery at that time of a Roman bath in England. These labeled drawings give an overview of all the structural components of Roman thermae (SAL Minutes IV.16), though recent scholarship has revealed them to be based on a sixteenth-century invention later mistaken for copy of ancient work (Savani 2019). Mead and Vertue would have known from the captions in the Massimi album that the mosaics copied by Bartoli were taken from another bath building—a fact that allows us to imagine these exchanges of specimens, drawings, and prints as part of a sustained conversation, a collaborative project of tracing everyday life in Roman Britain back to Roman sources. Mead received copies of both prints (IV.16, 167) and the copies digitized here stand as an invitation to renew and reflect on this project. Vertue’s suggestion of a wall under the mosaic hints at an accurate recognition of its original function while creating a pictorial transition to the seemingly rough and remote analogue below, a piece of artifice that shows the artist as antiquary.
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