Philostratus and the Imaginary Museum

  • Norman Bryson


The Imagines of the Elder Philostratus must count as one of the great ruins of antiquity.1 From the Renaissance until the time of the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Imagines, together with the surviving fragments preserved in Rome, constituted virtually all that could be known in Europe concerning classical painting. Even today, when so much more of that painting has been brought to light, the Imagines remains a unique resource. It is our most extensive account of what a Roman picture gallery, a Roman catalogue of pictures, and the Roman viewing of pictures may have been like. Philostratus claims to base his account in actuality. In the Proem he assures his reader that his 60-odd verbal descriptions are rendered after original paintings (pinakes) housed in a single collection in Neapolis (Naples).


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  1. 3.
    For a history of the debate, see the following editions: Philostratorum Imagines et Callistrati Statuae, ed. F. Jacobs and F.T. Welcker (Leipzig, 1825);Google Scholar
  2. Flavii Philostrati quae supersunt, ed. C.L. Kayser (1844);Google Scholar
  3. Philostrati Maioris Imagines, ed. O. Benndorf and C. Schenkel (Leipzig, 1893).Google Scholar
  4. Also: K.N. Nemitz, De Philostratorum imaginibus, dissertation (Bratislava, 1875), pp. 1ff.;Google Scholar
  5. E. Bertrand, Philostrate (Paris, 1882), pp. 67ff.;Google Scholar
  6. F. Steinmann, Neue Studien zu den Gemaldebeschreibungen des alteren Philostratus, dissertation (Zurich, Basle, 1914), pp. 1ff.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Karl Lehmann-Hartleben, ‘The Imagines of the Elder Philostratus’, Art Bulletin, XXIII (1941), pp. 16–44; henceforth referred to as ‘Lehmann’.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 22.
    Leonard Barkan, The Gods Made Flesh: Metamorphosis and the Pursuit of Paganism (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 4.Google Scholar
  9. 35.
    On ‘techniques of the self’, see M. Foucault, Le souci de soi (Paris: Gallimard, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 37.
    Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p. 8.Google Scholar
  11. 43.
    R. Barthes, from ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image-Music-Text, essays selected and translated by Stephen Heath (New York: Hill & Wang, 1977), pp. 145–6.Google Scholar

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© Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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  • Norman Bryson

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