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Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
Previous Exhibitions — more details
Reconstructing a Masterpiece of Ancient Sculpture
The Aphrodisias Fisherman in Oxford
23rd February to 8th June 2000
Cast Gallery

Aphrodisias and the Old Fisherman

Torso of the plaster reconstruction of the Aphrodisias FishermanThe ancient Greek city of Aphrodisias (south-west Turkey) is one of the best preserved archaeological sites in the Eastern Mediterranean. The statue of the Old Fisherman formed part of the sculptural decoration of the Hadrianic Baths (2nd cent. AD) that adjoin the city's South Agora. The torso was found in 1904 and today is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, while the head was discovered only in 1989 and remains in Aphrodisias. Further fragments (plinth, parts of the legs and right arm) were subsequently identified in the storerooms of the Aphrodisias Museum. The Ashmolean reconstruction unites casts of these fragments in one figure for the first time since its destruction in antiquity.

Complete plaster reconstruction of the Aphrodisias FishermanThe Ugly Made Beautiful

In the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BC) artists and poets sought out oblique, sometimes contemptible subject matter. A cultivated public enjoyed the aesthetic paradox of how ugly subjects could be made beautiful by being beautifully made. Poetry and art attest this refined interest in low-life figures.

Head of the plaster reconstruction of the Aphrodisias FishermanMosaics: Fishing and Eating

In the Roman Period, many remarkable floor mosaics represent fishermen at work and a detailed variety of fish to be caught and eaten. To eat a researched variety of fish was one of the essentials of refined living in antiquity, and domestic fish mosaics were markers of wealth and sophistication.

A Hellenistic Masterpiece and Its Roman Reception

The Aphrodisias Fisherman reflects a once-famous Hellenistic Statue of the third or second century BC. This original is now lost, but some twenty marble versions of it from the Roman period have survived. These versions show that the original statue emphasised the most unpleasant and pejorative aspects of its subject: an old body, ruined by a life of back-breaking toil, covered only with the crude loin cloth of the working slave. The Aphrodisias statue is a striking re-interpretation of the figure, remodeling many of the purposely ugly aspects of the type to present a refined, more attractive fisherman to serve as tasteful decoration for the city's public baths.

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Last updated: jcm/6-feb-2002
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