Book Series Materiality, vol. 1

The Nature of Art. Pliny the Elder on Materials

Anna Anguissola, Andreas Grüner (eds)

  • Pages: 372 p.
  • Size:180 x 265 mm
  • Illustrations:80 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2021

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59117-9
  • Hardback
  • Available

This volume addresses the presentation of artistic processes and their materials in the Natural History and focuses on the issues that lie at the root of Pliny's work: his account of the technological, economical, ideological, and aesthetic aspects of materials.


« Ce très beau livre de 372 pages s’intéresse au témoignage de Pline l’Ancien sur l’art à partir de la matérialité, les métaux, pierres et terres utilisés par les artistes et les processus de fabrication des œuvres (…) Pour conclure, il s’agit d’un ouvrage de très grande qualité pour le fond comme la forme, qui illustre parfaitement la complémentarité entre diverses disciplines et approches sur les textes antiques, et qui contribue au renouveau des études sur Pline l’Ancien et l’art. » (Valérie Naas, in Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2022.08.11)


Andreas Gruener is Professor of Classical Archaeology at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. His interests encompass Roman housing, iconography, and the history of the Classical tradition.
Anna Anguissola is Associate Professor in Classical Archaeology at the University of Pisa. Her research has focused on architectural technologies and urban development, as well as the history and techniques of ancient sculpture.


In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder organises his discussion of crafts according to the raw materials they utilize. However, scholarly literature has paid little attention to the aspect of materiality, preferring to focus on the biographies and achievements of ancient Greek artists. This collection instead addresses the presentation of artistic processes and their materials in the Natural History. This approach corresponds with current developments in the study of Greco-Roman art, wherein scientific analysis of artistic materials including stones, pigments, and metal alloys, as well as a deeper understanding of workshop practices, has imposed profound changes on the methods used in the study of ancient artefacts.


Editorial note and abbreviations

Anna Anguissola and Andreas Grüner
Nature and Culture in the Natural History

Courtney Roby
Parasite, Infused: Pliny on Leeches
Annette Haug
Silver and Obsidian: Shine and Reflection
Julian Schreyer
Pliny on the Sensory Qualities of Tin
Verity Platt
Beeswax: The Natural History of an Archetypal Medium
Nadia J. Koch
Caeruleum and the Pigments of Greek Painting: A Comedy of Mistaken Identity
Simona Rinaldi
The Renaissance Reception of Pliny’s Atramentum

Giovan Battista Fidanza
Wood and Architecture: Pliny’s Legacy in the Treatises of Alberti and Cataneo
Clarissa Blume-Jung
Ganosis and Kosmesis in Pliny’s Natural History. On the Polishing of Marble Sculptures with Wax
Emily Margaret Cook
Pliny the Elder in the Workshop of Zenodorus and the Materiality of Facture in the Natural History
Elena Calandra
Material Substitutions. The Second Life of the Aphrodite anadyomene
Anna Anguissola
The Materiality of Creation. Integrity, Deception, and the Process of Art
Felix Henke
Gypsum, the Invention of Bronze Casting, and the Triumph of Form
Maria Luisa Catoni
Parian Marble and «Quella che si fa per forza di levare»
Nikolaus Dietrich
«Ex uno lapide» and the Meaning of Monolithic Sculpture in the Natural History

Massimiliano Papini
Pretia and auctoritas rerum. Evaluation of Materials and Artefacts in Books 33-37
Hilary Becker
Grading for Colour: Pliny’s Hierarchy of Pigment Quality
Mathilde Bert
Plinian Monochromy in Renaissance Italy
Stefano Rocchi
Corinthian Bronzes and Vases from Pliny the Elder to Pliny the Younger (In the Light of a Passage by Cicero)
Lucia Faedo
Gilding. Art and Technique, Vision and Morals
Paolo Coen
Pliny, Stones in the Natural History, and their Re-use in the Trattato of Antonio Averlino, called Filarete (1462-1465)
Patrick R. Crowley
Factitious Gems and the Matter of Facts in Pliny’s Natural History

Michael Squire
«Veritas repraesentata»? Zeuxis, Parrhasius, and the Nature of Pictorial Representation in Pliny’s Natural History
Jörn Lang
Purple Stones. Pliny on Amethysts
Maria Elisa Micheli
Agate: Fortunes and Misfortunes
Alexander Heinemann
Skin and Bone. Lala of Cyzicus and the Softness of Ivory
Carlo Berardi
Flawless Transparency: On Rock Crystal and its Fortune in the Middle Ages

Irving Lavin
Pliny’s History of Materials and its Readers:From «ex uno lapide» to Bernini’s figura serpentinata


Index of passages from the Natural History
Index of Greek and Latin sources
Index of relevant names and places
List of contributors