Catalog of the Fine Arts Collection
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Diana of Gabii, undated copy
The original Diana of Gabii, now in the collection of the Louvre Museum in Paris, was named for the location of its excavation near Rome in 1792. Diana, known to the Greeks as Artemis, is believed to be shown here dressing for a hunt. After its discovery, the ancient Roman marble gained notice as a copy of the earlier Greek sculptor Praxiteles' rendering for the temple of Artemis Brauronia, protectress of women, on the Acropolis in Athens. Nineteenth-century critics admired the Roman Diana as a "perfected imitation" of the Greek model. Today, reproductions are often considered inferior by nature, lacking originality or creativity. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, extended discussion and disagreement surrounded the relative aesthetic merits of ancient Greek originals and their Roman copies in what became known as the Greco-Roman Debate.
The Roman Diana was distinguished in the eyes of nineteenth-century observers by its nobility of features and the elegance of its drapery. During the century after its discovery, this Diana itself generated a veritable industry of copies in an array of sizes and media, including bronze, stoneware, terracotta, and marble, that attest to the Roman sculpture's iconic power. These reproductions, often made from casts of the original, were appreciated, ironically enough, for their exact reproduction of the more interpretive Roman copy upon which they were based. By the 188os, the Roman Diana had become one of the most recognized works of ancient sculpture in the world, comparable in reputation to the Venus de Milo, though only a faint shadow of that nineteenth-century fame remains today.