The other day I was having a discussion with a colleague about the relative merits of original works and copies. Although I am as keenly interested in original works of art as the next heritage-minded person, I found myself defending of the value of copies – in particular the copies of antique sculpture.
The Romans copied famous Greek sculptures, and following the Renaissance the Italians copied Greek and Roman works as well as combining disparate ancient fragments. These copies and hybrids tend to be beautifully made objects in themselves, but apart from their purely visual appeal I also find them fascinating because of what they tell us about our how our culture interacts with its past.
The past was being rediscovered, and the products of that past were so desirable that a reproduction market arose to satisfy the demand. Regardless of whether these objects are ‘originals’, ‘copies’, ‘bodges’ or ‘fakes’, they embody an ideal that was so powerful that people felt compelled to fill their houses with them, and indeed to rebuild their houses to realise that vision even more fully.
And of course we are doing more or less the same thing when we visit a historic place today, and buy the guidebook, and add images to our Pinterest boards, and change something in our own home inspired by what we have seen. When we look at our ancestors looking at their past, we are also looking at ourselves.