STACKELBERG, Otto Magnus, Baron von. Der Apollotempel zu Bassae in Arcadien und die Daselbst Ausgegrabenen Bildwerke / Dargestellt und Erläutert von O.M. Baron von Stackelberg, Frankfurt, Gedruckt mit Andreäischen Schriften, [1826].


Otto Magnus von Stackelberg (1787-1837), the fifteenth child in his family, was raised and educated in Estonia. He studied in Germany and Moscow, and while visiting Italy he realized that painting, the arts and antiquity were to shape his life. He lived in Greece from 1810 to 1813, where he became acquainted with the large colony of European artists, intellectuals and merchants, and participated in the excavations they organized in Athens, Aegina, Phigaleia and Asia Minor. He later went to Rome, where he stayed for twelve years. He also travelled to England, France, and the Netherlands. Stackelberg spent the last two years of his life in his home country, where he died.

Influenced by the spirit of adulation of antiquity and the romantic idea of a unity between nature, life and art, typical of his time, Stackelberg travelled in Greece and Italy, his drawings capturing then current perceptions of the ancient monuments and the modern populations. In his view, the grandeur of a composition lies above all in its serenity and simplicity, not in exalted self-destructive passion. With regard to human figures, he strove to present the most vivid image of reality as a “historic moment” destined to disappear and his copperplate engravings are accompanied by well-documented commentaries. Regarding his interactions with local people, he notes: “Peasants would come up to me, my sketches made a strong impression on them. They would look at the lines and ask me with childlike ingenuity if those [the drawings] would aid the liberation of Greece from the Turks”.

Stackelberg published impressive works, mainly landscapes and standardized portraits. His first publication, which included copperplate engravings of typical figures in traditional costumes, circulated in Rome in 1825. The edition on Apollo's temple at Bassae followed in 1826, and the album of his landscapes was published in 1834. Stackelberg's drawings of human types became very popular and were reprinted numerous times, illustrating other travellers' accounts as well.

Stackelberg was a member of a group of Danish, German and British artists and architects, who were also lovers of antiquity and founded a scholars' society in Athens in 1809. The members of that society (J. Linckh, J. R. Cockerell, J. Foster, K. Haller von Hallerstein, P. Brönsted, Stackelberg himslef and others) realized archaeological excavations and explorations. They thus discovered masterpieces of ancient sculpture, which they subsequently pillaged, shipped abroad and sold, thus stripping the Greek territory of two major and most impressive sculpture complexes of antiquity: the sculptures of the temple of Aphaia on Aegina island and those of the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae.

All the members of the expedition gave accounts of their activity in Bassae in their works. They speak of the stages of the excavation, their luck in locating the reliefs, their schemes to obtain the sculptures, such as their bribes to the authorities and other financial settlements, and of the smuggling of the sculptures out of the country; they also describe the damages many of those sustained in the process, from the summer of 1811 to the auction of the artworks, which ended up in the British Museum in the spring of 1814.

In the present work, Stackelberg narrates the discovery, excavation, pillaging and smuggling of the sculptures of the temple of Apollo at Bassae, from the viewpoint of a writer and artist. He cites historical data on ancient temples, relates the myth of Amazonomachy and Centauromachy, describes the reliefs and at the same time records the words and the music of Greek popular songs (both klephtika and songs from Asia Minor), and exalts the bucolic, Arcadian life of the shepherds in the Peloponnese. He documents his text with a large number of citations from Greek and Roman authors (Pausanias, Thucydides, Herodotus, Pliny, Vitruvius, Plutarch, Diodorus, Callimachus, Homer, Vergil and others).

The exquisite engravings which illustrate this edition in large format were drawn by Stackelberg and etched by several engravers such as I. C. Reinhart, W. F. Gmelin, G. B. Cipriani, L. Moentler, Ang. Testa and D. Marchetti; the latter collaborated in other editions by Stackelberg as well.

Written by Ioli Vingopoulou

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  • STACKELBERG, Otto Magnus, Baron von. Der Apollotempel zu Bassae in Arcadien und die Daselbst Ausgegrabenen Bildwerke / Dargestellt und Erläutert von O.M. Baron von Stackelberg, Frankfurt, Gedruckt mit Andreäischen Schriften, [1826].