Spoils and Spolia

This blog originated with the theme “Make Art, Not Trash”—the intention being that of promoting the transformation of household trash into something both beautiful and useful. Part of my recycling experiments included the use of old clothes to make new ones. I call the collective results “Muy Marcottage”.

Marcottage is a French term used for plant propagation–taking one plant to make another. But it’s also an art term used to indicate a sculptural composition that’s been made using pre-existing elements. Two famous artists who used this method were Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Rodin (1840-1917). Michelangelo’s “Pieta Rondanini” is the best example of Michelangelo’s use of the marcottage method.

Rodin was much influenced by the Tuscan sculptor especially by his fragmentary figures and, subsequently, made some of his own sculptures using assemblage—the assembling of elements from one source with elements from another.

But reincorporating the old to create something new is a technique also used in architecture known as “spolia” (from the Latin for “the spoils”). The practice was common in late antiquity. In Rome, for example, the Arch of Constantine reused parts from the Arch of Janus whereas the colonnade of Old St. Peter’s Basilica excludes exterior sculptures from Athen’s Panagia Gorgoepikoos.

But even on our lovely Paros there is an excellent example of spolia.

The Frankish Castle on Paros was built on a hill overlooking the sea with the intention to help protect the island from pirates. Situated on the base of an ancient temple dating back to 530 BC, the castle was built in 1260 during the Venetian occupation of the island. The dry stone method was used to wedge together stones from dismantled sanctuaries. And the result is fabulous.

Related: Inside the Frankish Castle is the Christian Orthodox church of Agio Constantinos.


For more information regarding Spolia:

Book– The Spolia Churches of Rome: Recycling Antiquity in the Middle Ages by Maria Fabricius Hansen 


Spolia from Constantine to Charlemagne: Aesthetics versus Ideology, Beat Brenk

Roman Architectural Spolia, Dale Kinney


Antonio Canova’s studio in Rome covered with spolia

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5 Responses to Spoils and Spolia

  1. Yvonne says:

    That is phenomenal! Thank you for telling us about and showing this!

  2. Yvonne says:

    How did you know I idolise Canova! I visited his studio in Possagno, near Bassano del Grappa; it was wonderful.

  3. Amore & Psyche…what a statue, what a story!

  4. Pingback: Spoglia at Trastevere | Art Narratives by Cynthia Korzekwa

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