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Archaeology and art.

I have reviewed Andrew Stewart's (B)(*)Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece(1) at greater length elsewhere (The Cambridge Archaeological Journal, October 1997). Here it is sufficient to signal a book which displays on the part of its author an increasingly rare academic combination: theoretical liveliness, and proper knowledge of the things about which one is theorizing. Prompted, he says, by his California students, Stewart takes the central subject of Greek art, the human figure; and instead of doing what his classical archaeology training usually requires -- waxing over drapery, iliac crests, the hand of Myron, and so on -- he unleashes all the modern modes of `viewing', `gazing', and general `scopic regimes' upon it. The result is a spirited, large-format study, in which the nuance of self-mockery is usually suppressed, and a cladding of dropped right-on names sedulously maintained. Beginning with those orgy scenes on vases which every Greek postcard vendor makes prominent at modern tourist sites, Stewart provides an art history of classical eroticism and self-display that at last matches the sophisticated level of literary studies in this area. And the virtues of Stewart's ability to add new `ways of seeing' to his pedigree of close stylistic examination are only thrown in relief by a lesser production, (B)(**)Naked Truths,(2) a collection of essays introduced polemically by Shelby Brown, but whose fervent significance evaporates soon on perusal. In fact the introductory polemics do not stand up to much inspection either. Of one contributor, a self-declared feminist art historian writing about the Praxitelean Knidian Aphrodite, Shelby tells us that her `vigorous attacks on the traditional canons [...] are unparalleled [...]. She identifies not just a defining male gaze directed at sculptures of nude Aphrodite, but also a negative underlying attitude towards women.' Stand by, strongholds of traditional Classics, to be rocked by the revelation that there was a negative underlying attitude towards women in ancient Greece. Revealing the obvious is a complaint which must also be entered about Ada Cohen's (B)(**)The Alexander Mosaic.(3) Possibly there are still one or two scholars who take the mosaic to `depict, in a virtually documentary fashion, the Battle of Issus; and who accordingly argue for the presence of a war artist in Alexander's entourage, noting the movements of Persian and Macedonian units. But surely most modern viewers take it for the straight heroization of Alexander that it is. Cohen's exposition of the imagery, while usefully drawing attention to the `tragic prominence' of Darius in the picture, too often labours to establish elementary tenets of courtly propaganda. `A paradigmatic and economical enactment of hierarchy and an interplay of status'. ... Cohen's formulae for saying that the mosaic shows a great Persian king being worsted by an irresistibly greater Alexander are manifold, but mostly repetitive. The late A. W. McNicoll's (B)(**)Hellenistic Fortifications(4) may Superficially intimidate prospective readers. The caption for the cover illustration -- a masonry wall -- tells us that we are looking at some `isodomic pulvinated headers and stretchers' from Cnidus, an overture unlikely to invite those unabsorbed by walls. But soon enough walls are shown to have not only their own engaging qualities of craftsmanship, design, and size; their historical ramifications become apparent too. Plato suggested that city walls instil cowardice in the citizen army, but Aristotle -- perhaps mindful of the siege of his home town Stagira in 349 B.C. -- allowed them as essential bastions of the polis. Their construction in the Hellenistic East was largely prompted by the onset of the Macedonian phalanx, and in turn siege engines were developed. As McNicoll presents his catalogue, Mausolus and his family in Caria were principal instigators, with democratic cities (such as Priene) following suit, and then Alexander's successors throwing massive cordons around their bases (e.g., Dura Europus) as part-strategy, part-megalomania. Some sites, Caunus for example, defy strict assignment to period. I suppose most visitors to these places are indifferent to walls: this is a study which helps one to love them. Two further specialist titles should be noted here: Elizabeth Moignard's catalogue of Greek vases in Glasgow collections in the (B)(**)Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum series;(5) and Roger Ling's opening volume of a three-part project devoted to the Insula of the House of the Menander of Pompeii.(6) The Glasgow collections comprise the Hunterian, the Kelvingrove, and the Burrell; overall they are short of material in some respects (notably Attic red-figure), but present an assemblage worth the careful attention a CVA accords. Of particular note, perhaps, is the Sicilian krater featuring a cursive caricature of a bearded man, with the inscription AKRATOS by his bulbous nose. As for the House of the Menander: excavated in 1926-33, it is wen known in itself, and clearly belonged to a member of Pompeii's decurional class (as might be easily supposed from the 118 pieces of silver service stored in a cellar). But by collecting the house into its urban island, Ling and his collaborators perform the laudable task of contextualization. The implied languid glamour of residence in such a painted house, as evoked by Bulwer-Lytton in his Last Days of Pompeii, is rubbed away. Most of us are now aware that the hubbub of commerce co-existed close to these houses; in this insula there was the clatter of artisans too; and the stench of dung, too, from livestock stables. Rus in urbe was more than a rose garden here: active daily links with an outlying farm are suggested. When complete, this project promises to be a monumental contribution to our understanding of Roman urbanism and society. What were the logistics of the architectural evolution we see around the House of the Menander? A profile is sketched in James Anderson's (B)(**)Roman Architecture and Society.(7) `Sketched' is not intended here to disparage Anderson's effort: rather to indicate what the author himself admits, that records of what was transacted between architects and their patrons in ancient Rome are sparse. In Imperial times we have the telling vignette of Hadrian's revenge upon Apollodorus, Trajan's architect, who had dismissed the young Hadrian's proposals as `gourds'; there are scattered mentions of certain names apart from the rash Apollodorus, but otherwise the architect was no acknowledged hero in Roman society. Anderson does what he can to remedy the neglect:. it is a worthy effort, but we are still left hankering for a newly-annotated edition of Vitruvius to complement Anderson's (too meagrely-illustrated) account. Another nuts-and-bolts approach to Roman art comes in the form of Diane Conlin's study, (B)(**)The Artists of the Ara Pacis,(8) where again the problem of artistic anonymity arises. `My concern', declares Conlin, `has been to understand how the designers and carvers working in Rome for Roman patrons created images that depicted their customers engaged in nonmythical activities.' She rejects the view, advanced by Jocelyn Toynbee and others, that if we had the names of the Ara Pacis sculptors then they would necessarily be Greek; and she shows, with an interesting excursus on the modern history of the Altar, how politics has shaped scholarly opinion here. According to her own close technical analysis of the details and patterns left by chisels, drills, and other tools -- an analysis accompanied by an exemplary set of close-up photographs -- we must discard the Greek master theory, and trawl the traditions of Roman Republican relief sculpture for the makers of the Ara Pacis. The argument is well-made, but runs the risk of hair-splitting. We may agree with Conlin that Augustus, unlike Hadrian, probably did not directly recruit sculptors from Athens to make `Neo-Attic' pieces. But whether those who carved the Ara Pacis were `pure' Roman by descent or training must remain doubtful (if it matters at all). Conlin wants an eclecticism of Roman, Etruscan, Italic, and Greek styles to prevail on the friezes of the Ara Pacis; but there is no reason why flexible and itinerant or immigrant Greeks could not have come up with such an accommodating mixture -- and historically the ethnic origin of sculptors in both Etruria and Rome was likely to be Greek. Romanitas is more readily isolated in the buildings and operations of the port-city of Ostia. (B)(**)Roman Ostia' Revisited(9) honours the memory of Ostia's champion Russell Meiggs, in tide and substance. After a few fond remembrances of the bushy-browed scholar himself, we are offered a useful collection of essays, in divers languages, on the history and archaeology of the site, and indeed what I suppose might be called its hermeneutics, with a teasing bundle of thoughts from Nicholas Purcell on Rome's `facade maritime'. A nice example of the posthumous festschrift: it should sit next to Meiggs as an honourable addendum, neither dwarfing nor undermining the original. Finally, (B)(**)The Landscape of Roman Britain(10) opens a window on Romano-British history which for many Classicists has been hitherto secret. Palaeobotanical research has been steadily developing in archaeological laboratories around Britain, and enabling a new sort of historiography. What crops came into cultivation where, and when? What were people living on -- and what diseases were causing their deaths? These are questions which have answers contained on microscope slides, as charred plant remains and waterlogged pollens are examined and attributed. Add the evidence of animal bones, and from such miniature bodies of evidence wider claims can be made: concerning, for example, the extent of Romanization in this or that part of Britain. Already some urban sites, in particular York, have yielded rich information at this microscopic level. What this book presents is a synthesis of material from around the country. Most books on Roman Britain do not include such considerations; and one has only to look at the brief impressionistic remarks on Roman Britain in W. G. Hoskins's The Making of the English Landscape to realize how much knowledge of the Romano-British environment has recently been advanced.

((*) denotes that a book is specially recommended for school libraries; (**) that it is suitable for advanced students only; (B) that a bibliography is included.)

NOTES

(1.) Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece. By Andrew Stewart. Cambridge U.P., 1997. Pp. xiv + 272, with 12 colour plates, 159 figures, and 1 map. 45.00 [pounds sterling].

(2.) Naked Truths. Women, Sexuality and Gender in Classical Art and Archaeology. Edited by Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow and Claire L. Lyons. Routledge, London and New York, 1997. Pp. xv + 315, with 60 figures and 2 tables. 50.00 [pounds sterling].

(3.) The Alexander Mosaic. Stories of Victory and Defeat. Cambridge Studies in Classical Art and Iconography. By Ada Cohen. Cambridge U.P., 1997. Pp. xvi + 279, with 8 colour plates and 81 figures. 45.00 [pounds sterling].

(4.) Hellenistic Fortifications. From the Aegean to the Euphrates. Oxford Monographs on Classical Archaeology. By A. W. McNicoll with Revisions and an Additional Chapter by N. P. Milner. Oxford U.P., 1997. Pp. xxv + 230, with 96 plates and 53 figures, 14 tables, and 2 maps. 65.00 [pounds sterling].

(5.) The Glasgow Collections. The Hunterian Museum, The Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery, Kelvingrove, The Burrell Collection. CVA Great Britain, Fasicule 18. By Elizabeth Moignard. Oxford U.P., 1997. Pp. 68, with 60 pages of plates. 55.00 [pounds sterling].

(6.) (B)(**)The Insula of the Menander at Pompeii. Volume I: the Structures. By Roger Ling. Oxford U.P., 1997. Pp. xviii + 393, with 131 plates and 62 figures. 85.00 [pounds sterling].

(7.) Roman Architecture and Society. Ancient Society and History. By James C. Anderson, it. Johns Hopkins U.P., 1997. Pp. xxiii + 442, with illustrations. 35.00 [pounds sterling].

(8.) The Artists of the Ara Pacis. The Process of Hellenization in Roman Relief Sculpture. Studies in the History of Greece and Rome. By Diane Atnally Conlin. University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Pp. xviii + 145, with 247 figures. $65.00.

(9.) `Roman Ostia' Revisited. Archaeological and Historical Papers in Memory of Russell Meiggs. Edited by Anna Gallina Zevi and Amanda Claridge. British School at Rome, London, 1996. Pp. xx + 307, with 120 illustrations. 35.00 [pounds sterling]. Available from Oxbow Books.

(10.) The Landscape of Roman Britain. By Ken Dark and Petra Dark Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1997. Pp. vi + 186, with illustrations. 18.99 [pounds sterling].
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Title Annotation:Subject Reviews
Author:Spivey, Nigel
Publication:Greece & Rome
Article Type:Bibliography
Date:Apr 1, 1998
Words:2022
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