Art/ifacts and ArtWorks in the Ancient World, ed. Karen Sonik

By Hannah McDonald
08/10/2021

This volume assembles leading art historians, archaeologists, and philologists to critically examine contemporary approaches to the arts and artifacts of the ancient world. It is dedicated to Professor Holly Pittman, who has indelibly shaped the contemporary field of ancient Near Eastern Studies. To honor the spirit and nature of Holly’s remarkable contributions, the volume is designed not as a traditional festschrift but as a gift in kind, a deliberately and thematically coherent work—if one simultaneously very rich and diverse in the breadth of its approaches, theoretical concerns, and case studies—that looks both to the foundations of the field and to its future.

The volume’s thirteen contributions address seven principal themes: Art | Artifact, Representation, Context, Complexity, Materiality, Space, and Time | Afterlives. A number of sub-themes and questions also thread through the work as a whole: How might art historical, archaeological, anthropological, and philological approaches to the ancient world complement and inform each other? What material and conceptual slippages characterize our contemporary engagement with things from the past? Where might a thing’s meaning and authenticity inhere if not in its form and matter? What are the processes through which the past is actively recreated and re-imagined in the present? And how do analyses of the arts and artifacts of the ancient world participate in and contribute to contemporary discourses emerging from a diverse array of other disciplines?

The contributors to the volume include (alphabetically by first name) Barbara Helwing, Beate Pongratz-Leisten, Christopher Thornton, David Kertai, Greta Van Buylaere, Joshua Jeffers, Karen S. Rubinson, Karen Sonik, Kevin M. McGeough, Marcella Frangipane, Marian Feldman, Matt Waters, Paul Delnero, Rita Wright.

Beate Pongratz-Leisten wrote a chapter titled “Seeing and Knowing: Cultural Concepts and the Deictic Power of the Image in Mesopotamia. In this contribution, Pongratz-Leisten investigates the production of royal imagery—with an emphasis on the image of king as warrior as it developed through close communication between the king, scholars, and craftsmen—as well as its conceptual expression and representation of specific cultural and ideological agendas. She argues that the mental image and Denkform (conceptual metaphor) of cosmic order is the basis of its realization in every medium (including pictorial, textual, and ritual) and explores issues of inner as opposed to exterior visualizations and the relationship between verbal and pictorial expression. Pongratz-Leisten also investigates the variety of effects—cognitive, practical, and affective—of the image and its capacity to presence simultaneous temporalities as a significant aspect of its agency. The repertoire of divine and royal warrior representations in Mesopotamia serves as case study for these theoretical considerations, and Pongratz-Leisten argues that the affect of such images is promoted by the gesturality of human and divine action, which created a powerful Bildakt (effect) on the beholder.

Karen S. Rubinson wrote a chapter titled “The Context(ualization) of Art in Non-Literate Societies: Armenian Middle Bronze Age Images and Animal Bones.” In this contribution, Rubinson examines Norman Bryson’s discussion of art historical context for its relevance to archaeological context. More specifically, her chapter investigates both the art historical and archaeological contexts of a ceramic vessel painted with nine horses that was excavated from tomb 7 at the site of Nerkin Naver in west-central Armenia. Dating to the Middle Bronze Age (last quarter of the third to first half of the second millennium BCE), this tomb contained a single human together with animal bones—bull, sheep, and horse—and more than 60 ceramic vessels including the jar painted with horses. Rubinson demonstrates that, without knowledge of its archaeological context, the Nerkin Naver painted jar, with its unique imagery of horses, could not be fully appreciated or understood. A diachronic review of evidence for the presence of horses in the Bronze and Iron Age South Caucasus, combined with an investigation of the places where such evidence occurs, enrich our understanding of the meaning of the horse imagery on the painted jar. The information gleaned from these analyses enable us to understand why the artist responsible for the Nerkin Naver painted jar chose to depict horse imagery; it also raises new questions about other types of imagery and decoration on Middle Bronze Age pottery in the South Caucasus.