The Art of the Body: Antiquity and Its Legacy
London, I. B. Tauris, 2011, ISBN: 9781845119300; 256pp.; Price: £12.99
University of California at Berkeley
Date accessed: 3 June, 2023
As L. P. Hartley famously remarked in The Go-Between (1953), ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. This was more prescient than he knew, for most of the English-speaking world now seems to view the past not merely as foreign but as totally alien – diverting at times, perhaps, but utterly irrelevant to them and their lives.
To quote its publisher and editor, this ‘exciting new series’ aspires to change all that: ‘to show how antiquity is relevant to life today’. Aimed at ‘students and general readers ... it seeks to engage, provoke, and stimulate, and to show how, for large parts of the world, Graeco-Roman antiquity continues to be relevant to debates in culture, politics, and society’ (p. ix). A Quixotic crusade. For in the United States at least, if a book of this kind doesn’t catch fire on Amazon or isn’t geared to a college course, one might as well save the ink and paper.
Squire takes his charge ‘to engage, provoke, and stimulate’ seriously. Relentlessly jaunty, he tends to veer from point to point as if writing for the attention-deficient, seeking ‘to collapse history ... not just “ancients and moderns”, but each through, alongside, and in relation to the other’ (p. 29; Squire’s italics). He profusely peppers his narrative, British tabloid style, with puckish puns, jangling jingles, and artful alliterations (plus some exasperating exaggerations), of which I offer a scanty sample: ‘A passé past?’ (p. 24); ‘V-ness’ (p. 71, on Aphrodite’s crotch); ‘turn this manmade manikin into mortal muff’ (p. 87: muff?); ‘ideal idol turns living idle doll’ (p. 88); ‘delightfully derrièred’ (p. 90, Aphrodite again); ‘the nude portrait – a bare necessity’ (p. 126); ‘face-to-face value’ (p. 129); and most egregiously, ‘wholly holey holy lord’ (p. 174). Ouch.
The book’s structure is straightforward. An introduction reasserts antiquity’s relevance; attacks the mutually exclusive parochialism of many classical archaeologists and historians of more recent art; and articulates three guiding principles.
First, that the ancient art of the body is to be found everywhere we look: like it or not—and there have been many reasons for not liking it—antiquity has supplied the mould for all subsequent attempts to figure and figure out the human body. Second, the book argues that the afterlife of ancient images necessarily complicates our understanding of what they ‘originally’ meant: each modern re-appropriation of ancient models muddles the assumed distinction between antiquity and modernity in the first place. Thirdly and finally, my objective has been to demonstrate, through a series of diachronic case studies, how ancient and modern corpora of images shed light on each other. When viewed comparatively, ancient and modern images of the body prove at once familiar and strange: there follows a process of mutual illumination’ (pp. xi-xii; Squire’s italics).
Chapter one, ‘Embodying the classical,’ begins with Canova’s Napoleon and moves from its neo-classical aesthetic and assumptions through Polykleitos’s Doryphoros, Renaissance canons, ‘body fascism’ (Sandow, Breker, Thorak, and Riefenstahl), and assorted modern anticlassical ‘-isms’, to Dalí and Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant. A coda begs indulgence on grounds of space for downplaying painting, relief sculpture, and other media, plus ‘huge topics’ (p. 31) such as desire and homoeroticism, images of Orientals and Others, the suffering body, hybrids, monsters, and the dead.
To these omissions add the baroque and its enormously influential icon, the Laokoon, mentioned (without illustration) only on pp. 15, 51–3, and 118. Since Squire used it as a Leitmotiv in an earlier book, this is puzzling – until the penny drops. Despite its inclusive title, this book is more about classicism and its discontents than about ‘the art of the body’ as such.
Chapter two tackles the ‘Greek miracle’ and its consequences, beginning with the ‘textbook’ case (p. 33) of Ernst Gombrich’s Story of Art (1950) and its classic narrative of Greek making and matching, from Athenian Geometric stick men through kouroi to the Kritios Boy.
Proceeding via the Renaissance to Winckelmann, Squire disputes both the realist and democratic/liberal interpretations of this ‘Miracle’ and then uses the Doryphoros, Myron’s Diskobolos, and others to argue that Renaissance and Enlightenment concerns have corrupted our eyes and minds, and that their real driving force is the search for clarity of articulation and ‘continuity of convention’ (p. 60). Thud. He concludes:
For my money, we are not dealing with (what later writers would rationalize as) ‘naturalism’ at all ... rather, these changes in presentational mode are bound up with changing cultural, intellectual, and theological ideas about figuration on the one hand, and about the individual viewing subject on the other. Above all ... it was challenges in (re-)presenting the gods that were at issue ...’ (pp. 67–8).
Intriguing at first sight, this catch-all paragraph actually explains almost nothing, and the gods – hitherto completely absent – immediately vanish again. We shall revisit this chapter – and the next – below.
Chapter three, the longest, discusses the female nude. After pondering the suffragette attack on Velázquez’ Rokeby Venus, Squire focuses on Praxiteles’ Knidian Aphrodite, mobilizing Berger, Clark, Mulvey, Laqueur, Botticelli, Dürer, and Alma Tadema to unpack its tangled legacy. The resulting narrative of soft porn, voyeurism, and prostitution is complicated, however, by the tales of the Judgment of Paris, Zeuxis and the maidens of Kroton, Pygmalion, and Ruskin’s traumatic wedding night – plus the Venus de Milo. The upshot: (a) ‘No woman, it seems, could ever live up to Zeuxis’ male imagination’ (p. 82); (b) it reduces ‘’woman’ ... to ... fetishized segments’ (p. 83), minus pubic hair and even genitals; and (c) ‘the ancient material matters within modern-day debates about gender, pornography, and representation’ (p. 88; Squire’s italics).
Having thus entwined ancient and modern, Squire then disentangles them. He first reconstructs the Knidia in her original setting; then unpicks these assorted reactions in order to re-establish some historical distance; and finally stresses – correctly – that above all the statue represented a goddess, and that any historical interpretation must begin with this obvious but usually (not ‘always’, p. 96; Squire’s italics) overlooked fact. ‘Just what might it mean to encounter a [naked] godhead?’ (p. 102). The last few pages ponder issues of transgression, including Artemis and Actaeon, and the notorious ‘Slipper-slapper’ from Delos.
Chapter four turns to Rome. A matron as Venus and (again) Canova’s Napoleon spark a discussion of ‘nudity as a costume’ (Larisa Bonfante) as an elevating device. Squire then examines the predominantly negative reactions, Napoleon’s included, to Canova’s colossus, Greenough’s George Washington (1841), and finally Giorgio Gori’s wondrously kitschy Genius of Fascism (1937): a naked Mussolini perched uncomfortably astride a horse. Ancient precedents are invoked, including Perikles, the Tyrannicides (see below), the Terme General, and the Pseudo-Athlete (a Roman trader) from Delos. Alternative formats are investigated via a togate and a cuirassed Augustus (the Primaporta one), with a bizarre assessment of their supposed novelty and shock effect. For the muscle cuirass had been invented by 700 B.C. and had appeared in portraits in armor by 500. Conventionalized for half a millennium, how could the latter have appeared ‘ridiculous’ (p. 141) to Romans, the Primaporta statue included? Moreover, Squire has forgotten that Augustus’s wife Livia commissioned the statue for her own villa – to ridicule him? Also, the Caesars could not and did not aspire to ‘absolute, totalitarian control’ (p. 141). Happily for the Romans and unhappily for us, totalitarianism is a modern invention, abetted by the technological revolution of the 20th century.
Fortunately, Squire’s generally sensitive discussion of the later emperors eschews such hyperbole, ending with some interesting musings on corporeal hybridity and fragmentation, aided by a late Egyptian portrait mummy. Yet throughout, the fundamental Roman attitude to Greek portraiture eludes him – especially the Greek conviction that the whole body constituted the person, and the authoritative portrait conventions it generated. For Romans focused above all on the face (facies), which projected one’s persona. Bodies – naked, clothed, armored, and so on – were vehicles, mere supplements, and thus (in portraiture) optional. Hence the often inchoate and/or almost invisible bodies beneath these togas; the Roman partiality for the bust; and contemporary physiognomers’ increasing focus on the face, especially the eyes. None of this surfaces in Squire’s chapter.
Chapter five, ‘On gods made men made images’, concludes the book. It begins with Tommaso Laureti’s stunning Triumph of Christianity of 1585 in the Vatican, showing the crucified Christ in a vast Renaissance basilica presiding over a shattered antique marble nude. With heavy irony, Squire asks: ‘Could the Vatican, with the largest modern-day collection of classical sculpture, really claim to have abandoned the ancient?’ (p. 156). Indeed it could, since in 1585 it no longer had such a collection. 19 years earlier, the newly elected, hard-line Pius V had issued his momentous decree banishing all pagan sculpture from its halls, since ‘it was not fitting that Peter’s successor keep idols in his house’. In the greatest giveaway of the Renaissance, many went to the Conservatori on the Capitoline and to Pius’s favorite cardinals, and the rest to Francesco I of Tuscany, Albert V of Bavaria, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II. Only the Laokoon, the Belvedere Torso and Apollo, and a few others remained in their eponymous cortile, behind firmly locked doors. Hence, presumably, Laureti’s fresco.
The rest of the chapter, otherwise perhaps the best of the book, addresses in a sophisticated and accessible way the protocols and paradoxes of figuring the divine, ranging from Mark Wallinger’s gay icon Ecce Homo and Danish cartoons of Mohammed, to the well-known Greek conflation of divinity and image. The key point, well taken, is that ‘this cultic-cum-cultural background is crucial for understanding the history of early Christianity’ (p. 168), especially since it conflicted head-on with the resolute aniconism of the Jewish tradition. The result: the Christian cult of icons and its bouts of iconoclasm; the ‘word made flesh’ and the Trinity. And even (by a bit of a stretch), Hegel and the ‘end of painting’ with the 20th century’s increasing dedication to abstraction, not to mention performance art and ‘happenings’.
To return to the ancient Greek male and female nudes, where our differences – and Squire’s lacunae – are greatest. Once again (actually, thrice), he simply hasn’t done his homework. Briefly, the evidence indicates (and I would contend) that the Greek gods were made in man’s image, not vice versa; that the Greek male nude is broadly political, a construct of the independent polis or city state (1); and that the female one – more correctly, as Squire rightly emphasizes, Aphrodite and her ilk – is historically and geographically contingent too.
Thus, the kouros (pp. 32–42, figs. 17–20), naked, youthful, beautiful, autonomous, and happy, bodies forth Homer’s ‘long-haired Achaeans’ (Iliad 1.91, 2.44, 4.12, 3.43, etc.). Representing ‘the best of the Achaeans’ (ibid.), it was conceived for their successors, the ruling elites of the emerging poleis of archaic Greece, at a time when the underprivileged, often led by upstart strongmen or ‘tyrants’ (tyrannoi), had begun to threaten their monopoly on power. Egypt’s sudden receptivity to Greek commerce provided the catalyst, but the result, as Gombrich and Squire correctly note, is Greek through and through.
Kouroi, then, represented the gilded youth of this brazenly elitist society in all its shining splendor, brilliant in peace and glorious in war, serving as models for Apollo and other gods. Though they staunchly maintained their standardized format (signaling the solidarity and stability of their elite patrons) for a full 150 years, distinct local physiques – that is, local styles of male beauty – soon emerged. And when populist tyrants and democrats began to prevail, they began to vanish.
The classical body that replaced them (pp. 41–68, figs. 21–6) is an artifact of the Persian wars. In its first incarnation, which archaeologists label the Severe Style, its most obvious characteristics are simplicity, strength, vigor, rationality, and intelligence, conveyed via simple proportions and clear-cut contrapposto; dynamic postures and robust modeling; and sober facial expressions. Late archaic works offer occasional precedents (for nothing comes out of nothing), but as a coherent, integrated entity the Severe Style materializes suddenly and in revealing circumstances. Whereas the debris left in 480/79 by the Persian and (in Sicily) Carthaginian invaders is purely archaic, the Tyrannicides by Kritios and Nesiotes (p. 125), commissioned by the Athenian democracy in 477 (2), prove that the Severe Style had indeed emerged by that date. Indeed, this uniquely tight chronology suggests that the cliché that they represent this style’s ‘official birthday’ may be literally correct.
Given this chronology and the style’s rapid spread, it can hardly be coincidental that the battles of 480-79 had established Greek physical superiority over the barbarian invaders as a fact, and that simplicity, rationality, pondered thought, and self control were precisely the qualities they prized above all and denied to their ‘barbarian’ enemies. So, just like 1914, Hiroshima, and 9/11, these invasions were a ‘tipping point’: earthshaking events after which everything looks utterly different. Elated by their miraculous deliverance, basking in their dearly bought freedom, convinced of their military, physical, and cultural superiority, and spurning both archaic elitism and barbarian excess, after 479 the Greeks simply reinvented their own self-image and their own body image too.
As for the Knidian Aphrodite (pp. 72–114, figs. 34, 36), Squire cites her cult title of Euploia, ‘Fair-Sailing’ (p. 88), lamenting inter alia the ‘remarkably little [bibliography] on [her] cultic stakes’ (p. 215). Yet what of the extensive literature on these maritime Aphrodite cults and their message of harmony between man and sea (and thus between the lands connected by the latter)? Of Knidos’s history and maritime connections? Of key discoveries in the Euploia sanctuary? Not to mention other recent reconstructions of the statue and the responses it perhaps was meant to evoke.(3) So faut de mieux, here goes.
It can hardly be coincidental that this pioneering work was commissioned by a Greek seaport under Persian rule, located on the cusp between Greece and the Levant, and frequented by Greek and Phoenician sailors, who presumably dedicated the dozens of terracotta figurines of the naked Astarte/Ashtart holding her breasts found in the sanctuary.(4) The city’s relocation around 370 from further east to its present site, generating an immediate need for new shrines and cult statues, evidently prompted the commission. (Pliny’s tale of two Aphrodites, one draped and one naked, offered speculatively for sale and bought by Kos and Knidos, respectively, is a ‘Just-So’ story, as Squire (p. 91) sensibly recognizes.)
The Knidia’s glance, ancient writers tell us (but Squire does not), was ‘melting’ and her smile was ‘proud, a grin that just parts the lips’.(5) Though the Roman copyists miss these subtleties, they do faithfully catch her averted head and sideways glance. All this was completely new in the genre (compare Pheidias’s Athena Parthenos (pl. 12)), and is key to her meaning and impact. For while a naïve spectator would see only a beautiful, naked goddess, nonchalantly turning away from him, an astute one would sense a second visitor to the shrine: someone off to his right at whom she looks and smiles. The drachma drops. Is this rival her irascible, implacable lover: the blood-soaked, man-slaughtering Ares?! (‘Run away! Run away!!’) Hence Aphrodite’s (presumably) pre-coital bathing ritual, no mere ‘fictional excuse’ (p. 94) for her nudity, but an integral part of her erotic mythology and well attested textually.(16)
A Hellenistic epigram mentioned by Squire (p. 100) indirectly confirms this reading, ending with the line that ‘[Praxiteles’] chisel carved [her] just as Ares would have wanted her’ (Planudean Anthology 160). The Slipper-Slapper (pp. 110–14, pl. 8), substituting Pan for Ares, confirms it too.
This teasing strategy of simultaneous invitation and rejection is precisely that of the love triangle. Like the goddess's sheer size and cultic setting, it affirms her independence from the viewer, even as her nakedness and alluring posture dangle the possibility of a relationship. Such triangles were a specialty of ancient Greek courtesans or hetairai: those beautiful, independent, clever, and witty women of the world whose power and notoriety were soaring exactly when Praxiteles took up his chisel. The Athenian comic poets show that Knidos was a magnet for them, and as Squire notes (pp. 100–1), tradition held that one, Praxiteles' own mistress Phryne (or Kratine), modeled for the statue.
Indeed, in this tradition, Phryne/Kratine and Aphrodite, and specifically she and the Knidian Aphrodite, were indivisible: Phryne was the goddess’s earthly avatar and the Knidia was the archetypal hetaira.(7) Knidos’s numerous hetairai surely paid her special attention. All this may even shed new light on her startling nakedness. For hetairai behaved more like men than women. Financially independent, educated, witty, and sexually aggressive, they imitated male behavior, using masculine body language, proud smiles, gentle grins, and even masculine eros-magic to gain their ends.(8) So in art, maybe their nakedness didn’t signal vulnerability, as with ordinary women, but instead was quasi-masculine, a sign of autonomy and power.
So like the Euploia cult itself, was Praxiteles’ statue also a product of this ‘east-west drift of religious technology’?(9) For she brilliantly revives the ancient Near Eastern concept of the naked love-goddess as the ultimate courtesan. Fostering tranquil commerce and harmony between the Levant and Greece, and located physically between them and temporally between the age of the polis and Alexander's conquest of the East, she spoke eloquently to Greek and Easterner alike. Eloquently but not equally, for her form and setting were purely Greek.
And the language that she spoke was one of female power exercised through sexual choice. For Praxiteles understood that when the spectator is conventionally gendered male, and femininity is synonymous with passivity, the sovereign, independent female subjectivity that a goddess must possess may only be constructed by moving outside convention. To the Greek mind, it could only transpire outside the ‘normal’ woman's strictly regulated social progression from virgin to wife, from parthenos to gynê. And that meant turning to the demimonde: the world of the hetaira and her near-Eastern counterparts, the halimet and harimtu. For like Aphrodite, Astart, and Ishtar, they too straddled the boundaries of the social matrix. They inhabited a liminal space that allowed them a modicum of social and sexual choice.
The birth of the Western male and female nudes is truly a singular tale, still properly to be told.
- See the reviewer’s Greek Sculpture (fn. 1), pp. 109–10, 133–6; Art, Desire, and the Body in Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 63–75; Classical Greece and the Birth of Western Art (Cambridge, 2008) pp. 28–33, 60–3; ‘The Persian and Carthaginian invasions of 480 B.C.E. and the beginning of the classical style’, American Journal of Archaeology, 112 (2008), 377–412, 581–615 (<http://www.ajaonline.org/article/240> [accessed 23 April 2012] and http://www.ajaonline.org/article/256 [accessed 23 April 2012]); with, for example, Marion Meyer and Nora Brüggeman, Kore und Kouros: Weihgaben für die Götter (Vienna, 2007), pp. 119–33; and Sheila Dillon’s ‘Review of Richard Neer, The Emergence of the Classical Style in Greek Sculpture’, Art Bulletin, 94 (2012), 130–3, at 133.Back to (1)
- For illustrations of the Tyrannicides, see, for example, Greek Sculpture figs. 227–31; Art, Desire, and the Body figs. 40–1; ‘The Persian and Carthaginian Invasions’ figs. 2, 20; and Classical Greece fig. 34.Back to (2)
- Euploia and related maritime cults: Elena Miranda, ‘Osservazioni sul culto di Euploia’, Miscellanei greci e romani, 14 (1989), 133–4 (1989), 133-3ulto di Euploia,n't know the word myself...7; Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, L’Aphrodite grecque (Athens and Liège, 1994) pp. 33 n. 98 (bibliography), 373, 433–7; Mustafa Sahin, ‘Terrakotten aus Knidos: Erste Ergebnisse. Die Kulte auf den Rundtempelterrasse’, Istanbuler Mitteilungen, 55 (2005), 65–93; cf. Gabriela Pironti, Entre ciel et guerre. Figures d’Aphrodite en Grèce ancienne (Liège, 2007), pp. 245–7; and see now Aphrodite and the Gods of Love, ed. Christine Kondoleon and Phoebe C. Segal (exh. cat., Boston, MA, 2012), esp. pp. 47–51. Reconstructions and responses: Kristen Seaman, ‘Retrieving the original Aphrodite of Knidos’, Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Anno 401. Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche. Rendiconti, 9.15.3 (2004), 531–94; cf. the reviewer’s Art, Desire, and the Body 97–106; and now ‘A tale of seven nudes: the Capitoline and Medici Aphrodites, four nymphs at Elean Herakleia, and an Aphrodite at Megalopolis’, Antichthon, 44 (2010), 12–32.Back to (3)
- Iris C. Love, ‘A preliminary report of the excavations at Knidos, 1972’, American Journal of Archaeology, 77 (1973), 413–24, at 419, pl. 74, fig. 12; Sahin, op. cit. (fn. 5), 70–2.Back to (4)
- Lucian, Imagines, 6; Lucian, Amores, 13.Back to (5)
- Homer, Odyssey, 8.360–7; Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, (5) 58–67; Greek Anthology, 9.619, 633, 637; etc.Back to (6)
- Athenaeus, 13, 590; Clemens Alexandrinus, Protrepticus, 53; Athenagoras, Leg. pro Christ. 14.Back to (7)
- See in general, Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World, ed. Christopher Faraone and Laura K. McClure (Madison, WI, 2006). Proud smiles, etc.: Theocritus, Idylls, 20.12–15 (the hetaira Eunica). Eros magic: Faraone, Ancient Greek Love Magic (Cambridge and London, 1999), pp. 146–60.Back to (8)
- Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution. Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Cambridge, MS, 1992), pp. 96–100.Back to (9)
Bodies and Antibodies: A response to Andrew Stewart
Reviewing books is a formidable task. Reviewing reviews even more so. Let me therefore begin by thanking Andrew Stewart for engaging at such length with my The Art of the Body: Antiquity and its Legacy, and for setting out our interpretative agreements and differences so spiritedly. For the book to be assigned so prominent and distinguished a reviewer is honour indeed, and it is in the same spirit of dialogical exchange that I have accepted the invitation to respond.
Stewart has carefully summarised the book’s content, offering some important critiques along the way; he then elaborated three major differences of opinion and approach. I’m going to proceed in reverse order. I begin by engaging with the reviewer’s three most substantial objections, using these to clarify some larger epistemological differences. For those interested in the nitty-gritty, I’ll then tackle some more microscopic (but no less important) points of detail. I should emphasise from the outset that I see the reviewer’s responses as objections not of empirical evidence, but rather of interpretation and method. Because the discipline of (Classical) art history is a broad Church, there is therefore – thankfully, in my view – room for a variety of different approaches.
I have least to say about Stewart’s first critique (which, I take it, refers to chapter two?): namely, that ‘the Greek gods were made in man’s image, not vice versa’. I’d be the first to agree with the first half of the sentence, the subject of chapter five (pp. 154–201). But I am perplexed by the subsequent qualification. Surely Greek anthropomorphism always and necessarily involves a ‘vice versa’; indeed, truth be told, I can’t see how Stewart would say otherwise. It’s clear that I don’t understand the logic of Stewart’s argument here: I look forward to discussing it with him in person.
Stewart’s second criticism strikes me as more substantial. Referring again to my second chapter, Stewart claims that my account of the ‘Greek revolution’ – that is, the rise of ‘naturalistic’ sculpture in the sixth and fifth centuries BC – plays down political and social contingencies. The argument will be familiar to recent readers of the American Journal of Archaeology, in which Stewart has published his latest interventions (referenced under his first footnote). For Stewart, the stylistic developments of the Archaic period give bodily form to contemporary historical advancements. The Persian Wars in the early fifth century are judged to play the most decisive rôle: after them, we are told, ‘everything looks utterly different’; indeed, ‘this uniquely tight chronology suggests that the cliché that they represent this style’s “official birthday” may be literally correct’.
Now, I am sympathetic to aspects of Stewart’s argument here. But since this has been flagged as a touchstone of intellectual difference, let me come clean about my own position. Space limits me here to just two responses, the first engaging with the reviewer on his own historicist terms, the second outlining the particular tack taken in the chapter under review.
Donning first the ‘Classical Archaeologist’ hat, I suppose my historicist difficulty with Stewart’s argument is that it prioritises fifth-century developments over those of the seventh and sixth centuries. According to this argument, the ‘Persian Wars’ become all too easy a platform for rationalising change (‘just like 1914, Hiroshima and 9/11’): ‘after 479 the Greeks simply reinvented their own self-image and their own body image too’. But if we can be sure of one thing about this styled stylistic ‘revolution’, it is that nothing here is ‘simple’. For whatever else we make of the ‘new’ sculpted ‘self-image’, it has a much longer and more complex history (not only in sculpture, I would add, but also in other artistic media besides). It is for this same reason that I worry about Stewart’s labelling of materials which pre-date the 479BC Perserschutt as ‘purely archaic’. I’m evidently not the only one to feel uneasy. One of the things Richard Neer has championed in his ground-breaking book on the Emergence of the Classical Style, for example, is the continuity between what we have long distinguished as the ‘Archaic’ and the ‘Classical’: for Neer, as opposed to Stewart, ‘Classical style [is] a logical extension of Archaic practice’ – ‘it is not a revolution or a miracle so much as an ongoing elaboration of established precedent’.(1) To be fair to my reviewer, Stewart’s response has drastically oversimplified the author’s position, eschewing the subtleties of his earlier argumentation; as I have suggested elsewhere, moreover, I also wonder whether Neer goes just a little too far in ironing out stylistic-cum-chronological difference.(2) Still, as a historian of Greek art, I am more sympathetic to the materialist thrust of Neer’s arguments than to Stewart’s inherently Hegelian recourse to external Zeitgeist. Readers may or may not agree: such is the nature of interpretation – and such is the character of academic debate.
This brings me to my second mode of response. For to engage with Stewart on his own historicist terms – to don only the historicist hat of my previous paragraph – would be to misconstrue the intellectual remit of the book under review. Stewart writes that the chapter’s argument, ‘intriguing at first sight … explains almost nothing’ (this time, his italics). But I think this underlying rhetoric of ‘explanation’ is revealing: it reflects a relentlessly historicist – and, in my view, a highly reductive – mode of ‘doing’ art history, one that seeks to flatten out complications (and indeed the complexity of the questions). As the chapter repeatedly emphasises, my objective was not (or at least not solely) to peddle a narrative about either Greek art or Greek history. My purpose, rather, was an evaluative one: to use the so-called ‘Greek revolution’ as a springboard for analysing an important intersection between antiquity and modernity.
My objective in this chapter is therefore historiographic rather than simply historical: to pose some larger questions about how we moderns have conventionally figured the history of ancient art. This point is important because it’s all too easy to overlook: that the stories we tell about ancient images are ideologically invested in our modernity; by extension, that the stories we tell about modern figurative art are themselves forged out of our histories of the ancient (pp. 32–3)
I stand by the position: that in order to evaluate any particular historical ‘explanation’ of the ‘Greek revolution’ (how ‘naturalism’ came about), we have to be very clear about the phenomenon we are attempting to explain (what ‘naturalism’ is).
Among those trained in art history, at least, there would seem nothing controversial about this claim. One thinks, most famously, of Normal Bryson’s critique of Gombrich in his brilliant Vision and Painting, or Tom Mitchell’s pioneering work on what he labels Iconology.(3) Likewise, for anyone interested in relating western Classical traditions to wider ‘world art history’, this ideological critique proves the starting-point for a wholly more universalising mode of analysis (how, for example, to make comparative sense of the artistic developments of Archaic Greek sculpture on the one hand, and the ‘naturalistic’ revolutions of images from Han Dynasty China on the other?).(4) Not all classicists see eye to eye with such encroachments of ‘theory’: as one Classical archaeologist is quoted as asking on p. xiv, why should we subject Classical materials ‘to the service of ideologies bred by modern concerns with race, gender and psychology’? To my mind, though, ideology always matters, not least among those who deny possessing it. This is why, as I suggest in the book, our modern histories of Classical art appear sometimes to have jumped the metaphorical gun (pp. 62–3). Following on from Winckelmann – who himself follows on from Vasari, who follows on from Pliny (‘“ancients and moderns”… each through, alongside and in relation to the other’, p. 29…) – there is a tendency to forget how our explanations of historical contingences are themselves contingent on acculturated ways of seeing.
This brings me to the book’s specific contretemps with Stewart on pp. 54–5.(5) The reviewer leaves this critique unreferenced; to be fair, I could have quoted any number of scholars (as it turns out, of course, I rather wish it had: the critique, let me repeat, was in no way ad hominem). Stewart’s description of the Critian Boy’s ‘blithe optimism’ as a ‘breath of fresh air’ has struck a chord with many: ‘at last conscious of their surroundings, [such statues] seem to live, breathe and think, to consider alternatives…’; ‘quietly musing before the gods, they invite us to join them in contemplation’; we witness ‘the abandonment of the archaic manner for a greater fidelity to natural appearance’, etc. Whatever else we make of such romantic adulation, my difficulty is with overlooking the larger ideological stakes: we think that we’re explaining a story about antiquity plain and simple, and yet our narratives are simultaneously invested in the phenomenon which we evaluatively describe. It’s becoming an all too familiar refrain: ‘we’ve thought about ancients without thinking about moderns; moreover, we’ve retro-projected onto antiquity our own modern ideas about artistic realism, replication, and illusion’ (p. 63).(6)
It is from this same perspective of ‘ancients and moderns’ that I would tackle Stewart’s third critique, this time in response to chapter three, concerned with the ‘Ancient female nude (and other modern fictions)’. Stewart’s point about the geographical contingencies of the Knidian Aphrodite is well taken. So too are the bibliographic references. As it happens, I very much agree with the historicist argument about Astarte’s influence: if anything, I would take respectful issue with Stewart’s assumption that the ‘form and setting [of the Knidian Aphrodite] were purely Greek’ (actually, the bibliography that he cites paints a rather more complex picture, as he is undoubtedly aware).
Stewart’s position regarding the implied narrative of the Knidian Aphrodite strikes me as more problematic. The argument about the ‘teasing strategy of [the statue’s] simultaneous invitation and rejection’ was precisely the one championed in the chapter. But to single out any single mythological context for the Knidian Aphrodite would seem overly reductionist (‘the drachma drops … ‘“Run away! Run away!!”’, Stewart writes). The reviewer makes recourse to a stand-alone epigram ‘indirectly [to] confirm’ his reading about the supposed contextual importance of Ares. Unfortunately, though, the final couplet to which he refers in Anth. Plan. 160 appears a later addition to the poem; read this corpus of epigrams as a whole, moreover, and we find them staging a plurality of answers to the question of ‘where did Praxiteles see me naked?’ (Anth. Plan. 159–70 – these include mortals as well as gods, among them, Anchises, Paris and Adonis; cf. pp. 100–2). Such playful pluralism is to be expected: this is how Hellenistic epigram works, developing the games and ambiguities of the statue itself.(7) But there is a more fundamental intellectual point to be made: where Stewart turns to ‘texts’ to reconstruct a singular story about the Knidian statue, ancient authors knowingly played upon its multisided polyvalence, and in much more complex and sophisticated ways.
Once again, Stewart’s critique therefore risks distracting from the intellectual remit of the chapter. The book did not set out to reconstruct the original form of the statue (‘almost every academic reaction has smacked of that fateful night chez the Ruskins: no flesh, it seems, could ever live up to the ideal’, p. 90); instead, it tried to show how the statue’s figurative ambiguities embodied ambiguities about its (her?) simultaneous presentation and representation of divine power.(8) For this reason, I would be reluctant to engage with Stewart on his own historicist terms. In this particular case, the book tried at once to champion and to challenge the idea of a single western ‘male gaze’: to explore ancient images of Aphrodite in terms of engendered modern economies of seeing, yes, but also to show how those ancient images simultaneously worked differently from the ‘female nudes’ to which they gave rise.(9)
This is perhaps getting us nowhere: Stewart has his views, and I, it seems, have mine. If we can’t agree on the bigger epistemological picture, let us at least tackle some of the more detailed points. I would be (and was: p. 31) the first to hold up my hands at the charge of selectivity: I would have loved, for example, to have been permitted to write more about the Hellenistic ‘baroque’ (as it is, I noted the modernity of the term, coined to capture the ‘over-the-top’ excesses of both the post-Classical and the post-Renaissance: pp. 51–3). As for the question of whether the book is about the body or about Classicism, I refer readers to my section on the ‘thinking behind the body’ (pp. 7–15): as I explain, I take these as part and parcel of the same package.
What of the charge of not having done one’s homework? Proceeding again in reverse order, let me begin with Tomasso Laureti and his 1580s fresco of The Triumph of Christianity: ‘could the Vatican, with the largest modern-day collection of classical sculpture, really claim to have abandoned the ancient?’ (p. 156). Stewart takes umbrage at my question: ‘indeed it could’, he writes, pointing insightfully to Pius V’s interventions. But the question – and yes, it was a question – nonetheless stands; indeed, given the painting’s Classical architectural frame, I think it impossible to silence. Far be it from me to remind my reviewer of his sixteenth-century papal history. But Old Pius had died some dozen years before Laureti’s fresco was completed in c.1585. Since 1572, moreover, Pope Gregory XIII had presided over a markedly different regime. Whatever else we make of Gregory (his illegitimate son, the pandering to the Jesuits, the confiscations of property, etc…), he was no simple iconoclast: one need only visit the eponymous ‘Gregorian Chapel’ in St Peter’s, originally designed by Michelangelo, to appreciate the point. As for the charge of reneging on research, readers will have to make up their own minds: I refer them to the relevant discussion by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny.(10)
Next comes the issue of Roman heads and bodies (chapter four). I am pleased that Stewart and I reach similar conclusions here.(11) Similarly, the book was fully aware of the pre-history of the cuirass before the Prima Porta Augustus (see the reference to Vermeule’s work on p. 221, or the reference to Pliny on p. 138) (12); my argument, though, was that there had never before been such self-conscious play with the boundaries between body and costume.(13) As for that statue’s cultural and archaeological context, I had not forgotten the findspot of the statue (cf. pp. 135–6), but Stewart will hardly need reminding of the huge bibliography on supposed earlier prototypes – something all too often ignored by Anglophone scholars.(14) Does totalitarianism have a Roman history, or is it a modern invention (‘abetted by the technological revolution of the twentieth century’)? Like corresponding issues about (what we call) ‘Roman propaganda’, this is precisely the sort of question that I would set my undergraduates to tackle: I shall now refer them to Stewart’s single-sided answer, although I would hope to instil a more interrogative mode of response.
We come, finally, to the issue of style and presentation. Language is necessarily a question of individual taste: my own expression was evidently not always to Stewart’s palette (I couldn’t help but chuckle, incidentally, at a renowned expert on the Knidian Aphrodite puzzling over the word ‘muff’). In any case, there’s an important (post-)poststructuralist point to be made. There are all sorts of epistemological reasons for advocating a greater degree of self-conscious prose, especially in a book of this kind. Foremost among them, perhaps, are the playful paradigms of ancient writers themselves. ‘Delightfully-derrièred’ does indeed sound ridiculous. But what to make of the ancient epithet of Aphrodite Kallipygos (‘beautifully-bummed’, ‘raunchily-rumped’, ‘belle-buttocked’)? ‘Wholly holey holy Lord’ is deemed ‘most egregious’ of all, and no doubt reflects the peculiarities of my own cloistered upbringing in a Benedictine monastery (‘ouch’ indeed). Quoted out of context, though, the academic point is all too easily lost. For the phrase refers to the essential paradox of the Christian Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection, and specifically to the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’: what to make of a Christian God whose human body proves at once his/His salvific vehicle and repudiated mortal shell (‘perfect but positively putrid, beautiful but brutally blemished, sublime but irremediably spoiled’, p. 156)? ‘Wholly holey holy Lord’: thrust your palms into the fleshy cavities – see, touch and massage the gaping gore that materialises Christ’s godhead (John 20:29)!(15)
Stewart ends his review by declaring that ‘the birth of Western male and female nudes is truly a singular tale, still properly to be told’. I conclude mine with a contrasting sentiment. Dear readers, let me break it to you gently: if we’ve been waiting 2,500 years for some ‘singular tale’, the chances would appear heavily stacked against us! My purpose was not therefore to write a book ‘geared to a college course’, nor to compose something that would ‘catch fire’ on Amazon (that said, all interested parties are referred to Amazon’s bargain price – a mere snip at £9.21/$15.63, and all major credit cards accepted…). True to the remit of the series, my objective was to make an accessible intervention within the disciplines of both Classics and art history: to show how the stories we tell about the art of the ancient body have always been – and always will be – bound up with changing modern perspectives.
The structure of this book is decidedly idiosyncratic (some will say idiotic). But my foremost aim has been to guide readers through the questions, not to deliver all the answers (which I for one don’t have). The result articulates both a method and a position. For if we only strip down our familiarity with, and investment in, the ‘Classical nude’, this material can illuminate numerous aspects of ancient thought and practice; true to the best traditions of cultural history, moreover, it sheds light on the peculiarities of our own modern mindsets’ (p. 31).
In the light of Stewart’s response, that objective strikes me as more important now than ever: for that, and for his full and frank response, sincere thanks to my reviewer.
- R. Neer, The Emergence of the Classical Style in Greek Sculpture (Chicago, 2010), pp. 85, 99. I refer to Neer’s book – and to the key discussions by both J. Tanner (The Invention of Art History in Ancient Greece: Religion, Society and Artistic Rationalisation (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 31–96) and J. Elsner (‘Reflections on the Greek revolution in art: From changes in viewing to the transformation of subjectivity’, in Rethinking Revolutions Through Ancient Greece, ed. S. Goldhill and R. Osborne (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 68–95) – on p. 209.Back to (1)
- Compare my review of Neer’s book in Anglo-Hellenic Review 45 (2012), 32–3.Back to (2)
- Cf. N. Bryson, Vision and Painting: The Logic of the Gaze (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 13–35; W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago, 1987), esp. pp. 37–40. These and numerous other critical works are referenced on pp. 211–12.Back to (3)
- This is the subject of a forthcoming book project by Jeremy Tanner, developed from his 2012 J. H. Gray lectures in Cambridge (‘Art as institution in early Greece and China’): some other preliminary discussions can be found in S. Kuriyami, The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine (New York, 1999), esp. pp. 111–51; compare also the comparative work on Chinese and Classical sarcophagi in W. Hung and J. Elsner’s special edition of Res (= 61/ 62, spring/ autumn 2012).Back to (4)
- Responding to A. Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration (New Haven, 1990), vol. 1, pp. 133–4: as I wrote on p. 210, ‘dissent by no means betokens disapproval’.Back to (5)
- The larger disciplinary point, of course, is about re-aligning the historicist study of Classical archaeological materials with the more diachronic disciplinary insights of art history: I elaborate the argument in ‘Classical archaeology and the contexts of art history’, in S. Alcock and R. Osborne, Classical Archaeology, second edition (Malden, MA, 2012), pp. 468–500, discussing the ‘Greek revolution’ at pp. 578–85; on the broader disciplinary challenge, and the underlying historiographic obstacles, compare also pp. 371–84 of my The Iliad in a Nutshell: Visualizing Epic on the Tabulae Iliacae (Oxford, 2011), esp. pp. 375–7, along with the first and second chapters of my Image and Text in Graeco-Roman Culture (Cambridge, 2009); more eloquent and (as ever) to the point is R. Neer, The Emergence of the Classical Style, esp. pp. 6–11.Back to (6)
- The best discussion is that of Verity Platt: ‘Evasive epiphanies in ekphrastic epigram’, Ramus 31 (2002), 33–50, as developed in her Facing the Gods: Epiphany and Representation in Graeco-Roman Culture (Cambridge 2011), pp. 170–212. For my own views on the intellectual thinking behind such poems, compare e.g. my ‘Reading a view: Poem and picture in the Greek Anthology’, Ramus 39 (2010), 73–103, along more generally with my ‘Making Myron’s cow moo: Ecphrastic epigram and the poetics of simulation’, American Journal of Philology 131 (2010), 589–634.Back to (7)
- In that connection, Stewart raises a wonderful point in reminding us of stories about not just Phryne (literally ‘Toad’: cf. pp. 100–1), but also Kratine – a courtesan whose subordinating power (kratos) over men, though nonetheless mortal, is embodied in her very name… Back to (8)
- Readers are referred to p. 109: ‘This chapter has therefore demonstrated in its own right how ancient and modern imagery can inform one another. It’s of course understandable to have sought to emphasise the connections binding Graeco-Roman traditions to our own; in doing so, moreover, it’s surely right to have challenged the gendered power hierarchies at stake. But there are dangers in weaving too essentialist a tale: historical difference gets collapsed. The perspectives of posterity illuminate some things about Graeco-Roman representations. Hindsight, however, necessarily occludes others…’Back to (9)
- Cf. F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture 1500–1900 (New Haven, 1981), esp. pp. 14–15: ‘But in fact when the Pope [Pius V] finally died in 1572 it became apparent that fears and hopes alike had been exaggerated: not a single statue considered to be of the highest excellence had left the city, and, shuttered off though its contents were, the courtyard with its Venuses and Antinous survived intact… ’ I nonetheless take Stewart’s underlying point, which is why readers were referred (p. 222), inter alia, to L. Freedman, The Revival of the Gods in Renaissance Art (Cambridge, 2003), and M. Bull, The Mirror of the Gods: Classical Mythology in Renaissance Art (Oxford, 2005).Back to (10)
- Consider pp. 125–33, where I relate the ‘Roman focus on the face’ to the fact that so many full-bodied ‘Greek’ portraits, filtered through Roman collections, were metaphorically guillotined into bodiless heads. The key analysis is by one of Stewart’s most eminent Classical archaeological colleagues at Berkeley: C. H. Hallett, The Roman Nude: Heroic Portrait Statuary 200 BC–AD 300 (Oxford, 2005), esp. 271–307. Other discussions of what Richard Brilliant nicely termed this ‘appendage aesthetic’ are cited on pp. 221–2, but see now Jennifer Trimble, Women and Visual Replication in Roman Imperial Art and Culture (Cambridge, 2011), esp. 150–205, discussing the ‘Large Herculaneum Woman’ statue type. Trimble’s corrective is well taken: ‘It is too simple to posit the head as a site of individualilty and the body as providing symbolic or social information … What remains consistent is the freedom of assemblage between head and body, the value of multiplicity and replication, and the multiple ways in which these visual assemblages could shape and extend social identity’ (p. 181).Back to (11)
- See C. C. Vermeule, ‘Hellenistic and Roman cuirassed statues’, Berytus, 13 (1959), 1–82, with the additional appendices in subsequent issues of the same journal (Berytus, 15 (1964), 95–110; 16 (1966), 49–59; 23 (1974), 5–26; 26 (1978), 85–123), and his additional Concordance of Cuirassed Statues in Marble and Bronze (Boston, 1980); compare also K. Stemmer, Untersuchungen zur Typologie, Chronologie und Ikonographie der Panzerstatuen (Berlin, 1978), especially the history sketched on pp. 131–48. I return to this subject in a forthcoming article on the ‘Embodied ambiguities on the Prima Porta Augustus’, which will now respond in further detail to the reviewer’s challenges.Back to (12)
- As such, my discussion takes its lead from I. K. McEwan, Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture (Cambridge, MA, 2003), esp. pp. 250–75. But countless others have noted something special about the Prima Porta Augustus, not least the unique muscular frame of its cuirass: ‘Der Augustus von Prima Porta ist selbst in der Muskulatur des Panzers ganz Doryphoros’ (G. Lippold, Die Skulpturen des Vaticanischen Museen 3.1 (Leipzig, 1936), p. 182); compare also Brilliant on the statue’s ‘intensely self-conscious’ allusions (Gesture and Rank in Roman Art (New Haven, 1963), pp. 66–7). In this case, Stewart – like countless other scholars in the English-speaking world – would do well to remember that the cuirassed statue seems not to have been a widespread honorific sculptural type, at least not until relatively late in the first century BC: see, inter alios, H. G. Niemeyer, Studien zur statuarischen Darstellung der römischen Kaiser (Berlin, 1968), pp. 47–54; K. Stemmer, Untersuchungen zur Typologie, Chronologie und Ikonographie der Panzerstatuen (Berlin, 1978), esp. p. 142; G. Lahusen, Untersuchungen zur Ehrenstatue in Rom: Literarische und epigraphische Zeugnisse (Rome, 1983), pp. 51–3; M. Sehlmeyer, Stadtrömische Ehrenstatuen der republikanischen Zeit (Stuttgart, 1999), pp. 230–1.Back to (13)
- Cf. e.g. H. Kähler, Die Augustusstatue von Primaporta (Cologne, 1959); W. H. Gross, Zur Augustusstatue von Prima Porta (Göttingen, 1959); E. Simon, Der Augustus von Prima Porta (Bremen, 1959); eadem, ‘Altes und Neues zur Statue des Augustus von Primaporta’, in Saeculum Augustum. Vol. 3, ed. G. Binder (Darmstadt, 1991), pp. 204–33; H. Ingholt, ‘The Prima Porta statue of Augustus. Part II: The location of the original’, Archaeology 22.4 (1969), 304–18; K. Fittschen, ‘Zur Panzerstatue in Chercel’, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 91 (1976), 175–210, esp. pp. 203–9; K. F. Johansen, ‘Le portrait d’Auguste de Prima Porta et sa datation’, in Studia romana in honorem Petri Krarup septuagenarii, ed. K. Ascani (Odense, 1976), pp. 49–57; F. Brommer, ‘Zur Datierung der Augustus von Prima Porta’, in Eikones: Studien zum griechischen und römischen Bildnis, ed. R. A. Stucky and I. Jucker (Bern, 1980), pp. 78–80; H. Meyer, Kunst und Geschichte: Vier Untersuchungen zur antiken Historienkunst (Munich, 1983), pp. 123–40, esp. pp. 139–40; T. Schäffer, ‘Der Augustus von Primaporta im Wechsel der Medien’, in H. J. Wendel, W. B. Bernard and S. Müller, eds., Wechsel des Mediums: Zur Interdependenz von Form und Inhalt (Rostock, 2001), pp. 37–58, etc. etc.Back to (14)
- As I argue on p. 171, Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601–1602) would re-appropriate those paradoxes within a new, Counter-Reformational visual context: ‘Thomas demanded not just to see, but to touch; Caravaggio’s viewers cannot touch, but they can now see – or at least see the touching’. My thinking is of course indebted to that of G. W. Most, Doubting Thomas (Cambridge, MA, 2005), as cited on p. 225.Back to (15)