THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF GREEK AND ROMAN ART AND ARCHITECTURE

Ed. by Clemente Marconi

OUP (2015) h/b 710pp £97.00 (ISBN 9780199783304)

Handbooks and Companions are favourites with publishers these days—individual chapters written by experts with up-to-date, advanced treatment which only they can give. So it is with the book under review. Here we have 30 chapters, of between 20 or 30 pages, by an international cast, and with over 100 black-and-white images spread throughout. The rather bland title might lead one to expect a straightforward history of art and architecture, but the contents are more innovative than that.

What the editor called for was a much deeper and wider treatment of the subject, within a theoretical framework. This is not the factual history of art and architecture that we have met before. Throughout the book an objective and historical reconstruction of the past is downplayed; the social environment and the political and cultural developments are placed at the vanguard, with the aesthetic qualities that have tended to lead from the front given a less important place.

The book is divided into five parts: Pictures from the Inside, Greek and Roman Art and Architecture in the Making, Ancient Contexts, Post-Antique Contexts and Approaches. These titles alone alert readers to be prepared for an unfamiliar journey. The chapters within the five parts each start with a brief account of the historiography of their topics, with an inevitable overlap between them.

This brief resumé may give a flavour of the impressive range of contents. Part 1 concentrates on the ideas that the Greeks and Romans themselves had about art and architecture with evidence taken from literature and art, descriptions of art works such as Achilles’ shield and Pheidias’ Zeus, Vitruvius (‘the prime window’) on architectural theory, images of statues (‘metapictures’). Part 2 looks at artists and architects—their origins, social standing, mobility, conditions of work, etc. and the wider picture with designers, contractors, patrons (whether democratic councils, royalty, imperial backers, etc.). There is also an account of the wide variety of raw materials and techniques that are more and more subjected to modern scientific analyses.

Part 3 starts with emphasis on research on the city in all its manifestations and the functions of its component parts, whether religious, civic or private, and moves on to a study of the ways in which the Romans modified their Greek heritage and how the spread across the Roman Empire led to further cultural change. The post-antique world that comprises Part 4 shows how it has much to offer in the ways it can be studied—the historical development with its various features such as collecting, looting, conservation, ownership, presentation in museums, ‘edutainment’. The ‘Approaches’ of Part 5 contain some of the elements on which the previous parts and chapters are built: connoisseurship (which is now a less strong ingredient in the mix), form analysis, iconography and iconology, socio-historical methodology, anthropology (‘The Paris School’), reception (‘The Bristol School’), and semiotics.

In the introduction the editor clarifies the intended readership as graduate students with an interest in Greek and Roman art and architecture who wish to know the modern lines of enquiry. Happy those students who are sitting in libraries furnished with the wide range of books and articles listed after each chapter! Beginners and non-specialists will find the text itself tough going, but will doubtless agree (p. 232) that ‘It is only through close consideration of all available evidence, utilizing a variety of approaches and collaborating with colleagues in diverse fields, that we will gain a greater understanding of the past’.

Brian A. Sparkes—Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology at the University of Southampton

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