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And What about Art? Investigating Visual Forms in the Cultural Practice of Ancient Western Asia

ARWA Programm

ARWA Programm

The ARWA Association's Art History & Visual Culture lecture series 2022, organized by Dominik Bonatz and Elisa Roßberger, took place from September to December 2022. You can find all recordings on the dedicated YouTube Channel.

News vom 20.11.2022

The lecture series covered art and visual culture of ancient Western Asia from a wide chronological and geographical range and a variety of theoretical perspectives. It is part of the ARWA (= International Association for Archaeological Research in Western & Central Asia) Archaeology in Action online initiative which offers a wide range of talks and discussions about ongoing research in the fields of ancient Western and Central Asian archaeology and history. All lectures can be attended online and free of charge; they are recorded and posted on the dedicated ARWA YouTube channel.

The following lectures were presented during the Art History & Visual Culture lecture cycle and are available online

Marian Feldmann (Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore): “Charismatic Rulers in a Material World: The Art of the Akkadian Empire, c. 2350-2150 BCE”
Akkadian art is heralded as an innovative breakthrough in large part due to its ostensibly naturalistic renderings, in particular, the sculptural plasticity of the human body seen for example on the victory stele of Naram-Sin. Our own fascination with visual illusionism—that is, the artistic replication of optical perception—borne from centuries of perspectivism and the standard of Italian Renaissance artistic production, celebrates these Akkadian art works without examining their original motivating factors, nor carefully analyzing their formal characteristics. In fact, close visual analysis of Akkadian art reveals that what we today perceive as naturalism derives from specific formal properties that convey concreteness, which I argue can be more accurately understood as the desire to manifest in material form certain physical qualities, such as musculature and textiles. These specific physical qualities, in turn, construct a singular visual and material world of charismatic, heroic kingship, in which divinely sanctioned authority emanates from human rulers who straddle the edge between the human and divine worlds.

Karen Sonik (Auburn University): “Art/ifacts, ArtWorks, and Aesthetics”
This discussion takes up issues pertaining to Mesopotamia’s arts and aesthetics, drawing on the speaker’s recent research into the intersections of the visual arts with emotions, cognition, and the senses.

Ludovico Portuese (University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia / Università degli Studi di Messina): “The Art of Etiquette: An Anthropological and Sociological Approach to Assyrian Art”
The word etiquette embraces an underlying set of rules or laws for various occasions, everyday life, or special events. This might include using the proper fork, knowing when to talk, or how to shake hands. Understanding conventions such as these can help people avoid embarrassing situations and interact with others in a proper manner. The study of etiquette may thus appear as a trivial or simplistic study of formalities and the external trappings of life. However, anthropological and sociological studies suggest that etiquette may contribute to the evolutionary success of a group and can be a strategy that defines and protects it from activities that may harm or damage its cultural integrity. With a special focus on the visual representation of Assyrian royal banquets, this lecture will reconstruct the etiquette rules prescribed for guests participating in a banquet with the king and evaluate them as deliberately selected rules which, once established, aimed to control social interactions and preserve the integrity of a dominant group.

Katharina Schmidt (Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem): “Ammonite Sculptures from Amman. The corpus from Abu Alanda”
Several stone statuaries are known from the Iron Age kingdom of Ammon in present-day Jordan, all of which were made locally. Most of the sculptures come from the immediate area around the Citadel of Amman, the Iron Age Rabbot-Ammon, which functioned as the capital. Still, some were also found in the hinterland. None of the sculptures was uncovered in its original context of use. Therefore, the analysis of the statuaries themselves offers the decisive key to enable an archaeological argumentation on their significance for the local population and its elites. The lecture will focus on the only partly published corpus from Abu Alanda, a site in the ammonite hinterland that also shows traces of monumental architecture which has so far also remained unpublished.

Paul Collins (British Museum, London): “Space, Time, and Eternity through the Assyrian Palace Reliefs”
The wall reliefs of Neo-Assyrian palaces have been investigated for relationships between text and image, their historiographical significance and affective properties. The sculptured images and associated inscriptions projected the power and authority of Assyrian kingship through representations of the achievements of individual rulers and their connections with royal ancestors and the gods who promoted and sustained them. These monuments were experienced as part of the theatre of kingship in architectural spaces where the business of empire took place. They also participated, however, within the rituals of kingship that evoked the agency of the gods. In this talk I argue that the text and images worked together to establish an active relationship between the king and a mythical past and a perfect future, thereby ensuring Assyrian kingship was timeless.

Constance von Rüden (Universität Bochum): “Painting Spaces – The Role of Wall Paintings in the Production and Consumption of Privileged Architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean”
It should go without saying that wall and floor painting are an integral part of architecture and thus produce a specific kind of social space in interplay with people. However, this seems to be sometimes forgotten in the study of some examples of the Eastern Mediterranean of the second Millennium B.C.E One reason for this neglection surely is the often very fragmentary state of preservation, but also the specific division of work areas by genre in archaeological projects, or their often attractive appearance have a stake in forgetting these more comprehensive aspects. Hence, the seminar tries to trace the relation between humans, painting and architectural structure and thus the social space in the production as well as in the consumption of some Eastern Mediterranean paintings

Alessandra Gilibert (Venice University): "The Social Life of Prehistoric Art. The Case of the Armenian Dragon-Stones from the Age of their Manufacture to Modern Times"
Vishaps (Armenian “dragon stones”) are large-scale prehistoric stelae decorated with animal reliefs, erected around 4100 BCE at secluded mountain locations of the South Caucasus. In this presentation, I sketch what we currently know about the first erection of vishaps in modern Armenia and then focus on their history of re-use and manipulation. From the age of their manufacture to the present day, vishaps actively elicited social actions beyond their original scope. Through the millennia, they were torn down, buried, reworked, re-erected, transformed and used as a surface for graffiti. These and other interventions reveal that vishaps, despite their remote settings, have been continuously entangled in local discourse, with shifting meanings and several points of intersections with broader historical trends. In particular, they functioned as symbolic anchors for creating, transmitting and subverting religious and political messages. Their complex sequence of resignifications also illustrates how mountains and other liminal nature settings may play a key role in negotiating collective cultural values. Finally, the case of the Armenian vishaps epitomise challenges and potential of studying monumental art as a multi-temporal, layered and ambivalent palimpsest.

Claudia Suter (Basel/ Bern): “The Samaria Ivory Carvings in Context: Examples of Very Close Parallels with Other Levantine Ivory Carvings of the Iron Age and How to Interpret Them”
The ivory carvings from Samaria, capital of Israel in the 9th-8th centuries BCE, constitute, despite of their utter fragmentation, the richest such assemblage from a Levantine capital. The fragments belonged mainly to plaques plus a few fittings, all of which likely decorated luxurious furniture. A comparison with contemporary Levantine ivory carvings from other sites, mainly Nimrud where the lion’s share of this material was retrieved, reveals different degrees of variation in imagery, style, and formal aspects. The entangled variation in Iron Age Levantine ivory carving is notoriously difficult to interpret. In the absence of any factual information on artisans, we can only speculate about their modes of production based on the material itself. This talk explores very close parallels and proposes to attribute them not only to common authorship, but also to single sets of furniture. In the larger picture, it concludes that the difficulty to identify authorship beyond such sets produced at one point in time is probably due to a small-scale, dispersed, and part-time production mode.

Müge Durusu-Tanrıöver (Temple University, Philadelphia): “One King to Rule Them All: Royal Singularity and Divine Plurality in Hittite Art”
Representations of divine figures in Hittite art were characterized by multiplicity. Same or similar deities could be represented multiple times in a scene —such as in Yazılıkaya—, and their multiple incarnations (including anthropomorphic representations and statues of their sacred animals) were evoked across the Hittite corpus. In contrast, the figural representations of the Hittite kings were few in number, conservative in style, and necessitated the presence of a divine element to exist. Building on these initial propositions, in this talk I propose that the Hittite kings deliberately mobilized a polymorphic divine world to draw their legitimacy from, while carving a calculated position for themselves in between the mortal and the divine realms to make sure that legitimacy could not be contested.

Adelheid Otto (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München): “What Would We Know about Western Asian Imagery without Seals? On the Fundamental Role of Seals as Transmitters and Actors”

Javier Álvarez-Mon (Macquarie University, Sydney): “Gateway to Paradise: Genesis of Persian Art and the New Globalization”
This presentation examines the genesis of Persian art through the lens of one of the most enigmatic, reproduced, and discussed sculptural reliefs of antiquity, the four-winged “guardian angel” from Pasargadae. It seeks to rectify past descriptions and offer new insights on the art historical puzzle that constitutes the visual culture of the time of Cyrus the Great and his son Cambyses (550-522 BC).

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  • Online lectures, Vorlesungsreihe, Visual Culture, Art History, Ancient Near East, Vorderasiatische Archäologie