BMCR 2021.01.30

Visual histories of the classical world: essays in honour of R.R.R. Smith

, , , , , Visual histories of the classical world: essays in honour of R.R.R. Smith. Studies in classical archaeology, 4. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. Pp. xlii, 548. ISBN 9782503576329 €140,00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Packed into this 548-page volume in honor of R.R.R. Smith are forty excellent contributions from scholars working in a wide range of chronological, geographic and methodological areas. This Festschrift, edited by former students of Bert Smith—Catherine M. Draycott; Rubina Raja; Katherine Welch; and William T. Wootton—is arranged in ten sections with each section consisting of two to six essays.

The essays are organized thematically, with a first section broadly titled “Approaches, Methods, and Materials” that brings together a group of essays representing reappraisals of traditional approaches to visual culture, whether through application or critique. Other sections, such as “Aphrodisias and Aphrodisians”, obviously give greater focus to a particular site and its physical and artistic orbit. While this may appear a somewhat disparate collection at first glance, the common factor throughout is of course the undeniable influence of Bert Smith’s pioneering work in the field, both scholarly and literal.[1] Indeed, if one were to read nothing else, the brief introduction by the editors and the personal note of gratitude written by Katherine E. Welch, Smith’s first student, provide much to help the reader comprehend the impressive scope of this influence. That R.R.R. Smith has made significant methodological contributions to the field of visual studies—e.g., an historical approach to ‘art’; the value of close looking and seeing the visual as primary evidence; the importance of ‘nuance’ when utilizing texts; the consideration of various identities (of works, viewers and makers) and meanings—is without a doubt, and a Festschrift that recognizes his countless intellectual contributions is well-deserved. These introductory passages also serve as an important reminder for younger scholars who might take for granted what would seem to be obvious methodological approaches today.

I do not review here every section nor every essay in detail, but suffice it to say there is something in this volume for everyone: from studies that engage heavily with text, to ‘meta’ essays such as Rune Frederiksen’s on the history of photographic documentation of plaster casts,[2] to great archaeological and textual detective investigations,[3] and object studies whose close examination of the visual provide insight into questions of social and cultural identities. One such example of this latter category is Mantha Zarmakoupi’s paper, which demonstrates the ways in which text (both language and its physical placement) and style collaborate in processes of self-fashioning; the questions of identity here relate not only to the subject represented in the statue monument of her study, but to the patron(s) as well, with considerations of architectural context and viewership accentuating certain elements of these identities. Myrina Kalaitzi’s contribution investigates similar questions, albeit with regard to ‘private’ memorials with communal profiles. While Kalaitzi is, in my opinion, overly apologetic about her use of the word ‘facebook’ in her title (“Public Profiles and Mediated Selfies in Ancient Macedonia: The Gravestones’ Facebook”), suggesting its application only as a way to communicate the idea of a “reference book or directory”, the use is not entirely inappropriate given that in each manifestation—the Archaic to Late Hellenistic figured tombstones that she examines, and the modern social media platform—the ‘facebook’ in question constitutes a forum for presenting one’s best self, to the point of artificial construction.[4] Kalaitzi convincingly explains her use of modern terms (i.e. ‘facebook’, ‘selfies’, ‘photoshopped’) for her study of these memorials, although one wonders if these justifications stem from a concern that studies such as hers, which innovatively and productively utilize mediative tools of the modern scholar’s visual, social and cultural repertoire, would be met with resistance from those espousing a more conservative approach to the study of the ancient world. An appropriately unconventional contribution, then, to honor the pathbreaking work of Bert Smith.

Indeed, a common thread across essays is the examination of objects, monuments and places as historical markers of identity, broadly defined, and the changing roles of the visual and experience (both in their ancient contexts, and modern).[5] Other papers engage with the issue of the political power of images, both in terms of their ‘multi-lingual’ capabilities and as containers of ideological and social memory (and drivers of certain ‘memory practices’).[6] For a reminder of the value of more traditional tools such as formal analysis, and their ability to complement studies of historical, and historiographic context, I encourage a reading of the essay by Katharina Lorenz, whose skill in precisely translating formal analysis to the page is instructive.

Editing errors are few and far between.[7] The volume as a whole is easy to navigate and includes a useful index of entries arranged by topic, as well as images of excellent quality. I commend and thank the editors for producing what is a rich and attractive compendium of consistently high scholarship.

In reflecting on the title of this volume, Visual Histories of the Classical World, and in an effort to extend the scope of the kind of ‘close looking’ practices its honoree helped to make mainstream, I think that in this particular historical moment it would be inappropriate if I did not, however, comment on one of the few but notable deficiencies of the ‘visual history’ of the study of the classical world that this book (re)presents. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, there appears to be a general lack of diversity in terms of scholars’ voices: ‘social identities’, to borrow once more from Smith’s conceptual frameworks, that constitute important makers of meaning in their own right. The lack of representation by contributors from what have traditionally been considered minority groups (or to put it more plainly, scholars of non-white, and often academically disadvantaged or economically underprivileged backgrounds) in such a large volume of essays speaks to pervasive problems in the fields of Classics, Classical Archaeology, and Art History alike in terms of accessibility and inclusivity. The ‘look’ of the volume (that is, both its makeup and its concomitant world view, so to speak) attests to the fact that the ability to participate in these fields at all—whether through the pursuit or production of knowledge—is in itself a privilege, and that those who are deemed worthy of this privilege often remain woefully unaware of, if not altogether blind to, the many barriers that those among us who are epistemologically ‘overlooked’ by dominant ways of seeing have had to overcome, and continue to face in the academy.

While no individual scholar could or should ever have to bear the onus of righting or rewriting this visual history, I hope that in this time of critical reflection we can continue to acknowledge the entrenched blind spots of our disciplines as a larger community, and actively work together to make these fields more accessible, diverse, and richer as a result; methodologies such as those popularized by Smith can serve as powerful tools in this regard, revealing fruitful new ways of seeing if we are brave enough to subject ourselves to the reflexive turn. What would it look like if students and scholars of all socio-economic, ethnic, and racial viewer identities had the ability to make meaning by paying tribute to the legacy of the likes of a Bert Smith, if not the opportunity to work under his direct mentorship? And should they themselves someday warrant a similar honor, what would the Festschrifts of such scholars from hitherto invisible histories of the classical world look like? How might all of these possibilities complicate and augment the picture at hand? For all the richness of the present volume, perhaps then we might speak even more compellingly of visual histories in a truly plural and pluralistic sense.

Authors and titles

Catherine M. Draycott, Rubina Raja, and Will Wootton, Visual Histories: Visual Remains and Histories of the Classical World Papers in Honour of R.R.R. Smith, p. xxxiii
Katherine E. Welch, Bert Smith as a Scholar and a Teacher by his First Student, p. xli

Section 1: Approaches, Methods, and Materials
Robin Osborne, A World of Choice: Taking Archaic Greek Diversity Seriously, p. 3
Catherine M. Draycott, Art History and Achaemenid History: Or, What You Can Get out of the Back End of a Bull, p. 15
Caspar Meyer, What is the Value of Images? On the Significance of Time Spent Looking at Classical Art, p. 35
Peter Stewart, Ancient Greek Artists and Texts: Loss and Re-Creation, p. 47
Thomas Mannack, Two New Lekythoi and Two ‘Ghosts’, p. 59
Rune Frederiksen, A Short History of the Depiction of Plaster Casts in the Scholarly Literature on Ancient Sculpture, p. 67
Section 2: Royal Representations
Christoph Bachhuber, The Lion Pit and Other Ambiguous Violence against Statues at Iron-Age Zincirli, p. 77
Stephan Faust, Alexander’s Hearse and the Alexander Sarcophagus: Power Politics and Commemoration in a Changing World, p. 87
Emma Libonati, An Ambiguous Identification: The Diorite Statue in Diaphanous Drapery from Canopus, p. 97
Milena Melfi, A Cast, a Bird, and a Queen (?), p. 111
Section 3: Reconstructing Hellenistic Imagery
Sheila Dillon, Portrait Statues in the City Eleusinion in Athens, p. 119
Olympia Bobou, Apollo’s Children: Five Statues from Delphi, p. 139
John Ma, Seeing the Invisible, p. 149
Kenneth Lapatin, A Puzzling Pachyderm, p. 159
Section 4: Roman Imperial Representations
Katharina Lorenz, Writing Histories from Roman Imperial Portraiture: The Case of the Julio-Claudian Princes, p. 171
Christopher H. Hallett, Terracotta, Antiquarianism, and the ‘Archaic Revival’ of Early Augustan Rome, p. 181
Klaus Fittschen, Zum Bildnis des Kaisers Claudius in Braunschweig, p. 205
Katherine E. Welch, Neropolis, p. 209
Paul Zanker, Zu einer neuen Bildnisbüste des Kaisers Domitian in Toledo (Ohio), p. 223
Section 5: Social and Cultural Identities
Björn C. Ewald, Minding the Gap: Issues of Cultural Translation in Graeco-Roman Art, p. 233
Mantha Zarmakoupi, The Statue Monument of C. Billienus in the Stoa of Antigonos Gonatas on Delos, p. 255
Ben Russell, Simulacra Gentium [Africanarum], p. 265
Rubina Raja, Stacking Aesthetics in the Syrian Desert: Displaying Palmyrene Sculpture in the Public and Funerary Sphere, p. 281
Section 6: Constructed Cities
Andrew Stewart, Notes on the Origins and Early Development of the ‘Agora of the Kerameikos’ In honorem Bert Smith, p. 299
Eva Margareta Steinby, The Res gestae of Q. Haterius Tychicus, Redemptor, p. 309
Barbara E. Borg, Herodes Atticus in Rome: The Triopion Reconsidered, p. 317
Janet DeLaine, Street Plaques (and Other Signs) at Ostia, p. 331
Section 7: Roman Domestic Decor(um)
Maryl B. Gensheimer, Fictive Gardens and Family Identity in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, p. 347
Will Wootton, More Than One Way to Skin a Cat? A Roman Mosaic from the House of the Cryptoporticus, Carthage, p. 359
Section 8: Reading Memorial Art
Jane Masséglia, The Banquet Scene at Kazanluk: A Feast of Speculation, p. 375
Maria Stamatopoulou, ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’: The Stele of Aristokydes Son of Xenokles, a Keian in Demetrias, p. 387
Myrina Kalaitzi, Public Profiles and Mediated Selfies in Ancient Macedonia: The Gravestones’ Facebook, p. 403
Jaś Elsner, Some Observations on Dionysiac Sarcophagi, p. 425
Section 9: Aphrodisias and Aphrodisians
Angelos Chaniotis, Myon, a True Ktistes: A New Inscription from Aphrodisias and its Context, p. 449
Christopher Ratté, The Cemetery of Bingeç (Plarasa), p. 459
Andrew Wilson, Earthquakes at Aphrodisias, p. 469
Julie Van Voorhis, Reconsidering the Sculptor’s Workshop at Aphrodisias, p. 489
Julia Lenaghan, Another Statue in Context: Rhodopaios of Aphrodisas, p. 503
Section 10: Looking at Late Antiquity
Anna Leone, The Use of Statuary in Late Antique North Africa and its Social and Economic Significance: An Overview, p. 521
Esen Öğüş, Statues of Men, Men as Statues: Distancing the Body from its Portrait Statue in Late Antiquity, p. 533


[1] Most notably as the director of NYU-led excavations at Aphrodisias since 1991.

[2] For an essay about photographs of plaster casts, the reader expected at least one reproduction (of a reproduction, of a reproduction). Only one etching (produced from a photograph) is provided as an example.

[3] Chris Hallett’s ‘detective’ work is inspiring, to say the least. An important correction here: page 184 references the hip-herms of Figure 16.2 when it should reference Figure 16.3.

[4] Kalaitzi, p. 404. I am aware of the concept of ‘over-sharing’ on Facebook, as well as some users’ inclinations towards conversely showing their worst selves with regard to aesthetics, physical health and emotional states. Clearly, such practices run counter to Kalaitzi’s use of the term, but I am thinking here of what is arguably the platform’s primary function. That said, even such moments of oversharing may be viewed as a form of artificial self-fashioning.

[5] Such as Catherine Draycott’s and Christopher Ratté’s contributions.

[6] I have in mind Stephan Faust and Christoph Bachhuber’s essays.

[7] The occasional ‘anglicized’ forms of Turkish names is perplexing, when the publisher is clearly capable of producing Turkish characters, as evidenced by correct spellings found throughout the volume.