The Ancient Art of Transformation: Case Studies from Mediterranean
Contexts examines instances of human transformation in the ancient
and early Christian Mediterranean world by exploring the ways in
which art impacts, aids, or provides evidence for physical,
spiritual, personal, and social transitions. Building on Arnold van
Gennep's notion of universal rites of passage, papers in this
volume expand the definition of "transformation" to include
widespread transitions such as shifts in political establishments
and changes in cultural identity. In considering these broadly
defined "passages," authors have observed particular changes in the
visual record, whether they be manifest, enigmatic, or symbolic.
While several papers address transitions that are incomplete,
resulting in intermediary, hybrid states, others suggest that the
medium itself can be integral to interpreting a transition, and in
some cases, be itself transformed. Together, the volume covers not
only a broad chronological span (c. 5th century BC to 4th century
AD), but also an expansive geographical range (Egypt, Greece, and
Italy). Reflecting upon issues central to a variety of
Mediterranean cultures (Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks, Romans, and
early Christians), The Ancient Art of Transformation documents how
personal, societal, and historical changes become permanently fixed
in the material record. The Ancient Art of Transformation examines
the visual manifestation of human transformation in the ancient and
early medieval Mediterranean world, exploring the role of art and
visual culture in enabling, hindering, or documenting physical,
spiritual, personal, and social transitions such as pregnancy and
birth, initiations, marriage, death and funerals. The definition of
"transformation" is also expanded to address instances of less
personal and more widespread transitions such as shifts in
political establishments and changes in cultural identity in
geographic locations. Additionally, although the ancient material
record documents certain rites of passage such as marriage and
death extensively, artifacts and their accompanying images are
often studied simply to reconstruct these social processes. Authors
here suggest that material evidence itself can be integral to
interpreting a transition, and in some cases, be itself
transformed. Further, several papers address transitions that are
incomplete, resulting in intermediary, hybrid states that are very
often reflected in the visual record such as Athenian vase-painting
imagery forecasting the bride as a mother, displays of nudity that
reflect intermediate life stages in Etruscan art and Octavian's
visual transformation into Pharaoh and Augustus in Egyptian
architecture and material culture. At its core the volume
establishes current methods for understanding how ancient visual
culture shaped, informed, and was affected by processes of
transformation. Together, these papers offer a close examination of
various types of visual evidence from several cultures and periods
(e.g., Etruscan, Greek, Roman, early Christian), and document how
personal, societal, historical changes become permanently fixed in
the material record.
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