Figurines: Figuration and The Sense of Scale

ISBN : 9780198861096

Jas Elsner
224 Pages
189 x 246 mm
Pub date
Oct 2020
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Figurines are objects of handling. As touchable objects, they engage the viewer in different ways from flat art, whether relief sculpture or painting. Unlike the voyeuristic relationship of viewing a neatly framed pictorial narrative as if from the outside, the viewer as handler is always potentially and without protection within the narrative of figurines. As such, they have potential for a potent, even animated, agency in relation to those who use them. This volume concerns figurines as archaeologically-attested materials from literate cultures with surviving documents that have no direct links of contiguity, appropriation, or influence in relation to each other. It is an attempt to put the category of the figurine on the table as a key conceptual and material problematic in the art history of antiquity. It does so through comparative juxtaposition of close-focused chapters drawn from deep art-historical engagement with specific ancient cultures - Chinese, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican, and Greco-Roman. It encourages comparative conversation across the disciplines that constitute the art history of the ancient world through finding categories and models of discourse that may offer fertile ground for comparison and antithesis. It extends the rich and astute literature on prehistoric figurines into understanding the figurine in historical contexts, where literary texts and documents, inscriptions, or surviving terminologies can be adduced alongside material culture. At stake are issues of figuration and anthropomorphism, miniaturization and portability, one-off production and replication, and substitution and scale at the interface of archaeology and art history.


Elsner: Introduction
1 Richard Neer: Small Wonders: Figurines, Puppets, and the Aesthetics of Scale in Archaic and Classical Greece
2 Claudia Brittenham: Shifting Scales at La Venta
3 Wu Hung: Thinking Through Scale: The First Emperor's Sculptural Enterprise
4 Jaś
Elsner: The Death of the Figurine: Reflections on an Abrahamic Abstention
Claudia Brittenham: Epilogue

About the author: 

Jaś Elsner is Professor of Late Antique Art at the University of Oxford and Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology and Art at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is also Visiting Professor of Art and Religion at the University of Chicago, and External Scientific Member of the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz. He is a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Max Planck Society, as well as a Fellow of the British Academy. He works on all areas of art and religion in antiquity and the early middle ages across Europe and Western Asia, including pilgrimage, travel-writing, and the description of art in texts, and is particularly interested in the problems of comparativism in art history. Along with the other contributors to this book, he is a member of the Center for Global Ancient Art at the University of Chicago which is committed to comparative study of archaeological and art historical issues in all cultures across the ancient world.

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