AIA-3A: Confronting & Debunking Tropes in Ancient Mediterranean Art (Workshop)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Workshop

Sponsored by:

AIA Etruscan Interest Group


Alexandra A. Carpino, Northern Arizona University; and Lisa Pieraccini, University of California, Berkeley


Steven Tuck, Miami University; Heather Bowyer, Arizona State University; Darcy Tuttle, University of California, Berkeley; Valeria Riedemann, University of Washington; and Cristina Hernandez, Mt. San Antonio College


We are living in an academic watershed moment that invites us to confront and debunk common tropes, generalizations, and stereotypes in the art-historical descriptions of ancient Mediterranean visual culture. From the so-called mistress and maid motif to misconceptions that continue to stereotype style and primitivism, confronting tropes in ancient art allows us to unpack, address, and amend outdated language, perspectives, and ideologies.

The purpose of this workshop is to address the AIA’s 2024 theme, “Movement, Mobility, and Displacement,” as it pertains to ideas: panelists will present case studies that identify outdated paradigms still present in standard textbooks, scholarly literature, and/or museum settings and offer new terminology and descriptions that can be incorporated at all levels of academia, from pedagogy to didactic materials in public settings. Questions to be addressed include: Why do we continue to use words such as “crude”, “awkward” or “roughly carved” when comparing classical versus nonclassical art instead of terminology from more recent art history (e.g., reductive, abstracted, minimalist, mannerist)? How can we move away from using a fifteenth-century Italian term, for example, “grotesque”, to describe the portrayal of disproportional human bodies in ancient Greek and Roman art? Is there a more accurate term that reflects how ancient Mediterranean peoples would have understood such physical features in the visual arts? How can we move away from privileging the classical over the local when teaching and interpreting objects from cultures as diverse as Gandharan and Etruscan? Why do misconceptions about Apulian red-figure vases still permeate scholarly studies and museum curatorship and What strategies can be introduced to rectify how these works are presented to the public? Finally, why does Suetonius’s description of Augustus’s transformation of Rome into a “city of marble” (Suet. Aug. 29) still conjure up the image of a glorious, sparkling, white city, and how can we move away from the romantic and nationalistic late-19th and early 20th century tropes that gave rise to this imagined view of an imperial white capital?

In sum, the overriding goal and outcome of this forum for exchange are to generate discussion and strategies for removing outdated and harmful tropes that have become conventional in the field of ancient Mediterranean studies.