Mark D. Fullerton, Greek Art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. 176, incl. 79 colour illustrations, 34 black-and-white, 7 line drawings, 1 map. ISBN 0-521-77973-1. UKú11.95.
Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland
The title of this book is slightly misleading, especially in view of the accessible format and wealth of colour illustrations. Instead of being an introductory book on Greek art that might be suitable for beginners, it is more about concepts of 'Classical' art, challenging widely held assumptions, arguing in particular that the organic model of growth which underlies most descriptions of the development of Greek art is misleading in the emphasis it places upon Classical art as a 'mature' period and in the way it implies a single, pure, identifiable, Classical style. It is a book for more mature students and their teachers. I found it interesting, well written and generally persuasive.
In addition to the introduction, there are five chapters, each of which begins by examining an aspect of the Parthenon sculptures. Fullerton explains his approach on pages 10f.:
'Rather than suppress or deny the central role of the Classical in our understanding of ancient Greek art, this book instead pushes that centrality to the foreground. The ambiguity inherent in the term classical is exploited, since this text uses the term Classical narrowly defined (as the period 480- 323 BC) to explore certain common features of the term classical broadly defined (as Greek and Roman culture generally). In the . . . introduction, I shall present an overview of developing concepts of the Classical from antiquity to the present day. Each succeeding chapter identifies a theme crucial to the reading of ancient Greek art -- the political purposes of art (Chapter One), its role in self- definition and the depiction of the 'other' (Two), its narrative and historical function (Three), the importance of style in the construction of meaning (Four), and the afterlife of the Classical (Five). Each chapter begins by illustrating its particular theme through the example of the Parthenon. A structure which has stood continually and conspicuously since its completion in 432, the Parthenon more than any other single monument has captured the imagination of succeeding generations as the very symbol of Classical (and classical) civilization. It is unusually well documented, it was richly embellished with figurative imagery, and its materials are, despite the vicissitudes of time, exceptionally well preserved. In the second section of each chapter, the chosen theme serves as the key to exploring one specific period in the development of Greek art; a concluding section demonstrates the universality of that theme throughout Greek art. The object is to respect the chronological development of the visual arts in Greece while at the same time acknowledging the unity of Greek art, especially in terms of the functions it served and the values it reflected.'In contrast to most treatments, therefore, this one commences in the middle and works backwards and forwards. For those with experience it is thought- provoking. Surely Fullerton is right that the Classical period is fundamental to the way we conceive of the development of Greek art and the character of all the major periods. In the introduction he shows that special concentration on the Classical age was already a feature of ancient views, especially at the time of the Second Sophistic (pp. 11-19). Modern constructs owe much to Winckelmann, writing in the mid-18th Century, who was the first to apply the organic model of development to Greek art (pp. 21f.). Unfortunately, he relied largely on Roman copies, was often unaware of this fact, produced a synthesis based upon misdated pieces, assumed linear stylistic development, and so on. The Riace warriors (pp. 23- 25) show that different styles were contemporaneous, the result (in their case) of bronze-casting techniques rather than stylistic evolution governed by a fundamental desire for naturalism.
Chapter One opens with a discussion of the Parthenon pediments (pp. 27-35). Themes of local relevance are noted amid an air of iconographic ambiguity (p. 34). The Parthenon is described as a 'communal product' (p. 33), which made a statement about the greatness of the Athenians. The ancients did not distinguish between concerns that might today be classed as political, religious, social, or economic (p. 34). It was fundamentally a matter of status -- that of the individual within the polis (and the people were the polis), or of the polis in relation to other poleis. Individual behaviour was marked by co-operation and competition. These conditions were fundamental to the production of Greek art, a point underlined by studying the emergence of Geometric art in the context of the rise of the polis. Funerals were one prominent social ritual which served to differentiate the nobles, and the social pressures of the age lay behind the emergence of human figures on painted vases. Kouroi, korai and grave reliefs may similarly be read as public statements of service to the state (pp. 43-51).
Chapter Two notes that Greek art is heavily concerned to mark otherness. The Parthenon metopes illustrate conflict between Greeks and others (pp. 53-59). The message is quite general in its application; precision is avoided; there is ambiguity (e.g., p. 58). Did the Athenians empathize with the Trojans? Should we read misogyny into the metopes? Subsequent topics include Orientalizing as a means of indicating otherness (pp. 59-67), self- definition (pp. 67-77), the characterization of alien races, distinguishing women from men, and the marginalization of women in the context of character studies for men (with notable reference to the famous statue of Demosthenes, pp. 76f.). Greek art, it is argued, was always fundamentally generic (p. 77), but artists developed ways to distinguish generic types -- men from women, human from bestial, animal from monster. Much attention has been given to the youthful male as ideal figure. Fullerton sees reason to change the focus: 'The construction of other is indeed the construction of self' (p. 77).
Chapter Three, examining the intersection between myth, history and narrative, commences with the Parthenon Frieze and once more finds unresolved ambiguity (pp. 79-88). Identification and meaning are not at all the same thing. Fullerton draws attention to the over-readiness of scholars to tie specific objects and changes in style to precise historical events. A dated monument like the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi assumes inordinate importance for the dating of works of Archaic art. The kouroi identified as 'Kleobis and Biton' are commonly linked to the famous tale in Herodotus (1.31) about the pious sons of a priestess of Hera at Argos. When it comes to narrative, 'The differences between synoptic and monoscenic narrative, or even between narrative and emblematic images, is [sic] not always clear-cut and is most often reader-determined' (p. 101). History and allegory work together, as can be seen with the sculptures of the Temple of Athena Nike (pp. 103- 06), for example.
Chapter Four, concentrating on matters of style, is particularly rewarding. The metopes of the Parthenon, notably those on the south, vary in style (pp. 109-15), but this fact should not be taken to support Rhys Carpenter's idea that there was a Kimonian Parthenon (p. 109). Fullerton is surely right to assert that '. . . style is not determined by date alone: subject, function, pose, and even narrative play their roles in determining the appearance of sculptures' (p. 114). Rather than a steady evolution in style over time, major changes should be linked to the nature of Greek society, '[which was] participatory, inquisitive, rational, and highly competitive' (p. 115). The organic model thus fails as a universally applicable principle. Style becomes a matter of choice among co-existing possibilities (p. 115). The events of 480 BC were not as pivotal as has long been held (pp. 121-23). Style change in the fourth century has often been linked to a shift in interest from the ideal to the real, which in turn is often seen as a product of the decline of the polis. Fullerton shows that pluralism rather than evolution is characteristic of the period. It was an age of local and regional differences, and of eclecticism (pp. 128-38). The major change in style came around the time of the Parthenon rather than the end of the Peloponnesian War (p. 138).
The fifth and final chapter, entitled '(Re)constructing Classicism', ties together a number of strands of the argument. It begins with an examination of Pheidias' statue of Athena Parthenos (pp. 141-50). Types that may be connected in some way to it become ubiquitous later. But are they reflections of the Parthenos in particular or of successive reworkings of the Classical (pp. 149f.)? This kind of question complicates our understanding of the Hellenistic Classicism of (e.g.) Pergamon, the new Athens (pp. 150-54). There is no question that later ages have found a variety of uses for Classical art. The Romans were skilled in doing so, notably Augustus (pp. 160f.) and Hadrian (pp. 163- 65). Even the well known 'composite' statues, such as the Pseudo-Athlete from Delos (pp. 154-56), should not be dismissed as ignorant quotations. The 'verism' detected by modern viewers owes much to the fact that we have become conditioned to think that things should look Greek. Roman portraits were in fact motivated by the same desire to capture the nature and character of the subject which produced the study of Demosthenes (p. 154). Ultimately, 'the Classical was and is both momentary and timeless; that is its perpetual power and that is its eternal appeal' (p. 167).
There are no footnotes but a modest bibliography of four pages appears at the back, arranged chapter by chapter (pp. 170-73). It struck me that Greek art and Roman art appear more alike in this book than in any other that I have read. Both sets of peoples were choosing and modifying for reasons fundamentally related to status. Both saw something special about the age which produced the Parthenon. The Greeks were not more intellectual, humanistic, freedom-loving or 'artistic' than the Romans. Their choices were different and they made different combinations of things 'Classical'. Style, therefore, did not evolve smoothly, in a linear manner; it was irregular, multi-directional, unpredictable. But if this was stimulating, the recurring emphasis upon generic depiction and ambiguity was slightly disturbing. Certainly, that which is 'Classical' has been much-constructed by numerous generations. But does this mean that there were no specifics? The discussion of the Parthenon frieze, for instance, seemed to permit open-ended indeterminacy in respect of the subject of the frieze (pp. 79-88). We do not, of course, have literary testimony as to the subject, nor have generations of scholars been able to agree completely on what the frieze represents. There have been powerful attacks recently on the traditional view that the frieze represents a contemporary celebration of the Great Panathenaia. I do not mean to undermine in general the point about identification and meaning being things of a very different order. Yet the frieze represents a procession which ends with (what can most naturally be taken to be) the Panathenaic peplos being handed over. The frieze is located on a temple of Athena that is in turn located on the Acropolis at Athens. There were other festivals, processions, and sacrifices at Athens, but how many of them involved all these elements: Athena, Acropolis, peplos? How many specifically celebrated Athena's birth, and apparently also her role in the defeat of the giants,[] as depicted in the pediment and metopes at the front of the Parthenon?[] And what of the lavish scale of the event depicted? The Great Panathenaia was the greatest of the Athenian festivals. Our literary sources may mention details which cannot be traced in the frieze, but this is hardly surprising, for the frieze is not a comprehensive record. Nor, for that matter, are our literary sources, which turn out to be snippets of information preserved here and there in scholia and late lexica.[] There is no warrant in this case for implying that the literary sources form a control against which to measure the art. Ambiguity should not, I imagine, frustrate but stimulate. Multiple meanings can be a way to create meaning, to add meaning to meaning in a positive way, to engender dynamism and power around something deemed worthy enough to contemplate or debate. It is not clear to me why we should shrink from thinking that the Athenians had some primary subject in mind that would not necessarily preclude the evocation of other subjects and ideas.
There is much to admire about this compact and stimulating book. Its presentation and price will be attractive to students but I would reiterate that it is not really suitable for beginners. One senses that challenging books like this one are the prelude to a new kind of history of Greek art. Perhaps Fullerton himself will now move on to such a project.[]
[] J.M. Hurwit, The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present (Cambridge 1999) 228, 233.
[] A gigantomachy was also woven into the peplos: Eur. Hec. 466-74; Pl. Euth. 6b-c; E.J.W. Barber, 'The Peplos of Athena', in J. Neils (ed.), Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens (Princeton 1992) 103-17, esp. 112-17.
[] J.B. Connelly, 'Parthenon and Parthenoi: A Mythological Interpretation of the Parthenon Frieze', AJA 100 (1996) 54: 'disparate sources mostly of Hellenistic through Byzantine date'; 76 n. 150: 'the later sources . . . conflict in so many ways'; J. Neils, 'The Panathenaia: An Introduction', in Neils (ed.), Goddess and Polis: The Panathenaic Festival in Ancient Athens (Princeton 1992) 14: '[many of our literary sources] are Hellenistic, Roman, or even Byzantine commentaries on classical texts and so considerably later than the period under consideration'; J. Neils, 'Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance: The Iconography of Procession', in J. Neils (ed.), Worshipping Athena: Panathenaia and Parthenon (Madison 1996) 182: 'all of the surviving ancient testimonia on the Panathenaia are later than the vases and the frieze.' The written sources are discussed most fully in L. Deubner, Attische Feste (Berlin 1932); L. Ziehen, 'Panathenaia', in RE 18.3 (1949) 457-89; H.W. Parke, Festivals of the Athenians (London 1977) 37-50; E. Simon, Festivals of Attica (Madison 1983) 55-72. Neils (1992) 14, is good on the limitations of all types of relevant evidence, including inscriptions and pottery.
[] Some minor infelicities might be corrected in a second edition: Fig. 35, a ground plan of the Parthenon, has transposed the subjects of the east and west friezes; Fig. 45 should read 101 1/4 "; Fig. 62 has a space between 's' and 'houlders'. More surprising and regular throughout are failures to deploy the possessive apostrophe properly.