Ornament and Figure in Graeco-Roman Art: Rethinking Visual Ontologies in Classical Antiquity

Michael James Squire, Nikolaus Dietrich

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


How does ‘decoration’ work? What are the relationships between ‘ornamental’ and ‘figurative’ modes? And how do such modern western distinctions relate to other critical traditions?

While such questions have been much debated among art historians, our book offers an ancient visual cultural perspective. On the one hand, we argue, Greek and Roman materials have been instrumental in shaping modern assumptions. On the other hand, modern western ideologies about ‘figure’ and ‘ornament’ are fundamentally removed from ancient Greek and Roman ideas: classical perspectives can therefore shed light on larger aesthetic debates about what images are – and indeed what they should be.

This anthology of specially commissioned essays explores a variety of case studies, both literary and art historical: it discusses materials from across the ancient Mediterranean, and from Geometric art all the way through to late antiquity; it also tackles questions of ‘figure’ and ‘ornament’ in a range of media, including painting, free-standing statues, relief sculpture, mosaics and architecture. As well as bringing together different national academic traditions, the book seeks to build a bridge between formalist approaches and broader cultural historical perspectives. Combining theoretical discussion and close analytical interpretations, contributors interrogate shifting ideas of the image in both antiquity and the ensuing western critical tradition.
Original languageMultiple languages
PublisherWalter de Gruyter
ISBN (Print)978-3-11-046957-8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017

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