Art and Power: Methodological Case Studies
Chair: Patricia Eunji Kim, University of Pennsylvania
1. Fleshed Out: The Gendered Dynamics of Dynasty and Display in the Ancient Mediterranean (Fourth Century BCE)
Author: Patricia Eunji Kim, University of Pennsylvania
2. Architectural Mechanics of Power in Julianus Argentarius' Ravenna (ca. 522–49 CE)
Author: Kaelin Jewell, Temple University
3. A Hell Built for the Living: A Study of the Hell Tableaux at Baodingshan, Dazu
Author: Zhao Yi, University of Kansas
This panel reflects on the ways that various political stakeholders have mobilized visual and material culture as expressions of power across cultures, historical periods, systems of knowledge, and geographies. With a particular focus on pre-modern cultures, the case studies analyze a wide range of objects, images, and monuments that include commemorative sculpture, urban architecture, illuminated paintings, and monumental cave shrines. These cross-cultural and trans-temporal conversations offer generative possibilities for new methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks to explore a number of issues around power in art history: from the aesthetics of sovereignty; to objects and monuments as technologies of power; to the intimate relationship between text and image in formulating political ideology; to concerns around authorship and patronage as a means to reiterate and reinforce power. Discussions of political power and art demand engagements with broader questions interrogating how power is formulated, maintained, and perpetuated. For instance, how do various vectors of identity—gender, status, religious affiliation—simultaneously generate asymmetrical power relations and inflect the way that supremacy is performed? In this vein, the papers each address how ideologies and aesthetics of political might were translated to diverse audiences and across geopolitical borderlines, while also grappling with the problem of interpreting visual and material culture from the distant past in the present moment.
Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America
Session: Bodies, Dress, and Adornment
January 6, 2018
The Hekatomnid dynasts of Karia in southwest Asia Minor emerged as powerful, semi-autonomous satraps with political authority both within and beyond their kingdom in the fourth century BCE. The unique dynamics and sociocultural formulations of dynastic identity have been the subject of historical discourse—from Hekatomnid practices of consanguineous marriage to the relative prominence of their dynastic women on the political stage. Indeed, architectural historians have discussed how Hekatomnid women were unique because of their striking presence in the sculptural program of the famous world-wonder, the Maussolleion of Halikarnassos. Nevertheless, scholars have not yet fully analyzed the extant corpus of images, portraits, and monuments dedicated by and for Karian queens in relation to each other. The art historical evidence for Karian queenship is diverse in terms of the historical circumstances and cultural contexts of their display. Thus, a re-examination of the extant corpus offers fresh perspectives on the multiple dimensions of gendered power dynamics and the complex contours of Karian queenship throughout the Mediterranean.
This paper creates, analyzes, and presents different variations of maps that assemble the epigraphic, sculptural, textual, and archaeological data for Karian dynastic women. Modern-day geospatial and digital visualizations make the images and bodies of women leaders legible across the ancient, eastern Mediterranean landscape. My synthetic analysis includes an examination of the various roles played by Karian royal women, demonstrating the complex articulations of their political identities. In this way, we might better understand the relationship between gender and power in Karia, and how those formulations may or may not have conflicted with the sociocultural dynamics of power around and beyond their kingdom. Mapping Karian queenship furthermore contributes to broader conversations regarding (re)presentations of women in different kinds of public spaces. These methods of analysis prompt reconsiderations of “local” and “supraregional” or “Asian” and “Greek” sculptural traditions, providing a critical opportunity to move beyond questions of style to focus instead on issues of gender in political art. By geo-locating Karian female bodies, I ask how conceptions of gender and femaleness shaped inter-regional distinctions of dynastic identity through art. These gendered power dynamics both bolstered and subverted constructs of heroic masculinity and masculinist regimes within autocratic societies. Moreover, the fourth-century Karian expressions of gender and power provided a vocabulary for dynastic visual culture in Asia Minor that resonated far outside the geographic and temporal confines of their rule.
The Satala "Aphrodite"
Since 1873, the so-called Satala Aphrodite has lived at the British Museum. Born in the 2nd-1st c BCE, she is wrought of bronze while her eyes were originally inlaid with precious stones. She is Anahita, or Anahid in Armenian, the Iranian goddess that embodied fertility and love, health and wisdom.
It is more than likely that in antiquity she was honored and revered as the cult statue of a goddess. The truth is, there is no knowing to whom this head belonged with certainty given the way it came to light on the antiquities market. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that her findspot is described as the following: “Asia,Turkey,Black Sea Region (Turkey),Gümüşhane (province),Satala” (Britishmuseum.org, Accessed September 24, 2017).
Although Satala, or Sadak, is located in modern-day Turkey, its geolocation had historically been associated with Armenia: from the Orontid kingdom of Armenia from the 6th c BCE; to its designation as the province of Armenia, subject to Imperial Rome; and if art historical analytic dating is to be trusted, at the time of the bronze head's creation, Satala was part of the territories of the Artaxiad Dynasty who ruled the Kingdom of Armenia by the 2nd c BCE. Indeed, even at the time of the bronze head’s discovery, when explorer J.G. Taylor wrote of the town in his “Journal of a Tour in Armenia, Kurdistan, and Upper Mesopotamia” Satala was centrally located in a region politically and culturally recognized as Armenia. Satala only recently changed to the hands of the Turkish government when over a million Armenians were displaced and exterminated by the Ottoman Turks during the Armenian Genocide.
It is striking the ways that modern nationalism and histories inflect and steer the course of historical narrative. Populations and politics of landscapes inevitably change over time, and there is nothing inherently “Armenian” about the bronze head. Yet the erasure of the head’s historical context raises scholarly and ethical stakes for the role of the art historian, archaeologist, and museum (Meskell 2010). The head offers a critical opportunity to discuss religious and artistic practices throughout the Artaxiad kingdom. Moreover, the bronze head is part of modern Armenian cultural heritage, as much as it is part of the Greek cultural imaginary. Therefore, it is in these contexts, both the Hellenistic period Artaxiad Dynasty and in the context of 19th and early 20th century history of modern Armenia, that the "Satala Aphrodite" might productively be analyzed. To ignore these two historical facts not only facilitates historical amnesia, but also re-enacts the violence at the heart of ethnic cleansing from 1915-1922.
Of this monumental bronze head, the poet Peter Balakian discusses these issues of erasure and violence in his 2016 "Head of Anahit/British Museum." In this erotically charged and mournful poem, he longingly writes:
“I’m gazing at the head of Anahit—Armenian/ goddess of fertility and love—/(no more local than the Brooklyn Bridge)/ staring at the green and red paint still speckled on her bronze head./ I love her serpentine upper lip, her eyes of black space—/I stare into the screw hole in her neck/ the two curlicues of hair on her forehead//her august throat; her dense acanthine hair.”
Balakian, Peter. "Head of Anahit/British Museum." POETRY, Volume 208, Issue 5, pp. 476-479.
Meskell, Lynn. 2010. "Human Rights and Heritage Ethics." Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 4, pp. 839–860.
Taylor, J.G. "Journal of a tour in Armenia, Kurdistan and Upper Mesopotamia, with Notes of Researches in the Deyrsim Dagh, in 1866." Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, vol.38 (1868) pp.281–361