Craftscapes in Action: Makers and Making in the Ancient World

The standard textbooks of ancient art tend to present its history either in narratives concentrating on great artists and their inventions or as a succession of “anonymous” period styles. Both traditions are based on selective syntheses of ancient texts that reveal, on closer inspection, only an oblique interest in art. In this seminar we will take a closer look at the objects themselves to explore what they can reveal about ancient processes of creation. We will consider how different techniques (such as weaving, freehand modelling, molding, painting, engraving, carving, hammering, etc.) were applied to different media (from textile fibers, clay, faience, glass to metals and stone) to create decorative and utilitarian items as well as art and architecture. Focus on specific case studies will be combined with discussion of theoretical insights from craft studies and themes relating to creativity, such as imitation, design, recycling, risk, and failure. Particular attention will be given to the diversity of approaches that can be brought to bear in studying ancient craft—from small scale analyses of how hands, minds, and materials collaborated in the process of creation to investigation of the social and economic settings in which creativity was embedded, including domestic production, workshop organization, patronage, mobility, and markets. Last but not least we will examine how the status of artists and originality was expressed in ancient signatures and workshop treatises and how the reception of such texts from the Renaissance onwards elevated ancient craftspeople to paragons for modern artists. 3 credits. Satisfies the chronological requirement.