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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

One - Theorising ‘Meaning in the Making’

Summary

When we think of ‘ancient art’, it is probably the architecture, sculpture and paintings of Greece, Rome and Egypt that come to mind. These are archetypes that form our vision of ancient art.1 That they occur in literate cultures in which art and text go hand-in-hand is hardly a coincidence. As suggested in a recent Companion to Greek Art, Classical archaeologists ‘would rarely, if ever, speak of the Athena Parthenos, a gold and ivory cult statue designed by the sculptor Pheidias, without referencing Pliny or Pausanias’.2 Herein we find another clue to the apparent accessibility of the art of these cultures: that artists may also be named, in this case Pheidias. We might feel that this focus on what Smith and Plantzos call the ‘triumvirate’ of architecture, sculpture and painting is perfectly reasonable, if these art forms are prevalent, and their study produces rich results. The downside, however, is that it leaves ‘much of the rest relegated to the ill-defined catch-all phrase of “minor arts”’.3