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Artist-P The story of the Aphrodite of Cnidus is somewhat similar. Pliny tells us of a lover who hid himself in the temple at night and attempted to make love to the statue leaving a stain on it as evidence of his lust. At the same time one can also find other, more surprising evidence of lovers supposedly besotted with aniconic or semi-iconic objects. For example Figure 7. Such statues as were deemed capable of speech or movement were not necessarily taken more seriously as cult images: quite the contrary.

Theurgy, the magical animation of statues, occupies a special space in Roman religious thought. It most certainly does not belong to the mainstream activities of cult. Admittedly most of the comments come from the Christian writers, but not all of them. Lucian, for example, is similarly dismissive of the tricks used by the fraudulent holy-man, Alexander of Abonoteichus, in the mid-second century AD. They are perhaps rather exceptional examples, but it is also important to note that in general Roman responses to cult images were not connected in any regular or predictable way to the particular form of the images.

It has been demonstrated that aniconic and iconic cult objects were venerated in similar ways in the Roman world. Both occupy the same social position in Roman imperial cult, though they were evidently recognized as very different kinds of representation, mediating differing forms of agency, and their local circumstances and historical origins were naturally distinct. So whatever anthropo- morphism offers as means of giving substance to absent deities, it does not at first sight seem to be fundamental to central rituals of Roman cult — to the offering of sacrifices or the veneration and cultivation of the god through his or her physical extensions.

To explain this concept of representation Gell uses the analogy of the ambassador, who represents a country without actually resembling it.

The aniconic cult image, like the ambassador, is frequently unique figure 7. Some such images have features in common, like conical shape, and it is true that aniconic or semi-iconic images can be reproduced — they can have an iconography the Hindu Shiva linga is a good example.


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But generally speaking these are local cults and the literary sources consistently emphasize their local peculiarity. In contrast, iconic, anthro- pomorphic statues of gods, despite the association of particular works with individual places or artists, are infinitely reproducible and distribut- able, as long as there is adherence to iconographical principles.

AD — : the conical cult image of Aphrodite in its sanctuary at Paphos. The British Museum. Iconography has a social reality. The iconography of gods makes them easy to represent and recognize in different places and circumstances: it allows them to be conjured into existence even without the sorts of rituals of animation discussed by Gell.

From its very creation therefore, this special cult image, the work of a master sculptor, with an apparently unprecedented sensual appeal, was a kind of duplicate or alternative. Like many cult statues including the Aphrodite of Cnidus , the Ephesian Artemis was reproduced in many different formats and media in the Roman period. Ephesian Artemis was very much a local divinity, but rendered distributable by her striking iconography. It is hard, however, to see how this would be an improvement on the existing abstractions of art history or semiotics.

But some of the ideas Gell propounds have a closer relevance to the workings of iconography. Indeed the principles of iconography lie just under the surface of his discussions toward the end of the book. In one sense it owes its existence as an idol to the agency of the god, or at least we abduct the agency of the god from such physical forms. It is hardly surprising that the ruler portrait was treated as a proxy, presented with petitions, appealed to for asylum, venerated, and perhaps feared.

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Indeed, the living emperor was worshipped in just the same way in many parts of the empire, his portraits serving as the focus of cult. Thus classical art historians have found it relatively easy to indulge their penchant for typology and classification by categorizing imperial portraits within a sequence of types. In more subtle ways it also implied connections between images. Thus the complicated family rela- tionships of dynasties like the Julio-Claudians of the first century AD were homogenized beneath, in this case, a classicizing veneer that implied their connection with the emperor Augustus and the values associated with him.

What is important is that all such ramifications were rooted in the putative existence of a real prototype implied by the proliferation of congruent images. One might say that portraiture as a genre notionally exists to extend personhood beyond the natural constraints of time and space. The same principles apply to more conventional, iconic cult images.

The gods have no reproducible facial likeness in the manner of imperial portraits, but since such portrait likenesses were fictionalized and might as well have been fictional, there is little fundamental difference.

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Gell himself extends the concept in the last two chapters of his book to help explain styles and corpora as unities which are embodied in each one of their constituent elements. In connection with all these issues it is worth briefly noting two, quite self-conscious, Roman philosophical comments on divine iconography, both of which have a bearing on how we perceive iconography as a system.

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A century or so later, and in a different philosophical context, Seneca uses what we should call statuary iconography or typology as an illustra- tion of classical theories of causes. For Aristotle and Plato the necessary causes include the material, the maker, the form of the work, and its purpose. To these Plato adds the idea or ideal pattern instantiated by the individual object.

The ideal pattern is presented either as an internal, mental schema or as an external model that the artist can imitate. None of this relates explicitly to the represen- tation or veneration of deities, but it is theoretically significant and useful, for it demonstrates a reconciliation between what we might consider iconography or typology and something like the processes of abduction explored by Art and Agency.

Gell resorts little to ancient philosophy in his discussions. The idolatrous cultures which the book seeks to elucidate are perhaps simplified to exclude inconsistency, skepticism or rationaliza- tion, though these are no less important a part of the reception of art in context. In the Roman Empire these contradictions of idol-worship came to be emphasized with derision by early Christian authors. Their rationalizing, iconoclastic logic did not so much move the goal-posts of Roman cult as impose goal-posts on a previously ill-defined field. But Christians were not alone. It may be that such expressions are inherently unanthropological and should be left to historians.

For instance, in a fragment pre- served in the work of St. Augustine, Seneca derides the ritual cultivation of the cult images of the Capitoline Triad in Rome in every sense the central cult statues of the empire. Obviously this is an intellectual, skeptical critique, preserved in a Christian attack on idolatry. It is, in fact, conducted as a sort of mime, with the attendants acting out their activities while they deliberately stand away from the images.


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  • In this respect it differs from other examples of ritual care for images. Roman authors frequently comment on these odd objects as exceptions even though they accept that they are perfectly efficacious as cult images. For instance, Tacitus is intrigued by the famous conical cult image of Aphrodite at Paphos on Cyprus figure 7. The reason, however, is obscure. The herm was a widespread sculptural form that combined figured elements of deities and individuals head, genitalia with an iconic pillar.

    Among the most striking are the faceless funerary statues produced in the North African Greek city of Cyrene between about the fifth and first centuries BC figure 7. But their facial features are not represented sculpturally; they are carved smooth, as if a post has been dressed up in a wig and clothes.

    The symbolism of these bizarre images remains unclear, but they undoubtedly result from a conscious decision to modify anthropo- morphic conventions. The makers of such objects were not innocent anthropological subjects, unaware of the problems raised by different modes of divine representation. To an extent, all such criticisms and qualifications are misplaced.

    One might argue that the purpose of anthropological theory is not to offer universally applicable principles for the explanation of behavior in differ- ent cultures, but more precisely to elucidate those kinds of behavior that defy explanation in other terms. Yet this explanation does not do justice to the classical material as a fruitful field for anthropological inquiry and a testing ground for anthropological theory. The problem is that this challenge is posed by our anthropological subjects rather than by the academic discourse of the modern historian of Western art.

    Courtesy of Susan Kane. Shepherd and R. Maniura, eds. Humphreys, Anthropology and the Greeks London, , esp. On Roman cult images see e. Note critique in A.


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    Paris, ; H. Note D. On talking, weeping, etc. On binding: Bevan, Holy Images, pp. Coote and A. Shelton, eds.

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    Her ongoing research in Romania has been exploring everyday sites and practices of remembrance work in post-communist Bucharest, with the incorporation of film-making and other visual, sensory, and experimental methodologies into her fieldwork. Her research interests include contemporary art, urbanism, the public sphere and media studies. Most recently, she explored how contemporary art matters by following artwork journeys from the studio to the collection. Kim is widely published including two recent books linked to Johannesburg. The art of public space: Re-imagining and curating the ephemeral city followed a trilogy of performative art projects to suggest ideas around the commons; and August House is dead; long live August House!

    The story of a Johannesburg atelier is a book of creative nonfiction about the changing fortunes of an innercity building. She also engages other practitioners through nomadic curatorial platforms. Kim currently holds an Andrew W. Her thesis focused on the idea of Interruption and dissident architecture developed through writing practices and critical fiction understood as political practices of making architectural spaces. Since completing her first degree in architecture, she has been committed to teaching, research and practice in different international contexts.

    Lotte S. Lederballe Pedersen b. From Lotte S. Italian born, Matteo Lucchetti is a curator, art historian, and writer. His main curatorial interests are focused on artistic practices that redefine the role of art and the artist in society. His recent curatorial projects include: Marinella Senatore: Piazza Universale. Since , Lucchetti co-directs, with Judith Wielander, the Visible project, a research endeavor and the first European biennial award devoted to socially engaged artistic practices in a global context, initiated and supported by Pistoletto Foundation, Biella and Fondazione Zegna, Trivero.

    During his residency at BAK in , Lucchetti worked in the frame of the Former West project to develop curatorial and discursive possibilities for the new online platform of the research—the digital archive. Prior to joining the Public Art Agency, Malm was the founding director of Mobile Art Production, an independent arts organisation producing situation-specific art projects.

    She has curated a number of exhibitions at Moderna Museet Stockholm, at the Venice Art Biennale and at Iaspis international exchange program and she is co-editor of among other Black Box Illuminated and Imagining the Audience.