Professor Verity Platt, Cornell University, will address the topic “Bodies, Bases and Borders: Framing the Divine in Greco-Roman Antiquity”. The event is part of the Seminar on Ancient Art and Archaeology lecture series. The Seminar on Ancient Art and Archaeology invites scholars to share their current research with the research community at the Institute of Fine Arts and in the metropolitan area, and to meet and talk with IFA graduate students.
Traditionally, to visualize the Greco-Roman gods has been to focus primarily upon their bodies: their degree of anthropomorphism, the beguiling power of naturalism, and the subtle means of iconographic differentiation by which individual deities might be defined and recognized. But to ‘imagine the divine’ in antiquity was to engage with a far broader and more complex set of visual strategies.
Focusing on representations of Athena on the Athenian Acropolis, this paper focuses on those elements of divine depiction that might be considered ‘parergonal’ – the panoply of ‘columns, drapery and frames’ that post-Kantian art history deemed superfluous to the work (that is, the deity itself). Together, Greco-Roman bodies and frames worked to construct a notion of interiority that served to make the gods present for their worshippers – to give their images agency. Yet this concentric system of frames also extended to the surfaces of cult statues themselves – to the colors, materials, attributes and clothing that defined the gods’ external appearances. To view sacred images in this way not only decenters the role of the body in the Greco-Roman religious imagination, but also recognizes the inherent flexibility and improvisatory nature of a visual system that would have abiding influence over the great religions that superseded it.