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Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

22nd April 2016 at St Andrews

Workshop hosted by the School of Classics, University of St Andrews

While the everyday in Mediterranean society has received some attention in the last few decades, an area which has so far been little studied is the creation of extraordinary art out of ordinary objects. In some cases - such as elaborately-decorated spindle whorls - this may have been a purely personal act to identify the object or to make it more pleasing to use. In other cases such as gravestones, the particularization of the ordinary created such competition that it led to laws of austerity being imposed in certain places, and on a very broad scale, the detailed and masterly decoration given to cheap ceramic vessels in Greece has proved lastingly hard to explain.

We invite colleagues to participate in this one-day workshop to discuss different expressions of the extraordinary in ordinary objects. We seek to include a range of geographical areas and periods to shed light on the meanings behind the creation of individualized pieces out of mundane objects and the elaboration of the everyday. 


9.30-9.45 Introduction to the Workshop (John Oakley William & Mary)
9.45 -10.30 John Oakley (William & Mary) 'The Influence of Greek Sculpture on American Tombstones’ 
10.30-11.00 Jon Coulston (St Andrews) ‘Shutting the stable door: four lost Roman bronze horses’
11.00-11.15 Coffee
11.15-11.45 Rebecca Sweetman & Sophia Mirashrafi (St Andrews) ‘Through a glass darkly: perceptions of artefact, art and context’  
11.45-12.15 Mark Jackson (Newcastle) 'Well-dressed? The embodied decoration of early Byzantine water jars’
12.15-1.45 Lunch
1.45-2.15 Sian Lewis (St Andrews) ‘The Farthest Shore of Figure-Decoration’
2.15-2.45 Elizabeth Moignard (Glasgow) ‘In our Cups’
2.45-3.45 Discussion
3.45 -4.00 Closing remarks
4.15 -5.15 Wine reception
5.30 Dinner at the Byre (book via the online shop)


Booking information 

Please register by Sunday 17 April 2016. 

There are two options

Please specify any dietary requirements when you register. 


John Oakley (William & Mary) 

Although there has been much research on American grave monuments, and a general picture of the changing tastes in their nature and style has been well observed, no study yet has focused on how Greek sculpture influenced American gravestones. What I present in this lecture is the first attempt to do so. The earliest American gravestones have little which is Greek, but this started to change in the last decades of the 18th century, as neoclassical art started to have an influence on the motifs found on gravestones. With the introduction of “Rural or Garden Cemeteries”, a change which corresponded roughly with the rise in popularity of Greek Revival Architecture, gravestones based directly on ancient Greek prototypes start to appear. These include simple rectangular stelai, palmette stelai, pedimental stealai, and naiskoi stelai. Some are nearly exact copies of surviving ancient works, such as the gravestone based on the “Calvert Stele” in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Others mark the graves of famous men, such as that on the tomb of our 27th President, William Howard Taft (1857-1930) in Arlington National Cemetery. Most date between the late 19th century and the 1930’s, a time span when Greek Revival architecture became very popular again, and when Victorian values prevailed valorizing all things Greek and leading to self identification with ancient Greece. One suspects that in most cases these American classicizing monuments, which have never been properly collected or studied, were meant to serve that role.

Jon Coulston (St Andrews)

Shutting the stable door: four lost Roman bronze horses

This paper explores the evidence for four Roman ’bronze’ equestrian statues erected in Rome during the 1st century BC to 4th century AD. All four were lost as artefacts, but have survived for modern study through poetry, histories, epigraphy, numismatic iconography, and excavation of their original sites. These were the statues erected to honour Iulius Caesar, Domitian, Trajan and Constantius II. Their individual narratives became intimately interwoven because of their close physical proximity and their charged political dimensions. They were extraordinary artworks in terms of scale and fame. However, like so many images of deities, honorific dedications, and other statuary imported to the imperial capital and erected at key points in the urbanscape, they would also have become very familiar in the lives of Rome’s residents. Such works might become almost ‘invisible’ yet play an active part in both the imagined city and the practical patterns of diurnal and seasonal pathways. Urban Romans well knew the city’s prominent artworks, using them as popular toponyms and as meeting places. The equestrian statues may be compared to the statue parlante of the Renaissance and modern city, or to 'The Mucky Angel' in Newcastle upon Tyne (a Boer War Memorial with a Victory on the top: 'mucky' because it was a traditional meeting point for courting couples). Only one actual equestrian statue survives in Rome from the ancient period (Marcus Aurelius, now in the Piazza di Campidoglio), but there would have been an accumulation of scores over time. Unfortunately these artefacts were eminently recyclable. They could be seen as ‘everyday’ in the sense of well-recognised images, frequently encountered in town throughout the Roman empire, but also as ‘extraordinary artworks’, the echoes of which in the varied evidence were not silenced by mere physical obliteration. Thus the everyday became extraordinary in the context of the imperial metropolis, yet the extraordinary became everyday in the lives of metropolitan Romans. 

Rebecca Sweetman & Sophia Mirashrafi (St Andrews) 

Through a glass darkly: perceptions of artefact, art and context  

Abstract: This paper will outline a new project we have begun on the digitisation of the collection of Cypriot material in the School of Classics. One of the key project aims is to test how different experiences of archaeological material impact on one’s understanding of the material as art or artefact. 

Mark Jackson (Newcastle)

Well-dressed? The embodied decoration of early Byzantine water jars

Abstract: Byzantine houses from rural settlements have rarely been excavated in Turkey. Their contents however reveal that the (much neglected!) ordinary can be very extraordinary. Engaging with previous research which has tended to consider the apotropaic and magical function of motifs decorating objects in Byzantine contexts (e.g. Maguire 1989; Russell 1995), this paper will seek to consider further explanations for their roles and decoration. The paper will focus on a significant assemblage of early Byzantine jars excavated from houses at Kilise Tepe in southern Turkey where locally-made, closed vessels feature a decorative repertoire familiar from other contexts within the Byzantine world including: birds, vegetation, fish and crosses. The vessels provide comparative insights into the decoration of clothing and bodies. Some of the motifs appear to reveal that pots also may have been physically dressed; they were also carried. The paper will consider the role of the jars not simply as containers loaded with decoration in the house, but also as embodied objects loaded on the heads of women as part of the routine of water collection. Of significance also is the metaphorical role of water in enlivening the motifs on the pot, as water also refreshes the human body when both become wet. Meanwhile comparison of head-loading in contemporary contexts reveals that the carrying of jars themselves could have implications not only for the posture and display of women’s bodies in public, but also their long-term physical health. The decoration of these vessels will thus be considered as part of the broader repertoire of the early Byzantine village life and within the everyday context of household objects. 

Sian Lewis (St Andrews)

The Farthest Shore of Figure-Decoration

Abstract This paper will discuss groups of Attic (and possibly Boeotian) black and red-figure pots with repetitive animal decoration, such as horsehead amphorae, owl-skyphoi and askoi.

Elizabeth Moignard (Glasgow)

In our Cups

Abstract: Reflections on the enhancement of a routine piece of crockery by specialised decoration to become a work of art, as an expression of class, wealth, family history, group ethos, social or political messages or other purposes, via a few notes on contemporary formal practice.

water jar

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