Diplomacy by Design: Luxury Arts and an "International Style" in the Ancient Near East, 1400-1200 BCE

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Overview


During the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries BCE, the kings of Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, and Hatti participated in a complex international community. These two hundred years also witnessed the production of luxurious artworks made of gold, ivory, alabaster, and faience—objects that helped to foster good relations among the kingdoms. In fact, as Marian H. Feldman makes clear here, art and international relations during the Late Bronze Age formed an unprecedented symbiosis, in concert with expanded travel and written communications across the Mediterranean. And thus diplomacy was invigorated through the exchange of lavish art objects and luxury goods, which shared a repertoire of imagery that modern scholars have called the first International Style in the history of art.
 
Previous studies have focused almost exclusively on stylistic attribution of these objects at the expense of social contextualization. Feldman’s Diplomacy by Design instead examines the profound connection between art produced during this period and its social and political contexts, revealing inanimate objects as catalysts—or even participants—in human dynamics. Feldman’s fascinating study shows the ways in which the diplomatic circulation of these works actively mediated and strengthened political relations, intercultural interactions, and economic negotiations and she does so through diverse disciplinary frameworks including art history, anthropology, and social history. Written by a specialist in ancient Near Eastern art and archaeology who has excavated and traveled extensively in this area of the world, Diplomacy by Design considers anew the symbolic power of material culture and its centrality in the construction of human relations.
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Editorial Reviews

Irene Winter

“Feldman’s argument is elegant and persuasive: that luxury goods and ceremonial exchange played a significant role, not only in elite interaction, but also in the very rhetoric of social and political relations. It is an eloquent testimony to the relationship between ‘style’ and ‘meaning.’”--Irene Winter, Harvard University
A. Bernard Knapp

“This is a superb piece of scholarship, as well crafted as the objects it describes in fluent and knowledgeable detail. Diplomacy by Design is a strikingly original, lucid volume bound to entice a diverse readership.”
Elizabeth Carter

Diplomacy by Design is a fine book that offers readers a useful and sophisticated synthesis of the late second millennium B.C. in the Ancient Near East. Feldman has written an excellent and innovative book, bringing together both anthropology and art history.”—Elizabeth Carter, University of California, Los Angeles 
Bryn Mawr Classical Review - Mehmet-Ali Atac

"The book is a dense read, rich in theory and terminology. . . . [Diplomacy by Design] is a wonderful resource not only for scholars specializing in the particular questions the book probes, but also for scholars and teachers of the ancient Near East at large in putting together the many pieces of one of the most complicated eras of ancient Near Eastern history. Feldman brings together within her expertise elements belonging to the study of Egypt, Assyria, the Hittites, the Aegean, each a discipline in its own right, and does not come across as amateur in any of them. The book certainly goes beyond the luxury objects it examines, becoming an authoritative study on the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the period."
Cambridge Archaeological Journal - David Wengrow

"Diplomacy by Design is that rarest of things: a stunningly produced book that also contains a bold argument and makes the reader think. Feldman has worked hard to question conventional boundaries of scholarship. . . . The outcome is likely to generate considerable debate, and should embolden all students of epigraphy, art history and archaeology to look beyond their ordinary specialisms towards a more holistic view of cross-cultural relations in the Bronze Age."
Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research - Allison Karmel Thomason

"A fascinating and meticulously researched book that has something for everyone: art historians, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and philologists. . . . Feldman's close descriptions and formal analyses of the 'International Style' objects is an art historian's dream. She tackles thorny issues and matters of great debate with aplomb and confidence. . . . She should be especially commended, indeed heartily congratulated, for her careful attention to defining precisely and fully the theoretical, art historical, and other terms that she uses for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with them."
Choice

"This thoughtful scholarship, applied to an explanation of a set of strange luxury goods of the 14th to 12th century BCE in the ancient New East, can broaden one's view of history and current globalization including art. In intense text with copious footnotes, bibliography, and index, Feldman uses ancient correspondence to clarify a unique style on gold and silver, ivory, alabaster, faience, and linen."
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"The book is a dense read, rich in theory and terminology. . . . [Diplomacy by Design] is a wonderful resource not only for scholars specializing in the particular questions the book probes, but also for scholars and teachers of the ancient Near East at large in putting together the many pieces of one of the most complicated eras of ancient Near Eastern history. Feldman brings together within her expertise elements belonging to the study of Egypt, Assyria, the Hittites, the Aegean, each a discipline in its own right, and does not come across as amateur in any of them. The book certainly goes beyond the luxury objects it examines, becoming an authoritative study on the social, cultural, and intellectual history of the period."—Mehmet-Ali Atac, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

— Mehmet-Ali Atac

Cambridge Archaeological Journal

"Diplomacy by Design is that rarest of things: a stunningly produced book that also contains a bold argument and makes the reader think. Feldman has worked hard to question conventional boundaries of scholarship. . . . The outcome is likely to generate considerable debate, and should embolden all students of epigraphy, art history and archaeology to look beyond their ordinary specialisms towards a more holistic view of cross-cultural relations in the Bronze Age."—David Wengrow, Cambridge Archaeological Journal

— David Wengrow

Bulletin of American Schools of Oriental Research

"A fascinating and meticulously researched book that has something for everyone: art historians, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, and philologists. . . . Feldman's close descriptions and formal analyses of the 'International Style' objects is an art historian's dream. She tackles thorny issues and matters of great debate with aplomb and confidence. . . . She should be especially commended, indeed heartily congratulated, for her careful attention to defining precisely and fully the theoretical, art historical, and other terms that she uses for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with them."

— Allison Karmel Thomason

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226240442
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Marian H. Feldman is assistant professor of ancient Near Eastern art in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Read an Excerpt

DIPLOMACY BY DESIGN

Luxury Arts and an "International Style" in the Ancient Near East, 1400-1200 BCE


By MARIAN H. FELDMAN University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-24044-2



Chapter One

REDEFINING THE "INTERNATIONAL STYLE"

The term international style has become entrenched in the literature as an artistic and stylistic category of the Late Bronze Age, and while some refinements have been undertaken since William Stevenson Smith introduced it as a classificatory category in 1965, it remains essentially unchallenged yet persistently problematic. Earlier studies touched on a general sense of shared and transferred artistic ideas, particularly between the regions of the Aegean and Egypt, with the Levant and Cyprus as a meeting ground ripe for intermingling. Later works have attempted to pin down specific mechanisms of artistic transference and to attribute pieces to localized workshops associated with given geographic areas. As scholars, we are becoming aware of the multiple ways in which our chosen range of vocabulary determines in part the types of questions we ask and the lines of argument in which we engage. The classificatory label international Style is no different, and I suggested in the book's introduction that its use has conditioned the scholarship of this group of objects in a manner that has lessened interest in their social role while heightening attention on acontextual issues of origin and stylistic development. This chapter thus reevaluates the category of international style as it has been applied to the luxury goods, proposing that a shift in terminology away from style toward visual hybridity offers illuminating new avenues for inquiry. A brief survey of previous art historical scholarship on the Late Bronze Age international style sets the foundation for my own discussion of the phenomenon.

By the early part of the twentieth century, archaeological activity in Egypt, the Aegean, and the Near East had produced a large enough body of material evidence for attempts at cross-cultural comparative studies to be undertaken. In 1947, Helene Kantor's The Aegean and the Orient was published, which examines relations between the two geographic areas through the premise of "adopted alien cultural traits." Kantor regarded the evolution of artistic features as the most promising field for investigations into cross-cultural influences. She asserted that pathways of cultural transference followed trade routes, which she determined by the distribution of imported Aegean (Minoan and Mycenaean) pottery in the Near East and Egypt. Directionality of influences was established by locating the first occurrence of an identifiable artistic motif, a method dependent on a notion of singular origin and always subject to reassessment by the appearance of hitherto unknown evidence. According to this approach, specific motifs and stylistic attributes designated as Aegean, such as the flying gallop and folded animal pose, later entered into traditional Egyptian art forms of the early Eighteenth Dynasty, creating a hybrid. In the following thirteenth century, the political truce reached between Egypt and Hatti allowed for an expansion of political and economic horizons that led to the establishment of a Mycenaean koiné along the Levantine coast and Cyprus, resulting in "far-reaching syncretistic tendencies."

Kantor's work set the stage for the international Style as a legitimate Late Bronze Age artistic phenomenon, which makes its appearance in William Stevenson Smith's 1965 monumental study on interconnections in the ancient Near East from 3000 BCE to the Persian period. A significant part of the work concentrates on the second millennium, and Smith's compilation of interconnections, both historical and art historical, penetrates beyond basic motif transference and one-way influences. Yet the book's unwieldy organization, which occasions repetition and imparts a sense of arbitrariness to his examples, makes his views on the international style hard to grasp as a coherent classificatory tool. This feature of his study has probably contributed to much of the inconsistency in the subsequent application of and implicit assumptions regarding the term. Smith uses the phrase to describe only works or aspects of works from the second half of the second millennium. He slips the term in at various points-sometimes placing it in quotation marks, sometimes also capitalizing it-without ever fully defining or developing it as a concept. The appellation appears early on as an already fully developed category that describes products from royal workshops; their internationalism is attributed to the interchange of motifs resulting from diplomatic exchanges of gifts between sovereigns of widely separated states. Over the course of the book, Smith describes a number of objects as part of the international Style, including ivory panels and two gold vessels from Ugarit (figs. 35-36a,b, plates 7-8), silver niello bowls found at Enkomi on Cyprus and Dendra on the Greek mainland, and ivory cutout elements from Assur; however, he never relates these objects to each other as a coherent stylistic group. Assembling the many references throughout the work, one can synthesize a general definition of the International Style along with its main characteristics. An unusual combination of "foreign" elements in a piece, which causes confusion as to its place of manufacture, is the most important variable in locating an object as part of this style. In addition, Smith predominantly sees the international style as decorative rather than substantive or iconographic.' According to him, it can be defined as a collection of motifs and artistic devices, such as voluted plants or the flying gallop, which were adopted and incorporated into various indigenous arts but without containing any real meaning.

Just two years after Smith's publication, Fritz Schachermeyr published Ägäis und Orient, subtitled "The Overseas Cultural Connections of Crete and Mycenae with Egypt, the Levant and Asia Minor with Specific Reference to the Second Millennium BC" (my translation). Looking at a large range of archaeological material from the regions directly bordering the eastern Mediterranean, Schachermeyr credits palaces, which from 2000 to 1200 were engaged in trading partnerships, as driving the development of a koiné. He attributes the phenomenon to an almost utopian "spirit (Geist) of cultural tolerance," which he divorces from the sphere of military conflicts that also characterize this period. Like Smith, he loosely associates the practice of gift exchange documented in the international correspondence with the dissemination of such a koiné.

In 1989, Janice Crowley published the most recent large-scale study of artistic relations between the Aegean and the Near East. Her work asks whether the common usage of specific motifs in these regions over the course of the entire Bronze Age (3000-1200) stemmed from indigenous creation or from transference between various artistic traditions. She professes little interest in the larger realm of cultural interconnections per se, focusing instead on specific occurrences of motif transference. A motif's distinctive detail, precise usage, and longevity combine to give it an individuality that, she asserts, allows the life history of individual motifs to be charted. Looking back at her work nearly ten years later, she considers its major contribution to have been the enrichment of Smith's definition of an international style by insisting on a cohesive form for the designated objects. This observation goes to the heart of the definitional problem caused by Smith's de-facto use of the term-namely, that the defining characteristic of the international style is the absence of a single identifiable cultural expression. Crowley's insistence that the objects not only not belong elsewhere, but also belong with one another, led her to postulate a more restricted set of works within the classification, which she divided into two further stylistic subgroups: an ornate and a severe. Taking her logic one step further, my redefined group of international objects consists more or less of her "ornate" group; I find her "severe" group less persuasive as a coherent entity. Moreover, while Crowley gives priority to "style" as the critical element of classification I believe it is the interdependence of what I prefer to call idiom and imagery. The use of style as the sole determining criteria is tightly bound up with the pursuit of sources of production, with style being considered the artistic "signature" of an artist, place, or period. This study's interest in use, meaning, and context leads me away from a strictly style-driven classification of these objects, allowing me to combine stylistic aspects with image-driven considerations that I consider related to intention and signification.

Within the body of scholarship on Late Bronze Age artistic internationalism, ivories have always generated a large share of analytical interest. In two articles published in 1956 and 1960, Kantor develops her concept of a Mycenaean koiné according to the specific evidence of ivories. In an extended review of Christiane de Mertzenfeld's publication concerning Near Eastern ivories, Kantor concentrates on those found in the Levant, a region she regards as exposed to influence from all sides and having no strong indigenous tradition of its own. She therefore classifies the ivories according to the foreign influences that they exhibit and notes that in several pieces, Mycenaean and "Canaanite" features intermix to such an extent that it is hardly possible to tell whether one is a Mycenaean ivory with borrowed Canaanite features or the other way around. For Kantor, ivories help trace "complex cultural exchanges characteristic of that period of internationalism" by means of stylistic analysis that differentiates schools of production. Noting the close relationship among ivories from Greece, Egypt, and the Near East, she enumerates precise attributes of style, execution, and motifs that she considers Mycenaean for individual pieces found outside mainland Greece, particularly those found at Megiddo and Delos.

Coming from an Aegean perspective, Jean-Claude Poursat's Les ivoires myceniens published in 1977 also examines the international artistic phenomenon of the Late Bronze Age through the lens of ivories, asserting that they formed a critical intermediary between Mycenaean Greece and the Near East. He is primarily concerned with establishing the location of workshops and plotting the formation and development of Mycenaean art, rather than exploring how the ivories participated in a larger cultural system. Deploying a formal analysis of ivories found on mainland Greece, Crete, the Aegean, Rhodes, Cyprus, and the Levant, Poursat concludes that they represent a fully Mycenaean art form, integrated into the larger artistic tradition that he calls a Mycenaean koiné. Nevertheless, he deems Near Eastern influences important in the formation and development of Mycenaean ivories, leading to a general conclusion that Mycenaean art as a whole, which appeared as if already fully formed, is a "mixed" art at the confluence of different traditions, similar in many ways to Kantor's characterization of Levantine art. Though he uses the term Mycenaean koiné in a more restricted sense than Kantor, both see Mycenaean Greece as the primary contributor to a widespread eastern Mediterranean koiné.

Both Kantor and Poursat fall under a spell that has entranced many of us and propelled much of the scholarship concerning this material, namely, the amazement that the Aegean (conceived of as the West) and the Near East (as the "oriental" other) might have operated together within a shared universe of cultural interconnectedness. The underlying, yet typically unarticulated, tendency to treat these two regions as polar opposites whose interactions with each other must always have constituted a meeting in some middle ground has had profound impact on the types of questions that scholars have asked about the international-style artworks. It has tended to reduce the variables for study to "The Aegean" and "The Near East," neglecting the intricate mosaic of polities and cultures (and their own patterns of interaction) that comprised each. Further, such views have conditioned the way in which solutions have been physically mapped onto the eastern Mediterranean such that Cyprus and coastal Syria, situated uncomfortably somewhere between the two poles, become the nexus of all contact. More-recent work has shifted attention away from the specific transference of artistic motifs or ideas, concentrating instead on interpreting as a whole the phenomenon of elements shared by disparate cultures. Terms such as elite koiné refer to a broad spectrum of artistic, iconographic, ideological, and technological connections without assigning regional or ethnic affiliations. In a brief review article, Susan Sherratt touches upon not just the complexity of the formation of an international artistic koiné, but also acknowledges the powerful motivating factor of their role as identifiers within an elite, international community. Similarly, A. Bernard Knapp has implicated Late Bronze Age artistic internationalism in ideological systems of value and prestige dependent on long-distance exchanges.

A general consensus regarding the existence and importance of such a koiné has emerged, but still it lacks precise definition or critique. Moreover, while the theoretical constructs employed for refining our understanding of the period have increased, careful scrutiny of the artistic objects, which characterized the earlier studies, has not been fully integrated into these new approaches. The history of scholarship on the international style began with formal analysis of individual objects performed in the service of attribution. Because of the general interest in determining precise (that is, geocultural/ethnic) locations of production for ancient artworks, an international style became defined according to the absence of identifiable cultural traits. A definition constructed on absence rather than presence of traits has led to a shifting assemblage of a formally heterogeneous group of objects. If we accept, as I propose in the introduction to this part of the book, that a close relationship exists between both form/imagery and intended use/ signification of artist production, then such a heterogeneous collection will obscure contextually based questions directed at use and consumption. Likewise, the adoption of the term international style has conditioned an interest in situating formal analyses within frameworks of origination and stylistic development, rather than the motivations or intentions of human agents (whether the artist or, as is more likely in the case of these luxury items, the patrons) that underlay the production of specific formal features. While more recent studies of Late Bronze Age interconnections have generally acknowledged such concerns, they typically have not done so in the context of close formal and stylistic analyses.

In all the discussions of the so-called international style, the recurring characteristic is the intermixing of different cultural artistic traditions. In order to reevaluate this style as a category, I refine this characteristic by grouping together those items that share a collection of traits, both idiomatic and motival, that can then be argued to cohere as an artistic tradition. The process is to some extent artificial in that I rely on features distinguished by modern scholarship. Nevertheless, restricting these features to formal attributes inherent in the works helps to anchor the classification. I argue that the application of the term international be restricted to only those pieces that exhibit complete hybridization such that no one "foreign" culture can be said to predominate, a feature evident in a number of these objects. Furthermore, I advocate the substitution of the term koiné (used by a number of scholars, including Kantor, Poursat, Schachermeyr, and Sherratt, though in differing contexts) for that of style. It better describes the visual phenomenon, which, as we will see in chapter 4, displays stylistic variation, and it more easily accommodates questions of use and intention. Koiné, from the Greek [GREEK NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], meaning "in common; by common consent," and later used to designate the form of Greek language written and spoken by populations around the eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, conveys the sense of an adopted set of shared cultural forms across cultural boundaries. I would emphasize that this group of objects that I classify as an international artistic koiné of hybrid imagery does not represent or constitute the totality of objects, images, or styles that emerged from and participated in cross-cultural connections during this period. Indeed, the corpus as I redefine it is quite small. An important aspect of artistic internationalism, which is often overlooked, is the diversity of expression that can result from various spheres of interaction. It seems likely that military or imbalanced interactions would require and generate quite different visual forms than commerce or entrepreneurial connections, or diplomatic relations based on parity.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from DIPLOMACY BY DESIGN by MARIAN H. FELDMAN Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
Chronological Chart
Introduction
PART I. IMAGES Overview
1. Redefining the "International Style"
2. The Role of Visual Hybridity
3. Iconography and Meaning
4. Questions of Style and Production
PART II. OBJECTS Overview
5. Materiality, Luxury Goods, and Diplomatic Gifts
6. Objects and Crafting
7. International Luxury Goods in Space and Time
8. The Materiality of Greeting Letters
PART III. CONTEXTS Overview
9. Contextualizing the International Koiné
1. Representation and Negotiation In Between
Ugarit and the Northern Levant
Epilogue
Abbreviations
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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