Communities of Style: Portable Luxury Arts, Identity, and Collective Memory in the Iron Age Levant. By MARIAN H. FELDMAN. Chicago: UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS, 2014. Pp. xvii + 250, illus. $70.
The year 2014 saw the appearance of two publications on art and interconnections in the Near East and Mediterranean during the first millennium B.C.E. One is the book under review here. The other, Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (Aruz, Graff, and Rakic 2014), accompanied the stunning exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Viewers and readers explored complex webs of interaction, guided by stimulating displays, captions, and catalogue essays. Feldman's remarks there on metalwork (pp. 157-60) link the two publications. Indeed, so many of the objects and issues figure in both, yet are approached so differently, that the books ought to be used in concert.
In her own monograph, Feldman begins by defining her terms and principal argument. By "communities of style," she means that "the material effects of art objects, particularly that of style... generate community networks, and... accomplish this through their unique ability to catalyze collective memories" (p. 2). As she explains further, "more than simply a guide to attribution, style serves to establish and structure communities through the engagement of human participants with material objects" (p. 6). Here the objects in question are portable luxury goods, including carved ivories, decorated vessels of bronze, gold, and silver, and horse bridle ornaments, made in the Near East ca. 1000 to 600 B.C.E. and found from Hasanlu to Praeneste.
In chapter one, the horse bridle frontlets from the Northwest Palace at Nimrud afford the springboard for Feldman's critical analysis of traditional methods of connoisseurship, as well as for her discussion of comparanda seen in such items as engraved tridacna shells and stone orthostat reliefs. Deemed in most scholarly literature to be neither Phoenician nor North Syrian in style, the frontlets have presented a problem of "in-betweenness," as she puts it (p. 11). But rather than trying to map stylistic groups in space or even time, Feldman suggests that the artistic evidence points to communities of shared, skilled practices, which moved fluidly among the Levantine polities of the age.
Among the topics treated in chapter two is the issue of a specific set of markings often found on animal bodies, beginning in the Late Bronze...