The Art of Contact: Comparative Approaches to Greek and Phoenician Art. By S. REBECCA MARTIN. Philadelphia: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, 2017. Pp. 282, illus. $59.95.
This thoughtful and stimulating book tackles a central issue of the ancient Mediterranean world--the "art of contact"--through focused consideration of the relationship between "Greek" and "Phoenician" art. The author brings to this complex topic both archaeological expertise (from long-time engagement with excavations at Phoenician Tel Dor in Israel) and academic training as an art historian, conjoined skills that shed welcome light on the Classical and Hellenistic eras (fifth to second centuries BCE). Her discussion is well informed by the history of scholarship, and she applies modern theories and models currently framing the understanding of contact between different cultures, smoothly and persuasively. Particularly skillful is how Martin brings out the role of Achaemenid rule in shaping contact between diverse Hellenes and Near Easterners, including Phoenicians, from Darius I through the conquests of Alexander III of Macedon. Her book complements the thoughtful essays in The Punic Mediterranean (Quinn and Vella 2014), largely aimed at the central, western, and Roman Mediterranean, while Martin frames the Greek East explored by Bonnet, Elayi, and others (see Aliquot and Bonnet 2015).
Saddled with a Greek name, hostile sources (Assyrian, biblical, and Classical), and a heritage dispersed across multiple ancient and modern nations, "Phoenicians" have long challenged scholars in quest of a material signature. Long credited with the early alphabet (recent discoveries now push its origins back to Bronze Age Egypt, and its adaptation to multiple Mediterranean locales), their home territory in the Levant remains unevenly explored, while their Punic colonies in the western Mediterranean are better known. This book does not present (nor aim to) a comprehensive corpus of Phoenician art; rather, it seeks to unpack how essentialist notions of East and West have created modern fictions of identity pinned loosely to selected works of art. For this goal, she analyzes and rehabilitates several famous works of "Greek" art, with important implications for the history of ancient art.
In her introduction and first chapter, Martin dismantles persistent notions of "Hellenic" and "Oriental," as oppositional forces predicated on difference and asymmetry, along with the assumption that contact inevitably signals (or explains) change. She then deconstructs the concept of "Phoenician art" as a...