Extraordinary objects : figured metal bowls from around the Mediterranean and the Near East




Shifferd, Sania Alexandra

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This study is a contribution to the evolving understanding of pan-Mediterranean visual and material cultures of the first millennium BCE. The focus is on bronze, silver, and gold bowls dating from the fourteenth to seventh centuries B. C. E., from locations around the Mediterranean and Near East: shallow and small with engraved and repoussé decoration, a figural or rosette central medallion and one to three registers of decoration separated by graphic banding. Imagery includes Near Eastern and Egyptian motifs. The bowls come from tombs, sanctuaries, and a storage context. Prior studies have used connoisseurship to define styles in the hope of identifying ethnically bounded production: the bowls have primarily been considered stylistically, iconographically, and in relation to ivories, but seldom individually, or in strong relation to their physical, social, and cultural contexts. This study considers them on their own merit, placing particular emphasis on contexts of deposition. It utilizes formal and visual analysis as primary evidence and engages in stylistic analysis only to summarize visual qualities and draw connections. Earlier scholars defined the corpus as ‘Phoenician’ in origin and Iron Age in date. This study redefines it by including a body of works from secure contexts ranging from the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age which displays profound formal and stylistic correspondence to the previously defined corpus: bowls from Ras Shamra and three Egyptian tomb and temple contexts—the only securely dateable bowls. Egypt is proposed as the original place of production: Egypt’s prestige and power and the bowls’ appeal led to their dissemination around the region via trade, diplomacy, and intermarriage, and subsequent adaptation of the form and iconography. This study further argues for continuity of production in Egypt from the Late Bronze into the Iron Age, discarding notions of “Egyptianizing” in favor of the deliberate hybridity of the international artistic koine. The bowls, I propose, were integrally related to wine consumption in religious, social and funerary contexts: elites in each region deployed them to consolidate their positions and enhance their status. Deposition patterns correlate strongly with what is known about the socio-political characteristics of each group



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