Figured capitals in roman palestine: Marble imports and local stone. some aspects of ‘imperial’ and ‘provincial’ art

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Abstract

In this paper are presented eleven figured capitals originating in Israel and belonging to the Corinthian order of the second-fourth centuries C.E. A short review of their chronology reveals that in Israel no figured capitals occur in the Hellenistic and early Roman period. This situation is to be explained by the attitude of the Jews towards iconography, and by our fragmentary knowledge of the antiquities of that period as well. The situation in Palestine in the second century C.E. created adequate conditions for the absorption of foreign elements, figural decoration and figured capitals included. The study of Corinthian capitals in general, and that of figured capitals in particular, revealed that the material of which the items were made, is a crucial criterion in analysing them. Marble capitals, figured capitals included, were imported to ancient Israel from the central workshops of the second-third centuries C.E., as happened with other architectural details, sarcophagi and statues. In my opinion almost all those items represented the ‘imperial’ aspect of the art of Palestine. On the other hand, similar items were created within local workshops, based on local stones. Being the result of the impact of strong foreign influences on local traditions, they represent the ‘provincial’ aspect of this art. The figured capitals presented in this paper reveal the interdependency of these aspects, and enable us to point out the antagonism between them as well. Figured capitals from Jewish synagogues of the third-fourth centuries C.E. add another facet to the disputed issue of figural representation among the Jews in Roman times. In my opinion this aspect too is to be seen within the framework of the dependency and antagonism of ‘imperial’ and ‘provincial’ art in Palestine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-132
Number of pages21
JournalPalestine Exploration Quarterly
Volume121
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1989

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