ARCH1500 Fall18 S01 Classical Art from Ruins to RISD: Ancient Objects/Modern Issues

ARCH1500 Fall18 S01 Classical Art from Ruins to RISD: Ancient Objects/Modern Issues


Classical Art from Ruins to RISD

Ancient Objects/Modern Issues


Instructor: Eva Mol

Level: 1000-level

Enrollment: Max. 25

Tu/Th 10.30-11.50am

Office hours: Tu 12-2 PM (Rhode Island Hall 210) and all workdays through appointment/email



Course summary

Through the lens of bodies in Classical art, the course will take a critical look at the context and materiality of Greek and Roman art, particularly around issues of representation and display.  Students will explore original contexts for RISD-museum objects; issues of cultural property and museum ethics; design and education components of exhibitions; and notions of historical interpretation in museum display. The course will focus on the materiality of the body in art as an object of representation and one of understanding. This means studying how we see things as human bodies, how we represent bodies in art and how we display bodies in museums. From classical Greek marble sculpture and the ‘ideal body’, to the unintentional ‘art’ bodies of the victims of the Vesuvius and the ethical tensions of Body-world: from political individualized sculpted bodies distributed throughout Roman world and modern social media for power and control, to modern technological augmented bodies. Important as a perspective too within this context, is discussing our own politicized and cultural bodies as mediators between seeing, making, and understanding.


Course description

Classical Art and the museum

Imagine a work of ‘Classical Art’: what comes to mind? Sculpture perhaps, or temples, or Greek vases. Some of these works are famous, such as the Farnese Hercules, the Venus of Milo or the Apollo Belvedere for instance. Whether you have ever heard of these or not, two principal questions are the same: how and why is this art? And why is it Classical? One thing is clear: one cannot answer the one or the other without considering the museum as a space of interpretation, education and engagement: there is no past without the present. In order to get a better understanding of the complex subject of ‘Classical Art’ and the museum, this course has two main goals:


(1) A historical and archaeological contextualization of the Greek and Roman objects in museums in the respective periods they were used and the material-social assemblages they formed a part of.


(2) To study how these objects became art in recent history, how they are represented and displayed in the context of the museum, how that influences the way we perceive both art and the past and how we can challenge this.


The RISD museum is an excellent space to think critically about these issues and a significant part of the course will therefore take place here. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum houses a variety of objects from ancient Greece and Rome of which studying the historical and archaeological context can teach us more about antiquity and its material culture as well as about today’s world. It can offer us a way into learning not only about how these objects were used and valued once, but also how their presence and display in the museum continuously creates new stories. RISD-curators will help us gain knowledge on a variety of matters related to the museum: how do you treat museum objects? How do you spot a fake? What are the issues while curating a collection? What stories do you decide to tell? What does and should a good museum do?


Classical art and Classicism

Classical art is a complex and highly problematic term. Historically, classical art refers to a period we call Classical Greece, the period in the 5th and 4th century BC that knew, amongst numerous political and social reforms (such as democracy), a revolution in statuary. Body sculptures became more naturalistic and the technical skill of Greek sculptors in depicting the human form in a variety of poses greatly increased. From about 500 BC statues began to depict what we nowadays consider ‘real people’.  The way of depicting was greatly appreciated in the Greek world, and also later in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, who used and adapted sculpture to their own needs. However, it became part of ‘Classical art’ much later, in the Renaissance and mainly in the 18th century. The 18th century witnessed a movement in the arts we call Neo-Classicism, which coincided with intellectual and philosophical developments of Enlightenment emphasizing concepts such as rationalism, scientific method, humanism and a cultivation of the arts.


Classicism in this framework, was not meant to objectively and inclusively study the past, but to set cultural and social standards for taste and elite status. Today, we still live with the remnants of that movement, influencing what we call art, beauty, good taste and aesthetics.  Neoclassical artists and collectors focused on their own ideal objects, architecture and sculpture from Greece and Rome. Archaic Greek material culture, Etruscan material culture, other people besides the Romans, or Late Roman objects for instance, were completely ignored, together with all those Greco-Roman objects of everyday life that did not match the 18th century standards of artistic value. And the museum as an institution is intimately connected to this development, as the majority of the most significant public and national museums opened in more or less the same time within this Age of Enlightenment. This means that what became exhibited in the museum redefined both history and art. During the course we will discuss these developments and issues, and think how we can make classical art more accessible, but also look for the tensions that still exist between the modern world and classical art and find creative ways to show and challenge these. We will try to resist iconic classicism: by creating an alternative language and imagery for the classical and classicism.


Classical art and the body

In this course, the body is chosen as a central theme to study classical art in class. Why will we focus on the body? First of all, as already mentioned, the human body is at the very heart of the birth of what we call Classical art. The ancient Greek or Roman sculptures, but also the human bodies that perceived these in a certain context and time, the making body that created sculptures, vases, coins, architecture: that created art and non-art. And the performing bodies using objects in their everyday rituals. But it are our own modern bodies which are under scrutiny too of course. First of all in how we relate to our ‘own’ bodily representations in general. It are our bodies that walk through an exhibition and through this create an idea about what art, beauty and the past entails. What are our preconceived frameworks and expectations of classical art and museums? How are we influenced? How does a museum space affects us? If we become more aware how we are looking, how we perceive art and objects, we might be able to contextualize their influence. What does material do? Or color, or placement? How do we respond to objects?


Ancient objects/modern issues

So, when acknowledging that Classical art is a created and a contested term, we are able to illuminate an amount of issues very important to contemporary society. Issues of identity and ownership for instance. Many museums contain art objects acquired within the contexts of colonization and imperialism (such as the famous Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, now in the British Museum): who owns the past? And what about specific body-related issues such as the display of actual bodies? Should we for instance display mummies?

These issues are not confined to the museum. The creation of Classical art and the maintaining of it has huge repercussions on our current society. Think for instance about the adoption of images statues of the masculine ‘Greek’ white marble body in recent alt-right movements. Or the discussion on modern public statues and commemoration of confederate ‘heroes’. Knowing better how statues function in public spaces and being more aware on how objects are able to influence us and how bodies are displayed and perceived, this course offers a context and awareness for such issues.



The main assignments will consist of two research projects: one that has to be handed in essay form, and another in a form of your own choosing (see research project description). Beside in-class discussions and preparatory readings, there are five short additional response assignments meant to engage more comprehensively with the course material and individual class subjects. The credits for the assignments are equally spread so that it does not come down to one big project at the end of a (busy) semester. The assignments are developed according to the two main themes of the course: (1) contextualizing classical art and (2) the non-classical museum. All assignments are developed to make us think more critically and contextually about the experience, use, and display of Greek and Roman art in museums. Occasionally, acquired knowledge on Greco-Roman Art will be tested through the (in)famous ‘Kahoot Klassisches Kunst Quiz’ which is German and stands for the fact that it will not count for any credit, but is a nice way to remember images, details, and facts of the course material. 








500-1000 words creative writing assignment: Classical art reception: what does Classical art mean to you?

Thu 9/20


Perception, the body and art assignment

Tue 10/2


500-1000 words review assignment: The collection: find an exhibition in Providence or on campus and write a short review


Thu 10/11


RESEARCH PROJECT I: Museum objects between art and archaeology



Tue 10/24


The non-Classical Museum I: the alternative audio tour

Mon 11/19


The non-Classical Museum II: presenting the past

Tue/Thu 12/4 -6


RESEARCH PROJECT 2: The Non-Classical Museum



Thu 12/13



Research project 1: Museum objects: between art and archaeology

The first assignment is to explore the archaeological context and cultural biography of museum objects. First: select one object from the RISD museum. You can select anything from the Greco-Roman department, or anything else in the RISD museum that has to do with the body that can be connected to the Greco-Roman world. Find out as much as possible about the historical and archaeological context of the object. Answer questions about the object (what is it, how old, how was it used, by whom and where?). Then contextualize this object further by finding parallels and exploring the cultural context. What do we learn about Greek or Roman culture through this object? Use at least 10 different academic sources for this (peer-reviewed scholarly journal articles or books). The essay should be around 2000 words (Font size 12, 1.5 spacing about 6 pages).


Research project 2: The non-classical museum of classical art

Sub-assignments: short presentation and final project

During the course, we will learn all about the complex relationship between classical art and the museum, with the RISD as our prime case study example. One thing we will repeatedly return to is the issue of Classical art as a concept and the museum as exhibition space and their mutual problematic relationship to neoclassicism. This process’ selective re-appropriation of Greek and Roman art and culture and its elitist connotations, created what we now call Classical art and the choice of what is displayed and how it became displayed in museum still ‘haunts’ us today.

For the museum of the future, this relationship therefore, should be challenged. While matters of experiencing art, interaction, and creativity is very often applied to exhibiting contemporary and modern art,  and while issues of colonialism, diversity and class-issues are dealt with in most ethnographic museums and exhibitions nowadays, Greco-Roman art and archaeological artefacts are very often still displayed in a very static and traditional way. This project wants you to engage in more creative ways with the subject of displaying Greco-Roman material culture by critically rethinking Classical art and classical museum spaces. The assignment therefore, will be to create a ‘Non-classical museum’ that challenges our views on how to perceive and engage with ‘Classical Art’. How can we get people to think differently about the past and how can a museum space help in achieving this?

The final project therefore, is to redesign the Classical department of the RISD to answer these questions. You are hired to redesign the Classical-department of the RISD and have to hand in a proposal for a new way of experiencing the Greco-Roman art floor. You are free to hand in the proposal in any form you find appropriate and fitting to your skills and interests. You can do this by writing a critical essay for example, but also by designing an new exhibition wing, or by a theoretical re-organization of the museum-department, adding or removing things to the current exhibition (engage with modern art, photography, or other creative or interactive tools), by designing a new museum tour, or even by making an art-object yourself. As long as all the proposals for the museum reflect what we have learned during the course and challenge the relationship between (our perception of) classical and contemporary society, let us look at new ways to the past, the perception and the human body, engage with the audience in different ways, deal with specific ethical or social issues, etc. The project will consist of a presentation of the proposal and a final report. During the proposal (assignment 5) presentation you will pitch your idea to your fellow students who will represent the museum.



Short assignment 1: The classical, classics, classic and art

This first assignment is a 500-1000 word creative writing assignment describing your personal relationship with classical art. You can but are not obliged to use references and you can choose your own personal style of conveying the message. Try to engage with the following subjects: your definition of Classical art, your personal relation to the subject and your idea about the connection between Greek and Roman art and the present.


Short assignment 2: perception, the body, and art

Assignment on perception, the body and art. How do we view things? How does our body respond to art? And to the past? What does the body as art do? Read the course literature (Maerker 2015, Towards a Comparative History of Touch and Spaces of Display: The Body as Epistemic Object, 284-300 and Kelly 2002, Merleau Ponty on the body, 376-91) and apply the ideas to one object of your choice from any museum that is not the RISD. You can hand in the assignment in any way you like: however it has to fit on one page and you cannot do it by writing.  


Short assignment 3: the collection review

Visit an exhibition that is not in the RISD: it can be small and on somewhere on campus, or larger and somewhere else in Providence (or beyond). Take a critical look at the collection and the way it is exhibited and write a review. Try to answer the following questions: what is the purpose of the exhibition, where is the collection derived from, how does it engage with the audience? What do you think were the existing social and cultural biases while curating that exhibition? Do you think it is good? Include a picture of the exhibition in your report. The report should be between 500-1000 words.


Short assignment 4: The Non-Classical-museum I

Group assignment. You will select one object together and make an alternative audio tour for museum-visitors. Think freely and creatively of how you want to engage the audience, how you want to catch their attention: it should be different than traditional tours and challenge classical art.

If you are skilled with garage band or other audio-devices, you can be as creative as you like with sound effects. However, you can also just voice-record the audio tour on your phones. During class we will create an alternative audio tour out of all the recordings. Beware, your recording cannot exceed 2 minutes!


Short assignment 5: The Non-Classical-museum II

A short 5-10 minute presentation in which you pitch your Non-Classical museum to the rest of the class (see ‘Research Project II’ for a detailed description). You are hired by the RISD museum to create a non-classical museum, during the presentation your fellow students will represent the museum board and curators and have to discuss your proposal. When representing the ‘museum-board’ think critically and constructively about the pitch in the context of your museum. How can you implement the ideas of the proposal? You can use hand-outs, powerpoint or any other visual aid you want- but has to fit on one slide/piece of paper etc.


Course goals

At the end of the course students have acquired:

  • Knowledge on the canon of classical art, focused on ancient sculpture
  • Knowledge on the historical and archaeological s of the objects we now call ‘ classical art’
  • A critical view on how the canon of classical art is constructed and how to challenge this
  • Knowledge on how people experience sculpture and classical art in a variety of contexts
  • Knowledge on the principal matters surrounding museums such as curating, exhibitions, communication
  • Practical knowledge and skills in thinking about designing exhibitions and curating Greek and Roman objects through a variety of museum-related assignments


Credit hours (180 hrs in total)

Over the course of 14 weeks, students will spend 3 hours per week in class and the museum (42 hours in total). Required reading for the seminars and discussions will take up around 5 hours per week (70 hours). In addition the 5 short responsive assignments will take up app. 4 hours each to prepare. Research and writing of the two research projects is estimated at total of 40 hours over the course of the term.


Assessment and examination

Weekly attendance and reading – class discussions, critical reflection on key topics and readings and in-class assignments (15%), 6 small course-responsive assignments (50%), research project 1 of 2000 words (15%), research project 2 (20%).


Course materials

Readings for this course are provided as PDF in Canvas or available online via the university library.


Accessibility and Accommodations

Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform me early in the term if you have a disability or other conditions that might require accommodations or modification of any of these course procedures. You may speak with me after class or during office hours. For more information please contact ‘Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 or Students in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact one of the deans in the Dean of the College office.






Course Schedule - Classical Art from Ruins to RISD




Assignments& deadlines

When ‘RISD’ is indicated it means the class will take place in the museum!


Week 1







Thursday 9/6

Introduction course






Week 2

Modern Art, Ancient Art, Classical art?

Tuesday 9/11

The (RISD) Museum and the art of collecting

-Simmons J.E., 2016, Museums: A History, ch.1 and ch.7


Thursday 9/13

The making and appropriation of Classical Art from Winckelmann to Alt-right movements

-Winckelmann chapter 4 (browse through it)

- Vout 2018, Classical Art, Ch. 1

- Davis 2017, The New White Nationalism’s Sloppy Use of Art History, Decoded


Week 3


The start of Classical art and human sculpture

Tuesday 9/18

The ’start’ of ‘art’: the human body on display from Archaic to Classical Greece

-Osborne 1998, Ch. 5: Life enlarged

-Tanner, J., 2001, Nature, culture, and the body in classical Greek religious art, 257-276


Thursday 9/20

Curating the Classical

-Leahy 2012, ch.2: not just looking

-Cuno 2011, The Crux of the Matter

Assignment 1



Guest lecture on curating in the RISD by curator Gina Borromeo


Week 4


Case study 1: The Parthenon

Tuesday 9/25

The Classical Parthenon

-Osborne 2010, Athenian democracy, something to celebrate?

-Boardman 1993, The Classical Period

-Kousser, 2009, destruction and memory on the Athenian acropolis



Thursday 9/27

The non-Classical Parthenon

-Marra 2014, Queer Aging Bareback: A Ride with the Parthenon Sculptures

-Jones 2015, Parthenon marbles: Greece's claim is nationalist rhetoric that deserves to fail

-Hamilakis Ch. 7



Week 5


The thinking and viewing the body in museums

Tuesday 10/2

How do you see what you see? Perception and the human body

- Maerker 2015, Towards a Comparative History of Touch and Spaces of Display: The Body as Epistemic Object, 284-300

- Kelly 2002, Merleau Ponty on the body, 376-91

- Dudley, S. (2012). Materiality matters: Experiencing the displayed object. University of Michigan, Working Papers in Museum Studies, 8. University of Michigan: Ann Arbor

Assignment 2


Thursday 10/4

Materiality and classification in the museum and the owners of the past

-Elsner, J., 1996, The "New Museology" and Classical Art

- Dubin 1999, displays of power, ch. 5: a matter of perspective revisionist history and The West as America

-Bergsdóttir, 2016, Museums and Feminist Matters: Considerations of a Feminist Museology



Week 6


Case study 2: the body and Hellenistic art and non-art at the Pergamum altar

Tuesday 10/9

Making sense of the body

- Howes, D., Ed. (2014). Sensory museology. The Senses & Society, 9 (3), 259-380




Guest lecture by RISD associate educator Alexandra Poterack: plaster casts, the RISD and the perception of the human body


Thursday 10/11

The Pergamum Altar: Hellenistic and non-Hellenistic art

-Boardman 1993, The Hellenistic period

-Millet-Gallant 2010, The disabled body in contemporary art (ch. 2, dissarming Venus)

-Masseglia 2015, Body language in Hellenistic Art and Society: Grotesques

Assignment 3


Week 7


Displaying the body and museum ethics

Tuesday 10/16

‘Involuntary art’: the body and museum ethics: from Pompeii’s plaster casts to Body World.

-Pompeii’s Living Statues, Ch. 3 second thoughts

-Redman 2016, Reconsidering Body Worlds: why do we still flock to exhibits of dead human beings?

-mcmanamon 2017, policy and practice in the treatment of archaeological human remains in North American museums and public agency collections

Thursday 10/18

Debate: Out of Egypt: Nesmin the mummy

-Phillips and Roundhill  2017, Caring for an Egyptian Mummy and Coffin

- Jenkins 2017, Covering up the mummies



Discussion with  Curator Gina Borromeo


Week 8


Case study 3: Roman and non-Roman art

Tuesday 10/23

Roman and non-Roman art

-Boardman, Roman Art

-Squire 2015, Corpus imperii: verbal and visual figurations of the Roman ‘body politic’

-Petersen, arte plebea






Wednesday 10/24

Thursday 10/25

Museum Excursion









Week 9


Winckelmann’s Victims

Tuesday 10/30

Public sculpture, power, memory and commemoration

-Mol, some monuments must rise draft

-Leahy 2012, Bodies of Protest

-Joyce, R., 2017, Losing the past or changing the future? Archaeologists and modern monuments

Visit Becci Davis

Thursday 11/1

All the monuments must fall

- Squire, Embodied Ambiguities on the Prima Porta Augustus 

-Carter 2010,Toward an Understanding of Sculpture as Public Art

-Tanner, portraits, power and patronage in the Late Roman Republic 



Week 10


Case study 4: Performing art and Greek vases

Tuesday 11/6

Performing Classical Art: Greek vases in the RISD

-Porter, J., 2010, The origins of aesthetic thought in ancient Greece : matter, sensation, and experience

- Smith 2012,Competition, Festival, and Performance

- Mannath 2012, Greek decorated pottery


Thursday 11/8

Materialities: making art

Re-labeling antiquity

-Renfrew, Figuring it out!

- Hsu, Y. C., Baldwin, S., and Ching, Y. H. (2017). Learning through making and maker education. TechTrends 61(6), 589-594.



Week 11


The false body

Tuesday 11/13

Greek originals Roman copies and plaster casts: what is authenticity in (ancient) art?

- Eckart and Rune 2010, Plaster Casts : Making, Collecting and Displaying From Classical Antiquity to the Present

-Brilliant 2005, Roman copies, degrees of authenticity

- Stewart 2015, Legacies of loss (Greek bronzes)

Thursday 11/15

Forgeries and fakes in the RISD-museum

-Jones 1990, Fake? The art of deception ch. 1 and 9



Guest lecture Gina Borromeo and RISD conservator Ingrid Neuman


Week 12


Decolonize the Museum

Tuesday 11/20

Audio tours



Assignment 4: the alternative audio tour

Thursday 11/22

No class, Thanksgiving




Week 13


Future bodies

Tuesday 11/27

The  virtual museum

-Carrozzino and Bergamasco, 2010, Beyond virtual museums: Experiencing immersive virtual reality inreal museums

- Jeffrey, S. (2015). Challenging heritage visualisation: Beauty, aura and democratisation. Open Archaeology. 1(1).

- Kidd, 2014 Museum online games as Empathetic Encounters,  Museums in the new Mediascape(ch.6)

-Halberstam and Livingston, Posthuman bodies

Hand in project topic

Thursday 11/29

 practical session


finalizing the non-classical art exhibition



Week 14



Tuesday 12/4

Project presentations


Assignment 5: project proposal presentations

Thursday 12/6

Project presentations




Week 15



Tuesday 12/11

reading period



Thursday 12/13

reading period



Course Summary:

Date Details Due