Toward an Art History of the Senses: Movement, Touch, and Agency in Roman Visual Culture

Mar 5, 2020 4:00 PM – 5:30 PM

Free and Open to the Public

The so-called sensual turn in art history has called into question the primacy of the sense of sight as the determinant of the agency of a work of art. This lecture examines two often-overlooked aspects of visual culture in ancient Rome: movement and touch. 3D modeling of the partially-lost architecture of two bath buildings at Ostia Antica allows us to understand how the mosaic figures on the floor guided the movements of bathers from one space to another. The depiction of movement underfoot stimulated kinesthetic responses. In a parallel strategy, consideration of how banqueters handled drinking cups decorated with figural themes demonstrates how touch added to the narratives depicted. Visual and social-historical analysis alone falls short of explaining the full impact of these works. Their power lies in a continuum of sensual experience that includes much more than the visual.

John Clarke received his PhD from Yale University. In 1980 he began teaching at The University of Texas at Austin, where his teaching, research, and publications focus on ancient Roman art, art-historical methodology, and contemporary art.

Clarke has ten books, and 128 essays, articles, and reviews to his credit. Currently Clarke is co-director of the Oplontis Project, working, since 2005, to complete the study, excavation, and publication of two Roman villas (“A” and “B”) buried by Vesuvius in A.D. 79. 

Clarke has recently served on the Board of Advisors of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts of the National Gallery of Art (2013–2016), and is a former Trustee of the American Academy in Rome (2011–2013). He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies, (2000-2010), and served on the Board of Directors of the College Art Association (1991-2001; President 1998-2000).

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