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Hybrid FAST Lecture | Encrusted in Ancestors: Formal Reflections on the Funerary Reliefs of Palmyra

Nicola Barham, University of Michigan
Thursday, April 14, 2022
6:00-7:30 PM
Our speaker is Assistant Curator and Assistant Professor of History of Art Dr. Nicola Barham. Her research combines close visual analysis and the study of material contexts and textual sources to reconstruct, and subsequently analyze, the visual culture of the ancient Roman world. Dr. Barham's work considers marginalized ethnic groups whose works (particularly funerary reliefs and mosaics) have been sidelined in accounts of ancient Roman art.

In this FAST Lecture, entitled "Encrusted in Ancestors: Formal Reflections on the Funerary Reliefs of Palmyra," Dr. Barham analyzes the aesthetic strategies of the iconic funerary reliefs of Palmyra, taking the portrait of a Palmyrene woman in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology as her starting point. She interrogates the visual effects mediated by the status of these works as relief and illustrates that when Palmyrene portraits are viewed individually (as is so common today), their intended dynamic interactions are dramatically elided. Dr. Barham's lecture reinserts these portraits into an original tomb context to reconstruct the powerful visual effects they were designed to create when operating together as an ensemble.

Palmyrene funerary sculptures emerge as participating in both the Graeco-Roman and the Parthian visual traditions, but as ultimately achieving a highly distinctive and localized visual impact. Like the dead whom they commemorate and, indeed, like the medium of relief itself, these objects occupy an in-between status, at once concealing and revealing, affectively engaging and emotionally withdrawn, stridently individual and defined by group dynamics. The visual strategies of these reliefs are unique to the Syrian desert oasis of Palmyra.


FAST (Field Archaeology Series on Thursdays) lectures are monthly events where students and staff in M-U's Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA) share their latest research and report on ongoing excavations.

In keeping with other FAST lectures this year, there will be no food or drink provided. We hope to return to the provision of plentiful food and drink in the fall.

Physical Attendance Location:
Classics Library (2175 Angell Hall)

Virtual Attendance Location:
Zoom Meeting ID: 975 2194 0803
No passcode needed
Building: Angell Hall
Event Link:
Event Type: Livestream / Virtual
Tags: Archaeology, Classical Studies, Free, Lecture, Middle East Studies
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, History of Art, Classical Studies, Department of Middle East Studies, Interdepartmental Program in Ancient History, Interdepartmental Program in Ancient Mediterranean Art and Archaeology, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology Lectures