"'An Image To Lighten The Soul's Heaviness:' Reflections On Portraiture And Longing In Classical Antiquity"
The concepts of ekphrasis and mimesis have prominently found their way into art historical methodologies that span subdisciplines of the field, generating interpretive models and sitting at the center of theoretical debates. While art historians may be familiar with these terms, there is another Greek-derived concept less widely-recognized that can be applied to the field with similar impact: pothos. A specific type of desire and longing tinged with absence and grief, pothos has been little-explored in Classics and art history, but my research contends that a major function of ancient portraiture was pothos’ mitigation. Looking at literary, epigraphic, and material sources from the ancient Mediterranean, I explore how portraits, particularly small-scale and precious formats, worked to stimulate the memory and act effectively as surrogates for the absent beloved. After establishing the relationship of pothos to portraiture, I turn to illustrate how an exquisite portrait miniature could mitigate pothos through its scale, materiality, and aesthetics by looking closely at a single example, a Late Antique gold-glass portrait medallion.