Early Coptic art, once heralded as the crude product of a poor, indigenous, Christian peasantry, is here dramatically recast in the more inclusive cultural terms of late antiquity. Focusing on funerary sculpture, one of the best-known categories of late antique Egyptian art, Thelma K. Thomas demonstrates how skilled artisans created a varied repertory of works for a diverse body of commissioners. Some of these sculptures were made for grand monumental tombs and commissioned by an urban, landowning class with strong Hellenistic roots; others were made for smaller and less imposing monuments and commissioned by distinctly different clienteles from monasteries and towns, as well as by different socioeconomic classes within the cities.
Thomas balances keen analysis of the surviving sculptures with close attention to primary written sources and archaeological evidence. The approach yields original interpretations of regional implications for attribution groups, and provocatively atmospheric reconstructions of the works as they would have appeared in their original settings. The sculptures' motifs and styles provide evidence for focused discussions of the cultural affiliations of the late antique Egyptians described in this book--pagan and Christian, secular and monastic, children and adults. Thomas's reading of the sculptures' cosmic and eschatological themes allows for an even richer understanding of this historical moment.
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