Figurines are objects of handling. As touchable objects, they engage the viewer in different ways from flat art, whether relief sculpture or painting. Unlike the voyeuristic relationship of viewing a neatly framed pictorial narrative as if from the outside, the viewer as handler is always potentially and without protection within the narrative of figurines. As such, they have potential for a potent, even animated, agency in relation to those who use them.
This volume concerns figurines as archaeologically-attested materials from literate cultures with surviving documents that have no direct links of contiguity, appropriation, or influence in relation to each other. It is an attempt to put the category of the figurine on the table as a key conceptual and material problematic in the art history of antiquity. It does so through comparative juxtaposition of close-focused chapters drawn from deep art-historical engagement with specific ancient cultures - Chinese, pre-Columbian Mesoamerican, and Greco-Roman. It encourages comparative conversation across the disciplines that constitute the art history of the ancient world through finding categories and models of discourse that may offer fertile ground for comparison and antithesis. It extends the rich and astute literature on prehistoric figurines into understanding the figurine in historical contexts, where literary texts and documents, inscriptions, or surviving terminologies can be adduced alongside material culture. At stake are issues of figuration and anthropomorphism, miniaturization and portability, one-off production and replication, and substitution and scale at the interface of archaeology and art history.