From Silver Cups to Garden Gnomes: Toward a Contextual Reception of Standardized Images


Roman domestic art in elite and non-elite houses follows the same iconographic patterns. This high degree of standardization has led to the widespread assumption that art use lower down the social scale was a matter of elite imitation. But as this paper argues, canonical images were not exclusively popular because they copied upper-class fashions. Instead, standardized imagery was popular because it could impart a whole variety of meanings. And indeed, non-elite art buyers often tweaked canonical images to suit highly idiosyncratic representational interests. This non-elite art use is explored through a comparison with the cultural transformations of the modern garden gnome.