Art History

The Phantom Image:

Seeing the Dead in Ancient Rome

University of Chicago Press, 2019


The Phantom Image offers essential insight into ancient art, visual culture, and the history of the image. Drawing from a rich corpus of art works, including sarcophagi, tomb paintings, and floor mosaics, art historian Patrick R. Crowley – now the Associate Curator for European Art at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University –  investigates how something as insubstantial as a ghost could be made visible through the material grit of stone and paint. In this fresh and wide-ranging study, he uses the figure of the ghost to offer a new understanding of the status of the image in Roman art and visual culture.

Read a discussion between Patrick Crowley and Judith Zeitlin exploring the role of ghosts in their disciplines in Tableau.

“In a dazzlingly original investigation of spectral phenomena from classical Greece to late antique Italy, The Phantom Image interrogates a haunting array of ancient visual evidence, much of it from Roman funerary contexts. Taking seriously Aby Warburg’s claim that art history is itself a ‘ghost story for grown-ups,’ Crowley brilliantly demonstrates not only how ancient concepts of the eidōlon and imago blurred the boundaries between spirits and images, but also how the visual and philosophical discourse of ghosts in antiquity served itself as an exploration of the limits of representation, conditions of visibility, claims to knowledge, and ethical regimes of the body."
Verity Platt,
Cornell University

Patrick R. Crowley is a historian of Roman art and visual culture. His research and publications focus on conceptual questions about media and mediality and the evidentiary status of the image in antiquity, exploring such topics as ancient theories of vision and representation, issues of materiality and facture, and the historical intersections between documentary photography and the production of knowledge in classical archaeology. The objects of his study range widely, but include Roman sarcophagi, portraiture, and decorative arts, especially in precious stone. His research has been supported by the Getty Research Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation.