In my dissertation “The Life of Icons in Venice” I examined the “life” of Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons in Venice and in venetian-ruled colonies of the Mediterranean, between the 13th and 17th centuries. What were the factors that determined the massive introduction and consequent cultural appropriation of these media in Venice? What were the elements that distinguished the Greek icon from Western devotional images and how did they change over time? How were they exhibited and venerated by the Venetian population? By manipulating their sacred materiality, icons were used for a variety of functions: expressing one's recta pietas, acquiring social prestige, protecting from collective as well as individual threats (wars, famines, diseases), or showing one's civic, intellectual and religious values. A. Drandarki in 2014 wrote: “as long as we are unable to identify whose ‘needs and interests’ such works answered, the full interpretation of their character will continue to elude us.” In my doctoral work, the goal was to analyze these needs and interpret the dynamics of the cult of the icons “alla greca” in the context of medieval and Renaissance Venice.
At each seminar, participants have the opportunity to share research with experienced faculty, as well as up-and-coming scholars. A sandbox of sorts for experiementing with new ideas, we offer a space for constructive critiques and collaboration. Below you will find a snapshot of our activities, including guest speakers and a sampling of the work shared at our meetings.
Learn more about our participants.
Jonathan Shea is a historian of the Byzantine Empire and sigillographer. His research interests include the development of towns and cities across the medieval world, the mechanisms of empire, and interaction between Europe and the Middle East. He has taught courses ranging from the history of the crusades to Byzantium in the tenth century. Jonathan also works at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection where he studies and catalogues the collection of Byzantine seals. These objects provide information on the social standing, careers, piety, and family connections of thousands of individual Byzantines, and can also be used to explore the structure and evolution of the Byzantine state, army, and church. Jonathan's recent book, Politics and Government in Byzantium: The Rise and Fall of the Bureaucrats is a history of the Byzantine administration, and the thousands of people who worked to keep the empire running.
Leonora Neville is a historian of the medieval eastern Mediterranean, specializing in the society and culture of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) in the ninth through twelfth centuries. She has strong interests in the late antique and classical antecedents of the medieval eastern Mediterranean cultures. Within Byzantine history, her particular research interests include: gender, civic religion and religious aspects of political culture, and historical memory and historiography.
This talk draws attention to the monastic communities of the Byzantine countryside and their relationship with the laity from the tenth to the fifteenth century. I reflect on how scholars have engaged with eastern medieval monasticism and then consider how and why Byzantine monastic culture still deserves further and more interdisciplinary investigation. My broader goal for this research project is to contribute to an understanding of the Byzantine experience of monasticism through a study of text, material culture, and actual spaces. I bring together written sources with material remains of monastic enclaves that remain largely understudied and are situated in the Greek mainland, outside of large urban centers like Constantinople and Thessaloniki or even Mount Athos, where most of the extant monastic buildings have undergone restorations and modifications in the Ottoman period and more recently. Their study demonstrates that monastic communities permeated the physical landscape and interacted with the secular world on a much larger and extensive scale than perhaps we tend to realize.
The architecture and interior decoration of the small single-aisle church of Saint Michael in Ston (Croatia) show parallels to the regional pre-Romanesque structures, as well as both the neighboring regions the Balkan inlands, and the monuments of the wider Mediterranean. The church also preserves some of the earliest medieval wall paintings on the Dalmatian coast (dated to the 11th century), and the only example of a painted royal patron in the respective territory. Based on circumstantial evidence from an ambiguous relief inscription found on the site, the patron has been identified as king of Dioclea Mihailo Vojislavljević. Although the building has received substantial attention in scholarship, a number of research problems remain unaddressed, including the function of the church, the identity of its users, and its connection to the landscape.
January 20, 2021 - Nicolyna Enriquez: Fish in the Jordan: Seascapes in Cretan Wall Paintings of the Baptism of Christ
This paper explores the connections between the sea and rural island life in Late Byzantium through the inclusion of images of fishermen carrying rods and creels, or small baskets, incorporated into scenes of the Baptism of Christ. Focusing on the inclusion of a monk-fisherman in the church of St. Paraskevi in Kitiros (1372-73), these images of realia, or scenes of everyday life, move beyond the gospel narrative and appear to directly relate to the daily experiences of villagers and monks. By combining art history, archaeology, phenomenology and environmental studies, I explore the relationship between the proliferation of marine imagery and the lives of rural villagers whose livelihoods depended on the sea for sustenance and trade. Is there more of an awareness of the sea, its bounty, and its fickleness on an island which is so reliant on the water for trade and supplies? The ancient Greeks described Crete as a land surrounded by water and in many ways the maritime worlds created in these paintings give voice to the villager’s identity as part of that environment.
January 20, 2021 - Sofia Pitouli: Monastery of Lykousada
My research examines the destroyed thirteenth-century monastery of Lykousada, located at Loxada, in Thessaly and founded by the nun Hypomone. A surviving chrysobull issued by Andronikos II in 1289 mentions Hypomone exclusively in terms of her monastic foundation. An analysis of the lands listed as belonging to the monastery allows us to place Lykousada within a network of estates and religious foundations of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Thessaly and examine Hypomone’s Vlach origin. The landholdings of Lykousada mark religious, cultural, and ethnic networks of the region. Lykousada presents the only example of a Byzantine monastery founded by a Vlach. By focusing on the architectural commissions and properties of this elite nun, my study takes a novel approach to the material culture left by the transhumant group. I examine the repetition of thirteenth-century architectural models from Epiros to Thessaly to uncover features of Hypomone’s monastery. A study of Vlachs—encapsulated in the story of this elite nun— demonstrates their indispensable role in Thessaly. The medieval roads that connect Hypomone’s estates indicate the boundaries of her influence and power, and subsequently that of her Vlach ancestors.
My paper explores the ways in which the ritualized ceremonial calendar may have facilitated a political dialogue between the emperor and his subjects through the example of Michael V’s (c. 1015-1042) failed attempt to sideline Empress Zoe. While imperial ceremonial changed over time, the information contained in the Book of Ceremonies (c. 957) suggests that Michael may have had strategic reasons to time his power play on the week following Easter. In this paper I argue that Michael may have logically utilized the public nature of ceremonies as a means for the consolidation of his power by way of political alliances and through the ceremonially based propagation of a new imperial image. The timing of this power grab would have placed it during a transitional moment in Constantinopolitan urban life, from the close of the Easter ceremonial to the start of a new season of chariot racing in the Hippodrome. This would have provided a logical opportunity to expend the perceived social capital he had accrued during the season’s religious ceremonies and, consequently, present an appealing image of sole rule to the Constantinopolitan public. Moreover, the ceremonial templates of May 1042 would have allowed Michael to tie his nascent sole rule to broader imperial legacies such as that of Basil I and Constantine the Great. By examining the ritualized protocols presented in the Book of Ceremonies, one can envision the underlying political dialogue which permeated the Byzantine experience, challenging a reductionist view which separates secular political agency from ritual. By setting Michael’s power play on a time and space defined by the Book of Ceremonies, one can see how ceremonies may have served as pivotal moments of political decision-making, bringing an aspiring sole emperor and his future subjects closer. Although Michael ultimately failed, his posited attempt at “dialogue” with the city’s population challenges scholarship to consider the role of ceremonies in the generation of political consensus.
Aleks informally inaugurated the WCBS on November 6, 2020, when he attended Sharon Gerstel's UCLA Graduate Byzantine seminar and discussed with the group the work that he has done on the biography of Michael VIII, the Medieval Roman public sphere and questions of identity and politics in the Late Byzantine period.
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