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Byzantium: Autumn seminars

HA229: The Art of Byzantium, 843-1261

Seminars: Autumn Term


Seminars are for discussion of objects and ideas. They are not lectures. It is therefore essential that everyone does some preliminary reading and looking for seminars in order to be able to contribute to them.

If you are giving a presentation you must:

Preparing for a seminar

If you are giving a presentation you must:

  • do the reading and prepare what you want to say well in advance
  • seek out slides or other images well in advance of the seminar
  • have your images ready in order before the seminar begins, with a slide list.
  • remember to find images of relevant comparative material
  • prepare any handouts that you consider important (groundplans, lists of names, dates)
  • Be brief: The best way to organise your presentation is to consider what you would want to be told. Concentrate not so much on facts (they are easy enough to read up later) but on issues and questions.


In what follows, I list only a few items of reading. I expect you to look through the Bibliography to find further reading. You should always start with the main textbooks (Glory of Byzantium, Cormack, Lowden etc.) which act as a good starting point for discussion. If in doubt, ask me for advice.

Remember if you come across terms you don't understand, a good place to look is the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. Alexander Kazhdan (Oxford, New York, 1991)

Autumn Term

week 1: no seminar

weeks 2 & 3: an Α-Ω of Byzantine art I & II

These first two seminars are designed to introduce you to the range of art produced in the Byzantine world. You should come prepared to talk about the images that I produce.

Preparation: everyone to read: Cormack, Byzantine Art, chapters 3 & 4 or Lowden, Early Christian and Byzantine Art, chaps 4 &5; and look at Evans, Wixom, Glory of Byzantium to see the range of objects that they included in their exhibition.

week 4: What was new about art after iconoclasm?

The triumph of Orthodoxy in 843 saw the official return of religious imagery in the Byzantine world. This seminar looks at the first works of art produced after iconoclasm in order to investigate whether the claims made for the art match the results.

Objects: The ninth-century mosaics of Hagia Sophia

The apse mosaics of the Koimesis church, Nicaea

Issues: - what do these tell us about the sequence of events during and after iconoclasm?

- does 843 represent a new beginning or a return to the past?

- what can we learn about Byzantine attitudes to religious art, its appearance and its function?

Preparation: Bibliography: Art after Iconoclasm

everyone to read Homily XVII of the patriarch Photios (use the translation in Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 187-190). For background see Cormack in Bryer, Herrin eds., Iconoclasm

Presentations: Bethany Bennett / Findlay Broadbent the apse mosaic

Claire Barnard / Sally Brownlow other mosaics of the ninth century (inc. tympana and rooms over the south-west vestibule)

week 5: Art and politics after iconoclasm

The Khludov Psalter, now in Moscow, was one of the first works of art to appear after 843. This seminar will examine it through a facsimile in order to examine the relation between art and text, and between politics and religion in the ninth century.

Objects: The images of the Khludov Psalter, esp. fols. 23v, 51v, 67r

Issues. What questions you would ask/evidence you would need in order to be able assess:

a) the audience for this manuscript

b) its political and religious agenda

c) the relation between text and image

Preparation: Bibliography: Art after Iconoclasm

everyone to read Corrigan, Visual polemics, Intro and chapter 2; A. Cutler, 'The Byzantine Psalter: before and after Iconoclasm' in A.A.M. Bryer, J. Herrin eds, Iconoclasm, (Birmingham, 1977), 93-102

Presentations: Charlotte de Lotbiniere / Kathryn Johnson to prepare fols. 23v & 51v

Alexa Kempton / Roberta Wright to prepare fols 67r & 117r

[these folios and others are on the student intranet]

week 6:trip to V&A | trip to B’ham coin room

week 7: Imperial power and display in the tenth century

This seminar will look at the e narthex mosaic of Hagia Sophia is the most controversial images in Byzantine art

how should we interpret this work of art? Who controlled the imperial image in the tenth century?

Objects: The narthex mosaic in Hagia Sophia

The coronation ivory of Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos

The ivory sceptre of Leo VI

The mosaic of Alexander in the north gallery of Hagia Sophia

The mosaic of Constantine the Great and Justinian in the south-west entrance of Hagia Sophia

Issues: How is power displayed in these images?

At whom are the images directed?

What function did the images serve for the emperor? for his subjects?

Who commissioned and controlled the images?

Preparation: Bibliography: Imperial Art: ninth & tenth century | GoB: 'Images of the court'

everyone to read on the mosaics in H. Sophia. Start with Cormack 'Interpreting the mosaics of S. Sophia' [reprinted in the Byzantine Eye study VIII] and Cormack 'The emperor at St Sophia: viewer and viewed'

You must all read Oikonomides and Gavrilović on the Narthex mosaic.

Presentations: Bryony Mines / Adam Balogh to prepare the sceptre of Leo VI

Thomas Sheppard / Sara Lewin on ivory of Constantine VII

week 8: Centre versus periphery

Tokalı Kilise (the church of the Buckle) and the Pigeon House church at ?avuşin are two closely related churches in Cappadocia, the central region of Turkey. Tokalı Kilise is generally seen as a 'metropolitan' church, produced by an otherwise unknown man called Leo; ?avuşin, on the other hand, is seen as provincial and 'wrong' even though it has an image of the Byzantine emperor. How should we examine these churches?

Objects: Tokalı Kilise (the church of the Buckle)

?avuşin, the Pigeon House church

Other churches in Cappadocia of the tenth century

Issues: What distinguishes the churches?

What do we mean by 'provincial' and 'metropolitan'? How useful are these terms?

Preparation: Bibliography: Cappadocia

everyone to read Cormack, 'Away from the centre', and Wharton, Art of Empire, 13-18, 21-37

Presentations: Alex Bailey / Joanne Mepham on ?avuşin

David Lane / Laura Sourbutts on Tokalı Kilise New Church

week 9: what did the past mean?

Byzantium was a society that was surrounded by the past, both physically and mentally. This seminar looks at attitudes to the past through various objects

Objects: Veroli casket [see Bibliography: ivories: Cutler 'On Byzantine boxes and Maguire 'Magic and money']

Mythological bowl in Venice [see Bibliography: 'Macedonian Renaissance', but start with Buckton, Treasury of San Marco, 181-3]

Joshua Roll (Vatican Pal. gr 431.)

Leo Bible (Vatican Reg. gr 1.)

Paris Psalter (Paris, BN, MS gr 139)

Issues: What do classical motifs in Byzantine art look like?

What did the use of these motifs mean to the artwork's viewers/owners?

Why are modern scholars interested in identifying these classical elements?

Preparation: Bibliography: 'Macedonian Renaissance' | GoB: Luxury objects

everyone to read Weitzmann, 'Character and intellectual origins…'; Schapiro, The Place of the Joshua Roll…'

Jessica Prior / Findlay Broadbent to prepare the Veroli casket & the 'mythological bowl' in Venice

Clare Faulkes / Michelle Greaves to prepare the Joshua Roll

week 10: how Byzantine was Armenia?

Armenia, to the east of Byzantium, was a thriving society stuck between the Byzantine and Persian worlds. This seminar looks at Armenian art of the tenth century, notably Aghtamar on Lake Van and Ani, the city of 1000 churches, to see what we can learn about perceptions of Byzantium among its neighbours.

Objects: Aghtamar, the church of the Holy Cross and the palace; and its description in Thomas Artsruni's chronicle

Ani, the cathedral, and king Gagik's church

Manuscript of princess Maren of Kars (Jerusalem, MS 2556) [see T.F. Mathews, A.C. Daskalakis, 'The portrait of Princess Maren of Kars, Jerusalem 2556, fol. 1356', in R.W. Thomson, J.P. Mah? eds., From Byzantium to Iran. Armenian Studies in Honor of Nina G. Garso?an (Atlanta, 1997), 475-84

Issues: In what ways are tenth-century Armenian churches different from Byzantine ones?

How do Armenian rulers present themselves?

How can we use this to study Byzantine art?

Preparation: Bibliography: Armenia: Art | GoB: Armenians

everyone should look up Ani, on the VirtualAni website; and read Jones on Aghtamar