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CARLOS SASTRE
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Hourihane, Colum, ed. <i>Byzantine Art: Recent Studies: Essays in
Honor of Lois Drawer</i>. Medieval and Renaissance texts and studies,
vol. 378; Arizona studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, vol.
33. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. xx, 197. $60.00. ISBN 9780866984263.

Reviewed by Glenn Peers
University of Texas at Austin


This collection of nine essays represents the results of a conference
in October 2008 held at the Index of Christian art, Princeton
University, and it is another witness to the active and productive
work of the Index and its director, Colum Hourihane. It also stands as
a well-deserved recognition of the contributions of Lois Drawer to the
Index's work; anyone who has used the Index has certainly benefitted
from Lois's scholarship and good humor. The contents of the book are
suitably wide-ranging then, and the brief given by the editor appears
to have been generously open-ended. The other two components of the
title reflect that position: the studies deal with "matters
iconographical," with no further editorial determination or
explanation. The studies are recent in the sense that they are
published commendably soon after delivery in the conference, and those
of us not able to attend that conference can weigh its contributions
without any real delay. The essays are not recent in the sense of
being "state of the question or field"; they were written by well-
established scholars who chose their topics (for the most part) and
delivered them in familiar voices. Anyone looking for a collection on
Byzantine art that performs "recent" as vanguard, contemporary or
experimental will have to look elsewhere. Indeed, two of the essays
are on manuscripts and historiography, and not art per se. Several of
the essays are well worth seeking out, but many readers may be misled
or simply uncompelled by the rather vague and unmotivated "Byzantine
art" and "recent studies" in the title.

I will simply provide brief summaries of the essays to guide possible
readers:

In "Representations of Towers in Byzantine Art: The Question of
Meaning" (1-37), Slobodan Curcic follows a research track more
completely realized in the recent exhibition on depictions of
architecture. [1] He argues that representations of towers "played a
distinctive iconographic, and above all symbolic, role." He breaks the
tower types into groups and follows them through a variety of media,
location and period. In keeping with his subtitle, he finds strikingly
little diversity; a singly question leads to a single meaning:
architecture played a role like figural components in Byzantine art
and needs to be examined equally for its symbolic significance.

In "Monastic Challenges: Some Manuscripts of the <i>Heavenly
Ladder</i>" (39-62), Nancy P. Sevcenko examines several manuscripts of
that text of John Climachus. This essay represents a preliminary
statement of a larger study on that manuscript tradition that takes a
distinct turn from the Princeton tradition of illustrated manuscript
studies. Sevcenko treats "some" Climachus manuscripts as individual
creations that responded to their own agendas and not as part of a
family or stemma. Typically careful and lucid, this essay situates the
manuscripts in a Lenten context in which monks approached that
proscriptive text through the liturgical progress of that period. It
looks at the textual and visual developments of the manuscript
tradition, and it strikes out in a different direction than earlier
scholarship on these manuscripts.

In "Legal Iconicity: The Documentary Image, the Problem of Genre, and
the Work of the Beholder" (63-79), Anthony Cutler examines icon of the
emperor and empress on the Chrysobull of Alexis III Komnenos of 1374,
and poses the question of its function" "an embellishment, an
illustration attached to the text, or as its <i>enactment</i>."
Naturally, Cutler concludes that the image did not fall into the first
category, but he searchingly unpacks the meanings behind the imperial
icon on that donation roll and others related to it. In that way, he
provides useful thinking points for understanding the function of the
roll in Byzantine culture. Left to the final paragraph, however, the
viewer is not a developed part of the subtitle, and he/she becomes for
Cutler a "noetic" participant, who provides "cognitive supplement" to
the work. He/she has a tantalizing, apparently disembodied role in
this model of Byzantine seeing.

In "The Bahattin Samanligi Kilisesi at Belisirma (Cappadocia)
Revisited" (81-110), Catherine Jolivet-Lévy examines a tenth-
/eleventh-century fresco cycle with regard to its "provincial" (her
scare-marks) style and finds unsurprisingly--though by means of
careful description of and comparisons to art of the capital--that the
program represents a combination of local and cosmopolitan styles. The
photographs in many of the essays are marred by murkiness, and the
argument and description are difficult to follow at points because of
that quality of the figures.

In "Moslems, Christians, and Iconoclasm: Erasures from Church Floor
Mosaics during the Early Islamic Period" (111-19), Henry Maguire
concisely states his case: revised floor mosaics in Palestine in the
Early Middle Ages reflect debates amongst Christians and not inter-
faith conflict between Moslems and Christians. He takes the altered
floor mosaic at Madaba from 767 as an example of Palestinian response
to Constantinopolitan arguments over the place of animals in a true
Christian art. As opposed to iconoclasts in the capital, those
Palestinian Christians worshipped the true image of God and his mother
in the apse (now lost and hypothesized by an inscription on the
floor), and they thereby aligned themselves with theological/political
developments in the Byzantine capital and were not contending, at
least at the first level, with issues immediate to their lives under
Islam.

In "Muslims, Christians, and Iconoclasm: A Vase Study of Images and
Erasure on Lamps in the Johns Hopkins University Archaeological
Collection" (121-52), Eunice Waterman Maguire focuses carefully, and
at some length, on several oil lamps being "re-excavated" in that
University's collection. Erased figures may reflect Early Medieval
changes in attitudes towards figural art on quotidian objects. With
such an intense analysis, such lamps emerge as far more significant
bearers and makers of meaning than normally permitted by scholars.

In "Byzantium between East and West, and the Origins of Heraldry"
(153-70), Robert Ousterhout presents a version of an essay already
published in German. Like other essays in the volume, he takes as a
point of departure a small object, in this case a capital in the crypt
of St. Demetrius in Thessaloniki. He uses it to make a wider argument
about the cross-cultural valences of heraldic signs, and he exposes
eastern roots of "the complex visual language of signs, symbols and
insignia" that led to heraldry in Western Europe.

In "Manuscripts Speaking The History of Readership and Ownership"
(171-84), Sofia Kotzabassi describes some of the inscriptions
contained in manuscripts of the Princeton University Library and
presumably anticipates aspects of the catalogue of that library's
Greek holdings. [2]

In "From Byzantium to Princeton: A Century of Collecting Greek
Manuscripts" (185-97), Don Skemer gives a succinct overview of the
Greek fond in the manuscript collection at Princeton, including two
memorable figures, of Robert Garrett a great collector and Princeton
benefactor as a young man competing at the first modern Olympics, and
of his engraved bookplate, which reveal the extent of his academic
interests even beyond Hellenism.


NOTES

[1] <i>Architecture as Icon: Perception and Representation of
Architecture in Byzantine Art </i>, ed. Slobodan Curcic and Evangeli
Chatzetryphonos (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[2] Sofia Kotzabassi, Don Skemer and Nancy Patterson Sevcenko,
<i>Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth to Nineteenth Century: A
Descriptive Catalogue</i> (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2010).
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