Book Review: Byzantine Images and their Afterlives: Essays in Honor of Annemarie Weyl Carr (Jones, ed.)—Review by Courtney Tomaselli

Book review: Lynn Jones, ed. Byzantine Images and their Afterlives: Essays in Honor of Annemarie Weyl Carr. Farnham, Surrey, England; Burlington, VT, USA: Ashgate, 2014. 304 pp; 15 color and 70 black and white illustrations. $109.95. ISBN: 978-1-4094-4291-2.

The chapters of this festschrift, authored by Annemarie Weyl Carr’s former students and colleagues, cover objects spanning all media and employ a wide variety of approaches, reflecting her sweeping interests and ability to deftly utilize wide-ranging methodologies. Following the book’s theme – images and their afterlives – many of the authors have demonstrated just how adaptable Byzantine images, stories, and relics could be. Throughout the Mediterranean world and beyond, these Byzantine elements were modified to suit the needs of their new communities. Having acquired multiple layers of meaning across broad temporal, geographical, and cultural grounds, the objects discussed in this book perfectly embody those so central to Carr’s overall oeuvre.

This book is sorted into four parts that coincide with areas of study to which Carr devoted much of her career: I) Manuscripts: Workshops, Subgroups, and Influences; II) Intent and Reception; III) Cypriot Influences; IV) The Nature of Copies. There are fifteen color plates, and each chapter is well illustrated with black and white photos. Several color images of manuscript folia are slightly blurred, making their examination difficult but not impossible. There are also errors of reference to figures in two of the articles, explained below, that initially cause confusion. These editorial issues, however, do not detract from the elevated and lucid prose that makes the book’s overall reading experience a pleasurable one.

Lynn Jones opens with a preface recounting more the personal than professional experiences she had with her advisor. Annemarie Weyl Carr is known for her character as much as her scholarship; thus it is fitting that Jones began this festschrift with such exquisitely personal reminiscences. Bonnie Wheeler’s introduction provides an eyewitness accounting of Carr as scholar and close colleague. She closes by invoking Carr’s favorite word, “luminous,” and introduces Carr’s favorite icon, the Kykkotissa. Wheeler’s lovely prose succeeds in painting a portrait of Carr’s own luminosity, crafting in the reader’s mind an image of her that is nearly experiential.

Kathleen Maxwell begins Part I with “The Afterlife of Texts: Decorative Style Manuscripts and New Testament Textual Criticism.” Here she applies the lens of New Testament textual criticism to the art historical study of Byzantine manuscripts. Using data published by Münster’s Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Maxwell investigates Carr’s taxonomy of the decorative style manuscript group via its textual variations.i Demonstrating that manuscripts of the Initial subgroups have less in common textually than do those of the Central and Late subgroups, her findings underscore several of Carr’s major conclusions regarding the decorative style group. Even more importantly, they have significant implications for our understanding of the working practices of Byzantine scribes and artists.

In “Flexibility and Fusion in Eastern Mediterranean Manuscript Production: Oxford, Bodleian, Laud. Gr. 86,” Justine Andrews draws on stylistic analysis and historical evidence to reconsider the origin of the aforementioned manuscript, which has long been attributed to sixteenth-century Venice. Suggesting it could equally have been a product of sixteenth-century Cyprus, she highlights the increasing intersection of communities throughout the Mediterranean during this time-period. A reference to Figure 2.10 at the top of page 57 erroneously indicates that a folio from an Italian manuscript belongs to one of the two Greek manuscripts under discussion.

Pamela Patton’s “The Little Jewish Boy: Afterlife of a Byzantine Legend in Thirteenth-Century Spain,” looks to a single example in the afterlife of a Marian miracle tale, “The Jewish Boy of Bourges,” in a particular manuscript, the Cantigas de Santa Maria of King Alfonso X of Castille (r.1252-1284). She examines how both text and image may intersect and evolve to become localized in a particular milieu, in this case that of medieval Iberia and its multi-religious society. This Byzantine story was rewritten in the early thirteenth century to locate its action in France and cast it as a tale of struggle between Jews and Christians. Patton notes how elements such as physiognomy and the expansion of the Jewish father’s punishment were introduced into this manuscript’s illustration; the visual elaborates upon the strongly anti-Jewish nature of the rewritten text.

Part II opens with Diliana Angelova’s “Stamp of Power: The Life and Afterlife of Pulcheria’s Buildings.” Cutting through some legendary accounts of Empress Pulcheria’s charitable foundations, she points to imperial palaces rather than pious institutions as the primary centers for Empress Pulcheria’s (d.453) building campaigns in Constantinople. Angelova demonstrates that for both empress and citizens, these palace complexes were powerful loci for neighborhood growth and vitality. Thus, Empress Pulcheria’s Constantinopolitan imperial residences were signifiers of her deep concern for her own imperial image and authority.

Lynn Jones also investigates a strong royal woman in “Perceptions of Byzantium: Radegund of Poitiers and Relics of the True Cross.”  St. Radegund’s (d.587) cult and church at one point garnered more pilgrimage traffic than did her relic of the True Cross. Jones elucidates how the imperial Byzantine origin of this relic was stressed and elided throughout its history, often for political purposes. A relic’s history and reception is the topic of Ida Sinkević’s chapter “Afterlife of the Rhodes Hand of St. John the Baptist.” Collating the relic’s entire convoluted history for the first time, Sinkević traces its route from Constantinople under Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r.913-959), through its possession by the Knights of Malta and Russian Tsars, to its final resting place in the Cetinje Monastery in Montenegro. An engaging storyteller, she also demonstrates how the relic’s long history has augmented its aura of power and mystique.

Both of the chapters that fall under Part III deal with the often-thorny issue of hybridity, particularly regarding the much-trafficked islands of the Eastern Mediterranean. Turning to Gothic architecture on Cyprus in “Some Remarks on the Appropriation, Use and Survival of Gothic Forms on Cyprus,” Michele Bacci discusses how form can seemingly and infinitely be used, appropriated, reused, and hybridized. Gothic forms in Lusignan and Venetian Cyprus were employed by its Greek and Latin communities, but might be infused with divergent meanings and used for different ends. Maria Vassilaki addresses issues of attribution surrounding early fifteenth-century Cretan icon painting in “Byzantine Icon-Painting Around 1400: Constantinople or Crete?” Through several well-known pieces of Cretan art that contain both Late Byzantine and Italianate features, she highlights a vexing question of art historical taxonomy: how should one categorize an object made by a painter from Constantinople working on Crete for an Italian client, when this object contains a mix of style and iconography from all three areas? Specifically refusing to provide a conclusion, Vassilaki instead ends her chapter by rephrasing her title: “Byzantine Icon-Painting Around 1400: Constantinople and Crete?”

Jaroslav Folda’s chapter, “The Use of Çintamani as Ornament: A Case Study in the Afterlife of Forms,” initiates the book’s final section. Çintamani, from the Sanskrit for “the auspicious jewel,” appears as three triangularly arranged circles or disks. Originally a Buddhist emblem, it was quickly abstracted into an ornamental design and transmitted to the West, where it has been used for centuries in art to embellish garments and surfaces as an indicator of elevated status. His chapter provides examples that span Buddhist art to a painting by Titian, and is intended as an introduction and invitation for further study. Anthony Cutler also focuses on a non-Byzantine object, though in this case a fake, in “Twice is Not Enough: The Biography of a ‘Byzantine’ Crucifixion Ivory.” His tale provides a glimpse of what the modern viewer, and the art market, thinks of as “looking Byzantine.” Recut at least once in the first decade of this century, the ivory continues to show up on the market. Cutler’s chapter reminds us that connoisseurship remains a vital element of art historical study. Figures 10.1 and 10.5 are both erroneously labeled with “as in 2003 and 2007.”  Figure 10.1 shows the ivory’s appearance in 2003, Figure 10.5 as it was in 2007 after being recut.

Rossitza Schroeder’s investigation of form in “The Salvation of the Soul and the Road to Heaven: The Representation of the Ladder of Divine Ascent in the Vatopedi Katholikon” focuses on an early fourteenth-century fresco in the exonarthex of the church. The fresco features Klimakos’ Heavenly Ladder adjacent to an opulent aristocratic banquet; the remaining exonarthex frescoes contain a passion cycle. Looking to Late Byzantine writings and the monastery’s history, Schroeder suggests the fresco’s location intensified the didactic and salvific message of the entire cycle, while the secular feast reminded a monastic community heavily populated by the aristocracy of the dangers of indulgence.

Finally, Ann Driscoll considers the afterlife of a painted cross in “Death and Life: The Persistence of Sacred Imagery from the Croce Dipinta of Alberto Sotio.” Its iconographic motif of Christus Triumphans, in which Christ appears alive on the cross, was supplanted in the thirteenth century by the Christus Patiens, in which Christ is either dead or suffering. Driscoll demonstrates that a number of these later crosses deliberately quote elements of Sotio’s cross. The afterlife of its quoted motifs reveals the continuing power of both his work and the Christus Triumphans iconography in general.

Although readers with a general knowledge of Byzantine or Medieval Art history will find many chapters easily accessible, this volume is not targeted to a wide audience. Several are quite technical and require familiarity with their particular subject matter to fully appreciate the nuances of the authors’ arguments. Students and scholars with an interest in pan-Mediterranean and cross-cultural art historical issues will find this book to be interesting and informative. With its contributions to areas of research so profoundly enriched by Carr’s work throughout her long career, this festschrift serves as fitting tribute to a deeply admired scholar.

Courtney Tomaselli

Courtney Tomaselli is a PhD student at Harvard University in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture.  Her primary research focus is on Byzantine art history.


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