Title Visual effects and visual infection in Islamic and Byzantine champlevé sculpture
Author email silvia.pedone@gmail.com
About author Pedone, Silvia, Ph.D. Tor Vergata University, Rome, adjunct professor
In the section Eastern Christian Art
Year 2012 Volume 2 Pages 7377
Type of article RAR Index UDK 7.033.2; 7.033.3 Index BBK 85.11

The presence of the same or very similar decorative motifs and techniques in diff erent artistic traditions is currently a much-debated topic in art historical studies, particularly in Byzantine studies. Usually the phenomenon is explained through “contacts” or “contagions” connecting different cultures and making possible artistic exchanges, within the wider context of cultural migrations and expansions. Th e Mediterranean area off ers a still vivid witness of such contagion process, and the present paper aims at exploring it through the analysis of a particular artistic technique, the champlevé sculpture, spread out both in Islamic and Byzantine world.

Reference Pedone S. Visual effects and visual infection in Islamic and Byzantine champlevé sculpture. Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art: Collection of articles. Vol. 2. Eds: Anna V. Zakharova. St. Petersburg, NP-Print Publ., 2012, pp. 73–77. ISSN 2312-2129.
Publication Article language english
  • A. de Longpérier, De l’emploi des caractères arabes. L’ornamentation chez peuples chrétiens de l’occident, in Revue Archéologique II (1846), pp. 696-706.
  • On this particular use of Arab letters in Christian context see the well-known essays by K. Erdmann, Arabische Schrift zeichen als Ornamente in der abendländischen Kunst des Mittelalters, in Mainz, Akademie der Wissenschaft en und der Literatur. Abhandlungen der Geistes-und Sozialwissenschaft lischen Klasse 9 (1953), pp. 467-513; S.D.T. Spittle, Cufic Lettering in Christian Art, in American Journal 56 (1954), pp. 138-152; G.C. Miles, Byzantium and the Arabs: Relations in Crete and the Aegean Area, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964), pp. 1-32; Id., Classifi cation of Islamic Elements in Byzantine Architectural Ornament in Greece, in Actes du XIIIe Congrés International d’études byzantines, Belgrade 1964, III, pp. 281-287; R. Ettinghausen, Kufesque in Byzantine Greece, the Latin West and the Muslim Word, in A Colloquium in Memory of George Carpenter Miles (1904-1975), New York 1976, pp. 28-47. On the spreading of pseudo-cuphic characters in Italy, see: Gli Arabi in Italia, edited by F. Gabrieli, U. Scerrato, Milano 1979, passim; M.V. Fontana, Un itinerario italiano sulle tracce dello pseudo-cufico, in Grafi ca 10-11 (1990-1991), pp. 67-84; Ead., Byzantine Mediation of Epigraphic Charactersof Islamic Derivation in the Wall Paintings of Some Churches in Southern Italy, in Islām and the Italian Renaissance, edited by C. Burnett, A. Contarini (Th e Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study), London 1999, pp. 61-75.
  • De Longpérier, De l’emploi cit., p. 703.
  • On the ornament and the persistence of forms derived from an Islamic tradition, see A. Grabar, Le succès des arts orientaux à la court byzantine sous les Macédoniens, in Mü nchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst II, II (1951), pp. 32-60; K. Watson, The Kufi c Inscription in the Romanesque Cloister of Moissac in Quercy: Links with Le Puy, Toledo and the Catalan Woodenworkers, in Arte Medievale ser. II, 1989/1, pp. 7-27, and, more generally, the important anthology of essays of O. Grabar, Th e Mediation of Ornament, Princeton 1992.
  • See the ever valuable study of R.A. Jairazbhoy, Oriental Infl uences in Western Art, London 1965. For the lasting success of pseudo-cuphic motives in early modern art, particularly in Italian Renaissance, see M.V. Fontana, L’infl usso dell’arte islamica in Italia, in Eredità dell’Islam. Arte islamica in Italia, Catalog of exhibition, edited by G. Curatola, Milano Visual effects and visual infection in Islamic and Byzantine champleve` sculpture 1993, pp. 455-476; more recently, see the specific essay of R.E. Mack, M. Zakariya, The Pseudo-Arabic on Andrea del Verrocchio’s David, in Artibus et Historiae 60 (30) (2009), pp. 157-172.
  • The main reference here is to the so-called “contagion model” as developed specially by the anthropologist Dan Sperber (Explaining Culture. A Naturalistic Approach, Oxford 1996) to explain the complexities of social and cognitive flows of cultural representations. From our point of view Sperber’s naturalistic epidemiological account is preferable to apparently analogous theories, rigidly based on Darwinian mechanisms, such as the well-known “Memetics” put forward by Richard Dawkins (Th e Selfi sh Gene, Oxford 1976), for Sperber’s model is transformational more than replicational. Other authors that used and popularized the viral and epidemic metaphors for cultural phenomena are Malcolm Gladwell (Th e Tipping Point, New York 2000) and Aaron Lynch (Th ought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society, New York 1996). Ironically, but perhaps not so surprisingly, Gladwell’s book never cites Dawkins and Sperber, and Lynch explicitly claims in his preface he “independently reinvented this theory of self-propagating ideas”. One may think that, by and large, the “independent convergence model” is valued as personally preferable even by the “contagion theorists”!
  • Within Art History the “structural hypothesis” is typical of several formalistic theories, the otherwise great differences notwithstanding, and we can fi nd similar positions in so diff erent scholars as Jurgis Baltrušaitis (Le Moyen Âge fantastique. Antiquités et exotismes dans l’art gothique, Paris 1972, pp. 129-134) and Meyer Schapiro (On some problems in the semiotics of visual arts: fi eld and vehicle in image-signs, in Semiotica 1 (1969), pp. 223-242). Also those approaches interested in psychology of perception draw heavily on the idea of structural visual laws organizing pictorial field and production. An eminent example is the work of R. Arnheim, Art and Perception: a Psychology of the Creative Eye, 1954.Needless to say, the perceptualist approach was no less heavily criticized by authors with historicist, semiotics or poststructural sympathies.
  • A balanced assessment of what we called “epidemiological” and “structural” options is to be found, for example, in E. Gombrich, The Sense of Order. A Study in Psychology of Decorative Art, London 1979, and in Grabar, The Mediation cit., passim. Both Gombrich and Grabar acknowledge a wide space for compromise solutions.
  • M. Canard, Les relations politiques et sociales entre Byzance et les Arabes, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964), pp. 35-55; see also: L.A. Hunt, Byzantium, Eastern Christendom and Islam, Art at the Crossroads of the Medieval Mediterranean, London 1998, vol. I-II. More recently, a conference held in Thessaloniki (Byzantium and the Arab World, december 2011) and two exhibitions (Byzantium and the Arabs, Th essaloniki, Museum of Byzantine Culture, October 2011-January 2012; Byzantium and Islam. Age of Transition. 7th-9th Century, New York, Metropolitan Museum, March-July, 2012) have been devoted to the relationships between Byzantium and Islam.
  • See: F. Coden, Scultura ad incrostazione di mastice: confronti fra la tecnica orientale e quella occidentale, in Medioevo mediterraneo: l’Occidente, Bisanzio e l’Islam, Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi, Parma 21-25 settembre 2004, edited by A.C. Quintavalle, Parma 2005, pp. 304-311; S. Pedone, Le cornici champlevé negli esempi medio-bizantini del Katholikon di Hosios Loukas e di Dafnì, in Rolsa 5 (2006), pp. 17-49; F. Coden, Corpus della scultura ad incrostazione di mastice nella penisola italiana (XI-XIII secolo), Padova 2006; C. Barsanti, La scultura mediobizantina fra tradizione e innovazione, in Bisanzio nell’età dei Macedoni: forme della produzione letteraria e artistica, edited by F. Conca, G. Fiaccadori, Milano 2007, pp. 5-49; C. Barsanti, Una nota sulla diff usione della scultura bizantina nelle regioni adriatiche italiane tra IX e XIII secolo, in La sculpture byzantine, VIIe-XIIIe siècle, Actes du Colloque International (Athènes 2000), Athènes 2008, pp. 515-557; C. Barsanti, S. Pedone, Una nota sulla scultura ad incrostazione e il templon della Panaghia Episcopi di Santorini, in Mélanges Jean-Pierre Sodini (Travaux et Mémoires, 15), Paris 2005, pp. 405-425.
  • On the use and eff ects of colors in this sculptural technique, see: S. Pedone, Il Colore scolpito. Raffinatezze cromatiche nella scultura ad incrostazione del Medioevo Mediterraneo, in Sapienza Bizantina. Un secolo di ricerche sulla civiltà di Bisanzio all’Università di Roma, Sapienza Università di Roma, 10 ottobre 2008, edited by A. Acconcia Longo, G. Cavallo, A. Guiglia, A. Iacobini, Roma 2012, pp. 179-199.
  • O. Jones, The Grammar of Ornament, London 1856.
  • De Longpérier, De l’emploi cit., p. 703.
  • Miles, Byzantium and the Arabs cit.; Ettinghausen, Kufesque in Byzantine Greece cit. See also A. Grabar, Sculptures Byzantines du Moyen Âge (XIe-XIVe siècle), II, Paris 1976, passim.
  • L. Bouras, О γλυπτός διάκοσμος του Ναού της Παναγίας στό Μοναστήρι του Оσίου Λουκά, Aϑήνα 1980; Pedone, Le cornici champlevé cit., specially figs. 8-15.
  • A. Grabar, La décoration architecturale de l’église de la Vierge à Saint-Luc en Phocide et les débuts des influences islamiques sur l’art byzantin de Grèce, in Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres. Comptes rendus des séances, Paris 1971, pp. 15-37.
  • Arab letters alim and alef bound together are widely used in Byzantine art for decorative purposes. See the recent essay by Valentina Cantone on some manuscripts of Macedonian period: V. Cantone, The Problem of the Eastern Influences on Byzantine Art During the Macedonian Renaissance: Some Illuminated Manuscripts from the National Library of Greece and the National Library of Venice, in Actual Problems of Th eory and History of Art. Collection of articles, edited by S. Maltseva, E. Stanyukovich-Denisova, I, St. Petersburg 2011, pp. 33-38. I’m at present working, together with Dr. Cantone, on a research project of systematic survey of ornamental motives in Byzantine sculpture and manuscript illumination, between the 9th and the 11th centuries. The project aims at defining a taxonomic catalogue of formal schemes and units shared by different artistic techniques, and at reconstructing, if possible, the material “epidemic” ways through which such motives spread out.
  • The Glory of Byzantium. Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era A. D. 843-1261, edited by H.C. Evans, W.D. Wixom, New York 1997, p. 410. See also the inscription on the box now in the Museo-Biblioteca de la Real Colegiata de San Isidoro, Léon: ibid., p. 409.
  • See, for example, the pieces displayed on the exhibition Trésor fatimides du Caire, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe 28 avril - 30 aout 1998, Paris 1998, specially the pieces reproduced at p. 104, n. 24; p. 107, nn. 28-29; p. 110, n. 33 and p. 204, n. 188.
  • K. Reynolds Brawn, cat. 21, Vaso di vetro dorato, in Tesoro di San Marco, Milano 1986, pp. 189-191; A. Cutler, The Mythological Bowl in the Treasury of San Marco at Venice, in Imagery and Ideology in Byzantine Art, London 1999, pp. 235-254. In the Treasury of San Marco see also the splendid rock crystal bowl with a cuphic inscription, Tesoro di San Marco cit., pp. 145-146, n. 55.
  • Ibid, pp. 102-103, n. 22.
  • Pedone, Le cornici champlevé cit., pp. 27-32, figs. 27-31.
  • M. Sklavou Mauroeidi, Γλυπτά του Βυζαντινού Μουσείου Αθηνών, Αθήνα 1999, pp. 108, n. 149; 110, n. 151; 127, n. 173.
  • T. Chatzidakis-Bacharas, Les peintures murales de Hosios Loukas. Les chapelles occidentales, Athènes 1982, p. 174, fig. 107; N. Chatzidakis, Hosios Loukas. Mosaics, Wall Paintings, Athens 1997, fig. 5.
  • See infra, note 2. For a more recent point of view, cfr. Eff ects of the Foreign Infl uence in A.P. Kazhdan, A. Wharton Epstein, Change in Byzantine Culture in the Eleventh and Twelft h Centuries, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1985, pp. 180-183.
  • Sklavou Mauroeidi, Γλυπτά cit., p. 110, cat. n. 151.
  • Trésor fatimides du Caire cit., cat. n. 15.
  • For different examples, see: Grabar, Sculptures Byzantines cit., pls. XXII, XVIIa, XXIIa, XXIXa, XXXIc, XXXVc, LXXXIVa-c, CXXXIa.
  • A silver-gilt cup with champlevé decoration by Maitre Alpais (Limoges), now in the Musée du Louvre. See: D. Buckton, Early Byzantine enamel in France, in Ritual and Art: Byzantine Essays for Christopher Walter, edited by P. Armstrong, London 2006, pp. 94-105; S. La Niece, B. McLeod, S. Röhrs, Th e Heritage of “Maître Alpais”, An International and Interdisciplinary Examination of Medieval Limoges Enamel and Associated Objects, London 2010.
  • Grabar, Sculptures Byzantines cit., pl. XXIIa; M. Šuput, Les reliefs byzantins remplis de pâte colorée des XIIIe et XIVe siècles, in Zograf 7 (1976), pp. 34-44; M. Dennert, Mittelbyzantinische Kapitelle. Studien zu Typologie und Chronologie, Bonn 1997, cat. n. 304, p. 141, tav. 54.
  • Coden, Corpus della scultura cit., pp. 293, 694, cat. III.41-5; p. 771, cat. III.41-6.
  • Bouras, O γλυπτός διάκοσμος του Ναού της Παναγίας cit., pp. 112-114, figs. 185-190.
  • T. Pazaras, Reliefs of a sculpture workshop operating in Th essaly and Macedonia at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, in L’art de Th essalonique et des pays balkaniques et les courants spirituels au XIVe siècle, Belgrade 1985, Belgrade 1987, pp. 159-182; Id., Relief Sarcophagi and Tombs Slabs of the Middle and Late Byzantine Period in Greece, Athens 1988, pp. 32, 34-35; A. Avramea, D. Feissel, Inventaires en vue d’un recueil des inscriptions historiques de Byzance, IV, Inscriptions du Th essalie (à exception des Météores), in Travaux et Mémoires 10 (1987), pp. 357-398, in particular, p. 377, tav. VII, fig. 1.
  • Šuput, Les reliefs byzantins remplis de pâte colorée cit., p. 36.
  • Sklavou Mauroeidi, Γλυπτά cit., pp. 205-206, cat. nn. 289-291.
  • Grabar, Sculptures Byzantines cit, pp. 146-148; for color photo reproductions see: The City of Mystras, Byzantine Hours: Work and Days in Byzantium, Catalogue of exhibition, Mystras, August 2001 – January 2002, Athens 2001, p. 109, fig. 121.