"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Syriac Iconography and Identity

I find fascinating the means by which people--singly and communally, especially ecclesially--construct their identities, especially in late modernity with its perennial temptation towards idiosyncratic bricolage. A recent book examines this process among Syrian Christians eight hundred years ago:

M. Immerzeel, Identity Puzzles: Medieval Christian Art in Syria and Lebanon (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta) (Peeters, 2009), 334pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:

Numerous churches decorated with medieval wall paintings can be found in Lebanon and Syria, especially in the former Crusader County of Tripoli and the Muslim-controlled Damascus area. In particular, the first half of the thirteenth century turned out to be a period of intensive artistic activity. This book addresses the matter of identity formation in the decoration of Maronite, Melkite and Syrian Orthodox churches during this artistic 'Syrian Renaissance', and explores the differences and similarities between the arts of these communities. Attention is given to the interaction between Latins and local Christians, the attribution of works of art to local and Byzantine artists, and the relationship with Islamic art. Furthermore, recent discoveries have revealed that indigenous painters and workshops involved in the embellishment of churches also produced icons which were formerly attributed to Latin artists, thus adding a new dimension to the research on the production of Christian art in the Middle East during the Crusader era.

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