"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).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Apsidal Images

As I have had many occasions to note, books on iconography have never been as popular or as plentiful as they are today. A recent publication from Reichert Verlag deepens our understanding of the placement of icons in Byzantine Churches: Beat Brenk, The Apse, the Image and the Icon: An Historical Perspective of the Apse as a Space for Images (Spatantike-Fruhes Christentum-Byzanz) (2011), 220pp.

This book, which contains 106 black and white, and 37 colored, plates, deals, as the publisher tells us,

with the apse as a showcase for images in the early Christian and early Byzantine periods. Two opposed traditions, harking back to early imperial times, nourished the invention of the apse image: on the one hand there were statues in apses of pagan temples and imperial cult rooms that were venerated during cult ceremonies; on the other hand, there were apse mosaics in nymphaea where aquatic myths and figures celebrated the amenities of water. Christian apse mosaics originated within this context and in spite of the Old Testament prohibition of the image. Mosaics and frescoes in apses of cult rooms generated very particular effects, evoking in the viewer respect, admiration, awe and even veneration. The capacity of the image to have an impact on the viewer could not be decreed by the Church, but was an affair manifested more or less casually according to the inventive power of the artist. This book explores the interactions between the various image-media during the early Christian and early Byzantine periods; it particularly investigates the participation of the viewer and of the patron

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