"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).

Monday, June 13, 2022

Powerful Paintings in Late Antique Christianity

As I have noted on here over the years, and in public lectures about iconoclasm and iconographic history, all artwork is political, and some of it powerful enough to provoke, or at least accompany, political change. As James Noyes first remarked, iconoclasm is always a herald to political change.

This month sees the release of a new book that reminds us of the power of pictures: Late Antique Portraits and Early Christian Icons: The Power of the Painted Gaze by Andrew Paterson (Routledge, June 2022), 212pp. 

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This book focuses on the earliest surviving Christian icons, dated to the sixth and seventh centuries, which bear many resemblances to three other well-established genres of 'sacred portrait' also produced during late antiquity, namely Roman imperial portraiture, Graeco-Egyptian funerary portraiture and panel paintings depicting non-Christian deities.

Andrew Paterson addresses two fundamental questions about devotional portraiture - both Christian and non-Christian - in the late antique period. Firstly, how did artists visualise and construct these images of divine or sanctified figures? And secondly, how did their intended viewers look at, respond to, and even interact with these images? Paterson argues that a key factor of many of these portrait images is the emphasis given to the depicted gaze, which invites an intensified form of personal encounter with the portrait's subject.

The book will be of interest to scholars working in art history, theology, religion and classical studies.

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