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Christian Iconography_ A Study of Its Origins by André Grabar (Intro and Part I) with illustrations

Christian Iconography_ A Study of Its Origins by André Grabar (Intro and Part I) with illustrations

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Published by Yin Fu

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Published by: Yin Fu on Apr 11, 2011
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02/05/2014

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Introduction
TheheritageleftusbyGreco-RomanantiquityincludesalargenumberofworksofChristianart.Thesearenot,itistrue,thepaintingsandsculp-turesthatcometomindwhenwethinkofclassicalart,butwemustnotforgetthattheartoflateantiquitywasalargefamily,towhichthefirstChristianartalsobelonged.Further,wemustrememberthat,becauseoftheverygreatnumberoftraditionsthatgobacktoit,thisfirstChristianartplaysasignificantpartinthehistoryofChristianartofalltimesandallpeoples.Limitingourselvestoiconography,wewillattemptinthefollowingpagestoshowwhatcanbeobservedofthemannerinwhichtheChristianimagesoflateantiquitywerecreatedandwhatroletheseimagesplayedalongsideotherformsofChristianpiety.
In
ordertoconformtothemethodoffixingthechronologicallimitsofantiquitythatisgenerallyfollowedtoday,themonumentsthatwillbeconsideredwillallbeworksthatprecedetheriseofIslam.ThisstudyisnotmeanttobeamanualofancientChristianiconography,whereonewouldlegitimatelyexpecttofindasystematicpresentationofalltheknowntypesofimages.Norisitahistoryoficonographywhichwouldshowthemodificationstheseimagesunderwentintime.Myintentionsarebothmoreandlessambitious.InsteadofconsideringallthemonumentsorallthecategoriesofChristianimages,Iwillciteonlycharacteristicexamples.But,ontheotherhand,Iwouldliketosaymoreaboutthenatureoftheseimages,abouttheirform,andespeciallyabouttheircontent.Letusposethetwoquestionsthatareatthebasisofthisinquiry:
(I)
WhydoPaleo-Christianimageslookastheydo,or,inotherwords,howweretheycomposed?
(2)
Onthereligiouslevel,whatpurposesdidtheseimagesserveatthetimeoftheircreation?Toputthesefundamentalquestionsistoinitiatetwokindsofinvestigation:ontheonehand,astudyofthematerialcreationofChristianiconographyduringlateantiquity;and,ontheother,aninquiryintothefunctionsoftheseimagesinearlyChristianpiety.Thedistinctionbetweenthesetwokindsofproblemsisevi-
 
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Introduction
dent,butinpracticetheinvestigatordoesnotseparatethem,andthehistoryoftheelaborationofreligiousiconographyisseldomdistinctfromthethemesdictatedbythepietyofthefaithful.Thus,inthepresentwork,themotivationsandproceduresinvolvedinthecreationofChristianimageswillnotbediscussedinspecialchapters,norwillotherchaptersbesetaparttodealwiththereligiouspurposesforwhichtheseimageswereadopted.Instead,theseproblemswillbetreatedsimultaneouslywithreferencetodifferentthemesortogroupsofmonumentswhichwillserveasexamples.Theexampleswillbechosennotsomuchtogivecompleteillustrationsofthethemesorgroupsastopresentsomecharacteristicandimportantfacts.Inallitspartsthisstudyhasahistoricalcharacterand,inconsequence,isfarfrombeinganessayonPaleo-Christianiconographypresentedintheformofcoherentandcompletegroupsofimagesthatwould,takentogether,beamirrorofChristiantheology.Nordoesitdealwiththosevariousquasi-mechanicalprocedureswhich,appliedtoChristianthemes,wouldproducetheChristianimagesthatweknow.Finally,withoutdenyingtheroleofspontaneouscreationtothemakersofimages(generally,whatwehaveareonlyworkshop-producedstereotypesofsacredthemes),wewillleavetoindividualcreativityonlywhatourpreliminaryanalysesdonotobligeustoattributetocommonmotifs.NotlongagoscholarshadmuchmoreconfidenceinthecreativefacultiesofthemakersofPaleo-Christianimages.Theimagesseemedtobedirecttranspositions-orcopiesofsuchtransposi-tions-ofthewordsofScriptureintopaintingorsculpture,intermsthathad,naturally,beeninventedbytheartist.ThereappearedtobenoneedtoassumeintermediariesbetweentheScripturesandtheartist.ThisviewowedmuchtotheRomanticideaoftheinspiredcreator,butitalsodependedupontheundeniablefactthattheverynatureofChristianityasarevealedreligionrelatesit-anditsimages-totheBookwhichcontainsitsentiredoctrine.ButtopresupposesuchauseoftheScriptures,andaconsiderablecreativegift,intheobscuremakersofimagesatanyaestheticlevelistoaccordthemtacitlywhatnobodywouldthinkofadmittingforatheologicalorliterarywork,whateverthetalentofitsauthor.Itwouldneveroccurtoanybodytosupposethatawriterinventsthewordsandlocutionsheuses,anditseemsnormalthattheoriginalityofhisworkwithregardtoitsverybasisandformshouldbefurtherlimitedbymanyotherfactors.Thisis,ofcourse,universallyrecognizedtodayforeveryfieldofhumanen-deavor,andthestudyofPaleo-Christianiconography.hasfollowedthegeneralmovement,althoughsomewhattimidly.WithoutquestiontheprocessofcreatingPaleo-Christianimageswasnoexceptionandiscomparabletowhatoccursinrelatedfieldsofman'sactivities.Thecreativeprocessisaseriesofsteps-someconscious,othersnot-bywhichtheartistsetsouttocomposeanimageanddoes
Introduction
xliii
itwiththeassistance,deliberateorunsuspected,ofallthememoriesthathistaskbringsout:hiseducation,reading,ambientideas,personalexperience,otherim-ages.Ofalltheinfluencesthatcontributetothecreationofanewimage,thoseofrememberedimagesareamongthemostactive,justasinliteraturethemostprom-inentinfluenceisoftenthatofotherliteraryworks.
It
isthisthatmakesitimperativethatthehistorianofPaleo-Christi~niconographyconsiderwithparticularattentionalltheproblemsofpossiblerelationshipswithcommoncontemporaryimagery,sacredandprofane,intheformationofChristianimages.Itgoeswithoutsayingthat,atthebeginningoftheChristianexperimentiniconography,theinspirationcouldhavecomeonlyfromtheartofotherreligionsorfromprofaneart.Generallyspeaking,however,duringthelastcenturiesofantiquitythediverseimagesthathadsprungupinanastonishingprofusioninallformsofartandinallmilieuswithintheRomanEmpireweremorethanusuallyinterdependent.ThemakersofChris-tianimagescouldnothavebeenignorantofthemultifariousfigurationsthatsur-roundedthem,norcouldtheyhaveescapedbeingtosomedegreeinfluencedbythem.Onecouldsay,andwewillreturntothis,thatChristianiconographywasborninthisepochthankstotheexceptionalgrowthoffigurativeartintheRomanEmpire.OurstudyofPaleo-Christianimageswillbelargelyconcernedwiththeirsourcesinthevisualarts;anditwillleanheavilyontheinvestigationsanddis-coveriesconcerningGreekandRomanimagery,bothChristianandnon-Christian,thathavebeenmadeinthelasttwoorthreedecades.WhohasnotbeenasmuchdisturbedbythehermeticcharacterofanIndonesianoraMexicanworkofartasbyaphraseinalanguagehedoesnotknow?Infact,anyparticularimageofanyperiodofhistorycontainsitsshareofmotifscommontothesocietythatproducedit-commonplaces,intruth-justasawrittentextoranyverbalexpressioncontainswordsandlocutionsofcurrentusage.Themostinspiredlyricpoem,clearlymarkedbyindividualgenius,isnonethelesstheproductofthespecificlanguageofagivensocietyandowestoitthegreatmajorityofwords,locutions,orturnsofphrasethatitemploys.Exactlythesamethingholdsforiconographicmatters.AndthisleadsustotherepetitionofafactthatisindeedbanalbutmustbepointedoutinanyattempttodefinethebasesuponwhichtheoriginalPaleo-ChristianImageswerefounded:thatfromitsbeginningsChristianimageryfoundexpressionentirely,almostuniquely,inthegenerallanguageofthevisualartsandwiththetechniques.ofimagerycommonlypracticedwithintheRomanEmpirefromthesecondtothefourthcentury.Itisabitembarrassingtorepeatsuchobviousfacts,butIdonotbelieveitissuperfluous,especiallyconsideringtheattemptsthatweremade-muchlaterandinmuchmoredistantcountries-tointerpretthesameChristiansubjects
 
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IntroductionIntroduction
xlv
byusingidiomsentirelyindependentoftheGreekandRomansystemsofimagery.Ifwelook,forinstance,attheChristianimagespaintedbytheChineseortheArabs,whichintheirownway-butinawaythatappearsquitestrangetous-evokeanevangelicalsceneorpersonage,webecomeawarehowessentialthecontributionoftheGreco-LatiniconographiclanguagehasbeentoChristianimageryatallperiods,evendowntoourown;andwecanrealizeevenmoreforcefullyhowessentialitwastotheChristianimageryoflateantiquity,whichwillbeourprincipalconcern.Thisclassicallanguage-themostnearlyperfectweknow-openedinfinitepossibilitiestotheChristianimage-makers.Naturallyenough,theyuseditinaveryunequalfashion,borrowingattimesavaryingnumberofitsterms,sometimesusingonlyafewsimplifiedexpressions,atothertimestakingoverawholerichrepertoryofmotifs.Butvariousasweretheirborrowings,allofthemremainedindebtedtovisualmotifscommontotheMediterraneanareaatthebeginningofourera,whenChristianiconographybegan.
It
seemstomethatonefurtherremarkisnecessary.SincewehavecomparedtheelementsthatcomposeaChristianimagewiththewordsandlocutionsofverballanguage,itisusefultorecallafundamentalfact,whichis-onceagain-disturb-inglybanal,butwhichisunfortunatelyoftenforgotten,perhapsjustbecauseofitsbanality.Noonewouldthinkofclassingasworksofart-belles-Iettres-everythingthatisexpressedinwords;inthisfield,artholdsonlyalimitedsector,whichwethinkwecandefinefairlyexactly.Mostprose,whetheroralorwritten,ismanifestlyremovedfromaestheticorpoeticconcerns.Thesamethingholdstrueforalltheothermodesofexpressionthatmanhasathisdisposal,andnotablyforgraphicandplastictechniques,fortheconstructionofbuildings,etc.Adistinctionisgenerallynotmadebetweenworksthatservepracticalends-thosewhich,intherealmofimagery,fixandtransmitfactsorideas-andimagesthatinterpretthesefactsandtheseideasinpoeticfashionthroughproceduresthatareessentiallyartistic.Wearewronginthusconfoundinginformativeimagesandexpressiveimages.Thefirstappealsolelytotheintellect(exactlylikeatechnicaltext),whiletheothersmakeanappealtotheimaginationandtheaestheticsense.Itisanabusetoincludeamongworksofartallthosepainted,drawn,orsculpturedimageswhichinlargepartarereallyonlysignsthatstandforahumanfigure,anobject,oranidea,whetherthosesignsareofadescriptiveorasymboliccharacter.Itwouldavoidagooddealofconfusionifweweremoreoftenmindfulofthisprimarytruth,anddidnotconsidereveryimagefromthepastasaworkofart.ItiscertainthatagoodnumberofPaleo-Christianandmedievalimagesoughttobeexcluded:theartisanswhomadethemwerepresentingpersonagesandeventsinordertomakethemknowntotheircontemporaries;thesimplefactthattheimageswerepaintedorsculpturedisnotenoughtomakethemworksofart.ThereisonecategoryofearlyChristianandmedievalfigurationsinwhichinformativeimagesaremoreclearlyseparatedthanelsewherefromexpressiveimages.Thisisthecategoryofmanuscriptillustrations.Thepicturesthataccompanytreatisesonmathematics,astronomy,ormedicineareessentiallyinformative.Theyservetomakethetextmorecomprehensible.ButtheillustrationsofbooksoftheBibleorofclassicaltragediesrarelyconfinethemselvestothisfunction.Theyareparalleltothetextandalmostnecessarilyinterpretit,andtheyinterpretitalwaysbyturningtothemethodsofart.Itisdifficult,ofcourse,totracealinethatwoulddistinguishabsolutel
y
betweeninformativeandexpressiveimages.
It
isenoughtoremembertheartisticqualitiesofcertainillustrationsofancientscientificbookssuchastheGreekmanuscriptsofthephysiciansDioscoridesorNicander.Ontheotherhand,agoodlynumberofGreekorLatinmanuscriptswithinnumerablelittlestereotypedimageshardlydeservetocountasworksofart.Itisnonethelesstruethatinitselftheuseofthetechniquesofpaintingorsculp-turedoesnotautomaticallymakeanartistofthemanwhousesthem,nordoesitmaketheresultaworkofart.Suchpaintedorsculpturedproducts,neitherartisticnorpoetic,havelittleornointerestforthehistoryofart,anditsmethodsofin-vestigationoughtnottobeappliedtothem.Thehistorianoficonography,however,caninspectthemwithasmuchprofitasauthenticworksofart,becauseiconographictermsareequallypresentinanypaintedorsculpturedimage.Iconographyis,afterall,theaspectoftheimagethatinforms,theaspectthatisaddressedtotheintellectofthespectator,andiscommontoprosaicinformativeimagesandtoimagesthatrisetopoetry,thatis,toart.Thusweseeveryclearlyhowiconographicstudiesencroachonthedomainofthehistoryofart,especiallyforthoseperiodswhich,liketheonethatinterestsushere,constantlyusedtheimageasameansofconveyinginformation,forexample,toconveythecontentofareligionandthevariousformsofpiety.Duringsuchperiods,iconographyisanimportantandconstantmeansofdiffusingknowledgeofthemostdiversefacts;andthisiswhyitisentirelyjustifiabletoconsiderthisinformativeiconographyasoneconsidersalanguage,withoutconnectingtheseactivitieswithartisticenterprises.IhavejustsaidthatChristianimagery,atitsbirth,borrowed,andkept,theGreco-LatiniconographiclanguageascommonlypracticedatthebeginningofoureraeverywherearoundtheMediterranean.ThatthisisundeniablecaneasilybeverifiedbyobservationofcertainofthemostgeneralandfrequentfeaturesofChristianimages:thepresentationofthehumanfigure,itsposture,physicaltype,

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