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© 2014 Isabel Kimmelfield
Ingela Nilsson & Paul Stephenson (ed.), Wanted: Byzantium. The Desire for a Lost Empire.
Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis: Studia Byzantina Upsaliensia 15. Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet 2014, 275–286
Exhibiting Byzantium: Tree case
studies in the display and reception of
Byzantine art, 1997–2008

rom 330 to 1453, what we now call the Byzantine Empire ruled over a fuc-
tuating region from the capital city of Constantinople, today the Turkish city
of Istanbul. Te Byzantines called themselves Romans (Rhomaoi in Greek), and
considered their empire to be a continuation of the Roman Empire. Yet, in the cen-
turies that followed, as a concept of ‘Europe’ and ‘European heritage’ developed,
Rome became a key part of this heritage, while Byzantium did not. It remained
other, exotic, not quite Europe. Although the hostility exhibited by Edward Gib-
bon and others in the eighteenth century gave way to an increased interest in the
nineteenth century in medieval art and culture, Byzantium continued to remain
something of an outsider, never quite ftting into European historical or art histor-
ical canons.1 Averil Cameron has discussed how this problematic ft of Byzantium
into traditional narratives has led to the ‘absence of Byzantium’ from contemporary
European political and cultural discourse, making it difcult to see how to ft Byz-
antium into a modern concept of Europe and its heritage, even when it is desired.2
Yet, despite these challenges, recent decades have nonetheless seen eforts to ad-
dress and to rectify this state of afairs and it is this changing modern perception
and presentation of Byzantium that I wish to explore. What is the meaning of ‘Byz-
antium’ today? What is asked and expected of it? In particular, what role or roles
does it have in modern Western Europe and the USA – cultures and regions far be-
yond either the chronological or geographic limits of the Byzantine Empire? Tese
are very broad questions, and so I will explore them by considering in particular
the reception and meanings of the tangible remains of this empire – its art and
artefacts – as they are displayed in museums in modern Western Europe and the
USA. By presenting case studies of three recent exhibitions of Byzantine art held in
New York and London between 1997 and 2008, I hope to demonstrate some of the
1 For a discussion of Edward Gibbon and Byzantium, see Runciman 1976. Art historian Robert S. Nelson
explores the ongoing challenges to placing Byzantium within the traditional canon of European art history
in his article, Nelson 1996. 2 Cameron 2008.
Isabel Kimmelfield
276 Isabel Kimmelfield
issues that are raised in modern exhibitions of Byzantine art in cultures and nations
beyond the reach of former Byzantine lands, and the variety of meanings and uses
this ancient empire holds today.
Scholarly Context
Some broad trends can be observed regarding the place of Byzantium in European
culture and history as presented to the public in recent years. Te most signif-
cant shif is an emphasis away from older narratives of Byzantium, which presented
it variously as Christian in contrast to Islam, as an Eastern ‘Other’ in contrast to
the Latin West, or as an infuence on the culture of Southern Europe, particular-
ly Greece and Southern Slavic nations. Instead, Byzantium has increasingly been
presented as part of a broader ‘Mediterranean’ culture, notably in association with
Islam. Tis change has in part been precipitated by developments in the academic
study of Byzantium, which have seen the increasing use of the term ‘late antique’ to
defne periods previously separated both chronologically (early Christianity as op-
posed to medieval Byzantium) and geographically (separating the Latin West from
the Byzantine East, and both of these in turn from the Islamic world). Although
this historiographical trend began slightly earlier, it was Peter Brown’s infuential
book, Te World of Late Antiquity, published in 1971, that served to popularise
both the term and concept of ‘late antiquity’. Since then, the concept has been em-
braced by numerous scholars (albeit with diferent defnitions), such that we can
now see this extended time and space of late antiquity encompassing periods as
late as CE 800 or even 1000, and regions as far-fung as Western Europe, North
Africa, Arabia, Persia, and even Afghanistan. Tis new presentation of Byzantium
within the world of late antiquity was evident, for instance, in a 2012 exhibition at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which was titled Byzantium and
Islam: Age of Transition, and treated the period 700–900. Among the many con-
sequences of this new approach to periodization, geography, and terminology has
been an increasing emphasis on the cultural history of the period over the political,
economic treatments ofen seen in earlier historiography.3 Tis has led in turn to a
strong interest in the material culture of the period, a development that lends itself
to exhibitions of art and artefacts.4
3 Cameron 2002, 171. Cameron presents the ‘long’ late antiquity and its various elements as character-
istic products of the late twentieth century, illustrative of the manner in which the needs, concerns, and
ideologies of the present infuence the ways historians approach and interpret the past. Cameron, 2002, p.
4 Cameron 2002, 185. Te impact of this new historiography on museums is evident in the staging in
New York of a large exhibition of Byzantine art, Te Age of Spirituality, only six years afer the publication of
Brown’s book. Tis exhibition refected Brown’s emphasis on the period as one of increased religiosity and
spirituality, and sought to demonstrate this development through the art of the period. Kurt Weitzmann,
‘Introduction’, in Weitzmann 1979, xxi.
Exhibiting Byzantium 277
But despite these developments, Byzantium and its contribution to Europe’s
cultural history still have yet to be fully explored, and it remains a somewhat mys-
terious, unknown, and ‘exotic’ entity to many in Western Europe and the USA. Yet
vast numbers of Byzantine antiquities reside in collections across these regions, oth-
ers are in private hands, and still more are displayed frequently in larger and small-
er exhibitions. Tis indicates that both the potential for and interest in a greater
understanding and appreciation of Byzantium’s role in Europe already exist, but in
what ways does this interest manifest itself ? What approaches are museums taking
to address this interest; what are the challenges to such eforts; what expectations
do visitors to these exhibitions have; and is there a diference in how Byzantium is
perceived and portrayed in Europe as compared to the USA?
As an approach to answering these questions, I will now ofer a brief consider-
ation of two recent blockbuster exhibitions of Byzantine art and artefacts held at
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and ofer as a comparison a 2008
exhibition held in London at the Royal Academy.
Case Study 1 – The Glory of Byzantium, 1997
Te Glory of Byzantium, was staged in New York in 1997. It was conceived in one
sense as a sequel to an exhibition held twenty years earlier at the Met, titled Age of
Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Tird to Seventh Century, which
embraced the early period of Byzantium. Te 1997 exhibition took 843 – the of-
cial end of Byzantine Iconoclasm – as its starting point, and 1261 – the end of Latin
occupation of Constantinople – as its end date, thus covering the middle period
of Byzantium. In the Director’s Foreword to the exhibition catalogue, Philippe de
Montebello stated that this exhibition, like its predecessor, was intended to be a
‘didactic exhibition of the highest quality; a combination of the beauty of the rela-
tively unfamiliar with the intellectual revelation of an extraordinary era’.5
Te exhibition was a great success, with 460,864 visitors (the third-highest
number of visitors at any exhibition world-wide in 1997, exceeded only by an ex-
hibition on Picasso in Washington D.C. and one on Renoir in Chicago).6 It also
drew numerous favourable reviews both in general publications like Te New York
Times, in specialist periodicals such as the Burlington Magazine, and academic pub-
lications including Gesta, and Speculum.7 Tus, it succeeded in appealing to both
popular and academic audiences, and the large and lavishly-illustrated catalogue
with its essays written by leading scholars in the feld has come to be seen as a key
survey of the contemporary state of knowledge of middle Byzantine art.8 Te scale
5 Philippe de Montebello, ‘Director’s Foreword’, in Glory of Byzantium 1997, xiii.
6 Dobrzynski 1998. 7 Buckton 1997; Pace and von Falkenhausen 1998; Buckton 1998.
8 Eastmond 2010, 313.
278 Isabel Kimmelfield
and popularity of this exhibition is striking, particularly given the relative unfamil-
iarity of its subject matter to many Western visitors – notably in comparison to the
exhibitions of works by Picasso and Renoir.
Some of this interest is accounted for by the particular marketing method used
by the Met for this exhibition. Tis approach, known as ‘ethnic marketing’, also
indicates the way in which the museum conceived of the meaning of this exhibition
both in the New York area, and to visitors from around the country and abroad.
In part, the choice to employ this approach can be seen as a commercial decision,
given the fact that the Met had employed this method a year earlier for their Splen-
dors of Imperial China exhibition, which had the highest number of visitors at any
exhibition worldwide in 1996.9 But the fact that the Met once again chose to do
this with the Byzantium exhibition, targeting ethnic groups usually not aimed at by
even the most sophisticated commercial ethnic marketers, also refects a conscious
choice to present the subject matter of the exhibition as the cultural heritage of par-
ticular ethnic groups living today in the USA, rather than exclusively as the subject
of academic study or aesthetic admiration.
In the course of the marketing campaign, the museum’s advertising agency can-
vassed members of the Armenian, Greek, Russian, and Ukrainian communities in
the city. From this study, the museum selected several specialized publications in
which to advertise, such as the Greek-American paper, Te National Herald and
Te Armenian Mirror-Spectator, and purchased air-time on Greek and Russian
radio stations in the New York metropolitan area. Tis advertising campaign was
further tailored to each targeted ethnic group through the images selected for each
publication. For Greeks, these advertisements showed a mosaic of St Andrew from
the Archaeological Museum in Serres, Greece. For Ukrainians, they depicted a mo-
saic of ‘Te Deacon Stephen’ from the Kiev Architectural Conservation Area. For
Russians, they showed an image of St Luke in an illuminated manuscript from the
Russian National Library in St Petersburg. And for Armenians, they featured an
illuminated page from the Zēyt‘un Gospels produced in Armenia in the thirteenth
century.10 In this way, the links between medieval Eastern Christian art and mod-
ern national and cultural identities were clearly demonstrated, acknowledged, and
even encouraged within this exhibition.
Besides refecting modern ethnic identities and their heritage, the show was also
seen by some observers as responding to broader contemporary political and cul-
tural issues and debates, in large part due to the unfamiliarity of its subject matter
to those in Western Europe and the USA. In March 1997, while the Glory of Byz-
antium was still on display at the Met, Karl E. Meyer wrote an editorial in Te New
9 Halter 2000, 130–131.
10 Collins April 10, 1997; Collins July 10, 1997. Collins also notes that this campaign, costing an estimated
$200,000, was ‘the Met’s most ambitious foray into ethnic marketing, a rarity coming from a cultural insti-
Exhibiting Byzantium 279
York Times in which he noted the ‘fascinating political subtext’ of this exhibition.11
Meyer framed this subtext within ongoing questions regarding the concepts of a
‘clash of civilizations’ and the ‘West’ and the ‘Rest’. He suggested that this art of a
‘defunct empire’ was not ‘politically inert’, but rather provided (mostly Western)
visitors with an encounter with a civilization that belongs to the ‘Rest’, allowing
them to appreciate that Western models have not been universal in past and are
not now. Tis interpretation of the show emphasizes the ‘otherness’ of Byzantium,
refecting its ‘absence’ from Europe and concepts of Europeanness, in the manner
described by Averil Cameron. Tis places Byzantium much more frmly within the
conceptual framework that links it with Islam (as highlighted in the 2012 Met ex-
hibition), rather than one that would seek to associate it with a modern Europe
now expanding to include southern, Orthodox nations with Byzantine heritage.
Paired with the ethnic marketing campaign, Meyer’s interpretation indicates that
the show had multiple aims and was received in multiple ways, depending in part
upon the expectations, interests, and attitudes of its viewers.
Other political implications of – and potential challenges to – the show were
highlighted only two years later when another exhibition, this one planned to be
held at the Walters Art Gallery (now Museum) in Baltimore, on medieval Geor-
gian art, was cancelled due to protests in Georgia. Te Met’s 1997 loans from Geor-
gia had been secured only with great difculty, and in 1999, dissenters declared
that the objects to be sent on loan were part of the national patrimony and should
not leave the country. Tis time they achieved their goal when the Patriarch of
the Georgian Orthodox Church agreed with their claims, stating that the objects
would lose their holiness if they lef Georgia. Gary Vikan, director of the Walters,
expressed his regret at this turn of events, saying, ‘Georgia is a wonderful place and
this was an opportunity for them to become part of the Western world’. 12 Besides
introducing Americans to Georgian art, this exhibition was also intended by the
Georgian government to raise the nation’s profle in the West, encouraging foreign
investment. Tis incident refects both eforts to integrate previously divided con-
cepts of ‘Western’ and ‘other’ cultures, and also the anxiety such eforts can evoke
regarding the potential for ‘dilution’ or loss of cultural heritage and identity. Tus,
the overlapping nature of cultural, religious, and national identities and political,
economic concerns is evident within the conception and delivery of exhibitions
like those held at the Met and elsewhere.
Case Study 2 – Byzantium: Faith and Power, 2004
In the wake of the great success of Te Glory of Byzantium, the Met proceeded to
mount two more large-scale exhibitions focusing on Byzantium: Byzantium: Faith
11 Meyer 1997. 12 Dobrzynski 1999.
280 Isabel Kimmelfield
and Power 1261–1557 (covering the late period of Byzantium) in 2004, and Byzan-
tium and Islam: Age of Transition in 2012. Tey also undertook a renovation project
that culminated in the inauguration in 2000 of the new Mary and Michael Jaharis
Galleries for Byzantine Art.13 Tese galleries occupy a central location in the muse-
um, running on either side of and just behind the Grand Staircase that greets visi-
tors as the enter the Met, a placement whose potentially meaningful implications
regarding the role of Byzantium in the story of art history was noted by reviewers
at the time.14
Comparing the 1997 and 2004 exhibitions, further examples may be seen of
the challenges of staging and presenting an exhibition of Byzantine art, due not
only to the complexity of the Byzantine Empire itself, but also how it is perceived
and received today. Tese challenges include the political, national issues discussed
above, but also academic questions, like ‘what is Byzantine art?’, and the ever-pres-
ent difculty of pitching a blockbuster exhibition to a large and diverse audience
(both in background and familiarity with the subject matter). Antony Eastmond
considered the frst of these issues when he observed the change in the layouts of
the maps provided in the catalogues between the 1997 and 2004 exhibitions.15 Te
frst one was more specifc in its labelling of diferent regions, indicating in large
type the areas defned as ‘Byzantium’, ‘Islam’, and the ‘Latin West’, while slightly
smaller type identifed ‘Georgia’, ‘Armenia’, ‘Syria’, and ‘Egypt’, among others. Te
2004 map forewent any such regional labels in favour of city names alone. East-
mond notes that this refects the inherent problems in attempting to map out the
geographic contours of the Byzantine Empire, whose borders fuctuated greatly
over its thousand-year life-span, much less the extent of its sphere of infuence. He
also notes modern political problems with such identifying labels – for example,
the label ‘Armenia’ sits over the site of the modern nation-state, but historically
Armenia covered a much larger area.
Such modern political considerations also infuenced the objects on display at
both the 1997 and 2004 exhibitions, as the various countries with Byzantine herit-
age choose to view this history in diferent ways. Eastmond ofers Armenia as an ex-
ample: this country did not lend art to either the 1997 or the 2004 Met exhibitions,
preferring not to contribute to an exhibition that defned this art as part of a larger
13 Te Jaharises have contributed to a number of similar projects. Besides contributing funds to the Met
galleries, they lent some items from their own collection and have endowed a Center for Byzantine Art and
Culture at the Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Teology in Brookline, Massa-
chusetts (inaugurated in 2010). ‘Inauguration of Te Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture’,
article cited from: website Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, October 3, 2010 <http://www.goarch.
org/news/maryjahariscenter-100310> (5 July 2013). Most recently, they funded the Mary and Michael Ja-
haris Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art at the Art Institute in Chicago (opened 2013). ‘Of
Gods and Glamour’, article cited from: website Art Institute Chicago <
gods-and-glamour-mary-and-michael-jaharis-galleries-greek-roman-and-byzantine-art> (5 July 2013).
14 Smith 2000; Kramer 2000. 15 Eastmond 2010, 313–314.
Exhibiting Byzantium 281
stylistic group of ‘Byzantine’ art, rather than as exclusively ‘Armenian’.16 Bulgaria,
on the other hand, loaned to both, a choice that can be seen as refecting the desire
on the part of the nation to be seen as part of Europe and a European artistic tradi-
tion (Bulgaria was at that time a candidate nation for membership in the European
Curators must also consider how best to pitch such blockbuster exhibitions.
Helen C. Evans, who co-curated both Te Glory of Byzantium and Byzantium:
Faith and Power, later recalled overhearing a visitor to Te Glory of Byzantium
wandering through the exhibition asking ‘Who are these Byzantines – did they
live before or afer Christ?’ In an efort, then, to ofer something to all visitors, she
explained that she sought to present, at the ‘lowest level’, an exhibition that would
appeal visually to non-specialist visitors, perhaps inspiring them to pause to read
labels and learn more. At the same time, she also sought to ofer, at the ‘highest
level’, the opportunity to see both important and lesser-known works side by side,
to draw new conclusions.17
In light of such considerations, as well as the ethnic marketing campaigns intro-
duced by the Met, two questions arise: for whom were these exhibitions staged?
And who actually visited them? Te catalogues of both Te Glory of Byzantium and
Byzantium Faith and Power include letters from the Patriarch of Constantinople,
giving his blessing to the undertaking.18 Tese exhibitions thus frmly placed them-
selves in the context of the Orthodox Church and its heritage – but how many
visitors to these exhibitions were Orthodox? How many came from or had relatives
in the countries whose art was defned by these exhibitions as ‘Byzantine’? How
did those with no personal connection to Orthodoxy or these nations perceive the
exhibition? Did they see it as a representation of an unknown culture; as an ex-
ploration of a reintegrated part of European cultural heritage; a glimpse into the
history of an unfamiliar religious tradition; a contribution to a multicultural efort
to engage with traditional ‘others’; or simply as an exhibition of beautiful pieces of
art and decorative objects?
Case Study 3 – The Royal Academy 2008
In contrast to this highlighting of the issues regarding the connection between the
heritage of this ancient empire and modern national and religious concerns, the
Royal Academy took a very diferent approach to its own blockbuster exhibition
16 Eastmond 2010, 316. Eastmond also points out the theological complications concerning the identif-
cation of Armenian (religious) art as Byzantine. Since the Fourth Ecumenical Council in 451, whose canons
the Armenian Church never accepted, the Armenian Church has not been in communion with the Greek
and other Orthodox churches (although it still is viewed in Armenia as ‘Orthodox’). Since Byzantine art is
strongly defned by its religiosity, this is potentially a justifable claim to diferentiation.
17 Gettinger, Saint-Laurent, and Steptoe 2009.
18 Glory of Byzantium 1997, vii; Byzantium. Faith and Power 2004, vi.
282 Isabel Kimmelfield
of Byzantine art, staged in 2008. Byzantium: 330–1453 set itself the monumental
task of presenting the entirety of Byzantine history and cultural production to its
audience. Tis emphasis on the entirety – if not the continuity – of the ‘Byzantine
Empire’ was intended to showcase the achievements and contribution of the Byz-
antines at all stages of their history, contrary to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
historians’ dismissive or condescending treatment of the empire. Tis exhibition
was portrayed as a landmark both within the catalogue (in its forewords) and in
newspaper reviews, as it was the frst comprehensive exhibition of Byzantine art
held in Britain in ffy years (that is, since Masterpieces of Byzantine Art, shown at
the Victoria and Albert Museum, and at the Edinburgh International Festival in
1958). Given the great developments in the academic study of Byzantine art that
have taken place since the 1950s, it was felt that this exhibition had much ground
to cover, and many previous omissions and inaccuracies to address and correct. In-
deed, co-curator Robin Cormack stated explicitly in an article published in Te
Telegraph a week before the exhibition opened that the show was intended to recti-
fy the damage done to European (and in particular British) perceptions of Byzan-
tium by the work of Edward Gibbon and his successors, ofering ‘a chance to think
again about Byzantium, and to look at what Gibbon ignored’.19
Tis theme of restoring Byzantium’s reputation, of presenting it as a sparkling
gem rather than as a dusty fossil, was repeated in numerous reviews in major British
newspapers. Several of these reviews also quoted or simply referenced W.B. Yeats’
1926 poem, “Sailing to Byzantium”. None discussed this poem and its meanings at
any length, but rather referred to selected lines in a shorthand manner suggesting
that readers were expected to be familiar with at least its lyrical words, if not its
deeper meanings. Robin Blake, for instance, closed his review with this sentence
(having made no previous mention of Yeats’ poem): “But I would defy anyone
not to relish the brilliant things, those made by the icon-painters and “the golden
smithies of the Emperor”.20 Tese words were thus used to evoke in the minds of
readers (and potential visitors to the exhibition) the glittering beauty of the empire
and its treasures, to bring it alive and present it as a vivid, concrete world readers
could ‘visit’ (or ‘sail to’) by attending the exhibition.21 Contributing this ‘touristic’
element of the exhibition, several of these newspapers, including Te Telegraph, Te
Independent, and Te Financial Times used the exhibition as an inspiration for ar-
ticles in their travel sections, promoting holidays to centres of Byzantine culture
and art, such as Istanbul and Ravenna.22 Te Times of London even joined with the
Royal Academy to ofer its readers a chance to ‘win a trip to Athens’, indicating that
19 Cormack 2008. 20 Blake 2008.
21 Besides Blake, other reviewers to refer to Yeats include: Richard Dorment (Dorment 2008) and Jona-
than Sumption (Sumption 2008). 22 Edwards 2008; Packe 2008; Norwich 2008.
Exhibiting Byzantium 283
this approach to presenting Byzantium was not developed solely by newspapers,
but was also promoted by the Royal Academy itself.23
However, the Royal Academy did not choose to employ any form of ‘ethnic mar-
keting’. Cormack briefy mentions in his article in the Telegraph certain parallels be-
tween Byzantium and elements of modern Europe, including ‘its regional concepts
(Georgia and Ukraine were within the Byzantine world)’. But he does not go on
to elaborate on this theme, instead choosing to turn back to the empire itself and
demonstrate its richness and inventiveness in its own time, pace Gibbon’s narrative
of decline. Tus the general tone of the catalogue forewords, Cormack’s article, and
the various reviews of the exhibition suggest that it was advertised to and aimed at
the general British public – a didactic exhibition, relatively free of any concerted
eforts to tap into contemporary issues regarding modern Orthodox culture and
ethnic identities. Few of the newspaper reviews made any mention of political, re-
ligious, or ethnic issues like those raised by the US exhibitions. Only one quoted
Cormack comparing Byzantium’s linking of church and state to Putin’s Russia – an
interesting point that emphasized the infuence of the Byzantine Empire and state
structures over its cultural, ethnic impact.24 Also, despite the presence in the ex-
hibition of icons from the ancient Orthodox Monastery of St Catherine at Sinai
– notable due to the difculty of securing loans and the rarity of such objects leav-
ing the monastery – instead of a statement from the Patriarch of Constantinople,
the RA catalogue included forewords from political, rather than religious fgures.
Tese included its patron, Charles, Prince of Wales, and the then-prime ministers
of Britain and Greece. All emphasized previous omissions or misrepresentations
of Byzantine history in European history. Only the foreword of the Greek prime
minister, Kostas Karamanlis, made reference to some of the issues made so evident
in the US exhibitions, when he expressed his hope for a common future between
Eastern and Western Europe within the European Union, with Byzantium serving
to “foster the common values that bring us together” and allowing understanding
of “the causes and the nature of our diferences”.25
Te very diferent issues raised by the US and British exhibitions are intriguing
and require more extensive research before potential explanations can be posited.
Tey seem to suggest diferences arising due to the respective histories and cul-
tural make-ups of the countries in question, with Britain home to relatively few
Orthodox Christians, while signifcant numbers have emigrated to America, with
strong communities existing in the New York area which actively retain their re-
23 ‘ Win a trip to Athens’, Te Times of London, 16 February, 2009, Section T2, Features, p. 2. It should be
noted that this special ofer did not appear until nearly fve months afer the exhibition opened (and only a
little over a month before it closed). Tis could indicate that this advertisement was thus a response on the
part of the museum to newspapers’ emphasis on travel and tourism, rather than a planned approach from
the outset. 24 Higgins 2008.
25 Kostas Karamanlis, ‘Prime Ministers’ Forewords’, in Byzantium. 330–1453 2008, 11.
284 Isabel Kimmelfield
spective cultural, ethnic, and even national identities (as seen by the existence of
ethnic community media in which the Met was able to advertise). Tis is not to
say that Orthodox Christians did not visit the London exhibition, nor that the
exhibition itself was not aimed at an audience beyond Britain as well (Karaman-
lis’ foreword suggests a wider, European scope also underlay the exhibition), but
the degree to which this side of the exhibition was emphasized (or not) suggests a
very diferent set of aims behind the Royal Academy’s exhibition, even as it covered
similar ground artistically and chronologically to the exhibitions at the Met. Tis
demonstrates the diverse and powerful meanings Byzantium can be accorded and
evoke, and these meanings are very ofen infuenced as much by the culture and
heritage of those observing and engaging with Byzantium in the present as with its
own historical existence and impact on its contemporary world.
Recent and upcoming exhibitions on early Christian and Byzantine art indicate
the enduring appeal of this art to both scholars and the broader public, and this
interest demands further examination to understand its origins and implications.
Recent political developments also make this study timely, as modern concepts of
‘Europe’ have expanded to include lands with a Byzantine, Orthodox heritage. Tis
is seen in the recent entry into the political body of the European Union of Cyprus
in 2004, Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, Croatia in 2013, and the ongoing (and
controversial) candidacy of Turkey. Byzantium has thus come to the fore as a feld
on which to construct a common ‘European’ history, and museums are looking
for ways to contribute to this efort, to overcome old narratives that depicted Byz-
antium primarily as a contrast to other cultures, and instead to integrate it into a
shared history of an increasingly culturally diverse modern Europe. Te manner in
which they do this indicates not only the current place of Byzantium in popular
and academic perception, but also the manner in which contemporary cultural,
political, and religious lines of identity and heritage are drawn, maintained, and
Exhibiting Byzantium 285
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