Dr Flavia Vanni (University of Birmingham, The Richard Bradford McConnell Student/BSA) will address the topic “Looking at Byzantium through materials: the case of stucco (ca 850-1453)”. This BSA Upper House Seminar can be attended either in-person in Athens or live online via Zoom.
In 1890, Robert W. Schultz and Sydney Barnsley spent two months at the monastery of Hosios Loukas, documenting the byzantine remains of the monastery on behalf of the newly established British School at Athens. Their notes and drawings produced the first documentation of the stucco cornices from the katholikon monastery and other monuments in Greece. In the following decades, the need to write the history of Byzantine art led scholars to focus on material traditionally associated with Byzantium (mosaics, wall paintings, marble), so stucco and other materials were left aside. However, with few exceptions, stucco continued to elude broader narratives of Byzantine art, being mainly confined to specific case studies. This paper addresses this gap by discussing the evidence for using stucco in middle and late byzantine religious buildings from a bird-eye perspective. Stucco was part of the decorative apparatus of Byzantine churches following the late antique tradition of ‘transitional’ material between marble cladding and mosaic-covered surfaces but also innovating and following new trends in middle Byzantine sculpture. This is visible from the use of stucco from string-course cornices to proskynetaria frames, capitals, tomb arcosolia, templa, and window transennae. At the same, the study of stucco and its workers forces us to re-think our contemporary, traditional categories of ‘painting’ and ‘sculpture’ and how they affect our perception of Byzantine material culture.
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