In the margins of Byzantium? Some icons in Michael Psellos

Anthony Cutler, Robert Browning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

In the face of a supposed dearth of recorded responses to icons, historians of Byzantine art commonly infer these either from characteristics that they suppose to inhere in works of art themselves, or transfer to the personal and practical realm such theoretical attitudes as are proclaimed in the proceedings of church councils and similar documents. These methods of argumentation give rise to assumptions that (i) aesthetic reactions to images were unimportant or at least subordinate to attitudes born of piety, and (ii) artists used older works as models and the value of their artefacts was understood to be directly proportional to the fidelity of their copies to the ‘prototype'. Views of this sort can indeed be supported by texts that set out a variety of orthodox positions ranging from bodies of legal opinion to anecdotal accounts of devotion to icons. But to suppose that such readings represent immutable standards is to take part of the picture for the whole. The study of what seem at first sight to be aberrant attitudes can lend a new perspective on behaviour that is often treated as normative. Artists’ ‘deviations’, and highly emotive and even criminal reactions to their work, are still marginal to our perceptions of Byzantium formed by texts that present one or another official position, even while we are aware that styles of painting (as of writing) varied from one individual to another and that private passions and crimes flourished in this society as in any other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-33
Number of pages13
JournalByzantine and Modern Greek Studies
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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