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Earth and Ocean The Terrestrial World in Early Byzantine Art

BLANK PAGE

HENRY MAGUIRE

Earth and Ocean

The Terrestrial World in Early Byzantine Art

Published for

THE CoLLEGE ART AssociATION oF AMERICA

by

THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS UNIVERSITY PARK AND LONDON

Monographs on the Fine Arts sponsored by THE COLLEGE ART ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

XLIII

Editor, Carol F. Lewine

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Maguire, Henry, 1943- Earth and ocean.

(Monographs on the fine arts; 43) Bibliography: p. Includes index. r. Pavements, Mosaic-Byzantine Empire--Themes,

motives. 2. Mosaics, Byzantine--Themes, motives.

3. Nature (Aesthetics)

I. Title.

NA3780.M34

1987

729'.7'09495

II. Series.

86-22551

ISBN o-271-00477-0

Copyright © 1987 The College Art Association of America

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

Contents

List of Illustrations vu Acknowledgments xm

Introduction I

I The Language of Symbols 5

II

The

Literal Sense

I 7

III

Partial Allegory 3I

IV The Gathering of the Waters

v The Creatures of the Fifth Day

VI Nature and Humanity 67

VII King and Creator 73 Conclusion 8I Notes 85 Bibliography IOI Index I05 Illustrations I I I

4I

57

BLANK PAGE

List of Illustrations

r. Butrinto, baptistery, pavement, inserted motifs (from Luigi M. Ugolini, "II battistero di Butrinto,"

Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, xr [1934], fig. 2)

2. Ancona, Christian tomb, pavement, The Vineyard of

Isaiah (from Bullettino di Archeologia Cristiana, 3rd

series, vol. IV [1879], plate 9)

3. Kato Paphos-Chrysopolitissa, basilica, nave pave- ment (detail), "I am the True Vine" (photo: Dr. A. Papageorghiou, Cyprus Museum, Nicosia)

4· Gerasa,

funerary

chapel,

nave pavement

(detail),

Vine

with

Commemorative Inscription

(photo:

Yale

University and Dumbarton Oaks)

5. Christ and His Flock, silver reliquary from Henchir Zirara. Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (photo: Biblioteca Vaticana)

6. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, apse mosaic (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton- Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

7· Rome, SS. Cosmas and Damian, apse mosaic (from Joseph Wilpert, Walter N. Schumacher, Die

romischen Mosaiken der kirchlichen Bauten vom IV.-

XIII.]ahrhundert [Freiburg im Breisgau], I976, plate roi)

8. Antioch, Bath "E", large hall, pavement (detail), Earth (photo: Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University)

9. Antioch, Bath "E", large hall, pavement, The Earth

and the Water (after Doro Levi,

Pavements, I [Princeton, I947], fig. roo)

Antioch

Mosaic

IO. Nikopolis,

Basilica of Dumetios,

north transept,

pavement, Earth and Ocean (photo: Archaeological Society, Athens)

I I.

Nikopolis, Basilica of Dumetios, north transept, pavement (detail), Earth and Ocean (photo: Archaeo- logical Society, Athens)

12. Nikopolis, Basilica of Dumetios, north transept, pavement, Ocean, detail, Duck in Lotus Plant (photo:

r 3.

author)

Map of the World According to Cosmas Indicopleustes.

Rome, Biblioteca Vaticana, MS. gr. 699, fol. 40v. (photo: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana)

vm

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

 

14.

The

Creation

of Land Animals.

Istanbul,

Seraglio

Library, MS. 8, fol. 32v.

 

15.

Tegea, Basilica of Thyrsos, nave pavement, Earth and Ocean (from A. K. Orlandos, "Palaiochristia- nika kai byzantina mnemeia Tegeas-Nykliou," Ar-

cheion

ton

Byzantinan

Mnemeion

tes

Hellados,

xu

[1973], plate A)

 

16.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail), Tigris (photo: G. Hougen)

17.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail), july (photo: G. Hougen)

18.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail), August (photo: G. Hougen)

19.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail), February (photo: G. Hougen)

20.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail), May (photo: G. Hougen)

21.

Tegea, Basilica ofThyrsos, nave pavement (detail),

Marine Creatures in Border (photo: G. Hougen)

 

22.

Antioch, building north of St. Paul's Gate, pave- ment, "Renewal" and the Seasons (photo: Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University)

23.

Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, ceiling beams (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan- Princeton-Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

24.

Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, first ceiling beam, Land Creatures (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Ex- pedition to Mount Sinai)

25.

Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, first ceiling beam (detail), Antelope and Plants (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Ex- pedition to Mount Sinai)

26.

Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, third ceiling beam, Marine Creatures (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Ex- pedition to Mount Sinai)

27. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, third ceiling beam (detail), Marine Creatures (reproduced through

the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

28. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, sixth ceiling beam, Beasts of the Land (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Ex- pedition to Mount Sinai)

29. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, sixth ceiling beam (detail), Boar and Elephant (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton- Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

30. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, ninth ceiling beam, Birds (reproduced through the courtesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

3r. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, ninth ceiling beam (detail), Birds (reproduced through the cour- tesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expedi- tion to Mount Sinai)

32. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, twelfth ceiling beam, Nilotic Scenes (reproduced through the cour- tesy of the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expedi- tion to Mount Sinai)

33. Mount Sinai, St. Catherine, nave, twelfth ceiling

beam (detail),

duced through the courtesy ofthe Michigan-Prince- ton-Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai)

Crocodile,

Boat,

and Ostrich (repro-

34· Karl1k, basilica, pavement (detail), Animal Paradise of Isaiah (from Michael Gough, "«The Peaceful Kingdom>>: An Early Christian Mosaic Pavement in Cilicia Campestris," Melanges Mansel, I [Ankara, 1974], fig. 63)

35. Khalde, basilica, nave pavement, Earth and Ocean (from Maurice H. Chehab, Mosai"ques du Liban

[Bulletin

du

Musee

de

Beyrouth,

1958-59], plate 66)

xiv-xv,

Beirut,

36. Khalde, basilica, nave pavement (detail), "Ship of Peace" (photo: Erica Dodd)

37. Khalde, basilica, nave pavement (detail), One Crea-

ture Devours Another (photo: Erica Dodd)

38. Gerasa, SS. Cosmas and Damian, nave pavement,

Terrestrial Creation (from Carl H. Kraeling, Gerasa:

City of the Decapolis [New Haven, 1938], plate 73)

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

1x

39· Gerasa, SS. Cosmas and Damian, nave pavement (detail), Vine (photo: author)

40. Gerasa, SS. Cosmas and Damian, nave pavement

(photo:

Courtesy of Yale University and Dumbarton Oaks)

(detail),

Birds,

Beasts,

and Acanthus Plant

41. Gerasa, SS. Cosmas and Damian, nave pavement

(detail),

Courtesy of Yale University and Dumbarton Oaks)

Birds,

Beasts,

and

Water Creatures (photo:

42. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave- ment, Earth and Ocean (from G. Cvetkovic-

Toma5evic, Heraclea, III, Mosaic Pavement in the Narthex of the Large Basilica at Heraclea Lyncestis

[Bitola, I967])

43. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave- ment, central composition (photo: author)

44. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave- ment (detail), Goat under Cedar Tree (photo: author)

45. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave-

ment (detail), Lion and Bull under Apple Tree (photo:

author)

46. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave-

Tree (photo: author)

ment (detail),

Dog under Fig

47. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave-

ment (detail),

Leopard and Hind under Pomegranate

Tree (photo: author)

48. Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave-

ment (detail),

Cross

of Fish

in the Border (photo:

author)

49· Heraklea Lynkestis, Large Basilica, narthex pave- ment (detail), Ducks and Tree in Winter (photo:

author)

50. Skhira, basilica, sanctuary pavement (detail), Stags

Vase (from Mohamed Fendri, Basiliques

Flanking

chretiennes de Ia Skhira [Paris, I96I], plate I4)

5r. Nicaea,

painted tomb, Peacocks Flanking Cantharos

(photo: Ihor Sevcenko)

52. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement, Earth and Ocean (from Elisabeth Alfoldi-Rosenbaum and

John Ward-Perkins, justinianic Mosaic Pavements in

Cyrenaican Churches [Monografie di Archeologia Libica, XIV, Rome, I98o], fig. IO)

53· Qasr-el-Lebia,

East Church, nave pavement (de-

tail),

Visual Center, Benghazi)

The

"New

Town Theodorias" (photo Audio-

54· Qasr-el-Lebia,

tail),

Cyrenaica)

East Church, nave pavement (de-

"Ktisis" (photo: Department of Antiquities of

55. Qasr-el-Lebia,

East Church, nave pavement (de-

tail), "Kosmesis" (photo: Department of Antiquities

of Cyrenaica)

56. Qasr-el-Lebia,

East Church, nave pavement (de-

tail), "Ananeosis" (photo: Department of Antiquities

of Cyrenaica)

57· Qasr-el-Lebia,

East Church, nave pavement (de-

tail), "Phison" (photo: Department of Antiquities of

Cyrenaica)

58. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement (detail), Eagle Rending Deer (from Elisabeth Alfoldi-Rosen- baum and John Ward-Perkins justinianic Mosaic

Churches [Monografie di

Pavements

in

Cyrenaican

Archeologia Libica, XIV, Rome, I98o], plate 5)

59. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement (detail), Stag and Serpent (from Elisabeth Alfoldi-Rosenbaum

and John Ward-Perkins, Justinianic Mosaic Pavements

in Cyrenaican Churches [Monografie di Archeologia Libica, XIV, Rome, I98o], plate 6)

60. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement (de- tail), "Castalia" (photo: Department of Antiquities of Cyrenaica)

6r. Qasr-el-Lebia,

East Church, nave pavement (de-

tail), Facade (photo: Department of Antiquities of Cyrenaica)

62. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement (detail), Musician (photo: Audio-Visual Center, Benghazi)

63. Qasr-el-Lebia, East Church, nave pavement (de- tail), "The Lighthouse" (photo: Department of Anti- quities of Cyrenaica)

x

LIST

OF ILLUSTRATIONS

64.

Curium,

Baths ofEustolius,

"Long Mosaic Room,"

77.

Khirbat

al-Makhayyat,

Church

of the

Priest John,

pavement

(detail),

"Ktisis"

(photo:

The University

nave mosaic

(detail) (photo:

Terrasanta)

Museum,

University

of Pennsylvania)

 
 

78.

Khirbat

al-Makhayyat,

Church

of the Priest John,

65.

Mount

Nebo,

Theotokos

Chapel,

nave

pavement

nave

mosaic

(detail),

Earth

(photo:

Studium

Bibli-

(detail),

Fruit and Knife

(photo:

author)

cum Franciscanum)

 

66.

Antioch,

House

of Ktisis,

pavement,

"Ktisis"

and

79.

Khirbat al-Makhayyat,

Church

of the Priest John,

Creatures

(photo:

Department of Art and Archaeol-

nave

mosaic

(detail),

Man's Defenses against Beasts

ogy,

Princeton University)

(from Sylvester

J.

Saller

and Bellarmino Bagatti,

 

The

Town

of Nebo

Qerusalem,

I949],

pl.

9)

67.

Silver paten from

Phela.

Bern,

Abegg-Stiftung

 

So.

Khirbat

al-Makhayyat,

Church

of the

Priest John,

68.

Huarte,

North

Church,

pavement

of apse (from

nave

mosaic (detail),

Domestic Dog

(from Sylvester

Maria-Teresa

and

Pierre

Canivet,

"La

Mosiique

J. Saller and Bellarmino Bagatti,

The

Town ofNebo

d' Adam

dans l'eglise

syrienne

de

Hiiarte

(Ve

S. ), "

Qerusalem, I949], pl.

IO)

Cahiers Archeologiques,

xxrv

[ I975J,

49-70,

fig.

3)

69. Jerusalem,

Gate,

Bird

pavement discovered near the Damascus

Rinceau

(photo:

courtesy

of

Kervork

Hintlian)

70. Basilica

Sabratha,

of Justinian,

pavements

(from

J.

B.

Ward-Perkins

and

R.

G.

Goodchild,

"The

Christian Antiquities

vc

[1953], plate

26)

of Tripolitania,"

Archaeologia,

71. Sabratha, Basilica ofJustinian,

nave pavement,

Bird

Rinceau

(photo:

Department of Antiquities, Tripoli)

8I.

82.

83.

84.

Khirbat

(from Sylvester

al-Makhayyat,

J.

St. George,

and

plan of mosaics

Bellarmino Bagatti,

Saller

The

Town

of Nebo

Qerusalem, I949],

fig.

8)

Bronze stamp.

tion (photo:

Houston,

Courtesy

Menil Foundation Collec-

of Gary Vikan)

Khirbat al-Makhayyat,

St.

George,

Wild and Domes-

tic

Beasts

(photo:

Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)

Theodosius Enthroned

over Earth,

silver

missorium.

Madrid,

Delbrueck,

Academia de

la Historia

Spiitantike Kaiserportriits

(from Richard

[Berlin,

1933],

72. Sabratha, Basilica of Justinian,

sanctuary

pavement

pl.

94)

(detail),

Aquatic Creatures

(from

Salvatore

Ami-

gemma,

L'Italia in Africa, Tripolitania,

I,

I monumenti

85. from

Silk

St.

Cuthbert's

coffin (reconstructed de-

d'arte decorativa,

Part

I,

I mosaici

[Rome,

Ig6o],

plate

tail),

Earth.

Durham Cathedral (from].

F.

Flanagan,

35)

"The

Figured Silks," in

The

Relics

of St. Cuthbert,

73.

74.

Constans I

(obverse) and

bronze

coin

from

the

Museum

Phoenix on

mint

of

Globe

(reverse),

Trier.

British

Peiresc's copy of the Calendar of 354,

Constantius II

Holding Phoenix

on Globe.

Rome,

Vatican Library,

MS.

Barb.

Lat.

2I54,

fol.

7r.

(photo: Biblioteca

Apostolica Vaticana)

 

75. Justinian Wearing Peacock Plumes,

cast of gold medal-

lion from

Caesarea. British Museum

76. Khirbat

al-Makhayyat,

Church

of the

Priest John,

nave

mosaic

(from

Sylvester

J.

Saller

and Bellar-

mino

Bagatti,

The

Town ofNebo

Qerusalem, 1949],

fig.

4)

86.

87.

ed.

C.

F.

Battiscombe

(Oxford,

I956], fig. I)

Divine

Paris,

and Imperial Dominion,

Louvre

(photo:

Musees

leaf of ivory diptych.

Nationaux,

Paris)

Ravenna,

(photo:

S.

Vitale,

chancel,

vault

and

arches

German Archaeological Institute,

Rome)

88. Ravenna,

S.

Vitale, chancel,

vault (photo:

Hirmer

 

Fotoarchiv)

 

89. Ravenna,

S.

Vitale, chancel,

soffit at top

of eastern

 

arch

(photo:

German

Archaeological

Institute,

Rome)

go.

Ravenna,

S.

Vitale, chancel, soffit at top of western

arch (photo:

Alinari)

91. Poree,

Basilica of Eufrasius,

apse,

intarsia panel,

Cornucopias and Tridents (photo: Ann Terry)

94. Ravenna,

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

x1

S. Vitale, chancel,

mosaic, Justinian and

Twelve Companions (photo: Anderson)

92. Ravenna,

S.

Vitale,

chancel,

apse and north side

95. Ravenna, S. Apollinare Nuovo, south wall, mosaic

(photo: Alinari)

 

(detail), St. Vitalis and Other Martyrs (photo: Alinari)

93. Ravenna,

S.

Vitale,

chancel,

apse

mosaic,

Christ

96. Crossed Cornucopias and Imperial Busts, onyx cameo.

Bestows Crown on St.

Vitalis (photo: Alinari)

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

BLANK PAGE

Acknowledgments

For helping me to realize this book, I am indebted to many individuals and institutions. The research was begun at the library of the Warburg Institute in London, during the tenure of a Fellowship in the Center for Advanced Study of the University oflllinois at Urbana-Champaign. Two grants from the Research Board of the same university enabled me to visit and record sites in Egypt, Greece, Italy, Jordan, and Yugoslavia. It would not have been possible to complete my project without many individual acts of kindness received from friends and colleagues. In particular, I would like to thank all those people who have helped to obtain hard-to-find photographs of monuments now difficult of access or destroyed. In this regard I am especially indebted to Elisabeth Alfoldi, Charlotte Burk, Slobodan Curcic, Helen Evans, Ernst Kitzinger, and Ann Terry. Erica Dodd shared with me photographs and information taken, under the most difficult and even dangerous of conditions, from the mosaic at Khalde in the Lebanon. In Jordan I received valuable assistance from Adnan Hadidi, the Director General of the Department of Antiquities, and generous hospitality from Mohammad Al-Asad and his family. In the last stages of the work, my text acquired many stylistic improvements from the careful attention given by Carol Lewine, Editor of the College Art Association Monograph Series. I am also grateful to Cherene Holland at the Pennsylvania State University Press, who has assisted me over numerous points of detail. Many specialists have helped me over particular points of fact or interpretation; here I owe special thanks to Charalambos Bakirtzis, Cynthia Hahn, Anna Kartsonis, Herbert Kessler, Ruth Kolarik, Brian Madigan, Charlotte Roueche, and Gary Vikan. Most of all, however, I am indebted to Eunice Dauterman Maguire, who has contributed generously to this work at every stage. She sparked my initial interest in the problems of

XIV

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

interpreting nature imagery in early Byzantine art, she has been a constant source of references and ideas, and at the end she scrutinized my pages with a critical editorial eye. The book is dedicated to her as a small sign of its author's gratitude.

Urbana, Illinois

June 1986

Introduction

0

NE

of the

most

distinctive characteristics

of Byzantine art

of the later fifth

and the

sixth

centuries

A.D.

is

its fondness for

imagery

drawn

from

natural

history.

Wher-

ever

the

visitor

looks

in

churches

of

this

period,

whether

it

be

to

the

floors,

to

the walls,

to

the furnishings,

or to

the ceilings and the vaults,

there may be represen-

tations

of birds,

beasts,

sea

creatures,

and

plants.

These

motifs

from

nature

raise

complex

questions

of meaning and significance.

In the first place,

the viewer wonders whether they were

designed

merely

as

ornaments

for

the

churches

they

adorn,

or whether they

carried

Christian

content.

And if the

plants

and

creatures

did

convey

Christian meanings,

what meanings

were

intended

by

the

artists

or

their

patrons?

Often

the

works

of art

do

not in

themselves

provide

clear answers

to

these questions,

and

the

modern

viewer

is

unsure

how

to

interpret

them.

Fortunately,

however,

there

is

a

great

wealth

of Early

Christian

literature

on

natural

history

incorporated

into

sermons

and

commentaries,

and

the richness

of the visual imagery is

amply

matched

in

the

texts.

My

aim

is

to

explore

the connections

between

this exegetical

literature

and presentations

of nature

in

art.

By

studying

the

parallels

between

art

and

literature it

is

possible

to

reveal the

common patterns

of thinking that may have inspired both artists (or their

patrons)

and writers.

 

There

are

many

ways

in which

the

study

ofliterary texts

can aid the historian who

desires

to

understand

the

visual

images

of the past. First, and most obviously,

a text can explain

why

an

image

has

a

particular

form;

that

is,

there

can

be

a

cause-and-effect relationship

between

literature

and

art, so

the

work

of art becomes

in

some

sense

an illustration

of the text.

But

a

text

can

also

explain

what

a

given

image

means;

it can

reveal

the

thought

processes

that

lie

behind the

work of art, even if the text itself was

not known either directly or indirectly to

the

artist.

In

the

latter

case,

the

art historian

is

not

concerned

with

proving

that

a

given

text

has

2

INTRODUCTION

influenced an image, but he or she tries to show that both text and image reflect similar modes of thought. r In this book, texts will be used with the second of these aims in view, that is, to reveal the thought patterns embodied in certain early Byzantine portrayals of the natural world. The motifs from nature in early Byzantine art can be compared to keys that opened the way to associations. Like actual Byzantine keys, they appear to have been capable of opening more than one lock or door. A designer or viewer of a work of art might use a given motif, or key, to unlock one or more associations, or he or she might not use the key at all, so the associations would remain closed for that person. The choice would depend upon an individual's back- ground, culture, and inclinations. 2 In this book I shall for the most part consider the keys only from the perspective of designers who used them with the intent to evoke specific ideas related to the physical geography of the terrestrial world, to its creation and governance, and to its symbolism. Of course, motifs from nature often appeared in less well-defined contexts in early Byzantine art. Frequently designers were content to illustrate plants and animals without pro- viding any pointers to their interpretation; in such cases the viewer was left to use the keys to make associations, or to ignore them, as he or she wished. In this study, therefore, I shall examine only the more structured portrayals of the natural world. As will be explained in the first chapter, I believe that the products of even a single workshop of artists might range considerably in their intellectual content, according to the dictates of particular designers. In one place a patron, for example, might use the repertoire of a given workshop to create sophisticated intellectual constructs; in another place the same workshop might employ the same repertoire in a more haphazard fashion, perhaps having received only general instructions from the patron, or no instructions at all. Most of the works of art to be discussed in this book are floor mosaics, but we will also find portrayals of the earth and the ocean on walls, on vaults, and on ceilings. The pavement, however, remained the most popular place for displaying the terrestrial world: Not only was the earth an appropriate and relatively innocuous subject for imagery that was to be placed underfoot, but it was also a subject into which Christian symbolism could be inconspicuously woven, if the designer so desired. The study that follows, therefore, is an essay in interpretation. It is not intended as a complete catalogue of early Byzantine works of art portraying the terrestrial world, but it is meant as a guide to the reading of these rich and frequently complex images. The book is divided into seven chapters. Chapter I contains an introductory discussion of the language of symbolism in early Byzantine art, especially with respect to portrayals of themes from nature. This discussion is intended to open up a number of questions that will be addressed in more detail in the chapters that follow. Since a language does not exist in a vacuum but needs both an author and an audience, the last part of the first chapter discusses the respective roles of the designers and of the viewers of symbolic images in early Byzantine art, especially in floor mosaics. Each of the six subsequent chapters is devoted to a different interpretation of the terrestrial world, as seen both in art and in literature. Chapter II is concerned with those writers and artists who interpreted the world created by God in an absolutely literal sense, and who read into it no kind of symbolism or allegory. Chapter III is concerned with those who interpreted most of Creation literally but allegorized certain parts of it, so that they saw only some elements of natural history as Christian symbols. Chapters IV and V are concerned with those who were willing to allegorize the world extensively, imposing elaborate superstructures of symbolic meaning onto the whole scheme of Creation. Chapter VI is concerned with mosaics and commentaries that presented moralistic views of the 'earth by portraying man's role in nature. Finally, chapter VII shows how portrayals of Earth and Ocean could also have

INTRODUCTION

3

had

an

palaces.

imperial significance

in

early

Byzantine art,

in the

decoration

of churches

as

well

as

of

Several pages

of this

study are concerned with the symbolic meanings of specific motifs from

natural history, such

so

as

the deer,

the

eagle,

much

as

a

dictionary

of such symbols

or the peacock.

However,

from

nature,

but

more

as

the book is intended not

a

grammar.

Most

of the

symbols

used in

early Byzantine

art,

and

especially the motifs

of meanings,

which

could

change according

to

the contexts

from

nature,

in

which

the

had

a wide

variety

symbols

appeared.

The

polyvalence

of the

symbols

used

by

artists makes

it difficult to

compile a

"dictionary"

of

their meanings,

images

just

by

employed

as

it

would

be

a

hard

task

Byzantine

writers. Instead,

to

my

compile

a

dictionary

of the

metaphorical

approach has been to take

one context in

which

images

from

nature

frequently

occurred

in

art-that

is,

portrayals

of the terrestrial

world-and

to

determine

the patterns

of thought

associated

with

this particular subject

with

the help

have

of literary texts.

Once the

"grammatical"

to

structures associated

the meanings

with any given context

with

been analyzed,

it becomes

possible

pinpoint

of individual symb.ols

more precision.

My

aim has

been to

use

patristic texts not so much as

quarries for meanings

of

individual motifs,

were

combined to

but rather

interpret

constructions revealing a particular theme.

as

the ways

in

which

groups

of symbols

Some readers

may

ask whether it is

legitimate to

assume that the logic connecting the motifs

was necessarily

the

same

in

the

visual

and

in the

written

documents.

There

are

two

principal

factors

that

can

give

weight

to

hypotheses

of this

kind.

The

first factor

would

be

that

image

and

text

came

from

the

same

milieu.

Unfortunately,

in

the

early

Byzantine

period

it

is

not

often

that we can match a work ofart with a text known to have been produced at precisely the

same time

and place, because the accidents

of survival have rendered our evidence too

sporadic;

only

a small proportion

of the

original

works

of art and literature survives.

However,

so far as

the texts

are concerned,

we

can

say

that those

that have

survived were in

many

cases

the most

highly

regarded

and

the

most

widely

known,

even

if the

same

cannot

as

often

be

said

of the

preserved

works

of art.

But

there

is

a second

factor

that

can

give credence

in

hypothetical

relationships

between

works

of art

and literature:

The more

complicated the pattern

of motifs

repeated in

text

and

image,

the

greater

the

likelihood that

a similar

pattern

of meanings

underlies

them.

when

a larger

A

coincidence

of one or two

number

of motifs

coincide,

motifs

it

might be considered

to

more

reasonable

becomes

be

to

accidental,

but

propose

that

a

common

structure

of meanings

may be expressed by them.

 

Those

who

study

symbolism

in

Early Christian

art (and

in

medieval art

as

a whole)

are

sometimes accused

of making

subjective interpretations because, even

if texts

are used

as

a

guide,

the great

wealth of Early Christian literature makes

a variety of interpretations possible.

The

suspicion arises

that

scholars

are

able

to

pick

and choose at

random

among

the texts

to

support

any

explanation

of an image that they care to

offer.

However,

the association

of texts

with images

does not have to be an arbitrary process so long as there are objective criteria, such

as

affinity

in

provenance

and

complexity

particular text to

a particular image

can be

of correspondence,

by

which

the

relevance

of a

assessed. I have tried to find the closest pairings that

the

surviving

evidence

can

provide. Nevertheless, this

book

is

offered

to

readers in

the hope

that

it

may

stimulate

a search for

better

matches,

which

may

eventually

improve

upon

the

hypotheses

presented here.

 

BLANK PAGE

The Language

I

of Symbols

BYZANTINE REACTIONS

CHRISTIAN ART

TO ANIMALS

AND PLANTS

IN

J

UST

as

today

some

art historians like

to

read

symbolic meanings

wherever

they

can,

while

others

favor

a more

literal

approach,'

so

in

the early

Byzantine

period

there

were

those

who

could accept animals

and plants

as

Christian symbols,

while others

could see in

them no

religious

significance

whatsoever.

One of the latter group was St.

Nilus of Sinai,

who

in the

early

fifth

century wrote

a letter to

a Byzantine

official

about to

construct a church.

The

official had proposed to

decorate his

church with

"all kinds

of animal hunts,"

with

"nets being

lowered

into

the

sea, and

every kind of fish being

caught,"

and

with

"the pictures

of different

birds

and

beasts,

reptiles

and

plants."

St.

Nilus

made

it

very

clear that

he considered such

decoration

to

be

earthbound

and

a distraction from the higher verities:

"I say

that it would be

childish and

infantile

to

distract

the

eyes

of the faithful

with

the

previously

mentioned

[sub-

jects]."

Instead,

the

saint proposed that the building should be adorned with a single cross

at its

eastern end,

and

with

scenes

from

the

Old and the New Testaments

on the walls,

"so

that the

illiterate

may,

by

contemplating

the

pictures,

become

mindful

of the

manly

virtues

of

those

who

have genuinely served the true

God,

and may be

stirred to

match those famous

and

glorious feats,

through

which they

is

unseen

to

what is

seen. "

2

were released from

earth to heaven,

having preferred what

Evidently

no

Christian

St.

Nilus

meaning

felt

that the creatures and plants

depicted in Early Christian churches had

at all.

They

may

not

even

have

been suitable

subjects

for

the floors

of

churches.

St.

Nilus

was

not

alone in his

views, for at the

time

that he

wrote,

in the late fourth

and early

fifth centuries,

the

designers

of floor mosaics

showed

a taste

for austerity;

many

6

EARTH

AND

OCEAN

church pavements

plant and

of this period were purely geometric and scrupulously avoided the variety of

often was

to adorn the floors

of the later fifth and the sixth centuries.

3

animal life that

Even

in

this

later period,

when

the

vogue

for animal

imagery

in

churches was

at

its height,

there

were

writers

who

spoke

out

against representations

of this kind.

Some even objected to

the

portrayal

of the

Holy

Ghost

as

a dove.

John Diakrinomenos,

in the late

fifth

century, said

that

"it

is

an infantile act

to

represent

the

most-holy

and venerable

Ghost

in

the

likeness

of a

dove, seeing

that

the

text

of the

Gospel teaches

not

that

the

Holy

Ghost

became

a dove,

but

that it was

once

seen in the form of a dove, and that since this happened only once by reason of

dispensation

likeness. "

a symbol

and

not

essentially,

it was

in no

way

fitting for

believers

to

make

for it

a bodily

art

as

4

Clearly John Diakrinomenos

or a metaphor for the

Holy

was unwilling to

interpret the

dove in Christian

Ghost.

He was only willing to interpret the bird literally,

as

an

earthly creature with feathers.

Another who

shared his

opinion was Severus,

the patriarch

of Antioch from

512

to

silver doves

that

hung

designated in the

form

518,

above

who

the

was accused by his

opponents

fonts and

altars,

"saying

that

of a dove. "

5

of melting down the gold and

the

Holy

Ghost should not be

At

a later date,

in

the

eighth

and

ninth

centuries, portrayals

of creatures

and plants fell

into

disfavor because they

icons accused

replacing

were

associated by the orthodox

emperors

of removing

and herbage.

with the iconoclasts.

the images

of Christ

The proponents

and his

saints

of

and

the

iconoclastic

them

with birds, beasts,

Some of the most colorful passages

of invective

come

from

the

Life

of St. Stephen the

Younger,

written

by

the

deacon Stephen in

8o6:

"The

Tyrant [Constantine

V]

the

Blachernae,

whose

scraped

down

the venerable church

of the all-pure

walls had

previously

been decorated

with

pictures

mother

of God at

of God's

coming

down to us

Having thus suppressed all of Christ's mysteries,

he converted the church into

store-house

a

kinds

cocks, thus

complains

Saints, these

over. If,

of birds

of fruit and an aviary: for he covered it with mosaics

and

beasts,

and

making

the

church,

that

"wherever

there

certain swirls

if I may

were

on

were

consigned to

the

the

other

hand,

there

[representing]

trees

all

and pea-

and

of ivy-leaves [enclosing] cranes,

altogether unadorned. "

crows

say so,

6 Elsewhere, Stephen

venerable images

pictures

of Christ or the Mother of God or the

or were gouged out or smeared

or senseless beasts

.

.

. these

flames

were

[by the iconoclasts]

of trees

or birds

were preserved with honor

and

given greater luster. "

7

The

well-known

eighty-second

canon

of the

Quinisext

Council, held in 692,

foreshadowed

this

opposition

to

animal

imagery

on

the

part

of the

supporters

of icons.

The

canon

decreed

that

Christ

should

be

depicted

in human

form

"in

place

of the ancient lamb,"

so

that viewers

might

thereby

century

as

be

reminded

use

of "His life

symbols

in

the

to

Severus

flesh. "

8

This passage

shows

that

late

taint of mono-

Spirit being

by

the

seventh

physitism, even though the

represented

the

a dove.

of animal

represent

had

Christ could carry

the

the Holy

monophysite

earlier objected to

The

texts

that we have reviewed so

far have

all

condemned the use of imagery from

natural

history

in churches.

There

are,

however,

many

texts

that

present

another

viewpoint

and

de-

scribe portrayals

of animals and

plants

with

approval.

9

The majority of these texts are

ekphra-

seis,

rhetorical

descriptions

certain literary conventions.

of buildings

or

One

convention

works

of art

was always

that

to

were

the

composed

subject

according to

descrip-

praise

of the

tion; for

this reason

the

ekphraseis

are intrinsically

unlikely

to

provide

any negative comments

about the

imagery from nature contained in churches.

Another convention of the

ekphraseis

was

for

rhetoric.

their

the writers

This

grace

and

to

use

a language

and

critical perspective derived

from

late

antique

secular

meant that when they praised the motifs

realism

than

for

their potential

depicted by artists it was

For

more often for

example,

in

his

for Christian meaning.

THE LANGUAGE OF SYMBOLS

7

account of the church of St. Sergius at Gaza, the sixth-century author Choricius describes a mosaic of birds in a vine rinceau growing from a vase; he does not talk about the symbolism of

the birds, or even of the vine, but instead he says that the birds were so artistically portrayed

describes the portrayal of the

Nile, together with its bird life, on the walls of St. Stephen in Gaza, he merely terms this a

consider his passage on the fruits portrayed in the upper

parts of the church of St. Sergius, we may wonder whether Choricius was not conscious of the symbolic potential of the images from natural history that he described. Characteristically, he expressed himself through a quotation from classical literature when he spoke of "pear trees, pomegranate trees and apple trees bearing bright fruit, blossoming in all seasons alike, neither wishing to yield to winter nor lacking the fruit of rain [in summer). Thus it is possible for us to rival the king of the Phaeacians. "I 2 Here Choricius referred to the orchard of the mythical palace of Alcinous, which Homer described in the Odyssey, where "the fruit perishes not nor fails in winter nor in summer, but lasts throughout the year. "I 3 But even though Choricius chose his quotation from a pre-Christian author, it is possible that he intended to show us that he saw the ever-ripe fruits depicted in the church as images of Paradise, where there is fruit in

all seasons. As we shall see in chapter II, the notion of a temperate and seasonless Paradise was a commonplace among Christian writers.

If the Byzantine ekphraseis go no further than to hint at symbolic meanings, the works of art

themselves provide strong evidence that some people, at least, were willing to invest certain animal and plant motifs with Christian significance. As we shall see, in many cases inscriptions provide incontrovertible evidence of this. Even without inscriptions, we can point to instances in which church authorities apparently replaced one type of animal composition with another considered more meaningful, or more appropriate to a Christian context, as Jean-Pierre Sodini has recently shown. I 4 For example, the floor of a circular baptistery at Butrinto, in Albania, was covered with a mosaic that depicted a wide variety of plants, fishes, birds, and beasts (both wild and domestic); these creatures were framed by medallions, which were linked together to form circular chains. At some time not very long after the composition of the original mosaic, which may have been effected in the sixth century, the chains of medallions were abruptly interrupted by two inserted designs that were placed on the axis of the entrance. One of the inserted designs shows birds, including two peacocks, pecking at vine stems growing from a central cantharos (fig. r). IS Since the surrounding floor does not show excessive signs of wear,

it appears possible that this design was inserted for iconographic reasons rather than to effect a repair. The vase, the peacocks, and the vine could have been put in by a person who considered these motifs more meaningful in a baptistery than the apparently random assortment of plants and creatures that had made up the original pattern for the floor. It will be remembered that when the orator Choricius saw the same motifs of the cantharos and the birds in the vine in the church of St. Sergius at Gaza, he only spoke of the lifelike qualities of the birds. However, if these motifs were inserted at Butrinto for iconographic reasons, the person responsible may have had more on his mind than mere verisimilitude.

that they might be imagined to sing. 10 When the same author

"joyful" sight. II Nevertheless, if we

A similar example of the substitution of more meaningful, or more "charged," motifs for

subjects of lesser significance is provided by a sixth-century pavement in the south aisle of Basilica C at Nea Anchialos, in Greece. 16 In this case, a fountain, which was flanked by two symmetrically placed stags and two birds, was superimposed onto a previously existing design of octagons and quatrefoils containing a variety of sea creatures, birds, and fruits. The insertion is similar both technically and stylistically to the preexisting floor, which suggests that the alteration was made not long after the setting of the original mosaic. 17 Here again we seem to

8

EARTH AND OCEAN

have a case in which some motifs from natural history-namely, the stags and the birds flanking the fountain-were deemed more appropriate than others in a Christian context.

THE POLYVALENCE OF IMAGES

Most of the images from natural history that appear in early Byzantine art were not like modern traffic signs, with necessarily fixed and invariable messages, but, as I have already suggested, they were more akin to metaphors. The meanings of any given image, an eagle, for example, or a fish, could be nuanced or even completely altered according to the context provided by a given work of art, just as words in a language can change their meanings in

artists could

change their meanings over the course of time. The literature of the Early Christian church provides bountiful interpretations for most of the images from nature used by Byzantine artists; one might say that, from the art historian's point

of view, the literary interpretations are too plentiful, for there is often a problem in determining which particular meaning an artist had in mind at a particular time. In the texts we often find that a multitude of images can represent one concept, or different aspects of one concept. A well-known example is the early Byzantine Akathistos hymn, of uncertain authorship, which addresses the Virgin through a long series of metaphors: She is a star, the dawn, and lightning; she is a tree, a vine, and a flower; she is an ocean, a harbor, and a boat; she is a vessel, a basin, and a bowl; she is a bastion, a wall, and a tower; she is a throne, a table, and a chariot; she is a diadem, a crown, and a robe. ' 9 The number of potential images is only limited by the poet's imagination. Similar sequences of images can be found in other early Byzantine hymns. In his

poet Romanos described

different situations. ' 8 Also, like words in a language, the images employed by

kontakion

On the Adoration of the Cross, for example, the sixth-century

the cross as a root, a lance, a door, a shepherd's crook, a plow, a winnowing fan, an oar, and

an altar. 20 Nor was it only poets who

single person or object, for we can find a similar richness of imagery in early Byzantine prose. For example, in a discourse on Athanasius of Alexandria, the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nazianzus successively described him as a horn of salvation, a keystone, a purifying fire, a winnowing fan, and as a sword cutting off the roots of vice. 2 ' It was natural for the patristic writers to employ several images to describe one concept, for they realized that the concepts that they wished to express were too complex to be rendered satisfactorily by one image alone. The best that they could hope to do was to express a certain aspect of an idea with a given image, and to use other images to express other aspects. There is an interesting passage in the Fifth Theological Oration by Gregory of N azianzus in which he discusses the difficulty of using images from the physical world to express divine concepts. Since this text has a considerable bearing on the significance of such imagery in art, it is worth quoting at some length. St. Gregory is speaking of the Trinity: "For my part," he says,

composed such sequences of metaphors to describe a

looking for an image for so great a

reality, and I have not known to what among earthly things below one should compare the divine nature. Even if I find a little resemblance, the greater part escapes me, and leaves me down below with my example. I have imagined-as others have also-a source, a stream, and a river, to see if there is an analogy between the source

I have reflected a great deal with myself

and the Father, the stream and the Son, and the river and the Holy Spirit. But I was

THE LANGUAGE

OF

SYMBOLS

9

afraid,

in

the

first place,

to suggest

by

this

comparison

some

kind

of outflowing

of

the

Divinity,

which

would

exclude stability; I

was afraid

in

the

second

place

to

introduce through this

comparison the idea of the oneness

of the person, because the

source,

the

stream,

and the river are

a single thing

which takes various forms.

22

St.

images

Gregory

goes

on

of the Trinity,

to

say

that

he

"but here, too,

as

unsatisfactory, he

finally concludes:

had

also

thought

of using

the

sun,

the

ray, and light

as

there is

cause for fear. "

23

After rejecting these images

also

"In brief,

there is

no

fixed

point for my thought when I

look

for

the

concept

from

it

the

have

I

image,

in

mind

in

single trait

aware

and

to

rejects

have a

that

was impossible

the

the

examples, unless

one

rest. "

24

St.

Gregory

takes

with

circumspection a

of Nazianzus, therefore, was

one-to-one relationship

of concept to

image.

If images

were

to

be used at all,

they

could only reveal part of each concept.

The logical consequence of

this

view

was

a piece of literature such as the

Akathistos,

in which a great number of images are

used to

present as

many aspects

of the subject as possible.

If many images

could be used to represent various aspects

of one concept in early Byzantine

literature,

we

also find

that

the reverse holds true:

One image could represent several concepts,

according

to

the

contexts

in

which it was employed. We have already

seen

an example

of this;

in the hymn by Romanos

on Athanasius

by

Gregory

the idea of the root is

associated with the cross, while in the sermon

of Nazianzus it is linked with sin. In the works of some authors, an

image

could

be

Heavenly

Ladder,

used

in

opposite

senses

in

John

Climacus used

the

adjoining passages;

for example,

in

waterspout

as

a

symbol

of humility,

step

.25

of his

while a

few

pages later,

such

in step

26,

it

became a

symbol

changes

of meaning in the Bible itself,

of pride.

25

There

were,

of course,

precedents for

where many

of the images from nature

change

or

extend

their significance

according

to

the

passages

in

which

they

occur.

When

these

biblical

images

found

their

way

into

the

Early

Christian literature,

they

brought

their

variety

of

meanings

in

people,

. represents

with them.

79, verse

in

An obvious example is the vine,

8

and

in

Hosea

I

o:

I,

of the

but which is

Gospel

which represents

first

God's people,

or Israel,

Psalm

an image of Christ, and then of his

verses

verses

1-7.

1-7,

Likewise,

the

vineyard

but in Christ's parable it

the fifteenth chapter

of John,

the people of Israel in the fifth chapter oflsaiah,

becomes

the

Kingdom

of God

(Matthew

2I:3'3-43).

At

this

point

it is

legitimate to

ask whether it is

necessary

or meaningful to

enquire into

the

specific

meanings

of the pictographic images

employed

by

Early

Christian

artists.

There

was

certainly one

school

of thought in late antiquity which held that pictographic images could not

be

subjected

to

rational

analysis. Plotinus,

for example,

wrote

of the hieroglyphics

employed

by

the

ancient

Egyptians:

"Each image

was a kind

of understanding and

wisdom and reality,

given all

at once,

and

not

a process

of reasoning

doubt that Early Christian artists,

or their patrons,

and deliberation. "

26

However,

there is

no

were in many cases interested in providing

a

rationale for

the images they displayed.

This is evident from inscriptions attached to the motifs.

From