ICMA at the Courtauld
About the 2011/2012 lecture
Professor Henry Maguire (Department of the History of Art, Johns Hopkins University)
Meadows of Delight: Metaphor and Denial in Byzantine and Western Mediaeval Art.
After the eighth century, motifs from nature, such as animals and plants, were more prominently displayed in Western churches than in those of the Byzantines, sometimes even appearing in the principal apses, in direct imitation of early Christian models. In Byzantium, there was a rich literary tradition of constantly repeated verbal and written metaphors drawn from nature, especially addressed to the Virgin. On the other hand, the art of Byzantine churches, while evoking the pleasures and powers of nature in certain contexts, often excluded all reference to it from holy images, including those of the Virgin. The root cause of this division between Eastern and Western art lay in contrasting attitudes toward the sacred image. In Byzantium, after iconoclasm, a fear of venerating nature lingered, complicating the visualization of metaphor and creating a constant tension between acceptance and denial. In the West, animals and plants lost much of their association with idolatry, becoming, instead, a language for understanding the divine.