Leslie Brubaker

title.none: Safran, ed., Heaven on Earth (Brubaker)

identifier.other: baj9928.9812.003 98.12.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Leslie Brubaker, University of Birmingham,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Safran, Linda, ed. Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1998. Pp. 280. $27.50. ISBN: ISBN 0-271-01670-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval ReviewĀ 98.12.03

Safran, Linda, ed. Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1998. Pp. 280. $27.50. ISBN: ISBN 0-271-01670-1.

Reviewed by:

Leslie Brubaker
University of Birmingham

The essays collected in this book were designed to introduce the general reader and the student to Byzantium through explorations of two central features of that society, material culture and religious belief. After a brief introduction, eight ranking scholars present their views on Constantinople, the orthodox church, icons, ecclesiastical architecture, architectural decoration, liturgical silver, decorated manuscripts, and the pilgrimage experience. Each chapter was originally presented as part of a seminar directed to the general public in Washington DC in 1991, and the flavour of lucid oral delivery with touches of informal humour is appealing (though the allusions targeted at the original American audience will be lost on an anglo-european reader). The quality of all contributions is high, and some of the chapters are outstanding syntheses that will not only enlighten the general reader but will repay the specialist as well. Gary Vikan's "Byzantine pilgrimsĀ¼ art," for instance, presents an articulate overview of the subject that is full of new thoughts by the acknowledged international expert in the subject. Undergraduates, too, will benefit from many of the chapters: for example, Eric Perl's chapter, "...That man might become God: Central themes in Byzantine theology," supplies an extremely clear, concise and intelligent account of the intricacies of orthodoxy that will surely be appreciated by history and art history students struggling to understand the "-isms" of the early Byzantine period in particular; Perl explains the "-isms" and, more important still, sets them in a context so that one can see why the Byzantines cared so much about them.

Perhaps because the lectures on which the book is based were delivered first seven years before the volume was published, it was apparently not possible to incorporate recent work which would have contributed to some of the individual chapters. In particular, Paul Magdalino's Constantinople medievale, Etudes sur l'Evolution des structures urbaines (Paris, 1996), could usefully have been integrated into Joseph Alchermes' cogent discussion of urban development in his chapter on "Constantinople and the empire of new Rome," as could the various studies in Cyril Mango and Gilbert Dagron, eds, Constantinople and its hinterland (Aldershot, 1995). The insights in Henry Maguire's The icons of their bodies: Saints and their images in Byzantium (Princeton, 1996) would have provided a greater degree of chronological differentiation in Anna Kartsonis' thoughtful (and thought provoking) chapter "The responding icon." The problems inherent in presenting an overview that is clear but that does not erase differences have, in fact, usually been happily resolved throughout the volume, as exemplified by Robert Ousterhout's excellent chapter on "The Holy Space: Architecture and the liturgy." The importance of even seemingly small differences is well brought out by Henry Maguire in "The cycle of images in the church," a close comparison of two well-known Byzantine monuments--Hosios Loukas and Daphne--that nonetheless manages to make one see both in an entirely new light. And the two chapters on the "furnishings" of the church interior make clear the larger shifts in Byzantine culture over its 1000 year history. In "Art in the service of the liturgy: Byzantine silver plate," Susan Boyd sets the relative abundance of silver in the early period against its scarcity in the middle and later periods, and provides a rare and much-needed discussion of liturgical metalwork after Iconoclasm. Nancy Patterson Sevcenko's "Illuminating the liturgy: Illustrated service books in Byzantium" finds that while different types of service books were decorated in the early and middle periods, in the last centuries of the Byzantine empire few were embellished at all; instead, the great visualisations of the liturgy spread across the walls of the church, and were thus available to all without, as she puts it, "having to turn a single page" (p. 226).

The general audience to whom this volume is directed will be well served by this collection of studies. The plates, too, are of generally high quality, with 16 in colour. All of the reproductions have mini-discussions attached as captions, a feature which some readers find distracting but which others evidently find compelling; here the comments are relevant and concise. The layout of the text as a whole is easy on the eye, and the authors have avoided unnecessary jargon; a glossary at the end of the book defines essential terms (nearly all of which are anyway defined at first use in the book itself). Whether or not one agrees with the editor that the collection of topics assembled here provides a good sense of the essential features and salient characteristics of Byzantium--and argument on this topic could be endless--the essays themselves are of a uniformly high standard, informative and lucid introductions to particular sub-disciplines of Byzantine material culture.