Alice Christ

title.none: Entwistle, ed., Through a Glass Brightly (Alice Christ)

identifier.other: baj9928.0503.002 05.03.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alice Christ , Unviersity of Kentucky,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Entwistle, Chris, ed. Through a Glass Brightly: Studies in Byzantine and Medieval Art and Archaeology Presented to David Buckton. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003. Pp. xii, 252. $90.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84217-090-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.03.02

Entwistle, Chris, ed. Through a Glass Brightly: Studies in Byzantine and Medieval Art and Archaeology Presented to David Buckton. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2003. Pp. xii, 252. $90.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84217-090-2.

Reviewed by:

Alice Christ
Unviersity of Kentucky

The 25 studies collected in honor of David Buckton's retirement from the Early Christian and Byzantine collections of the British Museum apply an extraordinary compendium of scholarly genres and methods to objects of widely disparate types and times. It is a testimony to the range of David Buckton's collaborations in providing access to objects in his keeping, for studies technical and historical, and for museum expositions, as well as in pursuit of his own scholarship. His publications, conveniently listed in the fore pages of the festschrift, have been most notably devoted to jewelry and enamels, including their techniques of manufacture, medieval and modern. This mirror of a career is appropriately rich in glass and jewelry studies, but it also includes longer iconographic articles on some of the most famous objects in the British Museum. Many are contributions to continuing explorations or debates being pursued in other contexts, for example Lesley Brubaker's reconsideration of the Bristol Psalter's relationships with the ninth-century marginal and aristocratic psalters and Western psalters (15). University and College libraries should buy the book lest its contributions to such ongoing discussions on issues from the origins of cloisonné to the existence and nature of pre-iconoclastic psalter illustration become unavailable. Most articles also make some very specialized topics accessible to novices in the field.

They are apparently arranged in roughly chronological order, from Hellenistic-Roman through the Byzantine thirteenth century (although ending with the eleventh-century Bristol Psalter), followed by a second western medieval series starting with the cross-temporal analysis of metallurgical by-products as a source of red color in "The production of red glass and enamel in the Late Iron Age, Roman and Byzantine Periods," proceeding through Gothic, and ending with five papers on nineteenth- and twentieth-century collecting, imitation and forgeries of objects from these same periods. The organization tends to obscure the resonances among papers in a collection that, of course, is not meant to be read cover-to-cover. I will treat them thematically instead.

The aforementioned article on the chemistry of red glass is a member of a cluster of articles on technologies and techniques in the production of glass and its use in enamel, which continue multiple conversations in the field most David Buckton's own. This one (16), by Ian C. Freestone, Colleen P. Stapleton and Valery Rigby, finds that artisan glass-makers, rather than "proto-chemists," achieved the complicated formulae of trace enhancers and reduction processes required for opaque red by adding partially reduced slag from silver or copper refining, or litharge, so that we no longer imagine "the glass-maker as proto-chemist" carefully weighing out drams of half a dozen metal oxides in his lab. The chemistry here contributes to revising our historical understanding of the roles and practices of artisans as well as of the localization and trade of glass materials. The roles and practices of artisans, including much later glass-makers, are also themes of Barrie Singleton's "Design and invention in Gothic architecture: Mildenhall and Ely," where he argues, contra Richard Marks, that at least some fourteenth-century English architecture was designed together with or after iconographies it was intended to frame, rather than the scenes being chosen or designed to fit existing architectural forms.

Other enamel studies are primarily concerned with invention and transmission of cloisonné techniques. Noel Adams (5) seeks Roman roots for cloisonné in late antique experiments based on earlier fused gold and glass inlay. Similarly, Susan Youngs (17) characterizes the seventh-century British Isles tradition in which she places two recently discovered enamel bowl mounts as a descendent of Roman innovations, rather than an iron-age Celtic survival. With these, on the continuing centrality of Roman tradition to late antique Europe, read Ken Dark, "Early Byzantine mercantile communities in the West," which, based on pottery finds, primarily at Tintagel, argues that sixth-century commercial settlements of easterners accompany western political centers, as well as the expected maritime routes and so "may have played not merely an economic, but also a diplomatic role on behalf of the Byzantine state." And for a slightly later period, Fritze Lindahl (18) traces connections between Denmark and Anglo-Saxon mint workers, die-cutters and goldsmiths, on the one hand, and central European imperial traditions connected to Byzantium, on the other, with a catalogue of Danish finds of cloisonné disc brooches belonging to types identified from southern England of the tenth and eleventh centuries (plus three enameled gold rings).

Many studies treat a particular object comprehensively, like an extended catalog entry. Enamel and glass may figure in the choice of objects, but are not the main focus of investigation. In addition to information and illustrations of the particular piece, these can present entree to specialized study of genres of household object now collected in museums, such as the late Roman wine siphon (1, Donald M. Bailey, technical study by Paul T. Craddock), the 4th-7th century traveling sundial (3, Silke Ackermann), the early Byzantine lamp stand (9, Marlia M. Mango on the Lampsacus Treasure. She also discusses the mirror.). Maria Vassilaki builds an account of the Life, cult and iconography of St. Kollouthos around the only labeled depiction of him, on a tempera-painted canvas cloth hanging, perhaps from his martyrial shrine in Antinoe. Paul Hetherington's interesting study of the Esztergom staurotheque (11) modifies its proposed dating and provenance and proposes a change in its function from apotropaic relic protector to stationary visual icon.

There is a cluster of studies on gems and jewelry, some including catalogues of a body of material. Catherine Johns (2) places the small, late Roman body chain of the Hoxne Hoard in the context of the known examples and depictions to suggest it might have been made for an adolescent bride. A catalogue of mostly undistinguished early Christian intaglios and rings bought by the British Museum in 1856 accompanies Paul Corby Finney's account of their collector, "Abbe James Hamilton: antiquary, patron of the arts, Victorian Anglo-Catholic"(21). Jeffrey Spier organizes about 48 "Middle Byzantine (10th-13th century AD) stamp seals in semi-precious stone" (14) by type of stone and by shape to find a fine early group of intaglios in bloodstone, jasper, lapis lazuli, chalcedony and rock crystal, related to a revival of cameo-carving in the tenth century. A coarser rock-crystal group with carved handles includes examples with Latin script and may be later. Owners and use remain mysterious because of the lack of personal names and the relatively little study of the numerous related Middle Byzantine metal stamp and ring seals. And John Cherry's "Containers for Agnus Deis" (19) appends a catalogue of British finds to a survey of continental and English testimonies and examples, many including enamel.

His discussion emphasizes these are not simply personal ornaments, but wearable cases for amuletic use of the paschal candle, increasingly popular in the late Gothic West. Spier's stamp seals, too seem to have been wearable, pierced or mounted in metal for suspension on a chain. And both their medium and their motifs (Holy Riders, busts of a saint) are related to amuletic aspects not only of cameos, but of other tokens, seals and stamps in the East. John Nesbitt's "Apotropaic devices on Byzantine lead seals and tokens in the Collections of Dumbarton Oaks and the Fogg Museum of Art" (13) introduces the characteristics and uses of seals and tokens as it presents some unpublished examples with iconographies related to amulets, from the sixth and seventh centuries. Nesbitt shows connections in the format and design of tokens, seals, amulets and ring bezels, while establishing their typically distinct treatments of personal names and monograms, inscribed saints, and invocations. His group includes some examples with mixed traits. A 'poor token,' or treatment ticket, labels the bust of a saint with the inscription "under Isidoros" and puts his office, chief physician, in a box monogram on the other side, like the name on a seal. A token with Holy Rider and monogram Alexandrou, also looks like a seal in format, but Nesbitt suggests the monogram may label the rider rather than the issuer.

Holy Riders on these seals figure again in Christopher Walter's iconographic study of "Saint Theodore and the Dragon," as indications of a likely pre-iconoclastic emergence of a dragon legend and iconography for Theodore Tiron. The article surveys examples of the scene to identify a late-thirteenth-century enamel icon in the Hermitage with the inscription "O Agios Theodoros O Batheriakes" as the icon of the shrine of Theodore the Recruit "O Bathyrrhyakites" in the Byzantine district of Bathys Rhyax, founded by Justinian and still used in the late twelfth century. If so, the unusual iconography of spearing the serpent on foot, while the horse on which Theodore usually rides is tied to a tree, may not be best explained as a late thirteenth-century visualization of the low military status of the Recruit. If this Theodore is identified with the icon of a famous ancient shrine, it may be evidence of possibly earlier variations on the theme of standing or riding serpent-slayers.

Studies by Jas Elsner of the Projecta casket of the Esquiline Treasure (4) and by Liz James of empress weights (7), are more iconological and both deal with female roles and images in late antiquity. James quite correctly treats the empress weights as not portraits of particular empresses, but as related to personifications, among which are many with imperial attributes but labels related to property, good fortune, and magnanimity. She identifies empress weights as official iconographies of female imperial power to set up as a paradox "the problematic concept of the powerful woman," which then explains why the image of the empress has to be "mythologized" by assimilation to related weights depicting Tyches or Athena. The concept of power is rather blunt and does not deal with any historical powers or officially promoted roles of empresses. Steelyard weights are never placed with respect to the powers who might have issued, regulated or used them. Elsner's extended analysis of the female ideals represented on the Projecta casket is more nuanced. The paper includes a review of recent scholarship on the dating and preservation of the piece, but is primarily devoted to the resonances between the toilet of the marine Venus and the bath of "Projecta," parsing female enlistment in the traditional "oscillation of the wife between being matron and being Venus, between robing and nudity, within a married life in which (at least on the fronts depicted within the casket) she is to some extent empowered."

Problems of authenticity, replication, and forgery figure in Anthony Cutler's presentation of Veroli Casket reproductions (22); Judy Rudoe's investigation of Venetian Glass commercial reproductions and pastiches of early Christian glass (23); Hugh Tait's rediscovery of a second version of a mid-nineteenth-century fake early Byzantine chalice; and Paul Williamson's report (6) on the radiocarbon dating of the Symmachorum ivory. This last confirms art historical arguments that it is definitely not a nineteenth-century forgery, since the ivory is probably from an early third-century elephant. Dates possible for two of the Grado ivories are not specific enough to allow confirmation either of the identification with Heraclius's gift of an ivory throne to Grado's St. Mark or of Weitzmann's attribution to seventh/eighth-century Palestine. But they seem to rule out close relationship to the Salerno ivories, one of which tests out as from an elephant that died between 780 and 1010. As for the Symmachorum panel, even the late end of the range is a bit earlier than the usual attribution of the style. This non-scientist wonders whether it is a coincidence in the only 68% probability of these ranges that they both skew early. Is there any reason to expect a similar skew in the 68% probable results for the Grado pair? And why should the 68% confidence in 650-720 be more emphasized than the 68% confidence in 740-770 for the same ivory? The later range starts to seem more distant from the throne theory, even possibly closer to the Salerno result. The results certainly invite further testing of related pieces to improve the statistical sample, though the technique seems still too coarse grained to refine dating on the art historical scale. The collection concludes with Chris Entwistle's discussion of the roles of British Museum and Colonial and Foreign Office participants in attempts to gain or regain possession of parts of the second Cyprus Treasure, including David Plates, a discussion highly relevant to current debates over the roles of nationalism and colonialism in museum collection and display, as well as problems of ownership and ethics in collecting.