Franziska E. Shlosser

title.none: Rosenqvist, ed., Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture (Franziska E. Shlosser)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.012 06.10.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Franziska E. Shlosser, Concordia University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Rosenqvist, Jan Olof, ed. Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture: Papers Read at a Colloquium Held at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1-5 December, 1999. Series: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul Transactions, vol. 13. Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 2004. Pp. 169. $45.00 (pb) 91-86884-12-3, ISSN 1100-033333. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.12

Rosenqvist, Jan Olof, ed. Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture: Papers Read at a Colloquium Held at the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 1-5 December, 1999. Series: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul Transactions, vol. 13. Stockholm: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 2004. Pp. 169. $45.00 (pb) 91-86884-12-3, ISSN 1100-033333. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Franziska E. Shlosser
Concordia University

The book Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture edited by Jan Olof Rosenquist consists of nine papers presented at a Byzantine colloquium held in 1999 at the Swedish Research Institute at Istanbul. The unifying theme of these papers is the isolation of Byzantine culture in the Palaiologan period on account of the Empire's decline in territory and political power on the one hand, but reaching out and interacting with its neighbours on the other. Hence the title of the volume: Interaction and Isolation. In his preface, the editor points to a not uncommon phenomenon in which decline of political power is often accompanied by a cultural flowering stimulated by greater curiosity about matters outside a culture's borders. Developments in Western Europe at this time seem to have been an especially important influence on Byzantine culture. Rosenquist judges this new openness as a result of the political and economic dangers faced by Constantinople on account of Turkish advances against the city. Although the Palaiologan Renaissance was short lived, it was impressive none the less in its achievements, and the developments it inspired outside its narrow borders, especially in the Peloponnese and Serbia. Another important stimulus of late Palaiologan culture, Rosenquist argues, was the ever-present influence of Antiquity. Aspects of this cultural mixture are the subject of the essays in this volume. (A list of authors and titles is at the end of this review).

In the first essay Bente Kiilerich looks at aesthetic aspects of Palaiologan art. The author analyses the mosaics in the Chora that may at first seem mannered and superficial but, according to Kiilerich, are highly sophisticated and multifaceted. The conclusion of the essay is subtitled a Palaiologan aesthetics of denial (24). The artists of the mosaics in the Chora created an illusion of grandeur that in reality no longer existed in the much diminished society of Constantinople. The mosaics seem to reflect the world of Metochites (1260/61-1332) in the view of Kiilerich: A world that was inhabited by "rose-clad and bejewelled ladies." Kiilerich finishes by saying, "[t]he image makers in the Chora-like Alice in Wonderland have gone through the looking glass and entered a different world." (26).

Øystein Hjort too looks at the mosaics of the Chora (KARIYE CAMII) but relating them not to aesthetic aspects but to architecture and space as narrative. The author speculates that the architecture depicted in the mosaics are prompting certain associations in the beholder's mind, and thereby contribute to change "telling into knowing" by transforming understanding of the narrative told in the mosaics into knowledge of it. Hjort assumes that despite an often "impossible" quality of the architectural elements in the mosaics, they had a common source that the artists were familiar with, and used cleverly in the pendentives and cupolas in a "constant correlation between time and space, between space and action" (41). Hjort judges the sometimes bizarre construction of the architecture in the pictures of the Chora to be "neither absurd nor pointless: they are expressive and contribute to the production of empathy and the creation of meaning" (43).

The third essay written by Karin Hult discusses Theodore Metochites, the restorer of the Chora, as a literary critic. The learned Byzantine statesman used concepts of literary criticism borrowed from a work on style by Hermogenes of Tarsus, who had lived in the second century AD. Metochites, according to Hult, took it for granted that the meanings of Hermogenes' categories of style were familiar to his readers. The authors discussed by Metochites in his essays published as Semeioseis gnomikai (Miscellanea philosophica et historia) in 1326 are those he himself liked best. He favours Josephus for his style, Synesius for his style and content, and Plutarch mainly for content. Metochites generally prefers writers whose works were written in the type of style that Hermogenes classified under afeleia, Simplicity. Hult suggests that Metochites liked this style because of his own preference of philosophy for which it was best suited. This preference, so Hult, does not preclude, however, that he may have approved of other styles for different types of literature. Karin Hults' discussion of Metochites as literary critic illustrates nicely "the ever-present influence of Antiquity" that Rosenquist mentions in his preface.

René Gothóni describes the condition of Mount Athos at the end of the Byzantine Empire. He states that many monasteries on the Holy Mountain saw their greatest Renaissance during the period 1261-1453. The Athonites, says Gothóni, played an important role in the power struggle within the Byzantine Empire during the Palaiologan reign, and timed well their recognition of new masters in for ever-changing situations. The Holy Mountain was furthermore an advocate of the Hesychast movement which is still a force on Mount Athos today. Gothóni continues explaining how the Holy Mountain had become both multinational and pan-Orthodox by recounting the history of the conversion of the Slavic people. He concludes his essay saying that "The Orthodox "corridor" between Western Europe and Central Asia, together with the widening network of monasteries in the Balkans, provided the Athonites with the support they needed . . ." (69) to restore ruined monasteries, and nurture a spiritual movement like Hesychasm. A balance of isolation from worldly affairs but interaction with societies that gave support to the Holy Mountain guaranteed the continued existence of its monasteries.

In the next essay, Hjalmar Torp talks about the wall-paintings at Mistra. He gives a brief historical overview of how Mistra, which he calls the medieval heir to Sparta, came about. The Chronicle of the Morea tells how William II of Villehardouin searched for a place he could fortify, and found "a strange hill" on which he ordered a castle to be built. He named it Myzethra. In time the place reverted back to the Byzantines and became the seat of a provincial governor but was finally handed over "without struggle" to Mehemet II the Conqueror. The essay continues with a discussion of the paintings in the Metropolis Church (St. Demetrius) saying that the paintings are not randomly grouped but follow an established iconographical scheme going back to the eighth century. According to Torp, the architecture of the church and its painting are rooted in a local tradition, and were executed by artists from the region. The essay ends with a discussion of the Aphendiko, the katholikon of the monastery of Brontochion, founded by Pachomios the great protosynkellos of the Peloponnese. Torp places these frescoes into a larger context saying that it would appear that artists were brought from places like Thessalonike or even Constantinople at the calling of Pachomios. He finishes by asking if the exquisite wall paintings of Pachomios' katholikon could have given rise to a school of wall-painting in the region.

Siri Sande takes a look at the Petropigi fortress on the Via Egnatia. This small fortress lies 20 kilometers east of Kavala, and was excavated by the Norwegian Institute at Athens in 1993-1999. The fortress reflects three phases of which the first two seem to be Late Byzantine while cloisonné work in the third phase shows parallels in Early Ottoman constructions in Western Thrace. There is evidence that phase three dates to the early fifteenth century. Sande states that the fortress was probably built after the reconquest of Constantinople in 1260. According to the author, this late period which is often seen as a period of decline shows in fact a surprising number of new buildings in the Balkans. The fortress of Petropigi was a statio in the Byzantine period but was changed into a han by the Ottomans. Sande sees in this change evidence of acculturation demonstrating how the Ottomans took over what they found, and adopted it to their own purpose. There is a growing interest, argues the author, in secular architecture dispelling the notion that "these peoples spent their lives praying in churches and mosques, with occasional visits to the bath house. . ." (99). Sande hopes that studies like that of the fortress of Petropigi will help to improve our knowledge of the transition from the Byzantine to the Ottoman administration in the Balkans.

The next essay discusses the literary and pictorial sources of the Holy Face of Edessa. The author of the essay, Ewa Balicka-Witakowska, begins with a short description of the miraculous image, and continues with the story of its donation to San Bartolomeo. The icon had the reputation of being the true image of Christ, and is often mentioned in written sources from 1384 on. The author continues with the adventurous story of the icon and its copies. There is mention of "an icon of the Lord Jesus, depicted in the likeness of the Galilean," in a Syrian Church Historyat an early time. The icon was eventually carried from Constantinople in the sack of the city by the crusaders in 1204, and since then there are two places that claim to have the miraculous picture: San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and San Bartolomeo in Genoa. Balicka-Witakowska relates her observations about the pictorial narrative on the frame of the Genoese icon saying that "a glimpse of the extensive pictorial suite of the Narratio may be preserved on the frame of the Volto Santo (130). She concludes that it is uncertain "whether the compositional and iconographic errors [on the frame of the icon] were those of the artist himself, were transferred from his model, or where a combination of both factors" (132).

Börje Bydén is investigating Greek translations of Latin philosophy. This is intriguing since we are used to think of it rather in terms of Latin translations made from the Greek. In the 1260s and 70s, William of Moerbeke made a revised and extended version of Aristoteles Latinus, and after the reconquest of Constantinople by Michael VIII Palailogos in 1261, philosophical and scientific texts were translated from Latin to Greek, albeit on a smaller scale. We know of two translators involved in this: the well-known Maximos Planoudes, and the lesser known Manuel Holobolos. Bydén tries to establish the identity of the translator of the Diaeresis [1], a work on logic. He comes to the conclusion "that the Diaeresis was produced in the milieu around Manuel Holobolos at the Patriarchal School of Constantinople in 1265-1273; it seems very probable that the Diaeresis and Pachymereses' Philosophia had been transmitted jointly. . ." (157). Bydén ends by speculating that the polymath Pachymeres may have made the translation of the Diaeresis himself as he was one of the few Byzantine writers who knew a little Latin.

The last essay in this collection is by Christian Troelsgård. He discusses the traditions and changes of Byzantine chant in the late Empire and after. Religious music was a very stable element in Byzantine culture, so Troelsgård, who nevertheless detects changes that had taken place in late and post-Byzantine chant. These changes in both repertory and style become very clear in the musical manuscripts of the Palaiologan period. Chants are becoming a piece of art whereas before they had been seen as part of a received tradition, and composers become visible. The author criticizes Western scholars who saw an oriental connection, a Turkish influence, in "Neo-Byzantine "chant. He cites H.W.J.Tillyard who wrote in 1933: "The singers at Constantinople [in the seventeenth century] . . . not only embellished their own hymnody with Oriental ornaments, but also composed music for their masters, the Turks. The result, naturally, was that Greek music became indistinguishable from Turkish . . ."(159-160). The question then is how "oriental" did Greek music become? Many of the musicians of the Greek Church were also court musicians, it seems, and Turkish songs from this period can be found in Greek musical manuscripts. There can also be found influence of Western music in Late Byzantine chant, and Troelsgård considers this influence as ambiguous as the Turkish one. The author finishes by saying: "Abandoning the theory of "oriental degeneration" thus opens the possibility of focusing the dynamics of interior and parallel developments in the musical cultures of the Mediterranean areas of Late and Post-Medieval Europe" (166).

The book Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture is an interesting collection of essays discussing Palaiologan culture in its various facets. The essays comprising the work are generally well written but a whole long paragraph on page 92 is repeated on page 93. The reader is provided with a Table of Contents and a List of Abbreviations. The essays are well documented with footnotes, and are illustrated with line drawings and black and white photography. The essay about Mount Athos has a very useful table listing the monasteries with foundation dates and their founding nations. It has also a small map illustrating what the author calls the "Orthodox corridor" (61). All these various features are very welcome but the work itself will be of interest mostly to specialists in art history, archaeology and literature since some knowledge of Byzantine culture seems to be assumed by the authors of the essays.


1. S.P. Lampros, Catalogue of the Greek Manuscripts on Mount Athos, 2 Cambridge, 1900, 54.

**Authors and Titles**

BENTE KIILERICH, Aesthetic Aspects of Palaiologan Art in Constantinople: Some Problems

ØYSTEIN HJORT, "Oddities" and "Refinements": Aspects of Architecture, Space and Narrative in the Mosaics of Kariye Camii

KARIN HULT, Theodore Metochites as a Literary Critic

RENE GOTHóNI, Mount Athos During the Last Centuries of Byzantium

HJALMAR TORP, A Consideration of the Wall-Paintings of the Metropolis of Mistra

SIRI SANDE, The Petropigi Fortress: A Late Byzantine and Early Ottoman Statio on the Via Egnatia

EWA BALICKA-WITAKOWSKA, The Holy Face of Edessa on the Frame of the Volto Santo of Genoa: the Literary and Pictorial Sources

BöRJE BYDEN, "Strangle Them with These Meshes of Syllogisms!": Latin Philosophy in Greek Translations of the Thirteenth Century

CHRISTIAN TROELSGåRD, Tradition and Transformation in Late Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Chant