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21.11.31 Rossi/Sullivan (eds.), Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages

21.11.31 Rossi/Sullivan (eds.), Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages

Byzantium in Eastern European Visual Culture in the Late Middle Ages is based on the editors’ project “North of Byzantium: Medieval Art, Architecture, and Visual Culture in Eastern Europe” ( and includes papers presented at the 2018 Byzantine Studies Conference held at San Antonio, Texas, augmented with some additional essays. The volume deals with “issues of cultural contact and patronage, as well as the transformation and appropriation of Byzantine artistic, cultural, theological, and political forms alongside local traditions” (4) in the Balkans, the Carpathians, and Russia from the end of the thirteenth to the sixteenth century. It offers new approaches and results, in particular, concerning research in art and architectural history as well as visual culture studies which is also emphasized by the editors in their introduction.

The ten chapters of the volume contain case studies on architecture, painting, embroideries, and inauguration rituals. Many of them show how Byzantine tradition lived on after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, that is, the well-known Byzance après Byzance (Nicolae Iorga, 1953), which, however, has not yet been analyzed sufficiently with reference to art and visual culture.

Justin L. Willson concentrates, in the first chapter, on the wall paintings of the Allegory of Wisdom in the chapel of the military tower erected by the Serbian military commander Stefan Chrelja Dragovol in the Bulgarian monastery of Saint John of Rila. He suggests a shared understanding of the allegory by the Rila painter and Philotheos Kokkinos, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople who wrote about Salomon’s allegory nearly fifty years after the fabrication of the wall painting.

Alexandra Vukovich question the extext to which the inauguration of Dmitrii Ivanovich, the grandson of Ivan III, at the Muscovite court in 1498 was Byzantine. She shows that it took place as a Byzantine-style coronation ceremony, at a time of crisis at Ivan III’s court, “as a mask for political weakness” (58).

The essay of Elias Petrou deals with Byzantine and Serbian intellectual relationship during the Palaiologian period. On the basis of two examples--of the construction of the Xenon of the Kral at Constantinople in the early fourteenth century and the relocation of the library of George Cantacouzenos Palaiologus to the Serbian court in the first half of the fifteenth century--the author is able to show particular influences of Serbia on Byzantine affairs

Marija Mihajlovic-Shipley analyzes a panel most probably commissioned by Jelena of Anjou (1236-1314), wife of King Stefan Uroš I of Serbia (1243-1276), and presumably given as a gift to Pope Nicholas IV (r. 1288-1292). The panel kept today in the Vatican Treasury shows Saint Peter and Saint Paul and, in the lower register, Jelena blessed by an obviously Latin bishop, identified as Saint Nicholas, and two male figures on either side of her dressed in Byzantine type rulers‘ robes, being her sons, the Kings Dragutin and Milutin. The author recognizes in the panel the connection of Jelena’s Western upbringing and her position as Serbian queen and, more generally, a proof of the “ongoing dialogue between East and West and the still existing idea about the unification of the two Churches” (114).

Early-fourteenth-century wall paintings of Christ’s miracles in Serbian churches are the topic of Maria Alessia Rossi’s contribution. With the help of these miracle cycles and a comparative approach she is able to show, on the one hand, a shared Byzantine heritage but, on the other hand, also specific developments and alterations. She explains the latter by the need of the Serbian Orthodox Church to show its independence based on the Slavic liturgy and its calendar.

Ida Sinkević’s paper proves Byzantine- and Western-inspired influences for the mid-fourteenth-century church of the monastery of Dečani in today’s Kosovo. She analyzes “bilingual aspects” (161) and shows that Byzantine andWestern traditions are recognizable in the architecture as well as in the interior and exterior decoration of the church. She accounts for it the Serbian King Stefan Uroš III Dečanski who founded the church and was known for his openness to the West as well as the fact that Catholics lived also in the area and merchants and travelers passed it regularly. The author also sees the church with its fusions as giving rise to a local Serbian style.

Continuities of triconch churches, characteristic for the Middle Byzantine period, in Orthodox church architecture of Serbia and Wallachia are analyzed in Jelena Bogdanović’s paper. Being founded or sponsored by members of the Serbian and Wallachian nobility, they were built from mid-fourteenth to mid-sixteenth century, most of them at a time when these areas were already under Ottoman control. The author recognizes Mount Athos, a center of Orthodox Christianity, with its triconch domed churches as the most influential paradigm for the Serbian and Wallachian circumstances .

Late medieval church architecture in Moldavia represents a synthesis of Western, Byzantine, and local elements which is analyzed in Alice Isabella Sullivan’s contribution to the volume. She concentrates on churches of the fifteenth and sixteenth century and recognizes, among others, the main Byzantine influences in the layout of the churches and the decoration with image cycles, Gothic elements in the buttresses, windows and door frames as well as local character in the proportions of the triconch plan. In the period after Constantinople’s fall, the Byzantine influences still persisted dominant.

Henry David Schilb engages in a comparative study on post-Byzantine church embroidery in Wallachia and Moldavia, based on the general statement that Wallachia’s visual culture showed stronger connections to developments in the Balkans while Moldavia seems to have had stronger connections to the actual Byzantine cultural sphere. With the help of the comparative analysis of a number of surviving, fourteenth- to sixteenth century, pieces he is able to show differences in the Wallachian and Moldavian transformations of the Byzantine tradition.

The last chapter by Danijel Ciković and Iva Jazbec Tomaić engages in the comprehensive analysis of a valuable, fourteenth-century, Venetian textile out of the workshop of Paolo Veneziano and kept today at the London Victoria and Albert Museum: the so-called Veglia Altar Frontal made in Venice for the cathedral of Veglia (Krk) in present-day Croatia, depicting the Crowning of the Virgin with the donor and surrounded by male saints important for the region. The piece can be seen as the most prestigious of a number of altar frontals produced in the fourteenth century by Venetian embroidery workshops for churches at the eastern Adriatic coast. The authors are able to confirm the production date of c. 1358, to identify the donor as Bishop Ivan II of Krk. and to integrate the altar frontal into the political, social, and network circumstances of the period.

Altogether, the ten case studies represent well-researched examples of late medieval and early modern visual culture in the Balkans, the Carpathians, and Russia. They may serve as basis for providing more general insights into respective networks, relations, interconnectedness, influenes, and their patterns. At the moment, it seems to have been too early to offer such as a summary of the volume. One should expect them as the final product of the editors’ project.