In the modern era, the term 'icon' has widely come to denote panel paintings of holy figures from the Byzantine Empire. But the Byzantines used this term more broadly to denote depictions of holy figures in a variety of media, scales and contexts. In Byzantine churches, icons appeared not only on portable panels but also in monumental media, such as mosaics and frescoes, as well as on portable, functional objects, such as Eucharistic vessels and censers. On portable objects, icons moved through architectural spaces and were often partially or completely obscured through the addition of ritual substances, such as bread, wine, fire and incense. These ritual objects became sites of mutual transformation: icons helped consecrate and transform ritual materials like bread and wine, while also being altered by these ritual substances. This talk theorizes such artworks as provisional images designed to be changed or expanded through ritual interventions. The completed icon emerged only through the combination of provisional image and ritual matter, challenging us to consider the importance of ritual for seeing Byzantine art and material culture.
Evan Freeman researches the art and ritual of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. He earned his PhD at Yale University in 2019. From 2020–21, he held an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Smarthistory, the Center for Public Art History, co-editing the Smarthistory Guide to Byzantine Art with Anne McClanan in 2021. He is currently an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Regensburg, where he is studying Byzantine mosaics of the post-Iconoclastic era. He was recently appointed Assistant Professor and Hellenic Canadian Congress of British Columbia (HCCBC) Chair in Hellenic Studies in the Department of Global Humanities at Simon Fraser University, where he will begin teaching in 2023.
What can we learn from the study of a distant premodern culture today? Where does the Roman polity that we call Byzantium stand within the wider medieval world, and how does its place in our imagination shape the way we study Byzantine monuments, objects and sites? This lecture series provides a venue for presenting cutting-edge and innovative research by scholars of Byzantine art, archaeology and material culture. In particular, it seeks to contribute to wider discussions across UBC, SFU, the academic community and the wider public about the cultural heritage and the underrepresented cultures of the medieval world before the age of European colonialism. Given the recent turn towards the Global Middle Ages in medieval studies, we have invited scholars who examine Byzantium and its material culture in an international context and acknowledge the necessity of placing the Byzantine in dialogue with other premodern societies in and beyond the Mediterranean.
This academic year, Green College brings together exciting and important voices in the field of Byzantine studies to showcase the rich variety of disciplinary approaches in the field and to engage critically with a diverse range of topics.
This series is co-hosted with the SFN Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University.