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New Research Illuminates Byzantine Artistic Heritage


A prominent scholar of medieval art spoke at Fordham on Oct. 17 about new research that is shedding light on the full artistic splendor of the Byzantine Empire.

Hundreds of relic containers all over France can give a more complete view of the Byzantine artistic heritage if they are systematically inventoried, said Jannic Durand, curator of objets d’art at the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

He spoke of various relic containers, or reliquaries, that held the body parts of saints or objects associated with saints. Some of the reliquaries are missing, and must be reconstructed through drawings or descriptions hidden in obscure archives. Some are likely waiting to be discovered or identified, he said.

Sometimes, relics or reliquaries that were destroyed long ago can be re-envisioned through engravings, inventories, images and scholarly writings, he added.

In this way, “we can sometimes arrive at a relatively clear vision of the objects which made their way to France” at various times—in the immediate aftermath of the Crusades, but also in the centuries that followed, he said.

It was during the Crusades and shortly after the fall of Constantinople in 1204 that large numbers of Byzantine relics and reliquaries appeared in the West, particularly in France, he said. After the empire had been pillaged, its relics and reliquaries continued to trickle into the West without ever entirely stopping, he said.

Some are entirely preserved, such as the True Cross of Anjou, housed in Baugé, Maine-et-Loire, whose pearls and precious stones indicate its Byzantine origin, he said.

Others can be seen only in photographs, such as the skull of St. Akindynos, which had been stamped with a gilded silver medallion depicting his bust-length portrait. It was stolen from a church in Arbois, France in 1991.

More than 150 people attended the lecture, “Recovering a Part of Byzantine Heritage: The Afterlife of Byzantine Relics and Reliquaries in France,” held in the 12th Floor Lounge of the Lowenstein Building at the Lincoln Center campus.

The lecture drew art historians, medievalists from around the New York area and Byzantine scholars who were in the area for the Byzantine Studies Conference held that weekend at Rutgers University.

Durand visited Fordham through the Forsyth Lectureship, set up by the International Center of Medieval Art to support lectures by a distinguished scholar of medieval art at multiple venues.


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