"Your body, O Empress, is a treasure of marvelous qualities": representations of Middle Byzantine empresses (780-1081)
This dissertation concerns representations of empresses in Byzantium between 780 and 1081. Although empresses had limited power and authority in Byzantium, they constituted an essential facet of the vision and experience of the imperial hierarchy. This study investigates the visual and verbal imagery through which the Byzantines represented their empresses and the roles and ideological statements they assigned to them.The study combines a thematic approach with an investigation of the separate genres of artifacts in which empresses were represented. It draws together all extant images of empresses in various media and analyzes texts that provide glimpses into the ways in which the empress was imagined in Byzantine thought. The bulk of the evidence and discussion concerns portraits of empresses, yet representations of imperial female saints and allegorical figures are also considered along with verbal and visual images of the Virgin as empress.Chapter I considers the role of empresses in imperial ceremonials, while Chapter II investigates Byzantine imperial portraiture contextualizing representations of empresses. Chapters III through VII examine images of empresses in different media: coins and seals, monumental effigies, ivories, metal-works, and manuscripts. Chapter VIII explores three principal themes that define the visual and mental image of the empress: her physical beauty, her body, and her garments; it also explores the correlation between empresses and the Virgin clad in imperial robes.Pictorial images of Byzantine empresses are reticent, highly standardized, abstract effigies conspicuously removed from the mundane qualities of common experience. They are not intended to represent a perception of reality in an illusionistic or realistic manner, rather they are part of a distinctive world of the visual image that is in a dynamic dialogue with the wider social and cultural context from which it emerges. Representations of empresses lack an independent iconography as no specifically feminine imperial imagery was developed elevating important aspects of the uniquely feminine imperial experience. Rather, images of empresses were integrated into the male imperial iconography and empresses served as attributes or personifications along the side of the emperor, within the image of the imperial family, and in the thought world of Byzantium.
- Art history