Christian Bodies, Pagan Images: Women, Beauty, and Morality in Medieval Byzantium


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships


History of Art


Byzantine Iconoclasm (ca. 726-843)—when the veneration of icons was officially banned in Orthodox worship—spurred extensive theological reflection on the corporeal versus spiritual nature of Christ and the saints. This project asks whether these religious debates also affected how the Byzantines thought about human bodies, especially those of women. Prior to Iconoclasm, women affiliated themselves with pagan goddesses in direct ways, for example, by wearing jewelry and clothing decorated with images of Athena or Aphrodite. Pagan female figures continued to appear in post-Iconoclastic works of art, however they were no longer depicted on objects directly associated with Christian women’s bodies. This project interrogates transformations in Byzantine conceptions of the female body and attitudes toward its adornment, asking how both Christian and Classical traditions contributed to the regulation of women’s corporeal morality and the formation of female selfhood in medieval Byzantium.