27.01.2016 – Prof. Dr. Maria Parani

Revisiting the Famous Representation of the Procession of the Constantinopolitan Hodegetria at the Vlacherna Monastery in Arta


Mittwoch, 27. Januar 2016, 18.15 Uhr
Hörsaal Kunstgeschichte (02 521),
Georg Forster-Gebäude (Campus), Jakob-Welder-Weg 12


The late thirteenth-century representation of the procession of the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria in Constantinople, located on the west wall of the narthex of the katholikon of the Vlacherna Monastery in Arta (Epiros, Greece), offers a rare glimpse into the use of dress as a means of constructing and communicating identity in medieval Byzantium. The unconventional theme of the mural, along with the unusual posture of the bearer of the icon, the market vignettes that frame the central scene, and, not least, the attire of the depicted figures have all been considered as indicative of the “realistic” nature of the representation, which is generally thought to reflect an actual procession that took place in Constantinople. Given the importance of the depicted dress not only in establishing the “historicity” of the scene, but also in understanding and interpreting it, I propose to take a closer look at the attire employed to characterize the groups and individuals represented in the mural. My aim in undertaking this examination is not simply to explore the Arta painting as a potential source for the study of Late Byzantine dress or to confirm the argument for its verisimilitude. Taking the enquiry further, I will be investigating whether the depicted dress actually supports current interpretations of the composition or whether it invites us to modify or qualify them within the context of a female convent in the Late Byzantine state of Epiros, which was, at the time, precariously poised between East and West politically, but firmly anti-Unionist and Greek-Orthodox religiously.


Maria Parani, Assoc. Prof.: Undergraduate studies at the University of Athens (diploma in History and Archaeology, with a specialization in Archaeology and Art History, 1991), postgraduate studies at University College London (M.A. in Field and Analytical Techniques in Archaeology, 1993) and the University of Oxford (D.Phil. in Byzantine Art and Archaeology, 2000). She teaches at the University of Cyprus since January 2005. Research interests: daily life in Byzantium and the exploration of alternative sources for the study of Byzantine material culture to supplement archaeological data, such as written texts and artistic representations, Byzantine imperial ceremonial and interregional exchange in the field of court culture, Byzantine dress, light and lighting in Byzantium. She has published on Byzantine material culture, especially on dress and jewelry as a mirror of cultural, social and personal identity in Byzantium.


Bibliography: M. Acheimastou-Potamianou, “The Basilissa Anna Palaiologina of Arta and the Monastery of Vlacherna,” in Women and Byzantine Monasticism, Proceedings of the Athens Symposium, 28-29 March 1988, ed. J. Y. Perreault (Athens, 1991), 43-49; M. Acheimastou-Potamianou, Η Βλαχέρνα της Άρτας. Τοιχογραφίες (Athens, 2009); Ch. Angelidi and T. Papamastorakis, “The Veneration of the Virgin Hodegetria and the Hodegon Monastery,” in Mother of God. Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, ed. M. Vassilaki (Milan, 2000), 373-87; S. E. J. Gerstel, “Painted Sources for Female Piety in Medieval Byzantium,” DOP 52 (1998), 89-111; P. Magdalino, “Between Romaniae: Thessaly and Epirus in the Later Middle Ages,” in Latins and Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean after 1204, ed. B. Arbel, B. Hamilton, and D. Jacoby (London, 1989), 87-110; D. M. Nicol, The Despotate of Epiros (Oxford, 1957); A. Stavridou-Zafraka, “The Political Ideology of the State of Epiros,” in Urbs Capta. The Fourth Crusade and its Consequences, ed. A. Laiou, Réalités Byzantines 10 (Paris, 2005), 311-23; A.-M. Talbot, “Affirmative Action in the 13th Century: An Act of John Apokaukos concerning the Blachernitissa Monastery in Arta,” in ΦΙΛΕΛΛΗΝ: Studies in Honour of Robert Browning, ed. C. N. Constantinides et al. (Venice, 1996), 399-409.