Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium.

Author:Noreen, Kirstin
Position:Book review
 
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Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium. By Bissera V. Pentcheva. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006. 302pp. $60.00.

Recent scholarship associated with exhibitions displaying Byzantine icons, i.e. Metropolitan Museum, Benaki Museum, and the Getty Center--as well as increased attention to the development of the cult of the Virgin Mary, demonstrate the importance of interpreting the role of the Theotokos, or Mother of God, within her historical, liturgical, and textual context. Bissera Pentcheva, in her examination of the Marian cult in Constantinople from the fifth through the thirteenth centuries, expands on existing scholarship through her reevaluation of the development of an "icon-centered Byzantine visual identity" (p. 2) to describe the shift of emphasis from relics to icons in the period following Iconoclasm. Divided in two parts, Pentcheva's text first analyzes the early role of the Theotokos as the protector of Constantinople and the Byzantine state. Then, through an exploration of public ceremonies associated with the sanctuaries of the Hodegon, Blaehernai, and Pantokrator, she demonstrates the interaction between Marian icons and the development of imperial ideology and commemoration. The book, arranged both chronologically and thematically, consists of six chapters, three of which are based on previously published articles.

To substantiate her discussion of the relationship of Marian devotion, imperial power, and public ceremonies, Pentcheva analyzes a broad range of media, including Byzantine lead seals, frescoes, manuscript illumination, panel paintings, and mosaics, as well as textual sources, such as chronicles, epigrams, homilies, and hymns. From this comprehensive approach, Pentcheva concludes that image-centered litaniai, or liturgical processions, had a relatively late development in Constantinople that was linked to legitimizing the military usurpers of the tenth century. The invincibility of Mary, as derived from her virginal motherhood, as well as her motherly sacrifice, further made the Theotokos particularly appropriate for a military context. As applied to Marian images...

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