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What could or should be visually represented was a contested issue across the medieval Christian and Islamic world around the year 800. This article examines how Islamic, Byzantine, Carolingian and Palestinian Christian attitudes toward representation were expressed, and differed, across the seventh and eighth centuries. Islamic prohibitions against representing human figures were not universally recognised, but were particularly – if sometimes erratically – focused on mosque decoration. Byzantine ‘iconoclasm’ – more properly called iconomachy – was far less destructive than its later offshoots in France and England, and resulted in a highly nuanced re-definition of what representation meant in the Orthodox church. Carolingian attitudes toward images were on the whole far less passionate than either Islamic or Orthodox views, but certain members of the elite had strong views, which resulted in particular visual expressions. Palestinian Christians, living under Islamic rule, modulated their attitudes toward images to conform with local social beliefs. Particularly in areas under Orthodox or Islamic control, then, representation mattered greatly around the year 800, and this article examines how and why this impacted on local production.

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J. Bremmer , ‘Iconoclast, Iconoclastic, and Iconoclasm: Notes toward a Genealogy’, Church History and Religious Culture, 88 (2008), 117

B. Pentcheva , ‘The Supernatural Protector of Constantinople: The Virgin and her Icons in the Tradition of the Avar Siege’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 26 (2002), 241

L. Brubaker , ‘Byzantine Art in the Ninth Century: Theory, Practice, and Culture’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 13 (1989), 2393

A. Freeman , ‘Carolingian Orthodoxy and the Fate of the Libri Carolini’, Viator, 16 (1985), 65108

A. Freeman and P. Meyvaert , ‘The Meaning of Theodulf's Apse Mosaic at Germigny-des-Prés’, Gesta, 40/2 (2001), 125–39

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Transactions of the Royal Historical Society
  • ISSN: 0080-4401
  • EISSN: 1474-0648
  • URL: /core/journals/transactions-of-the-royal-historical-society
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