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  • Leslie Brubaker

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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1 For a good overview, see H. Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (1986); Donner, F., The Early Islamic Conquests (Princeton, 1981).

2 For good introductions to this subject see K. Creswell, ‘The Lawfulness of Painting in Early Islam’, Ars Islamica, 11/12 (1946), 159–66, repr. in Early Islamic Art and Architecture, ed. J. Bloom, The Formation of the Classical Islamic World 23 (Aldershot, 2002), 101–8; O. Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art (New Haven, 1973), 75–103. For the passages quoted, see ibid., 86.

3 For the Dome of the Rock, see The Dome of the Rock, ed. S. Nuseibeh and O. Grabar (1996); for Qasr Amra, M. Almagro et al., Qusayr ‘Amra. Residencia y baños omeyas en el desierto de Jordania (Madrid, 1975); for Kirbit al-Mafjar, Hamilton, R., Khirbat al-Mafjar. An Arabian Mansion in the Jordan Valley (Oxford, 1959); for the Great Mosque, Flood, F., The Great Mosque of Damascus. Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture (Leiden, 2001). More generally, see Fowden, G., ‘Late Antique Art in Syria and its Umayyad Evolutions’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, 17 (2004), 282304.

4 Brown, P., The Cult of the Saints. Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago, 1981); L. Brubaker, ‘Icons before Iconoclasm?’, Morfologie sociali e culturali in europa fra tarda antichità e alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull'Alto Medioevo 45 (Spoleto, 1998), 1215–54.

5 Bieler, Ed. L., in Itineraria et alia geographica, Corpus christianorum, series latine 175 (Turnhout, 1965), 231–2; Eng. trans. Wilkinson, J., Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Warminster, 1977), 114–15.

6 L. Brubaker, ‘In the Beginning Was the Word: Art and Orthodoxy at the Councils of Trullo (692) and Nicaea II (787)’, in Byzantine Orthodoxies, ed. A. Louth and A. Casiday (Aldershot, 2006), 95–101.

7 The text is known only through later citation in John of Damascus and the iconophile florilegia; John of Damascus, Against Those Who Attack the Divine Images, iii, 73: ed. B. Kotter, Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos, iii: Contra imaginum calumniatores orationes tres, Patristische Texte und Studien 17 (Berlin, 1975), 174; Eng. trans. D. Anderson, St John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, Three Apologies against Those Who Attack the Divine Images (Crestwood, NY, 1980), 96.

8 The history of iconomachy is discussed at length in L. Brubaker and J. Haldon, Byzantium in the Era of Iconoclasm (Cambridge, forthcoming). For the terminology, see Bremmer, J., ‘Iconoclast, Iconoclastic, and Iconoclasm: Notes toward a Genealogy’, Church History and Religious Culture, 88 (2008), 117.

9 Pentcheva, B., ‘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.

10 For details to flesh out this cursory summary, see Haldon, J., Byzantium in the Seventh Century: The Transformation of a Culture, rev. edn (Cambridge, 1997).

11 See S. Brock, ‘Syriac Views of Emergent Islam’, in Studies on the First Century of Islamic Society, ed. G. Juynboll (Carbondale, IL, 1982), 9–21, 199–203 (trans. at 9), esp. 10–11, 16–17; repr. in idem, Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity (1984), study 8.

12 The most important contemporary sources are a history attributed to a certain Sebeos (J. D. Howard-Johnston and F. Thomson, The Armenian History Attributed to Sebeos (2 vols., Liverpool, 1999)), the church councils of 680 and 691 and a series of apocalyptic texts, the most important of which is that of pseudo-Methodios: W. E. Kaegi, ‘Initial Byzantine Reactions to the Arab Conquests’, Church History, 38 (1969), 139–49; Brock, ‘Syriac Views’; and the articles collected in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i: Problems in the Literary Source Material, ed. A. Cameron and L. Conrad, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 1 (Princeton, 1992).

13 See Brock, ‘Syriac Views’, 15–17; R. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 13 (Princeton, 1997).

14 G. Reinink, ‘Ps.-Methodius: A Concept of History in Response to the Rise of Islam’, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i, ed. Cameron and Conrad, 149–87; idem, Die syrische Apokalypse des Pseudo-Methodios, Corpus scriptorium christianorum orientalium 541 (Louvain, 1993); Brock, ‘Syriac Views’, 19. For an overview of the political situation, see Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century, 69–78.

15 The Council in Trullo Revisited, ed. G. Nedungatt and M. Featherstone, Kanonika 6 (Rome, 1995).

16 Brock, ‘Syriac Views’, 19; Reinink ‘Ps.-Methodius’, esp. 178, 181, with additional literature.

17 Reinink, ‘Ps.-Methodius’, 181. It now appears unlikely that this conversion was substantial till the ninth century, but the fears were nonetheless real.

18 See J. Herrin, ‘“Femina Byzantina”: The Council of Trullo on Women’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 46 (1992), 97–105; Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century, 333–7.

19 Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, i, ed. A. Kashdan et al. (Oxford, 1991), 327–8; M.-F. Auzépy, La vie d'Étienne le Jeune par Étienne le Diacre. Introduction, édition et traduction, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Monographs 3 (Aldershot, 1997), 262 n. 393.

20 Council in Trullo, ed. Nedungatt and Featherstone, 180–1; an extended version of this argument appeared in Brubaker, ‘Art and Orthodoxy’.

21 See, e.g., L. Brubaker, Vision and Meaning in Ninth-Century Byzantium. Image as Exegesis in the Homilies of Gregory of Nazianzus, Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology 6 (Cambridge, 1999), 19–58.

22 For discussion of this phenomenon, see Brubaker, ‘Art and Orthodoxy’.

23 J. Haldon, ‘The Works of Anastasios of Sinai: A Key Source for the History of Seventh-Century East Mediterranean Society and Belief’, in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, i, ed. Cameron and Conrad, 107–47.

24 Ibid., 132.

25 See Flusin, B., ‘Démons et sarrasins. L'auteur et le propos des Diègèmata stèriktika d'Anastase le Sinaïte’, Travaux et mémoires, 11 (1991), 380409, but on the problems with the text see also L. Brubaker and J. Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era (ca 680–850): The Sources, Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman monographs 7 (Aldershot, 2001), 254 n. 41. On the role of icons in the treatise, see Brubaker, ‘Icons before Iconoclasm?’, 1250 n. 114.

26 Similarly, the focus of much popular theological literature was about the nature of divine authority, the relationship between right belief and human experience, and the extent to which divine intervention in human affairs could be demonstrated. See further Haldon, Byzantium in the Seventh Century, esp. 144–5.

27 Ed. Bieler, Itineraria, 231–2; trans. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, 114–15.

28 See Brubaker, L., ‘Byzantine Art in the Ninth Century: Theory, Practice, and Culture’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 13 (1989), 2393; Nelson, R., ‘To Say and to See: Ekphrasis and Vision in Byzantium’, in Visuality Before and Beyond the Renaissance. Seeing as Others Saw, ed. Nelson, R. (Cambridge, 2000), 143–68.

29 Barber, C., Figure and Likeness. On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine Iconoclasm (Princeton, 2002), 122.

30 Alexander, P., The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople. Ecclesiastical Policy and Image Worship in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford, 1958), 189213; Barber, Image and Likeness, 107–23, both with additional bibliography.

31 Theodore of Stoudion, letter: Theodori Studitae Epistulae, i, ed. A. Fatouros, Corpus fontium historiae byzantinae 31/1–2 (Vienna, 1992), 17; trans. C. Mango, The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312–1453 (Englewood Cliffs, 1972), 174–5.

32 See, e.g., Barber, Figure and Likeness, 122–3.

33 Ibid., 137.

34 For a good overview, see Ganz, D., ‘Theology and the Organisation of Thought’, in New Cambridge Medieval History, ii, ed. McKitterick, R. (Cambridge, 1995), 758–85, esp. 773–5.

35 Freeman, A., ‘Carolingian Orthodoxy and the Fate of the Libri Carolini’, Viator, 16 (1985), 65108; eadem, ‘Scripture and Images in the Libri Carolini’, Testo e immagine nell'alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull'Alto Medioevo 41 (Spoleto, 1994), 163–88.

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

38 Ibid..

39 See Ganz, ‘Theology and the Organisation of Thought’; and for Claudius J. van Banning, ‘Claudius von Turin als eine extreme Konsequenz des Konzils von Frankfurt’, in Das Frankfurter Konzil von 794, Kristallisationspunkt karolingischer Kultur, ii: Kultur und Theologie, ed. R. Berndt (Mainz, 1997), 731–49; Gorman, M., ‘The Commentary on Genesis of Claudius of Turin and Biblical Studies under Louis the Pious’, Speculum, 71 (1997), 279328.

40 R. Schick, The Christian Communities of Palestine from Byzantine to Islamic Rule: A Historical and Archaeological Study, Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 2 (Princeton, 1995); Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era: The Sources, 30–6.

41 M. Piccirillo and E. Alliata, Umm al-Rasas/Mayfa'ah, i:0 Gli scavi complesso di Santo Stefano, Studium biblicum franciscorum, Collectio major 28 (Jerusalem, 1994); Schick, Christian Communities of Palestine, 472–3.

42 M. Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan (Amman, 1992), 196–201; Schick, Christian Communities of Palestine, 398–9.

43 S. Ognibene, Umm al-Rasas: la chiesa di Santo Stefano ed it ‘problema iconofobico’ (Rome, 2002).

44 See Schick, Christian Communities of Palestine, 210–11.

45 See ibid., 215–17.

46 Griffith, S., ‘What Has Constantinople to Do with Jerusalem? Palestine in the Ninth Century: Byzantine Orthodoxy in the World of Islam’, in Byzantium in the Ninth Century: Dead or Alive?, ed. Brubaker, L. (Aldershot, 1998), 181–94; Brubaker and Haldon, Byzantium in the Iconoclast Era: The Sources, 36.

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