The art of personification in Late Antique silver: Third to Sixth Century AD

Watson, Wendy (2013) The art of personification in Late Antique silver: Third to Sixth Century AD. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the extent to which, in an artistic context, personifications, and
allegorical figures and scenes, were embedded in the culture of Late Antiquity from AD 300
to 600. ‘Personification’ can be read both as a noun and a verb, and I explore it in both
senses. My examination is carried out through a series of case studies of figurative imagery
on contemporary silver plate. I make an empirical study of the primary objects within my
thesis in relation to texts and other objects never considered in conjunction before.

The representations on the silver plate discussed in my thesis are broadly divided into three
categories: secular, imperial and cultic. In the secular grouping, I discuss their links to
literature, the theatre, and their place in the dining room. Imperial imagery often featured
personifications and in addition was circulated throughout the known world, and so I
examine the power held by these particular, and predominantly female, figures. Although
pagan cults were by this time dying out, a few surviving cultic objects such as the
Parabiago Plate allow an examination of this form of personification.

During this period there were huge changes as the Roman Empire divided into Eastern and
Western Empires and adopted the Christian faith. The former became the Byzantine
Empire and the latter went into a perceived decline, particularly after the sack of Rome in
AD 410. I look at how pagan personifications and allegorical groups survived this
transition, and assess the significance of this form of continuity.

This thesis demonstrates that in Late Antiquity the art of personification functioned in all
aspects of life. It was a subliminal language, accessible in varying degrees to contemporary
viewers depending on their education and status. It was a potent propaganda tool, and in
what was then a patriarchal society it provided images of strong, powerful females.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Art History
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NK Decorative arts > NK3600 Other arts and art industries > NK6400 Metalwork
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 06 Jun 2013 05:21
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2015 09:39
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/44490

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