Mosaics of power : superstition, magic and Christian power in early Byzantine floor mosaics

Osbourne, Gavin (2015) Mosaics of power : superstition, magic and Christian power in early Byzantine floor mosaics. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis argues that some Early Byzantine floor mosaics had, in addition to a practical and decorative role, a supernatural function. By this I mean the images and words depicted within the mosaic were perceived as devices to attract powers from a supernatural dimension, for the benefit of those that walked over the mosaic or the building that housed it. The thesis is ultimately a discussion of the Byzantines’ beliefs in the power of art and text, and how they were believed to intervene and affect everyday life.

My examination is carried out with a focus on the floor mosaics produced between the fourth and seventh centuries in the Byzantine Empire. Using an iconographic methodological approach, the thesis explores how certain images and words incorporated within mosaic designs can be seen in supernatural terms. To do so, comparable material objects with clearer supernatural functions will be examined. Primary sources that indicate how certain motifs were perceived to bring about powers will also be analysed. In this thesis, I analyse the different kinds of devices that were depicted to attract supernatural powers and explore why those devices were believed to have the ability to generate powers.

The thesis illustrates how power could be seen as being rooted in Christianity, magic or more unclear sources. Expanding on this discussion, I explore how a single mosaic could incorporate elements from several sources, dispelling scholarship that portrays the Early Byzantine period as predominately influenced by Christianity. The other key function of the thesis is to emphasise the fact that mosaics can be considered in terms of the conscious design process of their construction, placing them within the same category as gemstones and icons in terms of purposeful objects.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Art History
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR > N5300 History > N5940 Medieval art > N6250 Byzantine art
N Fine Arts > NA Architecture > NA3320 Architectural decoration > NA3750 Mosaic. Tesselated work. Terrazzo work
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2015 14:49
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 10:00
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/54017

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