Depictions of power in the imperial art of the early Macedonian Emperors: Basil I, Leo VI and Alexander

Churchill, Neil (2016) Depictions of power in the imperial art of the early Macedonian Emperors: Basil I, Leo VI and Alexander. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

The last comprehensive study of Byzantine imperial art was published in 1936
and there have been surprisingly few investigations of the art of the Macedonian
Dynasty, despite their reputation as active propagandists. Most studies of
imperial art have taken a centuries-long perspective, identifying major patterns
but overlooking choices made by or on behalf of individual emperors. This thesis
considers imperial in the reigns of the first three Macedonain Emperors: Basil
(867 - 886) and his sons Leo (886 - 912) and Alexander (912 - 913). It seeks to
understand how they constructed images of their power and what imperial art
says about the power dynamics at Constatinople.

Chapter 1 considers imperial portraits. It concludes that although elements of
the imperial image were unchanging, there were nevertheless important
differences in the public images put forward by each emperor. Basil’s physical
power was often depicted, whilst Leo was depicted as a wise ruler. Aspects of
emperor’s private lives are also visible in their art.

Chapter 2 charts the changing iconography between reigns. It studies the
emergence and development of the motif of an emperor being crowned by a
heavenly figure, which signified the idea of anointing, and its assimilation into
imperial art. The chief innovator in terms of imperial iconography, however, was
Alexander, and not Basil.

Chapter 3 considers Basil and Leo’s records as builders and renovators of
churches, monasteries, palaces and other buildings. Whilst multiple motives were
at work, Basil and Leo acted in different ways. Basil’s activity, it is argued, partly
reflected his response to the earthquake of 869, which might have jeopardised
the perceived legitimacy of his seizure of power in 867.

Chapter 4 considers power relations between the emperor and other members of
the imperial household. It finds evidence of tension, for example between Basil
and his surviving sons Leo and Alexander, as well as examples when imperial
behaviour was not dynastic in character.

Chapter 5 examines the relationship bwteen emperor and patriarch, at a time
when there may have been ideological differences about the extent of imperial
power. It suggests that patriarchal art presented a potential challenge to
unfettered imperial power, which Basil was prepared to accept but which ran
counter to the way that Leo saw his own authority.

The study of imperial art in these decades supports that interpretation that art
was evolutionary and adaptive in character. Yet it was more grounded in the
ideas, chaacter and preferences of individual emperors than has often been
recognised and did, on occasion, respond to topical concerns, hopes and fears.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Art History
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general > NX0440 History of the arts > NX0449 Medieval
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 19 May 2016 12:51
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2018 09:39
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/60892

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