The second Cracow Symposium on Byzantine Art and Archaeology, September 5-7, 2012, calls for papers. Here I copy excerpts from the invitation:
The problem of the connections between the prototype and the image was a key point of theological dispute during iconoclastic controversies and mimesis, as an esthetic category, appears in numerous written sources: chronicles, pilgrims’ relations, as well as in vernacular poetry. The idea itself originated in ancient Greece (the famous story about Zeuxis and Parrhasius reported in Pliny’s Natural History) and Rome (the similarity between the emperor and his portrait) but it was maintained by Byzantine theologians even after Iconoclasm. According to them, mimesis seems to go beyond the credibility of a modern hyper-realistic image. It was a part of Divine order, necessary to the existence of the World. The phenomenon has been widely disputed by philologists who investigate medieval parodies of the classical antique style, as well as by historians of philosophy and theologians who study the long transformation of the term’s meaning: from Plato’s artistic imitation of forms (Republic X) to the Christian hypostatic union of the Father and the Son expressed by the resemblance between them. Nevertheless, the issues of understanding mimesis in Byzantine society and its practical use in art seem to be neglected by art historians and archaeologists. Therefore, we would like to invite scholars who are involved in this matter to present their observations.
We would particularly like to turn your attention to three aspects of mimesis in Byzantine culture:
Was it Classical? The term classical conveys a wide range of meanings. It can be related to the ancient Greece of the time of Pericles, as well as to Byzantium – in the sense of its most original achievements of the Golden Age of Justinian (in architecture) and the Macedonian and Comnenian dynasties (in figural arts). Therefore, one can bring it into relationship with the ancient idea of mimesis (in both senses: the Platonic and the Plinian), as well as with the theological concept of homonymia expressed in similarity. In a more literal sense it can also be related to the medieval revival of ancient Classical style and later repetitions of the most typical formulae created in Byzantine art on a classical basis. On the other hand, term “Classical” can be applied to Byzantine art itself, as its determinant. Then it is possible to describe as “Classical” the repetitions of the most typical formulae originally developed in Byzantine art.
Was it Realistic? Word Realistic is easily associated with Realism, which in turn directs our attention to the 19-century artistic movement focused on depicting the surrounding reality by the use of common elements (situations, people and details). However the problem of Realism can be understood wider and in the artistic context it can be related to the general mechanism of perception and methods of its reproduction in art. In that respect, the use of this term to describe various aspects of Byzantine art seems to be justified, of course, not in the sense of the mimetic style but rather as a specific attitude in which technical fidelity of depicted objects is a determinant of realism. This kind of mimesis can be compared to the methods noticed in the ancient Egyptian art.
Was it Imitative? The broadest sense and complexity of the phenomenon are expressed by the adjective Imitative, which derives from the noun imitation that – a literal translation of Greek (lat. imitatio). However, it would be superficial to claim that it is the most befitting term for the Byzantine context. Aristotle’s idea of art as faithful reproduction of physical world formulated in Poetics certainly evolved with time, but reading of sources proves that it Byzantine times it was still known at least as a literary topos. The medieval understanding of copying also differed from the modern concept and the degree of resemblance to the pattern could be much lower, verging on the edge of identification.
The Institute of History of Art & Culture of the Pontifical University of John Paul II (in cooperation with the Byzantinology Commission at the Scientific Committee on Ancient Culture of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Jagiellonian University) extends an invitation to all interested scholars (art historians, archaeologists, historians, philologists and theologians) to participate in the forthcoming Symposium, either by contributing a paper or by attending it as a discussant in the proceedings. Deadline: Paper proposals not exceeding 500 words should be sent to the organizers as soon as possible and not later than January 31, 2012.