Nectar and Illusion: Nature in Byzantine Art and Literature

Overview

Nature and Illusion is the first extended treatment of the portrayal of nature in Byzantine art and literature. In this richly illustrated study, Henry Maguire shows how the Byzantines embraced terrestrial creation in the decoration of their churches during the fifth to seventh centuries but then adopted a much more cautious attitude toward the depiction of animals and plants in the middle ages, after the iconoclastic dispute of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the medieval period, the art of Byzantine churches...

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Overview

Nature and Illusion is the first extended treatment of the portrayal of nature in Byzantine art and literature. In this richly illustrated study, Henry Maguire shows how the Byzantines embraced terrestrial creation in the decoration of their churches during the fifth to seventh centuries but then adopted a much more cautious attitude toward the depiction of animals and plants in the middle ages, after the iconoclastic dispute of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the medieval period, the art of Byzantine churches became more anthropocentric and less accepting of natural images. The danger that the latter might be put to idolatrous use created a constant state of tension between worldliness, represented by nature, and otherworldliness, represented by the portrait icons of the saints. The book discusses the role of iconoclasm in affecting this fundamental change in Byzantine art, as both sides in the controversy accused the other of "worshipping the creature rather than the Creator." An important theme is the asymmetrical relationship between Byzantine art and literature with respect to the portrayal of nature. A series of vivid texts described seasons, landscapes, gardens, and animals, but these were more sparingly illustrated in medieval art. Maguire concludes by discussing the abstraction of nature in the form of marble floors and revetments and with a consideration of the role of architectural backgrounds in medieval Byzantine art. Throughout Nature and Illusion, medieval Byzantine art is compared with that of Western Europe, where different conceptions of religious imagery allowed a closer engagement with nature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Nectar and Illusion marshals an impressive corpus of visual and textual evidence in support of its arguments. In the process, it raises a number of questions, some of which it addresses directly and others which, hopefully, shall be taken up in future studies.... Nectar and Illusion is invaluable...for reminding us forcefully that Byzantine visual culture is far richer, more varied, and often, more puzzlingly and delightfully inconsistent than its stately icons of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints would have us believe."—Paroma Chatterjee, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"Henry Maguire traces the complex rise and fall of Byzantine portrayals of the natural world in his beautiful Nectar and Illusion.... The author has marshaled a vast array of examples...to present cogent arguments about the shifting place of nature and other elements of the physical world (such as architecture in Byzantine culture.... [T]he broader brush arguments Maguire draws are magnificent."—Lydia Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

"In this magisterial analysis of Byzantine responses to the natural world, Henry Maguire presents complex and shifting responses to nature with enviable clarity, while showing us how seemingly simple details illuminate the relationship between the earthly and the divine. Anyone interested in Byzantine culture will have to read this book."—Leslie Brubaker, University of Birmingham

"Juxtaposing visual and verbal rhetorics of nature in Byzantium, Henry Maguire offers a vast, stimulating range of analyses to show how knowingly Byzantine imagery inflects its presentation of the natural world. Nonetheless, he concludes that nature, like rhetoric itself, was viewed as seductive: sweet like nectar, but treacherous if taken at face value.—Annemarie Carr, Southern Methodist University

"Nectar and Illusion provides a window into a little discussed aspect of the Byzantine world-the world of nature-into which Henry Maguire once again brings to bear his broad experience acquired through a long and productive career. His keen ability to single out and analyze revealing aspects of the literary heritage in relation to visual and material culture is unmatched in the field."—Carolyn L. Connor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Henry Maguire is Emeritus Professor of Art at Johns Hopkins University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction
I. Nature and Idolatry
II. Nature and Rhetoric
III. Nature and Metaphor
IV. Nature and Abstraction
V. Nature and Architecture
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

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