Mapping Sacred Landscapes in Byzantium

Veronica della Dora, University of Bristol, United Kingdom, Fellow 2010/11

My project interrogates non-linear landscape perceptions in late antiquity and medieval Byzantium.

Landscape is commonly deemed to be a western European Renaissance invention linked to the theorization of linear perspective as a distinctively modern way of looking at the world. In my discipline, cultural geography, pre-Renaissance representations of the environment have been generally dismissed as “artificial” and “disregardful of perspective.” In this project I attempted to challenge this view and offer a re-reading of this perceived “lack of technique,” or “lack of interest in nature” as a different “way of seeing” and making sense of the world, one emphasizing the visual energeia and memorability of singular elements (or places) over their modern linear integration; one resting on the repetition and superimposition of pre-existing topoi on the physical environment, rather than on its faithful description.

During my stay at Dumbarton Oaks I carried out my research on two fronts. Firstly, I attempted at developing a conceptual framework to engage with “Byzantine landscape” as a specific “way of seeing” the world. Secondly, I researched perceptions of different types of environments, which will form the core of a monograph on Byzantine landscape. While most of my writing here has focused on perceptions of gardens and wilderness, I have also had the chance to expand my past research on mountains and caves, and I am currently gathering materials on oceans, rivers and springs, which will constitute the final substantial section of the book.

Published outputs

I am planning to submit a book proposal of the above-mentioned monograph to CUP over the next few weeks and I am hoping to complete an initial draft of the book by the end of the summer. Other publications I have been working on while here include:

  1. della Dora, V. Topia: Landscape before Linear Perspective, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, accepted.
  2. della Dora, V. Mapping Pathways to Heaven: Identity and the Holy on a Post-Byzantine Topographic Engraving of Meteora, Imago Mundi, currently under review.

della Dora, V. Setting and Blurring Boundaries: Pilgrims, Tourists, and Landscape in Mount Athos and Meteora, International Journal of Tourism Anthropology, just submitted.

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