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The Art of Death in Byzantium: Funerary Art and Architecture, 1204–1453

Sarah T. Brooks, James Madison University, Summer Fellow 2010

Commemorations for the dead were central to the spiritual and social life of the Byzantine faithful. Whether laid to rest in monumental tombs or in unmarked graves beneath the church floor, the dead were present in nearly every church of late Byzantium. Despite the centrality of death and burial to Byzantine religion and culture, there is no focused study of how burials and other important practices honoring the dead shaped art and architecture in the empire’s final centuries. My study explores the rich and fascinating history of funerary art and architecture, tomb patronage, and commemorative ritual from 1204–1453. During the summer term, I refined my analysis of tomb patronage. Diverse family, social, and economic ties attracted tomb patrons to particular institutions and bound these individuals together in a network of giving that often began before death and extended for decades thereafter. In the case of families supporting a single institution, these ties could last for several generations, even in the face of desperately declining financial resources. The relationships between church founders/restorers and subsequent tomb patrons are especially interesting and can be explored in both the archaeological and literary records, often with the two providing complementary information. Especially helpful to my research were the publications of the Athos Archives, including the many late Byzantine wills and related primary source documentation that they contained, as well as the extensive prosopographical reference works that shed light on specific individuals of the Palaiologan period.