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Between Image and Sacrament: The Problem of Liturgical “Realism” in Byzantine Art

Warren Woodfin, Queens College, City University of New York, Fellow 2019–2020

I arrived at Dumbarton Oaks in September having outlined a book in four chapters, but I soon found it necessary to expand it to five chapters to include the historical evolution of liturgical images in Byzantine painting. My library research and discussions with other scholars led me to a clearer articulation of the intellectual tradition underlying Eucharistic images. I trace a shift from representing the transcendent aspect of liturgy through what Pseudo-Dionysius would term “dissimilar images” to images that represent the visual experience of the liturgy itself as a form of revelation. Despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19, I completed more than half of my manuscript. Apart from the pandemic’s terrible effects, it prompted reflection on liturgical “virtuality,” as churches scrambled to find ways of continuing their ministries without a congregation present. Alongside the primary focus of my research, I had the pleasure of being at Dumbarton Oaks for the museum’s exhibition Ornament: Fragments of Byzantine Fashion and its companion exhibition Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt at the Textile Museum of George Washington University. In connection with the latter, I spoke at the annual Textile Museum Symposium on the subject of humor in late antique textiles. I gave a second, textile-related paper at the College Art Association conference in Chicago.