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Dynastic Jewels: A Late Antique Rhetoric of Treasure and Adornment

Where
Dumbarton Oaks
When
November 10, 2022
06:00 PM to 07:30 PM
A lecture about exquisite jewels associated with women of the western court at the turn of the fifth century.

Late Antique poetry has often been characterized by its ‘jeweled style,’ in which authors mobilized ornament, variety, and tessellation for the purposes of visual splendor and immediacy. Jewels, and treasure more broadly, also serve as particularly effective metonyms for power. And historians frequently describe the programmatic effort to bolster dynastic power over the course of the fourth century as a ‘dynastic imperative.’ Turning from poetry to material culture, this paper considers select extant jewels in conversation with these two key scholarly debates. Read in dialogue with the aesthetics of the jeweled style of contemporary poetry as well as the ideology of the dynastic imperative, the paper focuses on exquisite jewels associated with women of the western court at the turn of the fifth century. These treasures worn by women, it is argued, were an integral part of the sustained program of dynasty building in the tumultuous years following the death of Emperor Theodosius I. This talk is part of a larger research project on late antique and early medieval treasure as the index of both power and loss. Studying treasure in this way provides the opportunity to reassess our relationship to the past—that is, our sense of historicity—as we try to make sense of those versions of the past that are championed and others that are elided.

Cecily J. Hilsdale (PhD, University of Chicago) is Associate Professor of Medieval Art and Architecture at McGill University in Montreal and author of Byzantine Art and Diplomacy in an Age of Decline (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She specializes in the arts of Byzantium and the Mediterranean, including Byzantine luxury items as diplomatic gifts and the dissemination of styles, techniques, iconographies, and ideologies of imperium. Her research has appeared in the journals Art Bulletin, Art History, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Gesta, and the Medieval Globe, among others.

Image caption: Enkolpion of Empress Maria, ca. 398, Louvre (RMN-Grand Palais, Musée du Louvre). Louvre website: https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010113866