For my doctoral research, I reassess previous explanations for the transmission of Byzantine iconography to western works of art that have been classified by the classical canon as being manifestations of a “barbarian” culture, attempting to legitimize their fledgling culture through the implementation of Byzantine tropes. The tumultuous relationship between the east and the west during the Late Antique period to the middle Byzantine period and the subsequent visual culture that demonstrates cross-cultural exchange comprises the majority of my analysis. Although this topic has been discussed at considerable length by many prominent scholars, I contribute to the existing body of scholarship by presenting a re-reading of the topic and thereby providing a deeper, interdisciplinary explanation for cross-cultural transmission in the visual arts.
Beginning with Theodoric in the fifth century and covering other rulers such as Charlemagne and the three Ottos, my dissertation focuses on cultures that were in direct competition with Byzantium and the material culture linked to imperial (royal) patronage or content produced by those cultures. The title of Holy Roman Emperor (or equivalent) was one that was highly sought after by both eastern and western rulers alike. Ordained by God, Holy Roman Emperor held dominion over vast tracts of land and many different groups of people. Consequently, these disparate cultural groups began to employ a common visual language that transcended language barriers and spoke of power and divine authority.
An implication of this study is that art was an active participant in the relationship between the east and the west, serving as a communicative device, rather than as the more frequently cited passive role of a conduit for iconographical transmission or cultural legitimization. Therefore, visual culture that demonstrated syncretic features could indicate an attempt to avoid conflict, or even indicate a pre-cursor to conflict.