Late Palaiologan court in Mystras: Syncretic visual culture and dynastic alliances analyses the city’s artistic and cultural production after 1348, when it became the capital of the Despotate of Morea, in light of alliances established through diplomatic, inter-religious marriages between members of the Imperial dynasties and neighbouring ruling polities, such as those between Manuel Kantakouzenos and Isabel de Lusignan, daughter of Guy de Lusignan, King of Armenia and descendant of the King of Cyprus, Theodore I Palaiologos and Bartholomea Acciajuoli, daughter of Neri Acciajuoli Duke of Corinth and Athens, and Theodore II Palaiologos and Cleophe Malatesti, daughter of Malatesta Malatesti Lord of Pesaro and commander of the Venice Republic.
This study shows that, while still essentially Byzantine, the artistic production of Mystras’ workshops is related to the cultural context of the countries of origin of the Despots’ wives. By revealing complex cross-cultural references, it demonstrates that these workshops were able to express features that were not just responses to Constantinopolitan models but autonomous, innovative and syncretic. Thus, through the case study of Mystras, this dissertation enhances our understanding of the sophisticated production of the Empire’s last artistic phase.
Previous art-historical approaches to Mystras have represented its artistic production during the late period as a unique, exceptional case, read within the Byzantine tradition (Millet 1910; Orlandos 1930; Chatzidakis 1980). Mouriki expanded this approach by analysing Mystras’ frescoes and integrating Orthodox Byzantine tradition alongside heterodox elements (Mouriki 1983,1987,1991). Those studies hint at a context of syncretism but never fully expand on it (see however (Kalopissi-Verti 2006) who expands on frescoes of the late period but focuses on a broader context).
My current research suggests a new syncretic analysis of Mystras’ production, considering relations with other geographies, and expands to different disciplines. In this approach – similar to those adopted in studies of different periodization (Brubaker and Haldon, 2011; Gerstel 2013) – the visual confronts the historical, and material culture helps us to understand documentary sources, dealing with a broad range of sources and materials: design and architectural details, frescoed and sculptured decorations, archaeological and literary evidence. It employs a historical syncretic cultural approach, a Kulturgeschichte, which interweaves the cultural values of different objects with the histories of the three Catholic women at the court.
This approach introduces new questions and previously overlooked elements in the study of the artistic production of the late period, and, in particular, sheds new light on the role of these three women, as active agents and epitomes of the cultural syncretism of the multi-layered late Palaiologan society.