Flavia Vanni

Flavia Vanni

Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

Title of thesis:  Byzantine stucco decoration 850-1453. Cultural and economic implications across the Mediterranean world.
Supervisor: Professor Leslie Brubaker, Dr Dan Reynolds
Funding: AHRC - Midlands3Cities

Qualifications

  • MRes in Byzantine Studies (University of Birmingham)
  • MA in Art History (‘La Sapienza’ Università di Roma)
  • BA in Art History (‘La Sapienza’ Università di Roma)

Biography

My interest in Byzantine Art history dates back to my first year of undergraduate inRome (‘La Sapienza Università di Roma). I was fascinated by the module on Byzantine Art and my interest in Byzantine material culture was cemented by a trip to Istanbul the same year.

My BA and later MA studies, both in Art History, were influenced by the interest in Byzantium. Besides Art History,  I also undertook related modules in  History, Archaeology, Conservation, Museology and Medieval Literature.

During the final year of my MA studies, I had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of Byzantine inlaid sculpture. It was during this period of research that became aware of the lack of study about the stucco decorations in the Middle-Byzantine period

I addressed this topic in my MA dissertation, but realised that this  research only represented the starting point of a wider field.

The following year I came to Birmingham for an MRes in Byzantine Studies which allowed me to expand my knowledge and my skills in text translations and economy. My thesis was focused on textual evidence about stucco workers and stucco artefacts.

I have augmented these skills with additional training in archival practices during an in internship at the Sovrintendenza per i Beni archeologici del Lazio (Italian Cultural Heritage Trust for archaeological findings)  and at the Centro di documentazione di Storia dell’arte bizantina of the ‘La Sapienza’ Università di Roma (Centre for the documentation of Byzantine art history).

Finally, I collaborated with the Institute for Applied technologies at Cultural Heritage (ITABC) of the CNR of Rome (National Centre for Research) for the documentation of the Byzantine site at Umm al-Rasas (Jordan).

Teaching

  • Teaching assistant 2017-2018 for the module ‘Barbarians and the Transformation of Roman world’, lecturer Dr. Gareth Sears.
  • Teaching assistant for the year 2017-18 for the module ‘Byzantium, the Transformation of the Roman World and the Rise of Islam (330-850)’, lecturer: Dr. Daniel Reynolds.

Doctoral research

PhD title
Byzantine stucco decoration 850-1453. Cultural and economic implications across the Mediterranean world.
Supervisors
Professor Leslie Brubaker and Dr Daniel Reynolds
Course
Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies PhD/MA by Research (On-Campus or by Distance Learning)

Research

My project analyses stucco decoration in Byzantine buildings between 850 and 1453. Stucco (a mix of gypsum, water and sand) is easy to mould and equally easy to destroy and for these reasons it it often considered an inexpensive material. In Byzantium, it was used for interior decoration apparently as an inexpensive substitute for stone. Since scholars have mostly focused on long-lasting materials (marble, mosaics, frescoes and stone carvings), ephemeral materials such as stucco have never been systematically studied. Yet stucco offers a unique insight into economic history (and the related history of guilds and workshops) as well as cultural history. Its inexpensive nature provides valuable information about non-elite (and elite) customer demand, and hence economic history. Similarly, it tells us about transferable workshop skills, because stucco was used for both domestic furniture and church wall decoration, including, sometimes, the haloes of painted figures. Stucco thus blurs the distinction between sculpture and painting.

Other activities

Conference papers

  • ‘Does a cheap material makes a patron poor? Reconsidering stucco in Byzantine architecture’, at International Medieval Congress. Leeds 2nd-6th July 2017.
  •  ‘Transferring skills and techniques across the Mediterranean: some preliminary remarks on stucco in Italy and Byzantium’, free communication at Global Byzantium. The 50th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. Birmingham 25th – 27th March 2017.  
  • ‘Working Stucco in Byzantium: Some Evidence from the Written Sources’, free communication in the Thematic session ‘Applied arts of the Byzantine world ‒ part 2’, at the 23rd International Congress of Byzantine Studies, Belgrade 22-27 August 2016.
  • ‘Aspetti meno noti della scultura mediobizantina: la decorazione a stucco’, communication at the VIII Congresso Nazionale dell’Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini, Ravenna 25-27 settembre 2015.

Membership of organisations

  • member of the ‘Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies’.
  • member of the ‘Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini (Italian Association for Byzantine Studies).

 

Conference organisation

  • Main organiser of: Hurt and healing: the 18th Postgraduate Colloquium of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies. Birmingham 2nd July 2017.   
  • Organiser of the four panels entitled ‘Skint: peasantry and poverty in Byzantium’ at the International Medieval Congress. Leeds 2nd-6th July 2017.

Research grants received

  • 2014-2015 Path of Excellence, ‘La Sapienza Università di Roma.

Academia.edu URL

Publications

  • ‘Transferring skills and techniques across the Mediterranean: some preliminary remarks on stucco in Italy and Byzantium’, in Proceedings of Global Byzantium. The 50th Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. Birmingham 25th – 27th March 2017. (forthcoming).
  • ‘Aspetti meno noti della scultura mediobizantina: la decorazione a stucco’, in Atti del VIII Congresso Nazionale dell’Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini, Ravenna 25-27 settembre 2015.(forthcoming).

Reviews

  • Nicholas Melvani, Late Byzantine Sculpture. (Studies in the Visual Cultures of the Middle Ages, 6). Turnhout: Brepols 2013. Pp. X, 299 + 114 illustrations, 5 drawings, 10 colour plates. In: Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 14, 2 (October 2017), pp. 314-315.