“For He Was Made Man That We Might Be Made God:” Visualizing the Path to Theosis in Vat. gr. 1927
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CitationTomaselli, Courtney. 2019. “For He Was Made Man That We Might Be Made God:” Visualizing the Path to Theosis in Vat. gr. 1927. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThe late-eleventh century Byzantine psalter MS Vat. gr. 1927 is illustrated with complex and enigmatic narrative images unique to Byzantine art. Vat. gr. 1927 departs from almost all other illustrated Byzantine psalters by having at least one large prefatory image on a lavish golden background planned for each psalm and ode rather than a few select illustrated psalms and odes or marginal vignettes spread throughout. Vat. gr. 1927 has been called a literal psalter as many of the individual components in its images evoke the text of the psalms. But numerous illustrations portray contemporary para-liturgical practices, images taken from other literary genres or compositionally reworked liturgical festal scenes, and many men dressed as Middle-Byzantine monks in the Byzantine monastic habit. Closer examination of the so-called “literal” scenes reveals that the planner of these prefatory illustrations often combined images based literally on psalm verses in complex ways to both evoke numerous patristic and contemporary commentaries and texts on the psalms, and to create didactic, moralizing compositions related to the monastic life with the ultimate aim of guiding the viewer to theosis, which is a union with God in this life.
Guiding the viewer through the visual lessons of the psalter is King David, who has been put in the position of a monastic spiritual father, to whom one would tell all thoughts and actions and then follow the lessons and advice given. While the practice dates back to the earliest days of monasticism in the Egyptian desert, it became more common in the eleventh and twelfth centuries for lay people to rely on the guidance of spiritual fathers. King David as spiritual father is found nowhere else in Byzantine art, making this manuscript an important witness to developments in Byzantine thought and pious practice that might not otherwise have survived. In many didactic images King David acts directly as spiritual father and guide. With King David as a fulcrum around which action occurs, the “literal” illustrations are used to impart moralizing lessons to the viewer, who is directed by David’s gestures in the proper viewing and interpretation of the overall image and message. Theophany abounds in Vat. gr. 1927, which uses multiple visual strategies to portray Christ, who appears on earth as an active agent in the economy of salvation. Christ also appears enthroned and in unique reworkings of Resurrection imagery to personally direct the fates of mankind in images that conflate present and future to visualize the Second Coming on the pages of the psalter.
Internal evidence in many of the images points to its production at the important Stoudios Monastery in Constantinople under the auspices of the famed abbot and intellectual Niketas Stethatos. This evidence demonstrates that many of the images, lessons, and even visual strategies employed in creating the illustrations, rely on the writings and theology of Symeon the New Theologian, for whom Niketas was a posthumous devotee and compiler/publisher of his writings and saint’s life. Symeon the New Theologian’s thoughts on experiencing God in this life, which may be found subtly expressed in visual form throughout Vat. gr. 1927, became central to pious thought and practice in the Late-Byzantine period. This dissertation reveals vital new insights into the dynamism of theological thought and artistic production of the early period of the Komnenian imperial dynasty in the late-eleventh century.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029546
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