Publication details

Purifying Body and Soul. Late Antique Combs, Their Use and Visual Culture



Year of publication 2021
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Convivium : Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Mediterranean : Seminarium Kondakovianum Series Nova
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords Baptism; Early Christian comb; funerary context; grave goods; ivories; Late Antiquity; minor arts; purification; ritual; women in the Early Church
Description Late Antique combs covered with Christian imagery represent extremely challenging but uninvestigated objects. Decorated with representations of Christ’s miracles (e.g., The Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, The Wedding at Cana, The Healing of the Bleeding Woman, etc.), they present some of the essential visual patterns for the Christian identity of their time. Although focusing on tools of daily use may seem odd, this article attempts to understand whether these seemingly mundane objects had a spiritual, possibly ritual, purpose. Following a reflection on the potential role of combs in Late Roman society, the article introduces Christian combs with Christian imagery. A review of the combs’ likely ritual uses based on the few primary sources surviving sheds light on the function of a several examples. Finally, analysis of the images adorning the selected combs as well as of monumental decoration leads to the plausible conclusion that these combs had an initiatory function.
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