Publication details

An Age of Fragmentation. Evidence from Late Antique Literary, Visual, and Material Cultures



Year of publication 2022
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Convivium. Exchanges and Interactions in the Arts of Medieval Europe, Byzantium, and the Meditteranean
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Keywords cento; colored marble; cumulative aesthetics; fragmentation; open work; Ravenna; (re)appropriation; spoliation; Sant’Agnese in Rome; Santa Pudenziana; varietas; visual poetry
Description Certain aesthetic phenomena of late antique (third to seventh centuries) seem to run parallel in literary, visual, and material cultures, attesting to an apparently coherent cultural transformation triggered off by the penetration of Christianity, especially in the Latin West. This study focuses on various manifestations of “cumulative aesthetics” that seem particularly characteristic of the period, such as cultural spoliation, fragmentation patterns, and the poetics of detail. Additional consideration is given to the changing role of audiences and the general movement toward “open artifacts”, as conceived by Umberto Eco. Accepting these practices as significant semantic strategies common in multiple media to reappropriate the past, the “radical” transformation of late antique society emerges as possible only through the continuity of and contiguity with classical heritage. The latter had first to be dismantled into parts before being reassembled into a new, coherent whole within the newly established prism of Christianity. This “unity in diversity” motif seems to be a dominant communication strategy in late antique visual and literary discourse, both encouraging and authorizing aesthetic experiments with the cultural heritage of the past and consistent with official imperial court propaganda.
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