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John Osborne

Underground burial complex employed principally between c. 200 ce and the 6th century, notably in Rome. They were used by Christian, Jewish, and various pagan communities, all of whom practiced inhumation.

The term catacomb is derived from the Greek name for the area near the church of S. Sebastiano on the Via Appia south of Rome (see Catacombs (Rome)). This became a center for the veneration of SS. Peter and Paul, and by the 4th century was also used as a Christian cemetery known throughout the Middle Ages as the coemeterium ad catacumbas, today the catacomb of St. Sebastian. Similar cemeteries, now known generically as “catacombs,” are also found in central and southern Italy, Sicily, Malta, North Africa, and Egypt, generally in areas where the rock is soft and tunneling easy. In keeping with the Roman prohibition of burial within the city, they are usually located outside the walls of urban centers....

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Term for one of the dated series of ivory diptychs (a hinged pair of oblong panels) that were issued by consuls of the Roman Empire on their succession to office. The earliest surviving consular diptych is that of Flavius Felix, consul of the West in ad 428 (one leaf survives in Paris, Bib. N., Cab. Médailles); the series ended c. ad 541, when the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (reg 527–65) abolished the civil consulate. One side of each diptych panel was carved, usually with the name, cursus honorum (list of offices), and likeness of the official in question, which provide chronological, prosopographical, and ideological information. Many of these diptychs were later used for Christian purposes.

J. Osborne: ‘A Drawing of a Consular Diptych of Anastasius (A.D. 517) in the Collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo’, Echos Monde Class., 35/10 (1991), pp. 237–42C. Bertelli: ‘Un dittico “Longobardo”’, Acta ad archaeologicam et artium historiam pertinentia...

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Article

Robert Ousterhout

[Gr. martyrion]

Term referring to a site that bears witness to the Christian faith, such as a significant event in the life and Passion of Christ, the tomb of a saint or martyr, and his or her place of suffering or testimony. It is also used to mean the structure erected over such a site. Monumental martyria form an important category of Early Christian architecture, and were built according to a variety of plans.

Martyrion is derived from the Greek martys, meaning witness in the legal sense, and first appears in the Septuagint as the evidence for something. By the mid-2nd century ad martys or martyr came to mean someone whose testimony was sealed with suffering and death for the Christian faith, and by c. 350 martyrion or martyrium was commonly used to refer to the location of a martyr’s tomb and the commemorative shrine or church constructed over it. That it had also come to mean a place revered in the scriptures is implied by Eusebios’ description (...

Article

In its most general sense, spolia (pl., from Lat. spolium: ‘plunder’) denotes all artifacts re-employed in secondary contexts, from building blocks reused in a wall to pagan gems mounted on a Christian reliquary. It is a matter of debate whether this broad application of the term is justified, or whether it should be restricted to the relatively small subset of reused objects that were taken or ‘stripped’ (like spoils) from their original context, rather than found, purchased, inherited or otherwise acquired by non-violent means. It is likewise debated when the use of spolia should be considered meaningful, if at all. Arnold Esch defined five possible motives for using spolia: convenience, profanation, Christianization, political legitimation and aesthetic attraction. Michael Greenhalgh has argued for reducing the motives to three (at least with regard to marble): pragmatism, aesthetics and ideology; while Finbarr Barry Flood cautioned against reductive interpretations generated by any taxonomy, insisting that reused objects are mutable in meaning and capable of multiple interpretations during their life cycle....