Medieval Studies-Mary Jaharis Center Lecture in Byzantine Studies


Thursday, March 12, 2020, 6:15pm to 7:30pm


Harvard Faculty Club, 20 Quincy Street

Alex Brey (Wellesley College), Byzantine Pieces of an Umayyad Puzzle: A Basalt Platform in the Azraq Oasis. Co-sponsored by the Committee on Medieval Studies and the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Hellenic College Holy Cross. CANCELLED

A basalt reservoir platform built within the Azraq oasis in eastern Jordan features carved stones that fit together like the interlocking pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. Combining Sasanian and Byzantine motifs, the bucolic and mythological imagery that once decorated the platform is typical of the courtly architectural decoration produced for the ruling families of the Umayyad caliphate (661–750 CE). This talk will argue that, although the platform does not contain a depiction of the zodiac as such, the logic of its design can be better understood through comparison with a group of Early Byzantine zodiac and celestial diagrams. Situating the platform in the context of the post-Byzantine visual and material culture of Greater Syria during the Umayyad era not only clarifies the composition of the platform, but also the different relationships between image-part and image-whole that were implicit in a variety of late antique media and artistic techniques.