Nectar and Illusion

Nectar and Illusion : Nature in Byzantine Art and Literature

By (author) Henry Maguire

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Nature and Illusion is the first extended treament of the portrayal of nature in Byzantine art and literature. In this richly illustrated study, Henry Maguire shows how the Byzantines embraced terrestrial creation in the decoration of their churches during the fifth to seventh centuries but then adopted a much more cautious attitude toward the depiction of animals and plants in the middle ages, after the iconoclastic dispute of the eighth and ninth centuries. In the medieval period, the art of Byzantine churches became more anthropocentric and less accepting of natural images. The danger that the latter might be put to idolatrous use created a constant state of tension between worldliness, represented by nature, and otherworldliness, represented by the portrait icons of the saints. The book discusses the role of iconoclasm in affecting this fundamental change in Byzantine art, as both sides in the controversy accused the other of "worshipping the creature rather than the Creator." An important theme is the asymmetrical relationship between Byzantine art and literature with respect to the portrayal of nature. A series of vivid texts described seasons, landscapes, gardens, and animals, but these were more sparingly illustrated in medieval art. Maguire concludes by discussing the abstraction of nature in the form of marble floors and revetments and with a consideration of the role of architectural backgrounds in medieval Byzantine art. Throughout Nature and Illusion, medieval Byzantine art is compared with that of Western Europe, where different conceptions of religious imagery allowed a closer engagement with nature.

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  • Hardback | 224 pages
  • 160.02 x 236.22 x 20.32mm | 612.35g
  • 16 Aug 2012
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York
  • English
  • 73 black and white halftones, 20 color halftones
  • 0199766606
  • 9780199766604
  • 1,622,507

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Author Information

Henry Maguire is Emeritus Professor of Art at Johns Hopkins University.

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Review quote

Henry Maguire traces the complex rise and fall of Byzantine portrayals of the natural world in his beautiful Nectar and Illusion, which averages an illustration for every other page of text Lydia Wilson, Times Literary Supplement Nectar and Illusion marshals an impressive corpus of visual and textual evidence in support of its arguments. In the process, it raises a number of questions, some of which it addresses directly and others which, hopefully, shall be taken up in future studies ... Nectar and Illusion is invaluable ... for reminding us forcefully that Byzantine visual culture is far richer, more varied, and often, more puzzlingly and delightfully inconsistent than its stately icons of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints would have us believe. Paroma Chatterjee, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

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