Jas' Elsner: Iconoclasm as Discourse


Iconoclasm in all pre-modern contexts from antiquity to Byzantium was about 'real presence'. In this paper I explore the longue durée issues leading up to Iconoclasm under three headings - the pre-Christian and early Christian culture of 'real presence' in images, the long history of image-breaking from antiquity and the specific Judaeo-Christian interventions in these problems. I will argue that the activities of both the supporters and the opponents of images in the period known as Byzantine Iconoclasm was a means of thinking through the issues and setting the understanding of the image in relation to its sacred animation on a new and intellectually secure foundation.

John R. Elsner is Visiting Professor of Art History and Classics at the University of Chicago (2004-2013). Since October 2009 he is Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

1985 B.A. at King's College, Cambridge; 1987 M.A. in Art History at Courtauld Institute of Art, London; 1990 Ph.D. in Classical Art at King's College, Cambridge; 1990-91 Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge; 1991-98 Lecturer in Classical and Early Christian Art at Courtauld Institute and 1993-96 Co-ordinator of the MA Programme in Art Museum Studies at Courtauld Institute; 1998-99 Reader in the History of Art at Courtauld Institute, University of London.

Since 2009 Foreign Honorary Member at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, Mass.

Publications include: Art and the Roman Viewer: The Transformation of Art from the Pagan World to Christianity, Cambridge, New York and Melbourne (CUP), 1995; Pilgrimage Past and Present: Sacred Travel and Sacred Space in the World Religions (jointly written with Simon Coleman), London (British Museum Press) and Cambridge Mass. (Harvard University Press), 1995; Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire A.D. 100-450, Oxford: Oxford History of Art (OUP), 1998; Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text, Princeton (Princeton U.P), 2007.

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