30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Lena Liepe, "'Byzantios' Reconsidered"

Art historical study of the Scandinavian Middle Ages has of tradition been nationally defined. The geographical selection of the material covered in surveys and in depth investigations as a rule follows the boundaries of today’s national states, and the approaches taken towards the monuments can in many cases be criticized for being too narrowly national, or even regional, hypothesizing topographical patterns in order to define the characteristics of the material rather than aiming towards an understanding that would situate the monuments in internationally defined contexts. In line with this tendency to underestimate the need to regard the Scandinavian works of art against the horizon of the overall development of medieval art and architecture, is the general disregard of the importance of Byzantine connections for Scandinavian medieval art. The division line between the byzantinists and the medievalists has always been pronounced in the Scandinavian art historical milieus, with few scholars overstepping the boundary and next to no participation at each others conferences or in joint publications. As byzantinist Elisabeth Piltz has remarked in a review of the latest major survey of Swedish Romanesque art, the consequence is an often shallow and not seldom misconcieved perception of the nature and significance of Byzantine elements in (in this case) Swedish twelfth century art.1

The paper will take as its point of departure the œuvre ascribed to a 12th century sculptor who has been given the anonymous name ”Byzantios”. The works that have been assembled under this label consist of baptismal fonts and reliefs from churches in Scania and Gotland, and the name given to the master refers to the works’ stylistical characteristics that are considered to be so genuinely Byzantine that the sculptor is assumed to have had his training in a Byzantine environment, possibly Italy. The aim is to relate these works to the broader picture of Byzantine features in Swedish and Scandinavian art in general in the twelfth century, in order to estimate the need to reconsider, in a more systematic way than until now, the degree of impact made by Byzantine art in Scandinavia in the said period.


1 Elisabeth Piltz: review of Signums svenska konsthistoria 3: Den romanska konsten in Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History  65/1996: 61–63.


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