Silvia Pedone
“Tor Vergata” University, Rome

Visual Effects and Visual Infection in Islamic and Byzantine Champlevé Sculpture

The presence of the same or very similar decorative motifs and techniques in different artistic traditions is currently a much-debated topic in art historical studies, particularly in Byzantine studies. Usually the phenomenon is explained through “contacts” or “contagions” connecting different cultures and making possible artistic exchanges, within the wider context of cultural migrations and expansions.
The Mediterranean area offers a still vivid witness of such contagion process, and the present paper aims at exploring it through the analysis of a particular artistic technique, the champlevé sculpture, spread out both in Islamic and Byzantine world. We find this kind of decorative sculpture in monuments symbolically linked to the birth of Islamic art, like the Dome of the Rock, but also in the Balkan area.
The technical features of this production, with the “modularity” and the abstract geometric combinability of its design and visual effects, fostered the spread of mixed or “contaminated” decorative patterns, coming from different cultural tradition, as we can see, for example, in the appropriation and adaptation of palmette motifs or the cufic and pseudocufic characters. This artistic trait d’union had a longstanding influence between the 8th century and the end of Byzantine empire.