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Karen Gould Prize Citations


2019 Karen Gould Prize in Art History


Ivan Drpić’s Epigram, Art, and Devotion in Later Byzantium (Cambridge University Press, 2016) offers a compelling study of the poetic texts that mediated and enhanced art in the last centuries of the Byzantine empire. The author addresses the intersection of these ubiquitous texts with personal piety by focusing on inscriptions in a range of devotional images, from personal icons to architectural decoration. Moving beyond the epigrams as text, Drpić reveals how their material and visual dimensions play an important role in the agency of their patrons. The author shows that adornment as a concept, action, and thing—kosmos in Byzantine Greek —plays a central role in the patrons’ engagement with art. The addition of mounts or appliqués of metals, jewels, or precious fabrics incorporating the patron’s name and, perhaps, his or her own poetic effort enhanced the object and amplified the relationships between the individual donor and the depicted figure. This beautifully-written book establishes not only the critical role epigrams played in their own time, but brings them into art-historical discourse as important sources of information about art and its social agency in later Byzantine culture. Given the circulation of Byzantine devotional objects in western Europe, this multidisciplinary study makes an important contribution to the wider scope of medieval art history. It also provides an exemplary method for the reading and investigation of such texts that should be widely emulated.


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