medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
At 12:47 AM 6/30/2004 -0300, you wrote:
> >Well, it's _a_ "pagan" Roman statuary niche (there are several forms, one
> >of which, regardless of its ancestry, is clearly arched and rounded). And
> >I don't understand the point of your question: were you expecting me to
> >anticipate the distinction -- not drawn in your previous post -- between
> >"pagan" and Christian statuary niches? I was responding, remember, to an
> >undifferentiated comment about "the 'statuary niche'".
>Yes, I did expect you to make the distinction without having to expressly
>state it. The distinction was already in the thread subject. The subject
>was bathtubs as modern Christian statuary niches.
That was your _interpretation_ of the subject of the previous thread ("Re:
Burying Saint Joseph"). To expect that others would necessarily share that
interpretation seems presumptuous. After all, experience has just shown
that I interpreted the thread as having to do with niches for religious
statuary. In my view, Christianity was germane to this topic but not
essential, since in any discussion of the form's ancestry we would be
likely to get back to pre-Christian antecedents. And, of course, threads
do mutate. You recognized this by changing the thread title to "Statuary
niches (Was: Burying Saint Joseph)". If you wished others to interpret
that as meaning "_Christian_ statuary niches" you could have specified that
when you changed the title.
>That the Roman version of the Etruscan/Greek (take your pick :-)) pediment
>is found along with a rounded arch _in the rear door_ of a "Romanized" small
>cult shrine is indicative of made for an non-Roman who used the Roman pediment
>in the front and his or her own motif for the rear. It seems to be the
>equivalent of wearing both braces and a belt. Hybrids frequently do use
>seemingly disparate elements.
The _interior_ door of a small shrine pertaining to a "Romanized"
cult. See my comments on this matter in response to Part 1. Here's the
I agree with you that it's a hybrid ("Mischwesen" was the term that came to
mind). It suspect that it exemplifies a stage in the acceptance process
when Isis could be accompanied by more traditional figures of Roman
religion (the figures at bottom left, if they really belong here and
weren't just found nearby) but each still gets honored in her/his "native"
idiom. In other words, syncresis is at best very incomplete here. But I
don't agree that this is necessarily indicative of the shine's having been
made for a non-Roman. It could just as easily have been made for a Roman
new devotee who still wished to honor other deities (and, apparently, his
ancestors) in their customary fashion.
>Back to Rome: The Basilica of Manentius and Constantine has both the Roman
>arch AND the Mosaic tablet/arch... Imperial connection requires the Roman
>arch on the building, but the colonnade is the Mosaic narrow, high round arch.
>What about the Porta Maggiore? Pedimented, squared support columns alternating
>with entry arches, but the arches are the Roman broad arch: all Roman.
Here again I'm afraid we disagree: the arches of the Porta Maggiore are all
Roman but they are not all broad. The four smaller arches between and
around the two large entry arches seem closer to me to the Mosaic
and, for the lower arch in the middle, this reconstruction:
Dated to ca. 50 CE, these are not quite as narrow as the foundation arches
from Terracina, but they're in the same ballpark. Although they are from
the beginning of the Christian era, I have difficulty attributing their
form to the arrival of Christianity in Rome.
Which makes this as good a place as any to insert something you said in Part 1:
>And here is the real kicker. Like the Etruscans and Greeks, the Roman symbol
>of the authority/protection of god(s) is the *pediment*; not the arch. For
>these peoples, the arch was architectural, not specifically a religious
>symbol, and they used because it permitted vaulting -- that is, the
>roofing of wide expanses without columns running down the middle
Well, those terrace foundations above Terracina suggest that they used it
for more than vaulting. And if you look at Roman brickwork (and at a lot
of concrete structures as well) you'll find the shallow arch used there as
a load guiding and stabilizing device. Those quibbles aside, I agree with
your position here. And because for the Romans the arch was not
specifically a religious symbol, it could come in a variety of shapes
depending on the job at hand. Here, for example, is the Arco Felice over
the Via Domitiana at Cuma (ca. 95 CE):
That could be taken for a big version of the Mosaic/tablet arch. Notice
also the form of the niches on either side of the entry. They too look
like tablets. And I bet they once held statues.
Again, here's the arch at Orange (between 10 and 25 CE). Notice the
"typical Roman" proportions of the side entry arches:
Now here's the Arch of Septimius Severus from the Roman Forum (203 CE):
Note the relatively narrow side entry arches. More like the tablet type,
it would seem. Before looking for Christian influence here, I'd wonder
about the taste of those Severan ladies from Syria, Julia Domna et al. All
of whom are conveniently here, BTW:
And back to the "Temple of Minerva Medica" (2d half of the 3d cent. CE),
discussed briefly in my response to Part 1. Note the form of the statuary
Put two of those side by side and you'd have an acceptable outline of the
tablets of the Law. I wouldn't rule out Christian inspiration here. But,
in view of earlier Roman instances of this form where a Christian
connection seems unlikely, I wouldn't rule it in automatically either.
>A mixed bag, like those cited above (and snipped out below) doesn't tell us
>anything more than it's a mixed collection originating from various places.
>IF we have a collection of, for instance, all pedimented, and IF we put all
>the pedimented ones with a,b,c together and know that one came from X, THEN
>when we see exactly the same pedimented one with a,b,c, we know in advance
>that it came from X. If it has exactly the same pediment and a, but not b or
>c, it's from someplace else. Otherwise, we're mixing peaches and plums and
>roses... same class model, different and culturally decided details.
This refers to the page of edicole (mostly wall-mounted) from Bronte:
The adjacent English-language text makes it clear that they're all _from_
Bronte. They're all modern and they're of varying date; most of them, both
pedimented and arched, are from the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. Within that relatively short space of time, some Bronteans
chose pedimented edicole while contemporaries or near-contemporaries did
>It's not a matter of aesthetics. It's not that straight forward. There are
>choices made from among possibilities for any component -- shape, size,
>format, script, limit system, punctuation system, etc., and they come
>in hierarchies. There are choices to be made within each hierarchy. Choices
>are cultural -- and the combination of choices identifies a specific culture.
>Further, choices are constrained by affiliation... sacred and secular; still
>are. Look how paleographers can examine two MSS written in Roman uncials and
>instantly say this one is English, that one is Italian... but the uncial
>is the same, isn't it? Yes and no; the class model is the same, but there
>are small differences in design that distinguish one from another. English
>uncials, for instance, incorporate ligatures and the uncials from Wearmouth-
>Jarrow form their join to the minim at the lobe differently. Tiny differences,
>but they are by choice and identify a culture.
In this case it does seem largely a matter of aesthetics, as the people who
put these up were all living in the same small city and probably made
individual choices (or small collective ones) much as we do today in
selecting a grave monument. Yes, those choices may have involved cultural
factors at which we can't even guess. But to rule out aesthetics
altogether seems implausible.
PS: Here's another early Julio-Claudian monument showing what I would take
to be the tabular arch:
Dated to ca. 30 BCE, this is the so-called Mausoleum of the Julii
(actually, a cenotaph) at "Les Antiques" on the north side of Glanum, the
Roman town replaced medievally by Saint-Remy de Provence. According to the
Thais "Roman Architecture" page,
it's an adaptation of "Hellenized tower-tombs of the Semitic East".
Rochelle, can you pinpoint regional influence more closely than that?
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