“Time Unbound: Imaging and Imagining Time in Sinai’s Calendar Icons ” A Fellows lunch talk

Event time: 
Thursday, November 2, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Yale Graduate Club () See map
155 Elm Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Free; no tickets or registration
Open to: 
General Public
Event description: 

Please join us for a lunchtime talk with Institute of Sacred Music fellow, Dr. Peter Boudreau. RSVP to raymond.vogel@yale.edu by Monday, October 30, 2023.

Note: Seating capacity is limited and will be given on a first-come, first-served basis.

A small corpus of so-called calendar icons from the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Sinai, dating to the eleventh and twelfth centuries has proven enigmatic for Byzantinists since its initial publication in the 1950s. The four sets of icons comprising this corpus provide at least one image but often more for every day to visualize the year so that hundreds of miniature portraits of saints or scenes from their martyrdoms populate a diptych, a polyptych, and two groups of twelve individual panels. While the corpus relates to larger innovations for interacting with time and the liturgical year in Byzantium underway at this period, such as newly developed manuscripts, hymns, and rituals, rigorous scholarship on these icons remains scant. To date, the few studies on the icons have primarily discussed them in terms of either their elusive function or their assumed origins. Along these lines, most scholars have read the calendar icons as regulatory, arguing that the panels were an attempt to impose Constantinople’s imperial calendar on the remote desert monastery, and have viewed their images as copies of contemporary illustrated manuscripts that similarly arranged collected hagiographic texts and their illustrations by calendar date. However, these arguments have obscured the distinct stakes of the icon as a specific medium and the icons’ relationship to the texts and rituals experienced locally through daily liturgical practice.

Approaching the calendar icons not from external forces but from the monastic context of Sinai, this talk, which forms part of my current book project on time in Byzantium, reconsiders one example from the corpus: a set of twelve panels installed on the columns supporting the nave of the monastery’s main basilica. It first situates the calendar icons within earlier visual traditions that shaped the liturgical year in manuscripts and theories of time expressed in contemporary liturgical commentaries to then examine the complex temporal structures made possible by unbinding the feasts regulated by manuscripts across the icons’ golden surfaces. I argue that the icons do not calibrate the celebrations at Sinai with those occurring in Constantinople or elsewhere. They instead hold multiple places and historical periods together, augmenting how time was created and measured in the action of the church’s liturgy, to ultimately create their own time.

Peter Boudreau (PhD, McGill University, 2023) is an art historian focusing on the later Byzantine Empire. His research explores questions of temporality and visual responses to the calendar in Byzantium. He is currently a postdoctoral associate at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.