University of Sussex
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The art of personification in Late Antique silver: Third to Sixth Century AD

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posted on 2023-06-06, 08:19 authored by Wendy Watson
This thesis examines the extent to which, in an artistic context, personifications, and allegorical figures and scenes, were embedded in the culture of Late Antiquity from AD 300 to 600. ‘Personification’ can be read both as a noun and a verb, and I explore it in both senses. My examination is carried out through a series of case studies of figurative imagery on contemporary silver plate. I make an empirical study of the primary objects within my thesis in relation to texts and other objects never considered in conjunction before. The representations on the silver plate discussed in my thesis are broadly divided into three categories: secular, imperial and cultic. In the secular grouping, I discuss their links to literature, the theatre, and their place in the dining room. Imperial imagery often featured personifications and in addition was circulated throughout the known world, and so I examine the power held by these particular, and predominantly female, figures. Although pagan cults were by this time dying out, a few surviving cultic objects such as the Parabiago Plate allow an examination of this form of personification. During this period there were huge changes as the Roman Empire divided into Eastern and Western Empires and adopted the Christian faith. The former became the Byzantine Empire and the latter went into a perceived decline, particularly after the sack of Rome in AD 410. I look at how pagan personifications and allegorical groups survived this transition, and assess the significance of this form of continuity. This thesis demonstrates that in Late Antiquity the art of personification functioned in all aspects of life. It was a subliminal language, accessible in varying degrees to contemporary viewers depending on their education and status. It was a potent propaganda tool, and in what was then a patriarchal society it provided images of strong, powerful females.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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