Art and Power in Medieval Societies – an interdisciplinary workshop hosted at IAS CEU

July 3, 2023

The workshop "Art and Power in Medieval Societies: Censorship, Propaganda and Public Service in the Eastern Mediterranean from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman Era" was held on May 19-20 at IAS CEU in Budapest, organized by GIAS Fellow Dr. Mariana Bodnaruk, Dr. Anna Adashinskaya from New Europe College in Romania, Senior Core Fellow Dr. Yuka Kadoi, and Senior Core Fellow Dr. Peter Martens. The event proposed to investigate the propaganda content and political uses of the arts in the medieval Eastern Mediterranean on the new methodological grounds that have been developed over the past decades (visual and cultural studies, historical anthropology, reception studies, political analysis, transregional methodologies, etc.).

“In the course of the workshop, we embarked on a journey that led us from the Middle Eastern Syriac monasteries to the Anatolian Cilician Armenia, to the slopes of the Caucasus mountains, and Asian Ephesos and Egypt. We stayed in the monasteries, attended services in Georgian and Moldavian churches, walked the spaces of Cyprus and Constantinople, crossed the Adriatic Sea, between Greek Epiros and the Terra of Otranto, and continued an academic pilgrimage to the great basilicae of Rome.
During the workshop, we saw that the relations between authorities, artists, and the public were never straightforward: art was used to atone for the sins, to promote the piety and justice of rulers, to engage the public in pious activities, and to glorify state-related personalities (officials, kings and emperors, empresses, and royal heirs). At the same time, art had the power to violate, negotiate and create discourses and policies, whereas standardization of official imagery brought elements of recognition and validation in the eyes of the public, the novelties in the image-creation brought new ideas and mobilized the viewers to discuss different thoughts, to approve or disapprove the proposals of the authorities” as stated by Dr. Anna Adashinskaya and Dr. Mariana Bodnaruk.

Focusing on the continuity and change in the social perception of images and spaces, participating scholars were analyzing the role of the arts in shaping the political discourse and influencing public perception of power and authority. The workshop explored the performative strategies applied by the powerholders and the dissidents to communicate with different social groups and the role of images and architectural spaces into propaganda, ideology-building, and legitimacy-proving.

The proceedings of the workshop will be published as an edited volume.