Romy Wyche has been a researcher at the University of Oslo since 2013 where she has been working on the Graphicacy and Authority project. She finished her doctoral thesis at the University of Oxford in 2013 entitled ‘An Archaeology of Memory: The ‘Reinvention’ of Roman sarcophagi during the Middle Ages’ under the supervision of Dr. Jas Elsner. She has published articles and presented papers on the reuse and reinvention of Late Antique sarcophagi during the Middle Ages and she is now researching material relating to graphic signs on early Christian sarcophagi.
Pagan iconographies in Christian contexts: thoughts on the reuse of late Roman sarcophagi during the Middle Ages
For many Romans, sarcophagi were seen as eternal houses of the dead. Consequently, it was common to choose an iconography to ornate the sarcophagi that reflected the life of the deceased. However, over the ages, the association between the deceased and the iconography started to fade, and new meanings were developed. Starting from the Early Middle Ages, they became ‘reinvented’ as the tombs of various figures of authority (bishops, popes, saints etc.). This talk will investigate how the past became negotiated to convey ideas about the present, and how earlier material culture became appropriated to promote new ideologies.
I shall focus in particular on pagan tombs reused by late antique and medieval Christians, a phenomenon that was quite common in Southern France and Italy, even for members of the Church such as bishops and monks. I shall investigate how these sarcophagi became accepted in the Medieval Christian West by looking at the epigraphy that became added on them and the context in which the sarcophagi became displayed. Furthermore, an analysis of some religious texts can shed light on the limits of acceptance of pagan culture within the Christian sphere.