Katharina Nordhofen (UoVienna, Austria)

Nordhofen, ivoryKatharina Nordhofen B.A. took up her studies in 2011 at the University of Heidelberg in European and Byzantine Art History, a disciplinary combination which led to a special interest in the contact points between Byzantium and medieval Western Europe and her final bachelor thesis with the title “Das Fremde im Eigenen. Zum Spektrum der Wiederverwendung byzantinischer Elfenbeinarbeiten auf ottonischen Buchhüllen”. Since winter term 2014 she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Art History, both European and Byzantine at the University of Vienna. Currently she is spending a research term in Rome as a preparation for her master’s thesis on the social, artistic and intellectual networks in 1520s Rome


More Than a Frame: Strategies of appropriation of Byzantine ivories on Ottonian book covers


Since late antiquity carved ivory triptychs with religious subjects were common diplomatic gifts or souvenirs from Constantinople for high-ranking western European visitors. Due to close relations between Byzantium and Ottonian Germany many of these objects were preserved in German church treasuries. But once these triptychs arrived in Ottonian Germany, none of them remained in its original form. They were dismantled, sometimes even sawed up, and used in new contexts as covers of liturgical books. In the past, scholars have interpreted this treatment of the triptychs as an expression of mere interest in the ivory material and an indifference to the images. In my studies I have tried to find a new and unprejudiced approach to the question of appropriation. It is essential to study the Byzantine ivory and the Ottonian framing together and on an equal footing in order to discover the new level of meaning they achieved in the process of appropriation.

To demonstrate how broad the spectrum of reuse is, I would like to exemplify my observations with three examples, which represent various modes of appropriation. The first example demonstrates the complete aesthetic harmony between the Byzantine image and the Ottonian, more or less abstract, frame. The second exemplifies the complex efforts an Ottonian bishop undertook to make the most of a Byzantine image, incorporating it on multiple levels into a new work. And my final example will introduce a new category of appropriation, quite common in the corpus I have studied: the imitation.


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