Peter Stewart on Iconoclasm

Peter Stewart’s Statues in Roman Society is one of the most interesting recent art historical syntheses of Roman sculpture, and my work on the thesis would have been a lot more difficult without it. He has also written a good, short introduction to Roman art in general for the New Surveys in the Classics series. While away, I read an earlier article of his on “the destruction of statues in late antiquity”. The title was very promising, although as it turned out a lot of the material in the article was the same as that covered in his later book’s chapter on iconoclasm. However, there was more space in the article to go deeper into some of the material, and that alone made it a worthwhile read.

He sees the religious iconoclasm of the 4th century CE as a continuation of the secular iconoclasm seen in the centuries before. According to Stewart, “the destruction of pagan cult statues and the demise of pagan emperors, with their honorific statues, are part of the same process: the fall of the tyranny of Evil, and the rise of the kingdom of God” (1999: 181). It is an interesting point, although I won’t make my final judgment at this fairly early stage in the process. I will deal with this issue in my chapter on ‘Agents and Motives’, as well as the chapter on the literary sources. But my take on the relationship between damnatio memoriae and Christian iconoclasm is a little different. In fact, religious iconoclasm is a far older phenomenon than damnatio memoriae (see e.g. one of my earlier posts with an example of this), and the destruction of statues in Roman society goes further back that Stewart believes. This will be one of the key arguments in my attempt to contextualise early Christian iconoclasm.

Peter Stewart .1999. “The destruction of statues in late antiquity”, pp. 159-189, in: R. Miles (ed.) Constructing Identities in Late Antiquity. London.
Peter Stewart. 2003. Statues in Roman Society. Oxford.
Peter Stewart. 2004. Roman Art. Oxford.

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Dr. Myrup,

    I am Giuseppe Pucci, professor of Greeek and Roman Art in the University of Siena, Italy.
    I’am preparing a review of recent studies that take into account Gell’s theory of agency in art.
    From the synthesis of your thesis, your work is likely to be concerned with this issue.
    If this is the case, could you provide me with some more details ?
    Of course I won’t use anything without your permission, and will duly ackowledge it in my article.

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