- Iconoclasm from Antiquity to Modernity ed. by Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac
This volume presents the proceedings of a series of papers delivered in 2009 at the University of Oslo. The volume offers eleven articles broadly focused on a number of “iconoclastic” episodes ranging from late antiquity until the twenty-first century. The focus is predominantly on episodes of iconoclasm in European history, although the contributions of Eberhard W. Sauer (chapter 1) and Jens Braavig (chapter 10) extend the geographical scope of the volume to include Sauer’s discussion on the Sassanians and Braavig’s on Angkor Watt, Tibet, and Afghanistan.
The collection is introduced by Kristine Kolrud and Marina Prusac, whose introductory chapter succinctly summarizes the main themes addressed in each article and many of the overarching questions addressed by the 2009 conference. [End Page 590] Chief among them is the definition of iconoclasm itself and the application of such a term to multiple cases of image destruction since late antiquity. Both Kolrud and Prusac rightly draw attention to the diversity of opinions on this matter, but readers may have benefitted from a slightly bolder approach to the question or perhaps a more open recognition of the difficulties faced by each of the contributors in reaching a consensus.
The collection is roughly organized chronologically starting with three studies of iconoclasm in late antiquity. Sauer (chapter 2) examines the complex responses of Christian iconoclasts to images of pre-Christian deities in the Roman Empire. This is complemented by two further studies by Marina Prusac (chapter 3) and Bente Kiilerich (chapter 4), which examine attacks on imperial images, cases of Damnatio Memoriae, or the replacement of images of rulers within the Roman and Byzantine Empires. Collectively, the three articles draw attention to a number of important case studies, although one may question the extent to which such broad geographical and chronological treatment risks de-contextualizing episodes of image destruction from their unique social contexts.
Cases of early-medieval iconoclasm from the Byzantine and Carolingian worlds are addressed in two separate articles by Anne Karahan (chapter 5) and Thomas F. X. Noble (chapter 6). Noble’s sensitive treatment of Carolingian attitudes, in particular, will undoubtedly provoke new readings of the material by both Carolingian specialists and Byzantinists.
Three further chapters by Tarald Rasmussen (chapter 7), Andrew Spicer (chapter 8), and Kristine Kolrud (chapter 9) examine cases of iconoclasm in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, beginning with Rasmussen’s treatment of early Lutheran responses to sacred images, followed by Spicer and Kolrud’s separate discussions of iconoclast outbreaks in Le Cateau and among the Waldensians in the Savoyard Alps. These predominantly text-based studies offer a useful complement to the broader and more materially focused approaches of earlier chapters.
The final study by Braavig (chapter 10) examines three instances of iconoclasm in Angkor Watt, Tibet, and Afghanistan. Although its incorporation of non-European material is welcome, the application of European concepts of “secular” and “religious” to premodern, non-Western, iconoclastic sentiments is open to debate. Further, can we interpret such episodes of image destruction without more systematic engagement with the views of its perpetrators, to balance interpretations derived from the perception of European traditions of “heritage” and “art”?
In sum, this volume undoubtedly raises more questions than it can fully answer. Those seeking to find a coherent understanding of the question of iconoclasm from late antiquity until the present day are unlikely to find it here. However, the wealth of material and discussion it does offer makes it a useful repository, which should ignite further debate among scholars. The book is to be commended for bringing together such a diverse range of themes and periods, and offers a useful opportunity for readers to engage with the methodologies and debates beyond their individual [End Page 591] disciplines. As such, it is an important contribution to establishing the study of iconoclasm as an avenue of historical inquiry for scholars of all regions and periods.