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Flavia Vanni

Flavia Vanni
Newcastle University
“Doğu”yu Tanımlamak: Akdeniz Bağlamında Bizans Stüko Bezemesi

Dr. Vanni, Bizans mimarisinde yontuculukla ve onun maddeselliğiyle ilgilenmektedir. Newcastle Üniversitesi’nde doktora sonrası araştırmacı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir (2024–2027). Daha önce Università degli Studi di Salerno ve Atina’daki British School’da doktora sonrası araştırmacı olarak görev yapmıştır. Doktora derecesini 2021 yılında Birmingham Üniversitesi’nde Bizans Çalışmaları alanında almıştır.

ANAMED’deki projesinde, yakında çıkacak bir monografi için orta ve geç Bizans dönemi (dokuzuncu –on beşinci yy.) mimari alçı kabartmaları üzerine yaptığı doktora araştırmasını derinleştirecektir. Alçı kabartmaları araştırmak için, epigrafiden edebi metinlere ve el yazmalarına kadar uzanan bir dizi kaynak ile birlikte in-sitü gerçekleştireceği son teknoloji stratigrafik analizleri bir araya getirecektir. Vanni’nin çalışması, zanaatkârların yaşamlarını, ekonomik koşullarını ve önceki yüzyıllardaki statü ve eğitimleriyle karşılaştırıldığında uzmanlaşma düzeylerini anlama imkânı sağlayacaktır.

Böylece mikro-bölgesel himaye modellerinin ayrıntılı bir şekilde araştırılması kolaylaşacak, aynı zamanda, Akdeniz’de, özellikle İtalya ve İslam ile kültürlerarası alışverişler hakkında yeni bilgiler sağlanacaktır. Dr. Vanni, ANAMED’de Bizans ve Selçuklu alçı üretimi ile Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun ilk yüzyılları arasındaki bağlantılarını araştıracaktır.

Defining the “East”: Byzantine Stucco Decoration in a Mediterranean Context

For the 2023–2024 academic year, I was honored to be awarded an ANAMED postdoctoral fellowship, a pivotal opportunity that has propelled my project “Defining the ‘East:’ Byzantine Stucco Decoration in a Mediterranean Context.” The fellowship allowed me to spend four and a half months in Istanbul and to travel to many sites in Türkiye, which was useful for comparing Byzantine and Seljuk stuccoes.

Why stucco? By retracing the history of specific artifacts (plaster reliefs), my research aims at retracing the history of the material and of the sections of Byzantine society that dealt with it: the people who supplied the material (limestone, gypsum), those who fired the stone and made the stucco mixture, those who worked the mixture into sculpture, those who paid for these sculptures (the patrons), and finally those who experienced the plaster reliefs in their architectural setting (the audience).

Generally, stucco is a quite understudied medium, especially in Byzantine studies. There has never been a comprehensive evaluation of the use of stucco and plaster decorations in Middle and Late Byzantine buildings; instead, scholars have mainly focused on durable materials (mosaics, frescoes, marble, and stone carving). Plaster reliefs were, however, more common than assumed: they have been recorded in more than 40 buildings dated between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. This lack of interest has also resulted in the absence of Byzantine stucco in cross-disciplinary debates on the transfer of knowledge between the Islamic territories and Christian Europe in the Mediterranean involving technology and iconographies.

Why is there a need to define the “East?” The debate on the transfer of knowledge in the Mediterranean lacks evidence from the territories in the “middle,” namely, the Byzantine Empire. As a result, many studies on stucco production from Medieval Spain, France, and Italy referred to “Eastern” influences (Byzantium) when recording some features in the ingredients and iconographies that did not belong to local traditions. These definitions need to be revised, as they refer to Byzantium in a quasi-orientalist way. At the same time, experts of Islamic stuccoes tend to label as “Byzantine” everything not made of pure gypsum (considered the signature of Islamic stucco from the construction of the ninth-century Abbasid city of Samarra, Iraq).

At ANAMED, I am evaluating the results of the lab analyses of some Middle Byzantine stuccoes, which gives new insights into Byzantine stucco practices in a Mediterranean context. I will present the preliminary results of this research at the international conference I am co-organizing in Ankara titled Connecting stucco in the Mediterranean (c. 300 BCE–1200 CE). Methodological approaches and the state of research (Bilkent University—Erimtan Museum, 16–18 May 2024). The conference is sponsored by Tübitak, Bilkent University, the British Institute at Ankara (BIAA), the Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes (IFEA), the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS), and the Erimtan Museum of Ankara. It is supported by ANAMED, Newcastle University, the Polish Academy of Sciences, and Byzantium at Ankara. The conference will allow me to compare data with colleagues working on different regions bordering the Mediterranean and place Byzantine stucco into long-term and cross-cultural exchanges of skills.

Another line of inquiry that I am following while at ANAMED is points of contact and differences in the use of stucco in Byzantium and Seljuk Anatolia through bibliographical research and site visits. The Seljuk of Rum controlled territories previously part of the Byzantine Empire (politically and culturally). The strong stone-carving tradition of Anatolia, already well-known in the Late Antique period, consisted of highly skilled artisans and had an impact on the sculpture of Seljuk Anatolia, too. Indeed, we see motifs and decorations usually made of stucco in Seljuk Iran that are carved in limestone in Anatolia. This is particularly clear in Konya and Beyşehir, as I managed to verify during my recent trip there.

Nevertheless, stucco was used in the sultan’s foundations, such as the kiosk that was part of the sultan’s palace in Konya and the Kubadabad palace on Beyşehir Lake. The stucco pieces from these two complexes, now exhibited in the Karatay Tile Works Museum, show decorative themes common to cross- and star-shaped tiles covering the walls of the same complexes. Some technical aspects of these stuccoes, such as the internal core made of reeds, are common to other Byzantine stuccoes but also others produced in southern Italy in areas of Islamic cultural traditions (Calabria) and in the Alpine area (e.g., Cividale del Friuli). I am analyzing these data against a broader dataset of stucco technical aspects to spot (or not) common trends and connections.

The final project objective was to conduct site visits to Byzantine monuments and museums in Istanbul and Türkiye, which are necessary for completing my monograph. These visits are targeted to answer the lack of material evidence from the territories of contemporary Türkiye.

The material evidence of Middle and Late Byzantine stuccoes collected so far shows that stuccoes are mainly preserved in the territories of the Balkan peninsula (40 buildings). However, there is room to argue that Constantinople, as well as the historical regions of Cappadocia, Syria, and Anatolia, had architecture decorated with stucco, too. Indeed, the material evidence currently preserved in Türkiye comes from key monuments dating from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries. Twelfth-century written sources also help us to integrate what is now lost: elite houses in Constantinople (and possibly throughout the empire) decorated with erotic gilded stuccoes.

My regular visits to Byzantine churches in Istanbul allowed me to verify the presence and absence of stuccoes from recently restored monuments, such as the Vefa . During these visits, I was also able to check the organization of the interior decoration of the walls, which, in many cases, does not leave space for stucco cornices. The absence of stucco from many Constantinopolitan churches can be explained by the local abundance of marble, which provided a quicker solution for architectural decorations such as cornices. At the same time, the presence of stucco in churches such as the Odalar Camii, the Boukoleon Palace, and the Samson Hospital shows that stucco was consciously chosen by patrons on occasion, perhaps to reproduce Late Antique traditions of stucco cornices between marble plaque wall revetments and mosaics (Odalar Camii). As the fellowship continues, I will continue to check for stuccoes in Anatolia and travel to Thrace (Enez, Selimvri, Büyük, Küçükçekmece, and Selimpaşa) to visit more churches.

Finally, the lively community of the Byzantinist fellows of ANAMED has been a plus in my experience. The regular visits to Byzantine monuments and especially the GIS classes allowed me to expand my skills and start to build a GIS map of stuccoes for my publication.

I am deeply grateful to the ANAMED community and Koç University for their invaluable support and this fellowship, which is not only allowing me to push my research on stucco further but also to bring it to fruition in my forthcoming monograph.

capitalized, right?