Sex, Lies, and Mosaics: The Zoe Panel as a Reflection of Change in Eleventh-Century Byzantium

Brian A. Pollick

Abstract


The stereotype of Byzantine art as static and unchanging still compels Byzantine specialists to emphasize that change is readily evident in Byzantine art if one knows where and how to look for it.This paper is a case study about such change and how a unique set of social forces in the early eleventh century induced cultural change that resulted in new visual forms. The subject of this case study is the mosaic known as The Zoe Panel, located in the South Gallery of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The panel depicts the Emperor Constantine IX presenting a bag of money to the enthroned Christ, while the Empress Zoe presents an imperial scroll probably signifying an ongoing grant. Although there has been much written about this mosaic, the fact that the moneybag and imperial scroll represent two new iconographic elements in imperial portraits has gone largely unnoticed. This study argues that the appearance of these new iconographic features is a direct reflection of the specific dynastic, economic and social circumstances in the Byzantine Empire in the early eleventh century.

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EISSN 1927-9701

University of Victoria