Workshop Shannon Steiner
von 14:00 bis 15:00
Alchemists, Ambassadors, and Empresses: Cloisonné Enamel and the Performance of Power in Byzantium
By the ninth century CE, Byzantine craftsmen mastered the process of cloisonné enameling. In courtly literature, authors referred to enamel as erga cheimeuta (ἔργα χειμευτά) or “alchemical work.” A large corpus of Byzantine alchemical texts contains “recipes” for coloring and fusing glass and metal alongside treatises on the creation of gold or the manufacture of incendiary substances, placing enameling within a larger technological enterprise that also sought to counterfeit currency and develop thermal weapons. Cloisonné enamel was not just a field for representation in Byzantium; it was also the aesthetic manifestation of sophisticated material sciences. As such, enameled objects played a key role in cultural exchanges with the Empire’s allies and rivals.
In this paper, I explore two instances of the use of enamel in Byzantine diplomacy that warrant particular attention. First, the mobilization of enameled objects in designing receptions held for Arab ambassadors in Constantinople, and second the purposeful inclusion of enameled regalia in the bridal trousseaux of three Byzantine noblewomen married to foreign rulers. By recognizing enamel as evidence of Byzantine virtuosity in executing rarefied technical knowledge, I trace how the medium developed to intensify the image of Byzantine imperial power and became a marker of Byzantine identity.