The cross in the visual culture of Christian Egypt: Byzantine to Fatimid eras
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 18:11 authored by Gillian Spalding-Stracey
Egypt is better known for pharaohs, and their legacy, than for Christianity. Yet, in the early centuries after Christ, the Christian monastic movement grew roots and took shape in Egypt. Early adopters of the new faith in Egypt contributed to the development of Christian contemplative life. More relevant to this study, they als oexpressed themselves through material culture. This thesis focuses on representations of the cross, that most fundamental symbol of the Christian faith. More specifically, it is an art historical exploration of the varied designs of the crosses of Christian Egypt, from the fourth to the twelfth century. The corpus, across the monastic landscape, is rich and diverse, reflecting the syncretistic society that commissioned and produced it. The designs are remarkable and sometimes unique. Representations occur in wall paintings, funerary sculpture, architectural features in stone and wood, and on a wide range of domestic and liturgical objects. The study commences with a survey of monastic sites across Egypt, and the identification of significant crosses, acknowledging that the size of the corpus has been diminished by many factors including deliberate destruction, questionable excavation methods of early archaeologists and bounty hunters, ongoing infrastructure projects and the pressures of population. Nonetheless, the thesis is underpinned by a collection of around four hundred images, sourced mainly from archaeological reports and museum collections, which has allowed the designs to be analysed. The image collection has been essential to the project. Through it a typology based on design elements has been proposed. The likely influences apparent in the images have been examined and the symbolism of the motifs accompanying the crosses have been explored. Settings and contexts in which the varied designs occur have also been analysed. Designs have been charted against a timeline, and maps showing the distribution of types have been created to support the text.