Transfigurations of Hellenism: Aspects of Late Antique Art in Egypt, AD 250-700

By László Török | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
THE CHRISTIANIZATION OF ART IN
LATE ANTIQUE EGYPT

1. Classical tradition: from pagan to Christian

1.1. Double readings

That we’ve broken their statues, that we’ve driven them out of their temples, doesn’t mean at all that the gods are dead.1

From the late fourth century, the Heracleopolis Magna workshop producing architectural carvings with mythological scenes for the decoration of elite tomb chapels also worked for Christian clients (fig. 22). Similar associations are also prevalent in other media. The stylistic and perhaps also workshop associations between a number of late fourth- early fifth-century resist-dyed hangings decorated with Christian scenes and hangings with mythological scenes are quite obvious (see below, Chapter IX.1.2). The concurrent production of stylistically closely associated pagan and Christian works of art in the same fourth- and early fifth-century workshops may be explained with the social and cultural homogeneity of the contemporary governing elite. For centuries after Constantine’s conversion, Christian aristocrats of the empire received still an education in Hellenic culture. Many of them “asserted their Hellenic identity by surrounding themselves with the images of the literary and mythical canon”.2 That the situation was similar in Egypt is attested by ample literary and documentary evidence (Chapter IV.2.4)3 and may also be presumed on the basis of the evidence of visual arts.

1 Constantine Cavafy: Ionic. in: Collected Poems trans. E. Keeley and P. Sherrard, ed. G. Savidis. Princeton 1992 34.

2 Elsner 1998b 13.—Cf. Torp 1997.

3 Brown 1978 81–101; Cameron, Alan 1982; Bowersock 1990 9, 55 ff.; Swain 1993; Bagnall 1993 241 ff.; Trombley 1994 241 ff.

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