Conceptualizing Cultural Hybridization

Part of the series Transcultural Research – Heidelberg Studies on Asia and Europe in a Global Context pp 67-93


Adjusting the Image – Processes of Hybridization in Visual Culture: A Perspective from Early Christian and Byzantine Archaeology

  • Ute VerstegenAffiliated withLehrstuhl Christliche Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Email author 

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Since Christian visual culture emerged from the substratum of antique pagan imagery in the late second – third century AD, the relationship between iconoclastic and iconophile views has oscillated in Christianity. The basis of the criticism against imagery was the ban imposed in the Old Testament, which was interpreted, depending on exegetical stringency, as a strict ban on either the production of images of God or of any representation of animated creatures. In the eighth century, the confrontation between the opposing inner-Christian positions culminated in the Byzantine Iconoclastic Controversy. With reference to the actual discourse of hybridity in cultural theory, this paper provides a case study of processes in the eighth century which took place in the Syro-Palestinian region during the clash of Christian and Muslim Arab religious ideas and visual cultures. Archaeological investigations of church interiors in this area have documented a trend towards geometrical motifs on the one hand, and deliberate destruction of older figural representations on the other: mosaic tesserae were removed from relevant places in floor mosaics and rearranged on the same spot into abstract or floral motifs. These discoveries raise the questions of the agents’ identity and the backgrounds to these iconophobic acts.