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Figure and Likeness:
On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine Iconoclasm
Charles Barber

Hardcover | 2003 | This edition is out of print | ISBN: 9780691091778


Figure and Likeness presents a thought-provoking new account of Byzantine iconoclasm--the fundamental crisis in Christian visual representation during the eighth and ninth centuries that defined the terms of Christianity's relationship to the painted image. Charles Barber rejects the conventional means of analyzing this crisis, which seeks its origin in political and other social factors. Instead, he argues, iconoclasm is primarily a matter of theology and aesthetic theory.

Working between the theological texts and the visual materials, Barber demonstrates that in challenging the validity of iconic representation, iconoclasts were asking: How can an image depict an incomprehensible God? In response, iconophile theologians gradually developed a notion of representation that distinguished the work of art from the subject it depicted. As such, Barber concludes, they were forced to move the language describing the icon beyond that of theology. This pivotal step allowed these theologians, of whom Patriarch Nikephoros and Theodore of Stoudios were the most important, to define and defend a specifically Christian art.

In highlighting this outcome and also in offering a full and clearly rendered account of iconoclastic notions of Christian representation, Barber reveals that the notion of art was indeed central to the unfolding of iconoclasm. The implications of this study reach well beyond the dispute it considers. Barber fundamentally revises not only our understanding of Byzantine art in the years succeeding the iconoclastic dispute, but also of Christian painting in the centuries to come.


"Lucid, concise, and accessible even to nonspecialists."--Bissera V. Pentacheva, CAA Reviews

"There has not been a good general overview of Byzantine iconoclasm and image theory from the point of view of art history. Charles Barber has now produced the latter book, an elegantly written and lucidly argued essay. . . . Charles Barber has succeeded admirably in interpreting . . . sometimes difficult texts and relating them to the discipline of art history."--Robert S. Nelson, Art Bulletin


"Charles Barber has written an important book. Taking as a challenge the widely held view that iconoclasm was the work of theologians that had little to do with the actual production of art, he succeeds in demonstrating the contrary. His arguments are precise, his writing clean, and his conclusions subtle and careful. The result is a book that will spark debate as it forces scholars to reconsider basic assumptions. At the same time, it introduces the complex subject in a manner totally accessible to a nonspecialist audience."--Herbert L. Kessler, Johns Hopkins University

"This book aims to recover for art history notions of form, likeness, and representation as discussed during Byzantine iconoclasm. It does so by an exacting, concise, and remarkably lucid accounting of the basic tenets of the iconophiles across the 180 years of their debate. Not since André Grabar's seminal work almost fifty years ago has anyone worked so thoroughly with this material. What I especially liked about this book is its brevity, for Barber manages to discuss complex matters with a welcome economy of words."--Robert S. Nelson, University of Chicago

File created: 3/10/2015

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