Objects of Special Note(s): Constructions of Containment, Writers and Readers by Late Roman Ivory Writing Tablets

Lecture | April 9 | 4-5 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall

 Professor Ann Kuttner, University of Pennsylvania

 Department of History

A striking new genre of Late Roman precious things was the enormous, carefully decorated, ivory writing tablet, with subjects Christian, polytheist, political, mythological, and more. This was a hyper-luxurious version of a vitally useful object for writing of all kinds. Discussion of the some 200 Late Antique ivory diptychs’ typically seeks historic aristocrats in those tablets inscribed for magistrates’ appointments, thus engendering dates to which to pin narratives of Late Roman style (and politics). Some diptychs draw detailed stylistic or iconographic discussion. But very, very few scholars meditate the decorations of these things, often items of gift economy -- visual epistles -- in regard to their character as artifacts: objects to open and close, whose interiors greatly mattered as notional containers of a written voice scripted by or for those giving or owning them. In that context it matters that exteriors display inscribed objects and calligraphic pattern; scroll, codex, or diptych are encountered by authors, readers, auditors, Muses; protagonists enunciate, doors open, bureaucrats scribble in diptychs, ritual boxes gape... How do object and image, thing and script, mutually animate one another? This presentation probes the interplay of visual language, object identity, and the "material text" to better understand a major genre of Late Antique artifice.

 zhengyuan.zhang@berkeley.edu