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Name: Flavia Vanni

PhD: Byzantine Studies

Thesis Title: Byzantine stucco decoration 850-1453. Cultural and economic implications across the Mediterranean world.


Thesis Description:

My project will analyze the inexpensive stucco decoration in Byzantine buildings between 850 and 1453. Stucco (a mix of gypsum, water and sand) is easy to mould and equally easy to destroy. In Byzantium, it was used for interior decoration apparently as an inexpensive substitute for stone. Since scholars have mostly focused on long-lasting materials (marble, mosaics, frescoes and stone carvings), ephemeral materials such as stucco have never been systematically studied. Even professional Byzantine art historians are surprised to learn about the regular use of stucco in Byzantine interior decoration. Yet stucco offers a unique insight into economic history (and the related history of guilds and workshops) as well as cultural history. Its inexpensive nature provides valuable information about non-elite (and elite) customer demand, and hence economic history. Similarly, it tells us about transferable workshop skills, because stucco was used for both domestic furniture and church wall decoration, including, sometimes, the haloes of painted figures. Stucco thus blurs the distinction between sculpture and painting.


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Prof. Leslie Brubaker (University of Birmingham)

Dr. Daniel Reynolds (University of Birmingham)

Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • 'Aspetti meno noti della scultura mediobizantina: la decorazione in stucco', Dialoghi con Bisanzio. Spazi di discussione, percorsi di ricerca. VIII Congresso Nazionale dell'Associazione Italiana di Studi Bizantini. Ravenna 22-25 Settembre 2015. <forthcoming>


Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

year: 2014

  • Internship at the Photographic Archive of the Centre for Byzantine Art History (CDSAB) of the University of Rome "La Sapienza".
  • Internship at the Sovrintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio (the Italian State' authority concerned for conservation and promotion of archaeological heritage)

  • Internship at the Liceo Berrtand Russell


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