Art history triple threat to present at Byzantine conference

By Stephanie Swindle
June 25, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Anthony Cutler, Evan Pugh Professor of Art History, and two graduate students, Sarah Daiker and Andrea Middleton, have been chosen to present papers at the 2015 Byzantine Studies Conference in New York City, Oct. 23–25.

“I don't know of any other learned society that has accepted three papers from a single institution, and certainly our department has never enjoyed such a thing before,” said Cutler.

Cutler’s paper, "The Madrid Pantokrator: Authenticity and Some Larger Questions in Middle Byzantine Art," considers a previously unknown ivory plaque of Christ Pantokrator ("Ruler of All") bought at auction two years ago by a Spanish collector who sought Cutler’s opinion as to its authenticity.

“This problem always arises when ‘new’ objects come to light. Even after examining it in Madrid, I remained uncertain and therefore suggested submitting it to a laboratory in Oxford for radiocarbon dating, which, if successful, should yield the date of death of the elephant to which the tusk belonged. Obviously, if this date is recent, the plaque cannot be Medieval, that is, Byzantine,” noted Cutler.

The results of the radiocarbon procedure were indecisive, and Douglas Kennett of the Department of Anthropology has offered to repeat the experiment in August when the collector brings the ivory to Penn State. The results of the second procedure will be available for presentation at the conference in New York.

“Whatever the decision about the age of the material, there are broader questions–notably about the carving technique and iconography [visual content]—involved,” explained Cutler. “If the plaque ‘fails’ the test, what do the results tell us about the skills of modern forgers? To what extent is our information about the ‘fake’ applicable to other such novelties, to the history of Byzantine ivory carving, and to the ever-demanding market for antiquities?”

Both students’ conference papers began as research projects for Cutler’s graduate course, Art H 442: Late Antique and Early Christian Art. In Daiker’s paper, "Architectural Representations and Topographic Designation in the Mosaics of Jordan, 6th–8th Centuries," she addresses the identification of architectural representations of cities and buildings.

“Throughout the semester, Tony met with me to discuss my progress and to suggest additional references and future directions for my research. After reviewing my final paper, Tony suggested that I consider applying,” explained Daiker, an M.A. candidate whose primary field is Western medieval art and architecture. “His familiarity with the scholarship on my topic allowed him to discuss the finer points of existing interpretations of these architectural representations with me.”

“Tony definitely encouraged me to apply as well,” seconded Middleton, who just completed her first year in the Ph.D. program and who will present “A Shared Visual Vocabulary: Isis and Harpokrates, Mary and Jesus,” in which she explores “the transmission of this motif, suggesting that elements of folk religion and personal piety explain the similarities.” 

“I wouldn't have thought to apply to present at this conference without Tony’s encouragement and support, especially since I just started studying Byzantine art at an academic level this past fall,” said Middleton.

Daiker and Middleton describe Cutler’s mentoring as “invaluable.”

“I had a difficult time finding my voice, if you will, when I started to write this paper,” explained Middleton. “With Tony's guidance, I was able to understand the material with which I was working. His input has allowed me to write a clear, succinct piece, which I feel confident to present.”

Daiker said she is looking forward to presenting, in addition to producing a new set of research questions that she will continue working with as she prepares for the conference. “I am certain that Tony will be as valuable a mentor in the upcoming months as he has been during my time at Penn State thus far.”

For more information about the Byzantine Studies Association of North America, visit the website:

  • Cutler advises students during his office hours.

    Anthony Cutler, Evan Pugh Professor of Art History at Penn State. Graduate students Sarah Daiker and Andrea Middleton credit his guidance and encouragement for their success in being selected to present papers at the Byzantine Studies Conference. Cutler will also present a paper there, making this the first time three scholars from the department have been chosen to present at a conference of... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Stephanie Swindle
  • Madrid Pantokrator

    Ivory plaque of Christ Pantokrator, the name given early depictions of Christ in which he holds the New Testament in his left hand and offers a gesture of blessing with his right. An image of Christ Pantokrator, "Ruler of All," carved on an ivory plaque that was sold at auction in Madrid two years ago. 

    IMAGE: Brynne McBryde/Penn State
  • Sarah Daiker headshot

    Sarah Daiker, a graduate student in art history, will present a paper on the representation of cities and buildings in mosaics of Jordan from the 6th to 8th centuries.

    IMAGE: Sarah Daiker
  • Detail of Memphis, Egypt.

    One of the representations Daiker studied was this mosaic of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, from the nave floor in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Khirbat al-Samra, Jordan. Image taken from Michele Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan.

    IMAGE: Michele Piccirillo
  • Detail of Jerusalem from the Madaba Map.

    Daiker also studied this detail of Jerusalem from the nave floor mosaic in the Church of St. George, Madaba, Jordan. This mosaic dates to the mid-sixth century. Image taken from Michele Piccirillo, The Mosaics of Jordan.

    IMAGE: Michele Piccirillo
  • Andrea Middleton in the Egyptian Gallery in the Met Museum

    Andrea Middleton, graduate student in art history, in the Egyptian Gallery in the Metropolitan Museum. At the Byzantine Studies Conference in October she will present her paper comparing the visual vocabularies in depictions of Isis and Harpokrates with those of Mary and Jesus.

    IMAGE: Andrea Middleton
  • Wall Painting of Isis and Harpokrates

    Wall painting of Isis and the infant Harpokrates, from a house in the ancient Egyptian city of Karanis.  Graduate student Andrea Middleton is comparing representations of this mother-and-child pair with later representations of Mary and Jesus. Image courtesy of University of Michigan. 

    IMAGE: University of Michigan
  • Textile with Bucolic Scene and Mary and Jesus

    Textile with a bucolic scene that includes Mary and Jesus (top).  Image courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum.

    IMAGE: The Brooklyn Museum
  • Grave Stele with Mary and Christ Child

    Middleton also considered the imagery of Mary and Jesus on this grave stele from the Egyptian town of Medinet el-Fayoum. Image courtesy of Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

    IMAGE: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
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Last Updated July 28, 2017