Sackler Show Reveals Lives of Byzantine Women

A gold wedding belt depicting Jesus alongside pagan gods is just one of many artifacts on display at the nation’s first exhibit to examine the lives of Byzantine women, currently up at the Sackler Museum.

“Byzantine Women and Their World”—which reconstructs the daily world of Byzantine women through a variety of everyday and ritual objects—was curated by Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art Ioli Kalavrezou.

“Professor Kalavrezou sought to look at elements of Byzantine culture that people don’t normally focus on the lives of real women,” said Amy Brauer, associate curator of ancient art at the Sackler Museum.

Kalavrezou was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Brauer said that traditionally, studies of Byzantine artifacts have focused on “glory objects”—those that portray a limited image of women as empresses and saints.

The exhibition is divided into two broad categories, according to women’s participation in public and private spheres.

These sometimes-overlapping domains offer glimpses of a Byzantine woman’s daily life—including worship, health and marriage.

“I’m impressed by the huge variety here,” said museum visitor Chris Thompson. “[But] these historical artifacts lack the [representation of the] masses and lower class.”

The pieces on display range from luxury items such as jewelry as well as ordinary objects such as colorful textiles that, according to the exhibition’s website, are telling not only for their decorative function but also because they were woven by Byzantine women.

According to Brauer, the exhibition is the result of a two-and-a-half-year undertaking and includes pieces from 13 collections in the United States and Canada.

The exhibition also includes 16 pieces from the Harvard-owned Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington. Dumbarton Oaks’ premier collections in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian eras were a gift to Harvard from Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss.

The installation process proved to be complicated and demanded the participation of several curators from different museums, Brauer said.

“Most of the institutions required that someone from their museum come to the Sackler to unpack and install the pieces, and this led to a huge coordination task trying to get the correct curators to come,” Brauer said.

Climate control cases were constructed to protect the artifacts, and the curators from other museums oversaw object installation, Brauer said. In addition, 17 separate institutions provided funding for the installation, Brauer said.

The exhibition will last until April 28. A symposium entitled “Byzantine Women: New Perspectives,” will be held on March 8 and will feature a talk by Kalavrezou.