chapter  2
56 Pages

Material texts

BySean V. Leatherbury

Opening with a study of the golden inscriptions on the walls of the Orthodox Baptistery in Ravenna (c. 400 CE), this chapter considers the ways that artists (and their patrons) manipulated the colors and materials of inscribed texts to guide readers or shape the meanings of their words. An investigation of the vivid colors and special materials (e.g. glass, or even gold-glass) of inscriptions, primarily in churches, reveals the vividness and power of texts as visual as well as verbal objects, and which can express complex messages through appearance alone. After a brief examination of the range of attitudes towards material and ephemeral inscriptions in texts from the period, the chapter turns to the ways in which inscriptions self-describe their own materiality - of shiny gold, of multicolored, varied materials. These inscriptions allow Christian authors to use a number of classical aesthetic concepts such as variety (poikilia) and decoration (kosmos, also meaning “order”) to make complicated statements about their faith as well as their classical education or preferences. The chapter ends with a discussion of the popular trope of “painting in colors,” also present in inscriptions, which encourages us to perceive the tension between the material and the spiritual embodied by inscribed texts.