chapter  4
44 Pages

Ekphrasis and experience

BySean V. Leatherbury

Beginning with an examination of the paired verse inscription and image of an earthly landscape in the sixth-century Church of St. Demetrios at Nikopolis in Greece, this chapter considers the ways in which inscriptions, especially in Christian contexts, adopted and employed the strategies of ekphrasis (the rhetorical art of “description”). The chapter investigates the contexts of ekphraseis performed for audiences before moving to the inscriptions, many of which use the components of ekphrasis to encourage readers to move through and around sacred interiors. By adapting classical rhetorical strategies for use in church inscriptions, their authors asked visitors to these spaces to be active viewers, to respond to images and interiors, and even to speak in the voice of the patron or the building itself. Focusing on inscriptions as ekphraseis allows us to perceive buildings of worship as sites of active viewing, discussion, and debate.