University of Cyprus, Archaeological Research Unit
55th Public Lecture Series - Spring Semester 2021: Celebrating 30 Years of Research at the Archaeological Research Unit, 1991-2021
The challenge of depicting cross-dressing female saints in Byzantine art: The case of St Euphrosyne of Alexandria (BHG 625)
Dr Maria Parani | Associate Professor, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Archaeology and History of Art
Byzantine Realities and Realia
In the Christian Byzantine construction of gender, woman was considered inferior to man, because she lacked man’s natural inclination for self-control. In order to achieve salvation, a woman needed to strive to become more like a man by controlling her carnal passions and emotions. Some Byzantine women took this call to “manliness” literally, by adopting male monastic dress and retreating to male monasteries in order to pursue a spiritual life of sacrifice, a path that ultimately led them to holiness. By focusing on one of these cross-dressing saints, the 5th-century St Euphrosyne of Alexandria, this paper explores how Byzantine art dealt with the challenge of representing a saint who had achieved sainthood as a woman by being dressed like a man.
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