Accessibility statement

Period Band A

Image and Icon: Representing the Sacred in the Early Medieval World

Tutor: Jane Hawkes


This module will explore the various ways in which it was deemed possible – or impossible – to present the sacred visually in late antiquity, early Christianity and early Islam – cultures that had varied and often strongly opposing views about visual representation in sacred contexts.

It aims to give students an introduction to:

  • the ideas associated with representing the nature of the sacred
  • the strategies invoked in various cultures to make visual the sacred


By the end of this module, students should have an understanding of:

  • the traditional views of the art historian relating to icons
  • early attitudes to images and the sacred
  • the status of icons in early religious cultures
  • the various ways in which ‘icons’ can be constructed

Preliminary reading

The one book that will be fundamental to the module is:

 H. Belting: Likeness and Presence: The History of the Image Before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994)

 Other publications of interest might include:

 CD-ROM: Images of Salvation: The Story of the Bible Through Medieval Art (York, 2004), in the JBM but also available for purchase at student rate through the Christianity and Culture Project (Berwick Saul Building; )

 J. Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph (Oxford, 1998)

 J. Lowden, Early Christian and Byzantine Art (London, 1997)

 L. Rodley, Byzantine Art and Architecture: an Introduction (Cambridge, 1994)

 E. Ferguson (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 2 vols (N.Y., 1997)

 P. Murray & L. Murray (eds), The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture (Oxford, 1996)

 L. Ouspensky, Theology of the Icon (Crestwood, N.Y., 1992)

 O. Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art (Yale, 1973/1987)

 R. Ettinghausen & O. Grabar, The Art and Architecture of Islam, 650-1250 (Harmondsworth, 1987)

 Generally, you should be thinking about what you think an image might be, and what an icon might be (over and above a symbol on a computer/phone screen)…

Moses and the Burning Bush, Mosaic 6th Century CE Sinai

Module code: HOA00010I