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Image & Icon: Rendering Visible the Sacred in the Early Medieval World - HOA00073H

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  • Department: History of Art
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Jane Hawkes
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

The module introduces students to the ideas associated with rendering visible the nature of the sacred, and the strategies invoked in various cultures to make the visual sacred.

Related modules

Students who have taken the I-level version of Image & Icon: Rendering Visible the Sacred in the Early Medieval World are prohibited from taking the H-version of the same module.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

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 is thus concerned to explore ideas surrounding ‘image’ and ‘icon’ - is there a difference? if so, how might we understand that difference? In considering these questions we will explore issues relating to function, viewing experiences, scale and materiality. Bound up with these considerations we will also encounter various perceptions of the image / icon in sacred contexts across time, geographical space and culture in the early medieval period (broadly the first millenium CE). The module will, therefore, raise wide-ranging questions about the role of the visual in religious, early Christian and Islamic cultures; about ways of seeing, ways of engaging with the visual in sacred contexts, and with images deemed to be sacred in contexts not necessarily ‘sacred’. It may also challenge our understanding of what ‘images’ might be.

Module learning outcomes

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

  • Traditional views of art historians relating to ‘image’ and ‘icon’

  • The various ways in which ‘icons’ might be constructed and presented

  • Early attitudes to images and the sacred

  • The status of the visual in early religious cultures

  • How to identify and critically evaluate new source material through independent research


Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay : Advanced Assignment
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback on assessed work within the timeframes set out by the University - please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information.

The purpose of feedback is to help you to improve your future work. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further, you are warmly encouraged to meet your Supervisor during their Office Hours.

Indicative reading

  • Bowersock G. W., Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar. Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Post-classical World. Edited by Bowersock G. W. London, Harvard University Press,1999.
  • Brown, Peter. The World of Late Antiquity: from Marcus Aurelius to Mohammed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.
  • Campbell, James, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald. The Anglo-Saxons. London: Penguin Books,1991.
  • Delius, Peter. Islam: Art and Architecture. Cologne: Konemann, 2000.
  • Elsner, Jas. Art and the Roman Viewer: the Transformation of Art from the Pagan world to Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Elsner, Jas. Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Ettinghausen, Richard, and Oleg Grabar. The Art and Architecture of Islam 650-1250. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987.
  • Ferguson, Everett. The Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1997.
  • Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1999.
  • Lowden, John. Early Christian and Byzantine Art. London: Phaidon, 1997.
  • Rodley, Lyn. Byzantine Art and Architecture: an Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Murray, Peter, and Linda Murray. The Oxford Companion to Christian Art and Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.