Analysis Of “Antiquus Et Modernus: Spolia In Medieval Art, Western, Byzantine, And Islamic” By Bente Kiilerich

Many interesting theories are brought up in Kiilerich’s “Antiquus et modernus: Spolia in Medieval Art, Western, Byzantine, and Islamic” when it comes to the reuse of materials in Medieval architecture period. The author clarifies why someone would have made use of materials that had been used in older structures, and what spolia meant to people at the time. Throughout the text, the author highlights the fact that there are often many reasons why people would take older materials and incorporate them in new constructions. He makes it a point to mention that there is rarely only one reason why spolia is used. This approach is interesting because it reminds us to consider different options instead of only considering one simple reason. Multiples examples are also offered throughout the text to give examples of spolia and how it was used in that context.

The author starts by giving examples of where spolia has been used and then gives an explanation as to what its use was, if there was any use to it to begin. He references the spolia on structures such as fortifications, churches and mosques, and presents all the factors that were considered when reusing materials to make them. On fortifications such as the walls that protect the city of Nicaea, the pieces of Roman stone that were recycled don’t seem to have any functional or practical use. The engravings couldn’t have been used because of aesthetical reasons because they were in poorly executed. This leaves the possibility that it was used out of convenience, which was common with fortifications since they needed to be built in a short amount of time, therefore using materials that were easily accessible. If a specific material was rare at the time, they would simply take it from older structures, not caring about the meaning it had in the past. It also could have been used for symbolic reasons, as spiritual protection for example.

The author points out all the reasons that spolia could have been used and shows that only considering one thing isn’t realistic. The text then mentions more examples in churches and mosques, and shows that their uses of spolia was also not just based on one factor, but rather a few different one like using religious imagery on older pagan designs as propaganda and as a way to reminisce on the past. There are so many aspects to consider when looking at structures from the past that it would be foolish to only focus on one and erase every other possibility that could have been valid. Kiilerich explains that it is imperative that people consider all the options before homing in on a specific idea. Kiilerich gives insight on the thoughts that architects could of had and mentions that some of them might actually not even had any intentions of shifting the meaning of the structures they were building by including older elements to their designs. Like it was mentioned earlier, they could have done it out of pure convenience and not because they had a political agenda that they were trying to push on people. Mentioning this detail about the people that built those structures helps us to get more context.

Another interesting thing that Kiilerich brings up is the fact that the spolium that is being analyzed can gain new meaning and that we need to look at the new structure as a whole to understand its meaning, and not just stay focused on the past. By ignoring options, we get wrapped up in a reasoning that lacks depth. There is no simple answer to the use of spolia. We need to always keep an open mind and let other possibilities come into play. The open-minded nature of this text is what makes it in my opinion, solid and compelling. People are always trying to focus on one explanation and that never made sense to me. I think that including different perspectives was a smart choice. Kiilerich speaks on the importance of also considering the audience when analyzing spolia. This is very true since everyone will see spolia differently and they will give their own meaning to the symbols they see. On the other hand, I think the author could have given more insight the the categories of spolia and maybe give more examples. Kiilerich mentioned that there were many categories and subdivisions, and knowing more about these could have helped his argument since he is trying to convince people that the repurposing of materials is in fact a very complicated and complex issue.

This text leaves us thinking about the meaning of spolia and lets us find answers independently. The author isn’t trying to push a specific idea onto us and leaves room for different opinions, which is necessary when discussing art. The text presents facts and shows many different routes someone can take when analyzing them.

15 July 2020
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