What could or should be visually represented was a contested issue across the medieval Christian and Islamic world around the year 800. This article examines how Islamic, Byzantine, Carolingian and Palestinian Christian attitudes toward representation were expressed, and differed, across the seventh and eighth centuries. Islamic prohibitions against representing human figures were not universally recognised, but were particularly – if sometimes erratically – focused on mosque decoration. Byzantine ‘iconoclasm’ – more properly called iconomachy – was far less destructive than its later offshoots in France and England, and resulted in a highly nuanced re-definition of what representation meant in the Orthodox church. Carolingian attitudes toward images were on the whole far less passionate than either Islamic or Orthodox views, but certain members of the elite had strong views, which resulted in particular visual expressions. Palestinian Christians, living under Islamic rule, modulated their attitudes toward images to conform with local social beliefs. Particularly in areas under Orthodox or Islamic control, then, representation mattered greatly around the year 800, and this article examines how and why this impacted on local production.
(Online publication May 09 2008)