One of the most celebrated medieval tales of worldly renunciation is the “hagiographic romance” of Barlaam and Ioasaph. This edifying tale of faith based loosely on the life of the Buddha survives in nearly 160 Greek manuscripts, a number of which are illustrated with elaborate miniature cycles. As the Buddha morphed into a Christian saint, the story was translated and illustrated into a staggering number of languages and visual idioms. Barlaam and Ioasaph thus offers an ideal test case for thinking through cross-cultural illustration as well as the concept of worldliness in Byzantium. With these issues in mind, this paper looks closely at the visual dimension of this complicated narrative of transmission and transformation, and raises broader questions about the global turn in medieval art history.
Sponsored by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture and Harvard University Standing Committee on Medieval Studies.