Linda Safran

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2014/2015
discipline Art History
Research Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto

Research project

Circular Schemata in Byzantine Opus Sectile Pavements


Instead of the mosaic floors with detailed figural iconography that characterized buildings in late antiquity and the early Byzantine period, places of worship in the eastern Mediterranean after Iconoclasm had nonfigural opus sectile (cut stone) floors. Most of the scholarship on these pavements has focused on materials and on stylistic filiations, or on the interpretation of those floors that feature large marble slabs framed with colorful bands. These have been understood to evoke meadows, the sea, and other natural features. My project addresses the meanings of the most common opus sectile configuration, which, surprisingly, has received far less attention than the other type. It consists of a central, usually larger disk framed or encircled by four or more others. I argue that centralized compositions on floors reflect contemporary ideas about the cosmos and may also have a practical or performative function. I focus on Middle Byzantine church pavements of the late ninth century that have a twelve-circle configuration and interpret them against the background of contemporary epistemology—of astronomy, astrology, geometry, medicine, religion, music, and magic—in short, in their cultural context. Texts in all these disciplines, complemented by evidence from material culture, underscore the importance of circles and repeated circular patterns. Such compositions were widely employed in the realm of magic, where they were apotropaic emblems and performed a role in catoptrica (divination with mirrors). Circular schemata also were prominent in practical manuals of prognostication and in geomancy, the “daughter of astrology.” I explore whether the pavement circles may have been used for casting horoscopes and, more broadly, how they may have functioned in the worship space. Just as certain pavements in European cathedrals were the settings for ritual activities (including symbolic pilgrimage and clerical dancing on Easter), it is likely that eastern Mediterranean pavements had practical as well as symbolic significance. 



Linda Safran is a Research Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto.  She holds a Ph.D in History of Art from Yale University.


Her research interests are Byzantine and Mediterranean art and architecture, medieval studies, cultural history, material culture studies, archaeology of Southern Italy, Art History, and Jewish Art History.

Selected publications


The Medieval Salento: Art and Identity in Southern Italy, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2014.


‘Deconstructing ‘Donors’ in Medieval Southern Italy’, in L. Theis, M. Mullett & M. Grünbart (eds), Female Founders in Byzantium and Beyond, Böhlau, Vienna, 2013, pp. 135–151.


‘‘Byzantine’ Art in Post-Byzantine Southern Italy? Notes on a Fuzzy Concept’, Common Knowledge, vol. 18, no. 3, 2012, pp. 487–504.


Confronting the Borders of Medieval Art, with J. Caskey & A.S. Cohen (eds), special issue of Medieval Encounters, vol. 17, no. 1–2, Brill, Leiden, 2011.


The Early Christian Book, with W.E. Klingshirn (eds), Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC, 2007.


Heaven on Earth: Art and the Church in Byzantium, (ed.), Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia, 1998; 5th edition, 2009.


San Pietro at Otranto. Byzantine Art in South Italy / San Pietro ad Otranto. Arte bizantina in Italia meridionale, Collana di Studi di Storia dell’Arte, vol. 7, M. D’Onofrio, Edizioni Rari Nantes, Rome, 1992.


senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline Religious Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS)
discipline History