Lara Frentrop - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Lara Frentrop

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Dr Lara Frentrop

Associate Lecturer

Supervised by Antony Eastmond

My thesis investigates a group of Middle Byzantine silver-gilt dishes displaying images that span both the religious and the secular, ranging from images of courtly entertainments to representations of saints, scenes of battle, and altogether more enigmatic visions of human-animal violence. The dishes,
discovered in remote regions of Russia, have only received passing mentions since their first (and last) in-depth study in the 1970s, and have been attributed variously to Byzantium, Russia, and the Balkan states, with their dating ranging from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries.

My thesis argues that the majority of the bowls dates to the twelfth century, based on textual, visual, and cultural evidence; and that these artworks were made and viewed in the Byzantine Empire. By investigating the dishes together with textual sources and artworks from the Middle Byzantine period, this thesis localises the decorated bowls within the milieu of twelfth-century Byzantium and, more specifically, that of the banquet, which this thesis suggests to be the original viewing context of the artworks.

The first part of this thesis focuses on the viewing context of the banquet and the spectacle enveloping it. This part opens by considering the performances that accompanied the banquets of the elite, including acrobats, dancers, and musicians, arguing that the decorated dishes actively contributed to the theatrical effects of the banquet. Then, it investigates the vessels’ role in the display of power and feasting’s connotations of triumph.

The second part investigates how the vessels refer to and construct the individual. This part examines how the artworks were essential components in the creation and display of the ideal Byzantine individual. Then, it examines how the dishes visualise and structure the relationships of their audience; lastly, this thesis investigates how the decorated metal bowls reflected their viewers’ fears and hopes for the afterlife.

Current & Future Teaching

MA Byzantium and its rivals: art, display and cultural identity in the Christian and Islamic Mediterranean

BA3 Body and Gender in Byzantium

BA1 The Pursuit of Leisure

Research interests

  • the material culture of dining in medieval Byzantium
  • rhetorical strategies in art and text
  • medieval Byzantine concepts and constructs of gender and gender roles
  • the role of the viewer’s body in viewing Byzantine works of art


  • ” For this is a trait of a rhetorical and double-tongued man’: artifice and ambiguity in Middle Byzantine art’, Word & Image (forthcoming)
  • ‘Protection and salvation: an eleventh-century silver vessel, its imagery, and its function’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 42.1 (2018), 26-44

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