Third Annual M.I. Rostovtzeff Lecture Series

Photo: Angel, Ascension, east apse, Red Monastery Church, ca. 500. Photograph: E. Bolman. Copyright: ARCE.

Third Annual M.I. Rostovtzeff Lecture Series

Shifting Narratives in Egyptian Christian Visual Culture: Upper Egypt and the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity

Elizabeth S. Bolman (Temple University)

Shifting Narratives in Christian Egyptian Visual Culture

About the Series

Exciting new interpretations are now emerging about the character and role of visual culture in late Roman Egypt. The Nile valley played a major role in the empire, but Egyptian Christian art and architecture outside of Alexandria have typically been seen as backward and peripheral to the culture of the greater Mediterranean region. Recent conservation and archaeological projects at the Red and White Monasteries near Sohag, in Upper Egypt, have revealed paintings that completely overturn this traditional view. The monuments at these sites attest to the wealth and power of these two ascetic communities in the fifth and sixth centuries. The church at the Red Monastery is the most important surviving historical church in Egypt, and one of the most significant from this period anywhere. Due to the thick layers of soot that until recently obscured the interior, its lavish architectural decoration is almost completely unknown.

In four lectures (March 1, 8, 15, 22), Elizabeth Bolman will explore some of the rich material and textual evidence from late antique Egypt, with an emphasis on recent finds from the Red and White Monasteries. She will draw on new paradigms, themes and methods that scholars in religious studies and practitioners of the “new art history” have developed. These include an interest in the body, gender, identity construction, ritual performance, decorum, visuality, memory, and the agency of art and architecture.

March 1: Upper Egypt and the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity


The visual culture of Upper Egypt has typically been seen as not only separate from that produced in other major centers of the Roman empire, but also of a much lower quality. In the last decade, conservation and archaeological work at the Red and White Monasteries has uncovered fascinating evidence to the contrary, in the form of wall paintings and architecture. A decorated tomb in the White Monastery dating to the middle of the fifth century, and an apse painting in the Red Monastery church of circa 500, include no regionally specific features, and could have been created anywhere in the Mediterranean. These new finds indicate the necessity of a complete reassessment of the role of Egypt in the creation of late antique visual culture.

To RSVP, please email