Fall 2020

The Virgin Mary: Image, Cult, Syncretism (ca. 400-1700)

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-229  |  History, as HIST-229  |  Religion, as RELI-229

Moodle site: Course


Jutta G. Sperling (Section 01)


(Offered as HIST 229 [TC/P/C], ARHA 229 and RELI 229) When, in 431, the Council of Ephesus declared the Virgin Mary to be Theotokos or God-Bearer, she had already been venerated in Egypt since the third century as a re-instantiation of Isis. The syncretism of her cult explains her ubiquitous popularity in medieval Byzantium and the Latin West, but also in early Islamic Syria and colonial Latin America. Her frequent depiction on moveable wooden panels (icons) and mosaics accompanied her early rise to liturgical prominence. By 1200, she rivaled Jesus Christ in religious importance, not only through her role as intercessor, but also as dispenser of divine grace in the form of breastmilk. She was the most active miracle-working saint in all of Christianity. Her frequent depiction on icons, altarpieces and devotional panels accompanies – and, in part, explains – the development of figurative art in the West. In colonial America, the introduction of her cult ended prior religious forms of expression, but also helped them to partially survive in a new context. In this seminar, students will produce a 15-page research paper based on a careful analysis of textual and visual sources as well as pertinent scholarship. Two class meetings per week. This course will be conducted in class but also include remote students via zoom.

Fall semester. Visiting Professor Sperling.


Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Research, Attention to Writing, Transnational or World Cultures Taught in English


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2020, Spring 2022