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George Brocklehurst: 'Convivium: An Archaeology of the Humanist Literary Banquet'

Renaissance humanism aspired to the revival of antiquity in numerous fields of culture. One revival which has drawn little comment in studies of humanism is that of the Greco-Roman literary banquet (symposium, convivium). During the fifteenth century, wherever humanists gathered, the art of the all’antica literary banquet flourished. By sharing an evening of learned companionship, with good food and wine, communities of scholars sought to reinforce the links between the present and the admired past. This paper details how the ancient literary banquet was received and recreated during the Renaissance, and calls attention to the role of conviviality within early modern intellectual history. 

Dimitrios Roussos: 'A Life on Marble: Imagined Antiquities in Medieval Venice'

To get ahead of life sounds like an elusive idea, given that the span of a lifetime is inherently limited. As a result, life has been commonly presented as a race, a ceaseless struggle to break free from the shackles of time, which are destined to keep one captive until the very moment of death. Despite the sense of futility that life’s brevity and the inevitability of death have engendered for humanity, classical morality and Christian thinking have equally imbued these ideas with a more practical sense related to how human beings can make good use of their time, approaching life as an ongoing chance for self-improvement. 

This paper explores these nuggets of wisdom about life and time-awareness with respect to the pictorial themes of two fragmentary reliefs from the Cathedral of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon, the iconography of which has become a benchmark for a kaleidoscopic range of interpretations among archaeologists and art historians alike. In doing so, the paper shows how such lifetime precepts, deeply rooted in proverbial wisdom since antiquity, remained present in medieval thought and ended up being carved in marble, taking the form of personified allegories. Thereby, a comparative study of the two reliefs will suggest that both were once part of the same decorative programme, shaping a comprehensive picture of life in medieval thought, best manifested in the Byzantine personification of Bios (‘Lifetime’), and communicated in a shared visual language between the Greek East and the Latin West during the Middle Ages. 

The Work in Progress seminar explores the variety of subjects studied and researched at the Warburg Institute. Papers are given by invited international scholars, research fellows studying at the Institute, and third-year PhD students.