Mary Seeger O’Boyle Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 2020-2021
Merih Danalı specializes in the visual language of Byzantine astronomical and cosmological diagrams. Her research is interdisciplinary, situated at the intersection of Byzantine visual culture, science, and, theology. She received her B.A. in Economics from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul (2001), her M.A. in Art and Architectural History from Penn State University (2007) and completed her Ph.D. at Harvard University (2019). In addition to the art of Byzantine scientific diagrams, her research interests include medieval aesthetics and Neoplatonism, manuscript studies, medieval portraits, cross-cultural artistic exchanges between Byzantium and the Islamic world (ca. 1260–1453), and representations of dress and cultural identity in Byzantine art. After Princeton, she will be joining Wake Forest University as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art.
My project focuses on an assembly of cosmological illustrations in a fourteenth-century Greek scientific miscellany, Marcianus Graecus 516. Unique in their pictorial ingenuity, the Marciana illustrations represent a wide variety of subjects such as astronomy, musical theory, theology of history, eschatology, history of mathematical sciences, and humoral theory. Accordingly, my discussion crisscrosses various disciplines. It utilizes such varied sources as scientific treatises, letters, homiletic, early rabbinic, and patristic tradition and incorporates them into the history of visual representation. My project explores the ways in which the Marcianus illustrations reflect a particular worldview that blends Christian moral philosophy, Pythagorean number symbolism, and Platonic cosmology. I argue that the diagrams emanate from a particular intellectual trend in fourteenth-century Byzantium that sought to assert the supremacy of reason over senses, mathematical sciences over philosophy, and by implication astronomy over theology. The discussion is set against the backdrop of one of the most studied phenomena of later Byzantium: the intellectual (and deeply political) rivalry between the Neoplatonic mathematician astronomers and the followers of hesychastic theology. Though focused on a group of diagrams, my study has wider implications and is aimed not only historians of Byzantine/Medieval art but also historians of medieval science and philosophy.