Rachel Patt

Mary Seeger O’Boyle Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Degree
    Ph.D., Art History, Emory University, 2021
    Dissertation
    Meaning, Materiality, and Pothos in Late Antique Gold-Glass Portraits
    Research Project
    Pothos: Longing from Classical Portrait Image to Byzantine Icon
Contact Info

Rachel Catherine Patt is an art historian specializing in Classical and Late Antique visual and material culture. Her research interests include portraiture’s roles in identity construction and memory preservation in the pan-Mediterranean world, as well as questions of materiality and the wondrous. Patt received a degree in Classics with distinction from Stanford University (B.A., 2009), and degrees in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art (M.A., 2011) and Emory University (Ph.D., 2022). From 2019—2022, her doctoral research was supported by a David E. Finley Predoctoral Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA). Her research has also been supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the International Catacomb Society’s Shohet Scholars program. She has collaborated on curatorial projects at institutions such as the Getty Villa, the Museum of Fine Arts- Boston, and most recently the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Patt’s current book project expands the scope of her dissertation, which focused on a particular corpus of Late Antique miniature portraits, to consider images in other media and from other time periods.

About the Research Project

Pothos: Longing from Classical Portrait Image to Byzantine Icon

Pothos: Longing from Classical Portrait Image to Byzantine Icon presents the first comprehensive investigation of the role of pothos in ancient and medieval Mediterranean image-making. One of the numerous ancient Greek words to designate a specific inflection of love and desire, pothos describes an intense longing and yearning for a subject that is absent. Tracing a visual history of longing, Patt’s book project proposes that pothos was at the conceptual core of the ancient portrait image. It seeks to address how the object of longing metamorphosed from a private and personal beloved to the divine and unattainable Christ over the cultural transformations of society from Classical antiquity to Byzantine Empire. Incorporating issues of scale, materiality, and the theorization of memory, the project gathers a range of both visual and literary evidence to demonstrate the critical role of pothos as catalyst for image-making in the Mediterranean and underscores the transhistorical stakes of representation. For ultimately, two millennia after Pliny the Elder anecdotally attributed the invention of portraiture to pothos, the notion of longing as motivator of representation feels keenly relevant as we continue to grapple with what it means to miss someone beloved.

Current Roles

  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow