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Eunice Maguire

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Ceramics from the Vanished Byzantine Empire

Monday, January 8, 2024


2 PM via Zoom

Eunice Maguire will discuss ceramics from the vanished Byzantine Empire that existed from 330 CE to 1453.  Compared with silver or gold, marble or painted stucco, glazed pottery offered attractive opportunities for relatively inexpensive religious applications. But our ideas today of the tastes and culture of the people of the Eastern medieval empire have been almost exclusively skewed toward the formulaic religious and imperial art that survives in churches or in ruins, evoking even in spiritual settings the luxury of precious materials.  This bias in our own perception makes lead-glazed tableware made of clay for use at home very precious for the insight it can give us through its decoration with seemingly impromptu designs.  We see abstract compositions or humorous images of warriors and dancers, ladies and lovers, birds and animals both real and imaginary: rare glimpses into the lively tastes of people outside the palace or the church.

Eunice Dauterman Maguire throughout her life has had the good fortune to be surrounded by people who take pleasure in ceramics as part of a broader delight in art, in architecture, and in the history of human living these things express. She was brought up in New York and New England and then became part of an international English family. With study promoted by the Courtauld Institute of Art, her professional interest in the visual arts grew out of an early astonishment at meanings hidden in the images of medieval literature. Wondering about the sources of European architectural sculpture led her to write a doctoral thesis for Harvard, focused on carvings from the early Byzantine empire; in the process she looked for evidence of design contributions from the panoply of arts and crafts that shaped the visual environment of daily life. Soon afterward at Krannert Art Museum, at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, she co-curated two exhibitions that, with their publications, became significant milestones on the path to this way of thinking: one in 1989, presenting objects of material art as interdependent with things designed for everyday use, and the other in 1992, introducing a group of Byzantine ceramic tableware in what was acknowledged as the first exhibition of Byzantine glazed pottery anywhere since one in Athens in 1941. Next was a year or two on the staff of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, preparing a section devoted to ceramics in a major exhibition The Glory of Byzantium. In the footsteps of her father Carl C. Dauterman, she has enjoyed a teaching career giving university students in Illinois and at Johns Hopkins access to museum collections through her curatorial work.

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