Fresh from a two year-long stint researching collections of Byzantine enamels in Germany, Vienna, London, Venice, Rome, Jerusalem, and Tbilisi, Shannon Steiner (Ph.D. Candidate, History of Art) has kicked into the next phase of her dissertation research on Byzantine enameling with a prestigious nine-month Junior Fellowship in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. While there, she will be looking closely at enamel objects and goldsmiths’ works held in the Dumbarton Oaks collection for elements of technical innovation in various enameling processes. Shannon will have the opportunity to analyze these enamels using the full resources of the Dumbarton Oaks research library with its renowned holdings in Byzantine studies.
Shannon’s dissertation, “Byzantine Enamel and the Aesthetics of Technological Power, Ninth to Twelfth Centuries” examines how the process of enameling – fusing brightly colored glass to gold and other noble metals – was understood an alchemical technology that visualized Byzantine knowledge of and power over the natural world. Reconciling texts with objects is part of Shannon’s broader approach to her study of Byzantine enamels. When in Europe, the Levant, and the Caucuses Shannon spent much of her time translating several Byzantine alchemical treatises that included recipes for enameling and descriptions of how enameling could imitate natural phenomena. Her work explored how the content of the alchemical treatises compared to the technical features of extant enamel. Much of her time was spent in Germany where she had direct access to Byzantine enamelwork in museum collections and church treasuries.
Shannon sees the nine-month fellowship as an opportunity to put the finishing touches on her dissertation research and particularly to focus on her writing. While conducting research, she has also published a forthcoming translation of an alchemical treatise by the thirteenth-century Byzantine monk and scholar, Nikephoros Blemmydes. In 2018, she will also participate in an international workshop on issues of translation and replicating processes and materials in Byzantine alchemical texts at the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz, Germany.