SENKU seminar with Sissel Undheim

The beauty of virginity. Aesthetics, adornment and symbols of sanctity in representations of virgins in Late Antiquity

In written, as well as visual representations of sacred virgins in Late Antiquity, there is a strong emphasis on beauty. Byzantine mosaics express this beauty of both Mary and virgin saints in embellished mosaics that highlight their noble, heavenly status. Ascetic texts addressed to consecrated Christian virgins also appeals to this kind of heavenly aesthetics, yet at the same time stressing moderation and simplicity in dress and adornment as the ultimate ideal.

By combining a reading of texts and visual arts, I will discuss the “aestheticizing of sacred virginity” that took place in Late Antiquity. How were virgins portrayed, and with what kinds of symbols? My specific interest will be the notion of a “crown of virginity”, but I will also discuss dress and other parts of virginal appearance as depicted and described, both in text and in art of this period.    


Sissel Undheim is Professor of Study of Religion, Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen.

Published Jan. 15, 2019 4:04 PM - Last modified Oct. 15, 2020 8:41 AM