The Art of Recycling Fresco-Icons. At the Roots of the Cult of Images.

  • Per Jonas Nordhagen
Keywords: Late Antique, Rome, icons (devotional images), cult images, frescoes (painting), spolia, Santa Maria Antiqua (Church Rome, reuse,


Of the observations made during the author’s research in S. Maria Antiqua (1957-1960), the most baffling were some which indicated that efforts had been made in the early eighth century A.D. to preserve and safeguard the older fresco-images in the church. The procedure discovered here, which had served to incorporate important earlier iconographical matter into the program designed for Pope John VII (A.D. 705-707), was a phenomenon then wholly unknown from church art of the period. However, that a systematic labor of image-reuse according to such principles had been carried out, could be established with certainty on the basis of some very precise archaeological facts. These facts had to do, above all, with the absence on many of the earlier fresco panels in the church of the hatchings or indentures thickly applied to frescoed walls wherever they were to receive new coats of mortar. As proved by meticulous study of the panels in S. Maria Antiqua on which no chisel marks are found, none had had newer strata of painting applied to them. Evidence of these picture-protecting exerts is abundant in the church and prompted conclusions like the following (1968): ”Now it becomes possible also to gauge the fervor with which the individual frescoes were worshipped. The reluctance to obliterate a picture, the efforts made to preserve it, and also the eventual repainting of it with strict adherence to the original subject, all reflect an attitude characteristic of the cult of the icon”. Nordhagen 1968, 90.

How to Cite
Nordhagen, P. J. (2019) “The Art of Recycling Fresco-Icons. At the Roots of the Cult of Images.”, Acta ad archaeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia, 300, pp. 237-248. doi: 10.5617/acta.6873.