The Comnenian imperial family dominated the later 11th and 12th centuries in Byzantium: Emperor Alexios I, and his son and successor John II, ruled for a combined total of 62 years (1081-1143). And the family was large: Alexios had nine children and John had eight, and most of these children were adults, with children of their own, by the death of John II in 1143. Given that the administration of the empire in this period centered around membership in the imperial family, the relative proximity of each family member to the emperor himself, whether by blood or by marriage, became key.
The works of art associated with this famille nombreuse consist of everything from grand monastic foundations to illuminated manuscripts to small metal reliquary crosses. Some of these works, large and small, have survived; for others, there is ample written evidence. This paper will look at the many works of art and literature commissioned by, or associated with, specific members of the family in these decades, tracking issues such as how proximity to the throne of the individual may have affected the nature and general perception of the work and its place on a spectrum between public and private.
Nancy Patterson Ševčenko is a Byzantine art historian whose work has focused primarily on illustrated lives of the saints, and on the intersection of art and liturgy. She is the author of The Life of Saint Nicholas in Byzantine Art (1983), of Illustrated Manuscripts of the Metaphrastian Menologion (1990), and of Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth to Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010) with S. Kotzabassi and D. Skemer); she is currently preparing a catalogue of the Byzantine illuminated manuscripts of the monastery of St. John on Patmos. A selection of her articles have been reprinted in her Variorum volume, The Celebration of the Saints in Byzantine Art and Liturgy (2013). She recently completed a term as the President of the International Center of Medieval Art, and is currently Visiting Scholar at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. She lives in South Woodstock, Vermont.