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Lecture: An Archaeology of Decadence—Uncovering Byzantium and Staging the Wicked Empress Theodora in Late 19th-Century Paris

January 30, 2014
Rubloff Auditorium
Free with museum admission

Victorien Sardou’s Theodora, first staged in 1884, introduced mass audiences to Byzantium and positioned Byzantium within established frameworks of knowledge and representation. 

Join Elena N. Boeck, associate professor of art history at DePaul University, as she analyzes the construction of Byzantium that was perpetuated in Theodora and evaluates the place assigned to Byzantium in modernity’s vision of the middle ages.

Acclaimed as the greatest spectacle of the 19th century, Theodora offered scandal, murder, intrigue, opulent costumes and dangerous liaisons to a delighted public. Embraced by artists, high society, print culture and film, celebrities  enraptured by Theodora included Winston Churchill and Sigmund Freud. A triumphant collaboration between Sardou and his muse, the actress and seasoned femme fatale, Sarah Bernhardt, the play played a prominent role in securing Byzantium an enduring place in modernity’s cabinet of historical curiosities. Among the questions Theodora raised was whether Byzantium was Greek or Roman, familiar or hybrid, barbaric or civilized, Oriental or another Other.

 Sponsored by the Boshell Foundation Lecture Fund 

Sarah Bernhardt as Theodora, c. 1884.