Elizabeth Bolman, Ph.D. ’97, Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship For Work on Egyptian Monastic Church

Posted April 21st, 2011 at 9:11 am.

Red Monastery interior. Photo by Elizabeth Bolman

Red Monastery interior. Photo by Elizabeth Bolman

GSAS alumna Elizabeth Bolman, Ph.D. ’97, has spent much of the last ten years on the restoration, preservation, and study of the church of the Red Monastery, a sixth-century Egyptian basilica. Before she began this work, Bolman says, the church had attracted little scholarly notice. Now that its dazzling floor-to-ceiling program of wall decoration has emerged from the centuries’ worth of soot that once obscured it, it is “being recognized as the most significant historical Christian monument still extant in Egypt.”

The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has recently recognized the significance of Bolman’s work by awarding her the Guggenheim Fellowship. One of only two art historians to receive the coveted award this year, Bolman will use the fellowship to complete a large-scale, multidisciplinary book on the Red Monastery.

Bolman, an associate professor of art history at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art,  has marshaled a team of 16 scholars and experts to collaborate on the book, which will introduce this major monument to scholars and is likely to have a substantial impact in a number of fields. In addition to editing the book, Bolman will contribute the introduction, conclusion, and five art-historical chapters.

The Red Monastery, Bolman says, belonged to a large monastic federation that dominated the region in which it was located. Founded by the “charismatic and domineering Shenoute of Atripe,” the federation included a neighboring women’s monastery known as the White Monastery and several hermitages.

“The site of this federation provides an amazing opportunity for multi-disciplinary analysis,” Bolman writes, “because a vast array of physical remains survive — monumental churches that feature extensive architectural sculpture and wall paintings; stone and mud brick structures, which once formed the core units of the monastic communities; and widespread traces of the daily lives of the monks and nuns.”

“In addition,” Bolman continues, “Shenoute wrote copiously, including monastic regulations, letters, and sermons. His work comprises the largest body of extant documentary texts from an early Egyptian monastic community. The short and long term implications of this conjunction of material and textual evidence for scholarly analysis cannot be overestimated.”

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