Department of Art and Art History Calendar

Art History Lecture Series presents Susanna McFadden

Roman wall painting

Roman Wall Painting and the Megalographic Experience in Late Antiquity

This talk examines the art, politics, and culture of the late Roman world via an investigation of a particular genre of wall painting, the megalographia (a large-scale figural composition). This genre seem to have been particularly popular in the third and fourth centuries CE all over the Mediterranean, and came to be utilized especially in communal spaces of the Roman house reserved for important social rituals, mirroring in paint those activities often enacted in reality. As a result, the paintings are of particular note for the way in which they communicate issues relating to non-Christian identity and ritual practice, sometimes articulating threads of resistance to the mainstream political dynamics of the late Roman world (as told by the better known textual histories). By discussing the the experiential aspects of late antique paintings and the ritual encounter between image and viewer created by the specific physical contexts of these images, the case studies presented will reveal the importance of a medium long neglected in the study of late antique art.


Susanna McFadden earned her BA from Dartmouth College in 1998 and her PhD in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007.  Her field of interest is the art, architecture, and archaeology of late antiquity, specializing in wall paintings of the Mediterranean region and early medieval Islamic art.  McFadden’s dissertation, “Courtly Places and Sacred Spaces: The Social and Political Significance of Monumental Wall Painting in Late Antiquity,” contextualized (historically, architecturally, topographically) several image programs previously relegated to purely stylistic discussions in art historical literature, thus illuminating the powerful role played by visual communication in the politics of the era. In 2008, she joined the Department of Art History and Music at Fordham University, where she is also on the faculty of the Center for Medieval Studies.  In 2009–2010, she won the Lily Auchincloss Post-Doctoral Rome Prize for her project “Articulating Power and Status in Late Antique Rome: A Study of Late Roman Pictorial Constellations” from the American Academy in Rome.  Since 2005, McFadden has also been a member of the team excavating the late Roman site of Amheida in Egypt's Dakhleh Oasis, a project sponsored by New York University.