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Imagining the Empress: Theodora in Popular Culture, 1882–1922

Through August 2017 in the Orientation Gallery | Shows how the Byzantine empress captured the public imagination at the end of the nineteenth century.

In the late nineteenth century, the empress Theodora leapt from Byzantine history into western popular culture. Playwrights, filmmakers, and fashion designers all seized upon her legacy of scheming and seduction, which made her an irresistible character to mass audiences. In the process, many western laypeople received their first exposure to the wider world of Byzantium. Their vision of Byzantium was shaped not by academic histories, but by the imaginative worlds of theater, film, and fashion.

This exhibit features items from popular culture that represent the grandeur of Theodora and her world. The objects range from playbills and postcards to buttons and advertisements, all taken from the Dumbarton Oaks Ephemera Collection. Together, they reveal a fascinating historical moment—a time when western popular culture embraced Byzantium, drawn in by its most notorious and alluring empress.

Learn More Explore the Ephemera Collection