Into the Alps… The Mobility of altar pieces and workshops in the late Middle Ages
Session organisers: Barbara Schellewald, Heidrun Feldmann and Henriette Hofmann (Basel)
In the second half of the 15th century a construction boom characterized the Diocese of Chur, where a great number of churches was commissioned. It is a well known phenomenon that mostly Swabian workshops profited from these construction activities and produced many of the key pieces of the church furnishings. The Strigel family, with the artist Ivo Strigel leading the way, dominated the market since 1486. Scholarship has repeatedly addressed the latter not only as an artist but rather as an entrepreneur. However, fundamental questions concerning the described phenomenon have not received sufficient attention within the art historical debate. How, for example, do we have to imagine the relation between a local church and the transregional producers of its furnishing? What did commissioning processes look like, where were the objects produced and how were they distributed under the contemporary economic conditions? Which role did the reputation of the artist and his workshop play and what made Strigel and his workshop so attractive for commissioners from the Alpine regions in the 15th century? The specific needs of the donors might be recognized by looking at the wide range of artifacts. A tendency of standardization in the design of the altarpieces as well as more selected and sophisticated programs, and even the sometimes prominently displayed names of the artists, as it is the case for Ivo Strigel on the Calanca Altar, might be revealing in terms of the expectations of the commissioners. These practices of artistic self-presentation allow us also to address questions concerning the self-awareness of the executing artists and their workshops and how the relation between these two was conceived.
The great number of mural paintings in the region of Chur dating from the 13th century shows that the employment of foreign workshops has a long tradition in the Alpine world. The aim of the section is to further deepen our understanding of this phenomenon not only by discussing the works themselves but also by investigating the “logistics” behind their production, possibly also in comparison to the production processes and commissioning practices in other regions and periods.
Bridges to Transcendence: Medieval Artworks within Processes of Transfer between Earthly and Heavenly Spheres
Session organisers: David Ganz, Sophie Schweinfurth and Katharina Theil (Zürich)
Regarding processes of transfer in medieval art, the modes and forms of communication between earthly and heavenly space are of special interest. The panel points to artworks as media of transfer within the medieval concept of a vertical communication by which man and God interact. Basically, every donation of an artwork to a holy or divine person can be considered as attempt to establish a relationship with the transcendent realm by means of the material object and the spiritual subject which it represents. The panel aims at analysing the different strategies which medieval artists employed to foster this precarious act of communication. Accordingly, the following questions seem to be of special relevance: Which concepts of transfer come into play when artworks are used as objects of donation to the divine? Which particular strategies of initiating and/or perpetuating the process of transfer can we observe? Which conceptual and visual structures dominate a certain presentation of religious artworks and their donation? For a systematic discussion of these issues, we welcome papers that enlarge the art-historical perspective by introducing theoretical approaches, such as concepts of gift and offering, actor-network theory, or studies in material religion.
Rhein und Maas: Art and Culture across Rivers and Regions
Session organisers: Shirin Fozi (Pittsburgh) and Joanna Olchawa (Frankfurt am Main)
This session will focus on objects that were presented in the 1972 exhibition ‘Rhein und Maas: Kunst und Kultur, 800–1400’ in Cologne and Brussels, and question how they might be fruitfully reevaluated – nearly fifty years later – in light of current scholarship on transregional mobility and exchange. The exhibition, which included nearly four hundred Rhenish and Mosan objects with highlights like the Ardennes Cross, the baptismal font of Rainer of Huy, and the Marian shrine of Nicholas of Verdun, showcased the artistic interactions and shared cultural identity that existed in the regions bound together by the Rhine and Meuse rivers, located today at the convergence of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Although the topic has never lost its currency, the study of such interactions has come to require interdisciplinary analysis in increasingly expansive and non-linear terms. Such multilateral approaches put questions about transmission and mediation in a central position: on the one hand, mountain ranges like the Alps and the Pyrenees, and great rivers like the Danube and the Dnieper, are not merely understood as borders but also seen as pathways that united disparate centers; on the other hand, the roads and bridges that spanned them were not only connectors, but also barriers that facilitated the collection of tolls – significant sums which were, at times, paid with valuable objects.
Against this background, this session invites papers that situate objects from ‘Rhein und Maas’ in relation to transcultural integration. Papers that turn to stylistic problems, patronage, collecting (whether medieval or modern), or concepts of ‘localization’ and ‘attribution’ (particularly as it relates to distinctions between ‘Rhenish’ and ‘Mosan’ art, and the presumed ‘quality’ of each) are particularly welcome. The organizers also envisage this session as an opportunity to consider the historiographic impact of the original ‘Rhein und Maas’ exhibition, which has been overshadowed in many ways by other ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions from the 1970s, such as ‘Die Zeit der Staufer’ (1977), and to renew attention to its themes in light of current scholarship. Above all, this session will highlight relationships between objects and geographies, and reconsider how a region defined by two rivers fits within the fluid borders of medieval art history today.
Bridging Times and Spaces: Sharing Medieval Heritage in a Globalized World
Session organisers: Barbara Welzel and Katharina Christa Schüppel (Dortmund)
Sharing medieval cultural heritage means bridging times and spaces. The histories of medieval objects are often complex: they connect artworks, people, and places. They also tell us about travels, fragmentation, gift-giving, neglect and rediscovery, as well as and re-activation and shifting contexts. Consequently, telling the story of a medieval artwork not only means to bridge a real or imagined cultural gap – between “us” and the medieval “other” – but it also means to reconstruct the object’s way through time and space.
Whose heritage is medieval heritage? Why does it matter today, for the culturally diverse, perpetually changing heritage communities throughout the world? The session aims to foster exchange between art historical research and education. We welcome papers that explore new art historical approaches to medieval material culture – within both research and education – in the context of transcultural, multi-religious societies. We are especially interested in reflections on the role of the museum as space of learning. The session is open to contributions from all medieval art histories (European, Byzantine, Asian, Islamic e.g.) and from related disciplines. Paper proposals can be submitted in English, French, Italian and German.
Travelling with objects and texts
Session organisers: Romina Ebenhöch and Kathrin Chlench-Priber (Bern)
The alps, a central passage point between north and south, structured and dominated a wide range of networks, with medieval travelers as acteurs of transfers with various means and aims.
Whether a merchant on the way to the East or Italy, a pilgrim to Jerusalem or Rome, or a herald or legate of nobility or clergy, all had to overcome the traverse of the alps and handle its strains and risks.
The evolvling need for safe travel, arrival and return is reflected through travelers’ taking of small-scale and portable objects.
Objects of this kind were not only able to assure protection on travels, but could also have functioned as portable media for private devotion or become a material storage of a memory, which was closely connected to the travel itself. For example, in the case of a pilgrimage, the travel itself was a means of salvation, which was further conserved through pilgrims’ objects.
Examples for such objects can be:
• Containers or pieces of jewellery which provide space for images, texts, precious stones or other substances and materials with ascribed apotropaic properties
• Devotional texts, -images, and -objects with which travelers could seek access to salvation
• Pilgrims‘ badges
This interdisciplinary session wants to focus on mobile, small-scale objects in their diverse manifestations that travelers in the alpine region could have carried with them.
We welcome contributions dedicated to such objects and their multilayered functions. We especially ecourage contributions on objects, texts, and/or images that have finished their own travels in the alpine region and are nowadays part of Swiss collections.
Urbi et Orbi: Rome, the City on the Seven Hills: Internal Dynamics and Universalist Ambitions (1050–1306)
Session organisers: Giorgia Pollio, Almuth Klein and Daniela Mondini (Mendrisio)
As heir to an empire, seat of the universal institution of the papacy, and mecca for pilgrims from the entire Christian world, Rome provides a privileged vantage point from which to study the movement and reception of works of art and artists from elsewhere, near and far. At the same time, Rome itself was broken up by the decreasing number of viable bridges over the Tiber and the maculated distribution of its population, with dispersed concentrations separated by hills rising over marshy valleys, which favored discontinuous and unstable interrelationships.
The long period between 1050, the onset of the so-called Gregorian Reform, and the transfer of the papal court to Avignon at the beginning of the fourteenth century saw an intensification of these tendencies. The Curia became progressively more international; within the city the noble classes became concentrated first in great clans and then in baronial families installed in residential fortifications; and even in Rome the Commune asserted itself, becoming an intrusive third term in the previous dialectic of papacy and empire.
Amid the bounty of research devoted to the post-classical chapters of Rome’s history, Swiss contributions have stood out since the pioneering studies of Paul Styger in the twentieth century. For the topic proposed here, the work of Peter Cornelius Claussen, originator of the ongoing project Die Kirchen der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, promoted by the Università della Svizzera italiana in Mendrisio and the University of Zürich with the financial support of the Swiss National Science Foundation, is fundamental. Work on the complementary Corpus della pittura medievale a Roma, conducted at the University of Lausanne together with Tuscia University in Viterbo, also is nearing completion.
On the basis of this copious new research, we propose a deeper and more detailed study of these issues:
the differing responses – reception, resistance, rejection – to foreign works of art or artists;
the possibility of distinguishing degrees of appreciation and awareness on the part of patrons and artists, from passive acceptance of an exotic visual vocabulary to deliberate preference, and at the latter extreme whether on the grounds of personal taste or ideology;
the existence or not of artistic and/or architectural typologies peculiar to regions (rioni) within the city; that is, whether there was a prevailing artistic homogeneity or fractionalization, and in the latter case the possible reasons for it (rivalry, emulation, competition).
Mobility of master masons, transfer of ideas, and conflicts in the later medieval civil engineering
Session organiser: Jens Rüffer (Berlin)
The German-speaking areas of the late Middle Ages were home to four prominent and transregional masons’ lodges—Vienna, Prague, Regensburg, and Strasbourg—which, though spread across a wide area, also acted as attraction points for skilled workers. Written sources concerning high medieval civil engineering are, however, rather sparse. Although names of master masons are passed down, to a large extent their biographies remain in the dark. In the 15th century, information becomes more dense, such that some master masons are not only known by their works can also be more accurately characterised by various written sources. To give a few examples of such famous workmen: the Ensinger family, Hans Niesenberger, Laurenz Spenning, Hans Puchsbaum, Andreas Engel, Jodok Dotzinger, Hans Hültz, Matthäus Böblinger, or Hans Nussdorf.
The focus of this panel is the mobility of master masons and the resulting transfer of ideas, which were not only spread by the person or magister operis, but also via the medium of scaled architectural drafts. Such drafts made it possible to spread innovative ideas across great distances, from overall structural concepts to small forms. With this transferral came also disputes about “proper” building and correct construction practices. For the late Middle Ages, we have information about legal disputes, the completion of contracts, the appropriate construction work, as well as concerning the organisational structures of building. Even the denunciation of competitors who wished to obtain the appointment as master mason are known. The very multifaceted material reveals much about the architectural thinking of that time, about the social roles of the leading workmen, as well as the organisational forms of civil engineering.
The geographical focus of the panel is on German-speaking areas and the following centers: the city of Vienna; the Bohemian region, including Prague and Kuttenberg; Saxony; southern Germany with Regensburg as its center; the Upper Rhine with the centers of Strasbourg, Basel, and Freiburg, well as the western part of Switzerland with the cities of Bern and Fribourg. The disputes about the building progression of the Cathedral of Milan are of interest as well, considering that master masons from north of the Alps gave their expertise. Temporally the session concentrates mainly on the 15th century.
Contributions are welcome which are based upon medieval primary sources, which analyse mobility, transfer of ideas, and conflicts as close as possible to the historical material, and which put the results in a wider historical or architectural context. The medieval sources can be of various kinds, ranging from charters, contracts, narrative documents. or legal disputes, to architectural drafts and drawings. The aim is to outline as many as possible different facets which may help to deepen our understanding of these late medieval building processes.
Georgia as a bridge between cultures: dynamics of artistic exchange
Session organisers: Manuela Studer and Thomas Kaffenberger (Fribourg)
The country of Georgia has long been identified as a key region for the study of medieval Art between occident and orient. Situated between the mountain ranges of the Greater and the Lesser Caucasus, several important roads lead through the territory, forming a bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, between the area of river Don and the Eastern Mediterranean. As a result of this geographic location, the country was constantly exposed, in spite of its frequent characterization as a remote and isolated land, to contacts with both nearby cultures and such far-away realities as Palestine – where Georgians owned some important holy sites –, Cyprus, and Western Europe. Constant political changes, including relations to and occupations by the neighboring empires of Byzantium and the Seljuks, make the region a prime example for the investigation of the dynamics of artistic exchange during the medieval period. Furthermore, the country was house to countless linguistic and religious minorities, who played an important role as cultural intermediaries and developed their own cultural and artistic traditions.
Yet, the role played by Georgia as site of cultural interactions and as multicultural society has only attracted a more profound interest recently. In various respects, the ongoing unawareness of Georgian materials constitutes a basic obstacle to our deeper understanding of many cultural phenomena whose importance goes far beyond their specific manifestations in the Georgian context. The few available publications dealing with such issues from an art-historical viewpoint laid emphasis on the connections with Constantinople and described Georgia as a reflection of the ‘Byzantine oecumene’. The connection with Byzantium is indeed an important one, yet it is mostly characterized as a onedirectional ‘influence’ of the latter on the artistic production of the Georgian kingdom. Recently, the notion of ‘influence’ has been more and more rejected, rather underlining the validity of a concept of a dynamic cultural interchange between multiple actors.
A first step in re-approaching Georgian materials with an updated methodological framework has been made in May 2017 during the international workshop “Cultural Interactions in Medieval Georgia”, held in Fribourg (Switzerland). The aim of the proposed session is to explicitly create a platform for preferentially young scholars aspiring to continue in the way indicated above, enhancing our knowledge about the artistic interchange in medieval Georgia by embracing the notion of a dynamic cultural exchange.
The Bridge in the City. Passages, Images, Commerce, 12th to 14th Century
Session organiser: Philippe Cordez (Paris)
Sponsored session: Deutsches Forum für Kunstgeschichte, Paris
In 1254, Wilhelm von Rubruk reached Karakorum, the capital of the Mongol Empire, as directed by Louis IX. There he heard of a French goldsmith in the service of the Great Khan, Guillaume Boucher, who had a brother, Roger, on the „large bridge“ in Paris. Why the large bridge? Since Antiquity, the heart of Paris was constituted by the Ile de la Cité, with two bridges. The longer of them, on the right branch of the river, must have been a much visited place. It led to the royal palace and was where, under the direct supervision of the ruler, the goldsmiths’ and moneychangers’ shops were. These were important for both kingship and the city. Under the bridge, the skippers paid customs and there were also mills attached. On the bank, the bridge was defended by a fortress next to which the butchers were established. The fact that the goldsmith in Karakorum was called Boucher may bear witness to an earlier rise of his family across a few hundred meters.
On the bridges of many high and late medieval cities interactions took place that decisively shaped the social structure of the community. A city needs access to water, and with the rapid urbanization between the 12th and 14th centuries, new bridges arose – complex and costly stone structures related to ancient Roman models – as well as new church buildings, both of which were mostly financed by the community. The Stone Bridge in Regensburg (1135) was considered a legal entity with its own seal. The Ponte Vecchio in Florence (1345) was designed in perfect geometry, as an ideal city with commercial purpose. The Prague Charles Bridge (1357) served the dynasty of the Luxembourg, used for example in coronation rituals. In Lucerne even a simple wooden battlement (1365) became an urban landmark.
Contributions are encouraged which explore: how bridge architecture evoked and materialized urban ideas and experiences; how and why bridges were depicted and decorated; and how everyday life of and on bridges shaped cultures of trade near and far.
Building Churches in Late Medieval Europe: Between Competition and Compliance
Session organisers: Richard Nemec (Bern) und Gerald Schwedler (Zürich / Kiel)
Late medieval Central Europe cannot be understood without considering the structurally fundamental phenomenon of church building. Its anchoring within society made the act of building churches the bearer of cultural, social, and sacramental meanings. Before the onset of the Reformation, there developed an artistically oriented type of architecture with costly construction, fittings, and forms. Such constructions became increasingly expensive in the course of their realizations, thus often hindering completion. How, then, are these vulnerabilities, as well as the high and low points, to be interpreted in relationship to late medieval society? At the center of this section is the scientific effort to explore such cultural-historical phenomena.
Based on the theses that Latin Europe was formed, among other things, through the synchronizing of networks, we would like to examine two of such examples: first, the emerging conformity of building culture, and second, the accompanying practices of financing. Both realms stood opposite each other. The participants in a particular late medieval society must have, so the thesis goes, followed conforms of visual strategies. Yet such conformity also brought about competitive acts, in which the vestries as well as the artists and artisans they paid were actively involved.
The focus of this proposed session is on the process of designing buildings and its larger context, as well as means of financing, though we would like to distinguish a particular aspect of the planning and execution of medieval profane and sacred architecture: the socio-economic side as a decisive factor of a larger societal process. Through an interdisciplinary approach, various projects related to medieval buildings will be taken up, accompanied by chosen examples from Bern (guided tours could be offered on-site) and present-day Switzerland.
Things in Ritual: Artifacts as Repositories and Agents of Social Interaction
Session organisers: Kirsten Lee Bierbaum and Susanne Wittekind (Cologne)
At the focus of this proposed session are artifacts that experienced a particular kind of activation in the context of ritual use and, in the process, made superordinate networks temporarily visible and palpable.
Artifacts are integrated into ritual uses in various ways: they adorn, distinguish, or modify the body of the user; they are requisites of enactments or recipients of use; they serve as signifiers, making personal relationships visible, or activating memory through their relationship to the past. The artifact at first seems entirely connected to the present of the ritual taking place and its participants—it is moved, presented, laid down, carried, displayed—yet it proves on second glance to be a complex “entanglement” of material, spatial, temporal, and social dimensions that extend far beyond the immediacy of the “performance.” The invocation of history through used objects play also an important role. Through a relic or a donation by a ruler or pope, a dynamic of protection is called up. When trophy objects or historical remains are used for establishing a sense of identity, a battle or foundation myth is pointed to. The object reveals itself as a repository of memory, which is temporarily released through the ritual. Geographical relationships may also be intrinsic to artifacts. Spolia of distant territories or plundered cities pack an expanding sphere of influence into a handy object. An object can integrate an absent ruler into a ritual or even be used in a kind of “role play.” As insignias or signs of office, objects help to transform a personal body into a body politic of sorts. They give their wearer transtemporal and transpersonal qualities and play an active role in procedural events.
Walter Benjamin points to the embeddedness of artworks in cultic practices and rituals (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1935). According to Émile Durkheim (The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1912), objects are similarly interpreted as embodiments, repositories, and sources of an interconnecting and community-oriented force, which is then released through collective use. In contrast, Alfred Gell understands such artifacts in his anthropological art theory (Art and Agency, 1998) as the “nexus” and crystallization point of social relationships; they can even replace their enactor and develop their own “agency.”
One of the core questions of this planned session is to explore how such concepts can be made fruitful for Art History. One the one hand, objects will be considered for their materiality, their iconographical, ornamental, and narrative compositions, and their function and performativity. On the other hand, objects will be considered for their ability to form interpersonal connections through use and practice, as well as connections to overarching layers of time and networks. Possible categories of objects are liturgical devices, insignias and signs of office, paraments, militaria, treasury arts, votives, arms, or funerary artifacts.
Possible themes include:
– Artifacts that experience a particular kind of activation through ritual
– Objects that experience ritual framing or reinterpretation at later stages in their lives
– Objects that refer to distant places or groups through their materiality or origin
– Objects that bear memories of an event or founder and, in doing so, combine various layers of time or provide reinterpretations of the past
– Artifacts that take on an active role or personal character in a social context
– Ritual clothing that transforms the body of its wearer
– Theoretical stances that elucidate potential meanings of artifacts within social interactions
Rock – cave – church. Shaping a natural sacred space in the Middle Ages
Session organisers: Kristin Böse (Frankfurt) and Markus Späth (Gießen)
Across many religions, mountainous landscapes and heights are attractive for those who choose an ascetic reclusion. Regarding the Christian Middle Ages, cave monasteries in the Byzantine east, such as in Cappadocia, or in the southern Balkans have so far received attention in art historical research. However, a number of sacred spaces evolving from rock formations have survived also in the Latin West. Their nucleus was usually a cave, which was often retrospectively venerated as a saintly place linked to a hermit or a community. Artistic transformation of nature created sacred spaces on the threshold between inside and outside, reclusion and exposure, nature and culture. Complex spaces and sacral topographies were created, which in the course of ritual events were experienced not only by looking and seeing, but also by moving physically through the space.
The session’s goal is therefore to examine medieval rock and cave churches as sacred spaces, which are shaped from nature by artistic intervention such as architecture, sculpture, or wall painting. We look forward to contributions which address:
• how concepts of sacred space were applied onto nature
• how natural realities of rocks and caves and their religious perception had an impact on the artistic design of such churches
• how far the relation of reclusion and topographical presence was artistically manifested in such naturally bound sacred spaces.
It will be discussed how art and architecture of medieval cave and rock churches dealt with natural preconditions, and how these creative processes shaped a mountainous landscape, which is until today perceived as particular. It is the session’s wish to bring experts on the Latin west and the Byzantine east together in a fruitful discussion on this subject matter.
Interrupted passages? Rejection and transformation of objects in the Middle Ages
Session organisers: Pierre Alain Mariaux (Neuchâtel) and Michele Tomasi (Lausanne)
Often the history of medieval art unfolds in a continuous narrative, without rupture or asperity, a story of origin and filiations. The study of receptions of art, however, informs us of interrupted passages and undermines the notion of a coherent historiography. Recent studies have shown with renewed vigor how works of art can be, when traveling, vectors of diffusion of iconographic, technical, stylistic knowledge. But what about cases where the object that is displaced is not welcomed smoothly, assimilated, admired, but instead arouses embarrassment, misunderstanding, or even refusal? The phenomena of resistance, rejection, or transformation aimed at making an object acceptable in a new context are all equally revealing of the nature of the cultures involved and of their possibilities of interaction and exchange.
We are soliciting proposals for papers on the refusal or transformation of objects of all kinds of forms throughout the Middle Ages. What is important to the organizers is to observe these reactions in connection with an object transfer, whether in space or in time. Reflections centered on material traces of manipulation and adaptation of objects will be just as welcome as those that illustrate these phenomena using written sources. Resistance to the form, typology, material, iconography, or any other aspect of the materiality of the objects, are all within the field of interest of the session. Also of interest are the reasons behind taste, political, religious, cultural which can explain rejections or manipulations. Proposals on instances related to Switzerland would be particularly welcome.
The Alpine Region as a Treasury. Between far-reaching interdependency and seclusion
Session organisers: Regula Schorta, Evelin Wetter and Michael Peter (Riggisberg)
In the remote valleys and populated centres of the Alpine Region, far away from the European metropolises, astonishing treasures have been preserved – in circumstances similar to time or space capsules. These treasures reflect, on one hand, the strategic and geopolitical importance attributed to the valleys and mountain passes as elements of vast networks, but they are also the results of the remoteness that enabled the preservation of historic moments, situations or objects.
In the early 1970es, Brigitta Schmedding catalogued the medieval textile holdings preserved in churches and monasteries in Switzerland, and she briefly discussed the specific conditions in each place where the works of art have been preserved. Based on her pioneering work, the panel would like to focus even more on preservation contexts and specifically explore the reasons why certain textile artefacts arrived, remained or were produced in the Alpine Region. What was the role of the unique geographic situation on these processes? We welcome contributions that deal with textiles from Switzerland and neighbouring regions. Their contextualization should contribute not only to a better understanding of the textile artefact itself, and should also serve to enlighten the historical situation as well as shed light on the cultural experiences of the people in these regions.
Walter Benjamin and the Middle Ages
Session organisers: William Diebold (Portland, Oregon) and Christopher Lakey (Baltimore, MD)
sponsored session: International Center of Medieval Art – ICMA
Twenty-six years ago, in “Der simulierte Benjamin: Mittelalterliche Bemerkungen zu seiner Aktualität”, Horst Bredekamp persuasively argued that Walter Benjamin’s famous thesis that reproduction diminished the aura of a work of art did not apply to medieval art. Instead, according to Bredekamp, in the Middle Ages the correlation between reproduction and aura was precisely the inverse of what Benjamin posited in “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.” Despite Bredekamp’s historical scruples, Benjamin’s popularity and prevalence has only increased in all kinds of historical and cultural inquiry, including about the Middle Ages.
Bredekamp’s objection is likely well founded when it comes to medieval cult images and relics, but in his “Work of Art” essay Benjamin was far more interested in non-cultic works of Gothic art, especially cathedrals and their sculptural decorations. Why was this and what does it mean for the validity of Benjamin’s thesis in respect to medieval art? This session aims to reinvestigate the question of Benjamin and the Middle Ages to try to understand why Gothic art and architecture loomed so large in his imaginary. We welcome papers that take up any aspect of Benjamin’s writings on the Middle Ages (including correspondences, essays other than “The Work of Art …”, etc.), papers that contextualize Benjamin’s writings against the larger political backdrop of the inter-war period when he wrote or within that period’s larger historiography of art history, and papers that examine the utility of Benjamin’s ideas to the current study of medieval art.
Across the Carpathian Mountains
Session organisers: Jiří Fajt (Prag), Christian Forster and Markus Hörsch (Leipzig)
Sponsored session: Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe (GWZO), Leipzig
In the north, east and partly in the south, the Carpathian Mountains surrounded the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and formed its natural border for a long time. Pass roads allowed trade with the neighbors, they were used as deployment routes by expansive kings and led invaders into the country. Beyond economic and military contacts there must have been also cultural exchanges between Transylvania and the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, between Upper Hungary (Slovakia), Poland and the Principality of Halych-Volodymyr, and if so, they were often of an interconfessional (Roman Catholic / Orthodox) or interreligious (Christianity / Judaism) nature.
This session wants to assemble contributions that would examine either the characteristics and effects of this inner-European border as a mental barrier, or any Transcarpathian cultural transfer in architecture and the fine arts, be it by example or over a longer period.
Particular attention should be paid to the migration of artists between Buda and Krakow, between Spiš and Lesser Poland, not only during the reign of Louis the Great, who was King of Hungary and Poland from 1370 to 1382. But papers on examples of unilateral forms of cultural transmission, associated with conquest, Catholic mission, or migration of population groups will also be welcome.
Bridges and Passages (Ponti et passages). Alpine networks
Session organisers: Armand Baeriswyl and Bernd Nicolai (Bern)
The Infrastructure of alpine regions changed significantly throughout the Middle Ages. Partly based on antique developments, a fabric of pathways facilitated travelling, transportation, rest, and restoration, as well as cult practices. One of the most important alpine projects around 1200 was the new St. Gotthard passage that shortened the time of travel. The passage of the Schollenen Gorge via the Devil’s Bridge and the Gotthard hospice, or the much older path over the Grand St. Bernard, formed a linked ensemble of different building types. Abbeys and chapels along the routes represented the specific cultic traditions in the Alps. Another topic of consideration are the economic and climatic conditions and its effects on settlement and infrastructure.
In our session we are looking for current cultural-historical, archaeological, architectural- and art historical contributions which consider aspects of transfer, interaction, and appropriation in the Alpine regions, as well as in the Carpathian mountains, Pyrenees, and beyond. Potential topics include:
– Streets, bridges, and transportation tools
– The Alpine economy, including also deserted villages and towns
– Hospices, chapels, and abbeys
– Crosses and other cult objects
– Travel reports and other forms of literary and artistic appropriation
– Climatic conditions and climatic change
– Personal equipment of travelers
Art and Crisis in the Late Byzantine Mediterranean
Session organisers: Ivan Drpić (Philadelphia, PA) and Stefania Gerevini (Milan)
Sponsored session: The Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, Boston
This session explores the role of the visual arts in manifesting, managing, and precipitating change and unsettlement in the late Byzantine Mediterranean; and conversely, how perceptions of uncertainty and instability informed the ways in which art was made, apprehended, and viewed in this world.
The session foregrounds the notion of crisis. Scholars have habitually used this term in a negative sense to denote periods of political unrest, social disruption, economic depression, pandemic, and warfare. In art historical discourse the notion of crisis has repeatedly been invoked to designate phases of artistic and cultural decline—the opposite of artistic “peaks.” In Greek, however, the term krisis (κρίσις) encompasses a different semantic territory; in its root meaning, the term refers to processes of decision-making, selection, and judgement, situations that call for dispute and adjudication. This more neutral semantic coloring is attested, for instance, in Byzantine conceptualizations of the Last Judgement, as well as in rhetorical theory and medical discourse. To what extent does the notion of crisis, thus redefined, offer a valuable conceptual tool to explore the artistic diversity and inventiveness of the late Byzantine Mediterranean?
This session welcomes papers that investigate, from different methodological angles, how images, artefacts, and buildings registered and responded to moments of political, religious, and social unsettlement in the late Byzantine Mediterranean; how they were mobilized to mitigate, conceal, or even trigger crises; and how, in turn, perceptions of instability and disruption may have informed artistic choices made by individual and institutional patrons, as well as the ways in which artworks were viewed and understood by their audiences.