This introductory lecture course uses case studies to explore how artists and architects working throughout the European Middle Ages creatively deployed earthly materials to portray and mediate with an un-representable, extra-terrestrial divinity. Taking the Master of Saint Giles’ painting of the Abbey of Saint-Denis’ interior as its point of departure, the course will integrate art and architecture to recuperate the entire multimedia, multi-sensorial experience of various medieval spaces, from massive cathedrals and monasteries to private devotional quarters and even outdoor pilgrimage roads. As the Master instructs us, the gilded and bejeweled altarpiece at the center of his painting forms only one piece of a dazzling mise-en-scène for the mass, which the priest swaddled in silk vestments performs under soaring gothic vaults, beside floating stone sculpture, and before a sumptuously illuminated manuscript. With the aid of primary sources, students will learn the medieval processes behind the production of these media (e.g. stained glass, stone and wood carving, tempera and oil painting, and weaving) as well as the symbolic significance of the materials artists used. Because their patrons were in most cases agents of the Church, issues of power and representation will punctuate many of the case studies under consideration. A selection of theoretical texts will also equip students to identify recurrent themes in medieval visual culture, including gendered devotion, colonialism, fragment versus whole, death and the afterlife, artistic authorship, and spectator reception, among others.
Assessment: 100% coursework